Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Good Fight at the Muziklaban Fete

Jose “Pepe” Smith said that aspiring rock musicians must enjoy themselves while performingjust keep rock-and-rolling without thinking if they can win or lose in a contest. The previously obscure, young band Hatankaru must have epitomized what the Filipino rock legend said, performing like there was no tomorrow (and they must have felt it as they were about to disband) to clinch the championship of the Red Horse Beer Muziklaban Rock Challenge grand finals last Jan. 30 at the Metrowalk Complex in Pasig City.

Muziklaban is being held for 11 years now by San Miguel Brewery, maker of Red Horse beer, along with the well-known San Miguel Pale Pilsen and its varieties, to promote the strong beer brand as well as to boost the Philippine rock music scene by discovering unknown and unsigned bands. In the decade of its existence, the annual competition has risen in magnitude and prestige, emulated by other companies as well as by communities, from provinces to the smallest barangays, with their “battles of the bands” and producing such bands as 3rd Degree (2001 champion), 18th Issue (2002), Fuseboxx (2003), Mayonnaise (2004), Sunflower Day Camp (2005), Hardboiledeggz (2006), Gayuma (2007) and Even (2008). All were given a shot at rock immortality. Some did not garner outrageous fame; some continue to produce music to enrich the scene. But Muziklaban is always there -- one of the grandest rock events of the country and one that makes dreams come true, especially of rock aspirants.

Now, after a decade, organizers have deemed Muziklaban ripe for a change as it expands its scope to include other fields/interests to constitute a lifestyle that expresses a rebel spirit, independence and excellence, which Red Horse beer as a brand is aspired to project and uphold.

With its new slogan, “Bago na ang labanan” (‘It’s a new fight,’ or ‘The battle now is different’), Muziklaban now includes contests in tattooing, independent filmmaking and bicycle motocross riding, getting prominent personalities in those fields to act as promoters and image endorsers— local rock icon Jose “Pepe” Smith, tattoo artist Ricky Santa Ana, indie filmmaker RA Rivera and BMX stunt pro rider Armand Mariano.

Of course, making rock-and-roll music is still at the core and remains the most important aspect, if not the definitive soul of Muziklaban, as evidenced by the intensity of the contestants and the audience, around 11,000 people, who trooped to the event. The sprawling open parking area at the back Metrowalk Complex, a cluster of bars, stores and restaurants at the Ortigas Center, swelled with rockers, groupies and rebel-type youths, stomping to raise dust from the ground to the music of the grand finalists and guest bands.

It was a fine selection of grand finalists, distilled from regional elimination rounds held as far as Cebu and Davao since Muziklaban opened in May of last year. Five bands from different parts of the country were pitted against each other for a final showdown—Hatankaru from Valenzuela City, Metro Manila; Kukumban from Naga City, Camarines Sur; 2nd Squad from Baguio City; Cambronero from Bacolod City, Nergos Occidental; and Hoodswhite from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao—to clinch P500,000 in cash prize, a recording contract with Viva Philippines and a shot at fame.

Representing the Bicol Region, in southern Luzon, was Kukumban, formed in 2006 in the town Baao in Camarines Sur, by vocalist Kurt Gonzaga, guitarist Kervi Gonzaga, guitarist Jimbo Boy Barcenal, bassist Marvin Bayrante and drummer Donn Llanes, who all previously belonged to different bands but, by twist of fate, collaborated to join in a band competition. The band’s name was taken from the children’s pronunciation of “coupon bond,” a white sheet of paper, which the members often heard children buying in the sari-sari store. Thus started the band, which went through the rounds of band competitions and then began writing songs inspired by their teenage experiences. Band members consider Kukumban not just a band, but as their family and the life they have chosen.

At the northern end of Luzon was Baguio-based 2nd Squad, representing the Cordillera Region. Formed in November 2005, the band started as a project of guitarists-siblings Carlo and Neil Ian Briones and long-time friend Paul Victor Guieb, who is a bassist. Stephen Ancheta auditioned for the part of the vocalist and was immediately welcomed. Three years after, a drummer left the band and was replaced by Dan Allan. The band members, all in their mid-twenties, decided to name their group 2nd Squad because “incidentally all members have 2nd Squad as their second band.” Neil Ian’s hobby and business is guitar effects building, and 90 percent of the band’s guitar effects pedals is handcrafted by him. On the other hand, brother Carlo, who studied basic recording, editing and rendition of mastering techniques on his own, is the owner of 2nd Squad project studio and is in charge of the band’s recording and demos. Bassist Guieb “contributes ideas on the string section and arrangement of the song, and most of his bass lines were converted to guitar riffs.” Acosta, the youngest at 21, is described “as a fast learner” and they “appreciate his eagerness to contribute to the songs that they write.” Lastly, Ancheta is influenced by the music of Maynard James Keenan of Tools whom he considers his hero. His colleagues describe him as “the soul writer of 2nd Squad.”

From Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental in Central Visayas, Cambronero held the flag of the Visayan region. The band was formed in 2004 by Joseph Desquitado (bassist), twins Jan Michael Bais (guitarist) and Jan Vincent Bais (drummer), who were in high school. The name came from the twins’ middle name. They started performing different genres from alternative to punk, then matured through the years as they frequently performed in different gigs until they were able to write their own songs. Cambronero is currently undertaking recording sessions from their own home studio, and hope that record companies take notice. Aside from the Desquitado and the Bais twins, other members include June Vincent Bernus, vocalist, and Vicente Bais III, guitarist.

Mindanao’s bet was Hoodswhite, an admirably well-educated lot, from Cagayan de Oro City in the northeast part of the island group. Hoodswhite was founded on Dec. 24, 1999, when siblings Michael Anthony Donina, the bassist and an accountancy and MBA graduate of San Beda College of Cagayan de Oro, and John Anthony Donina, the vocalist and a hotel and restaurant graduate from the Philippines Women University, decided to form a metal band. The band’s name is said to mean “fallen ones cover and act as pure for holy ones” and literally means “covering oneself with a white hood to be purely seen.” Other members followed: Paul Brian Salucot, the drummer and fourth-year tourism student of Liceo de Cagayan University, and Anthony Allen Sahirani, the lead guitarist and fourth-year information management student of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. The band said that Anthony’s arrival led them to revise old compositions, and he put leads and scaling to produce more horrific tunes. To make their dark music act complete, they got Nicole Charmaine Salise, a third-year business administration student majoring in marketing management at the Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, on keyboards and for backup vocals, the only female in the band. John realized that it sounds much better to have rhythm guitars to make their music heavier to listen at so they asked their friend Michael Cosare, Jr. or Yoyong, a hotel and restaurant management graduate of Philippine Women University, to play rhythm guitars. Together, they produced new and more eerie and evil notes. The band covered songs from Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, and got inspired by other black metal bands such as Satyricon, Old Man’s Child, Darkthrone, Dark Funeral, Gorgoth, Venom, Bathory and Immortal. Anthony or A2 took a break from the band and Yoyong was assigned in the lead guitars and Mark Glazer Niderost or Mackoy, information technology student of the Mindanao University of Science and Technology, as session in rhythm guitars. Hoodswhite performed clad in all black and with Kiss-inspired face makeup.

Finally, the champion Hatankaru represented Valenzuela City and the whole of the National Capital Region. The band was formed in 2004 and was about to disband in 2009 but an opportunity—Muziklaban Rock Challenge—prevented that from happening. Composed of Michael Villaflores (bass guitar), Elmer Glino (drums), Roy Elinzano (vocals) and Gilbert Pacariem (guitars), Hatankaru got its name from Aldwin Musni, the original bass player, who interchanged the two syllables with the last two of Karuhatan, the barangay in Valenzuela where the members hail. They claim that they are really proud of their hometown.

Each finalist performed three songs, originals and covers, and Hatankaru’s original “Lakip” (Something enclosed or attached) and “Larawan” (Picture) were crucial in the band’s victory aside from its engaging performance. It also covered POT’s “Ulitin” (Do it again) to the delight of the crowd. “Lakip” is said to be “a song about the unity among common Filipinos sharing the same aspirations and difficulties,” conceptualized after Pacariem and Elinzano watched Razorback’s performance at the Music Museum for Karl Roy’s recovery concert, inspired by Razorback’s simplicity and “feel good” rock and roll music. On the other hand, “Larawan,” originally titled “A Song for Francis” and written in 2006, is described as “about the joy and bitterness of having memories and giving up on those who are still with us and those who are not.” Its main guitar riff was a variation of the late Francis Magalona’s “Meron Akong Ano.”

Aside from the plum prize, Hatankaru was also awarded special prizes: Best Live Act and Breakthrough Performance. The winner was chosen by judges Lourd de Veyra, poet and vocalist of Radioactive Sago Project; Ian Tayao, vocalist of Queso; Reg Rubio, vocalist of Greyhoundz; Bel Sayson, owner of 6Underground and marketing manager of JB Music; Joey Dizon, editor-in-chief of Pulp magazine; Brian Velasco, drummer of Razorback; Mally Paraguya, bassist of POT; Nadine Wee, Starcom media manager for Red Horse Beer; and Griffey de Guzman, copywriter of the agency JWT for Red Horse Beer.

The five newbie bands were joined by over 20 bands in an extravaganza that lasted from late afternoon to the wee hours of the morning. Past Muziklaban champions Mayonnaise, HardboiledEggz, Gayuma and Even made appearances together with Kadangyan, Zach Lucero and the Action Pack, Kapatid, Franco, Typecast, Music Hero, Chongkeys, Dogfight, Boy Elroy, Bloodshed, COG, Slapshock, Kamikazee, Greyhoundz, Radioactive Sago Project, Kjwan, Intolerant and Kapatid. Pepe Smith jumpstarted the rocking, as well as provided amusement. Other endorsers led the winners in tattoo art, biking and indie filmmaking. While the stage remained the heartbeat of the event, there were stations for Muziklaban’s new aspects—an indie film mini movie house, a booth to view live tattoo sessions and a BMX and skateboard gallery. A Muziklaban retrospective exhibit was also put up, attesting to how the Red Horse Beer Muziklaban Rock Challenge has helped in shaping recent Filpino rock-and-roll history, a better struggle and fight.

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