Thursday, September 3, 2015

For the rest of his life

That Syrian child on the beach. I don't mind the image. He looks in peace.

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Regret is funny. How can you feel bad about something that didn't happen. Things could've gone in so many ways other than what you imagine.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Light and verve

I.

“I don’t think I’m gonna be making electronic music forever, so enjoy it now,” Zedd (Anton Zaslavski) told the press prior to his August 8 Manila gig. It wasn’t a threat but a recognition of the natural course of things. Zedd is a classically trained pianist, whom at age 11 became drummer in a metal band then later on went to test the EDM waters. He eventually released “Clarity,” a dance album that produced club staples, chart toppers and a Grammy award-winning record.

In his second outing, “True Colors,” Zedd makes a statement on his artistry, showcasing his musical depth. The tracks are even more melodious and diverse that you can take them as pop songs with a touch of electronica rather than melodic EDM, which is characteristic of his previous works.

We still get hints of “Clarity” with the opening tracks Addicted to Memory, I Want You to Know and Beautiful Now, though it goes in completely different directions from there on. Standouts are the rock-infused Transmission, folksy Daisy, indie-pop Illusion and clear-cut rave piece Bumble Bee.

For the third album, Zedd only had this to say: “I honestly don’t know.” But he was generous enough to share that he’d like to compose for films, do more orchestral stuff, and promised us that whatever he creates, it shall pass strict quality assurance. “I would not make music that I did not enjoy. I love making every single song I’ve ever put out,” he remarked. “I would never put my name on something I don’t like. And if it happens that there’s more rock in the next album, then that could be it. But for now I’m having fun to be honest with you.”

So we had to take him seriously when he said enjoy his music now. Sure they’re digitally preserved, but experiencing them in a room among kindred spirits, with Zedd himself behind the decks, orchestrating the party? That’s unrepeatable.

II.

Neverland Manila Presents: Zedd True Colors Tour began with that familiar keyboard riff in Hourglass smoothly leading to Spectrum’s chorus. When our ears were ready to take the full song, the chords drifted to the hook of Beautiful Now, Zedd’s current single. “Pa-pa-pa papa pa-pa-pa papa pa-pa-pa-pa papapa papapapa…,” chanted the glow stick-wielding audience of 12,000 at the Mall of Asia Arena. In front of them were huge LED panels in which hues from the “True Colors” album cover splashed about.

Crowd pleaser that he is, Zedd, on top of playing his hits, gave his remix of music fan favorites like Clean Bandit’s Rather Be, Maroon 5’s Sugar, Magic’s Rude, David Guetta’s Titanium, Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars, Bastille’s Pompeii and Jessie J’s Bang Bang.

To an outsider, EDM is equal to loud bass plus mindless rhythms. In a careless DJ’s hands, it may be so. But there’s something about it that’s exhilarating. Perhaps it’s the amplified, repetitive beats connecting with our own pulse, waking our senses up. Hearing it for hours, though, is tiring, boring. And this is what separates Zedd from your standard disc jockey: the man knows how we’d like to jump around, latch on to a melody, cry out lyrics we take as divine oaths, and sometimes do all three at once. In Zedd’s hands, EDM is poetry and rave.

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There’s no doubt that he owes this musical instinct to his classical training. “When I started making electronic music, I had no clue about it,” shared Zedd. So he wrote Spectrum entirely on the piano then made it electronic, and it has been a process which he adopted for his two albums. “It’s the easiest way to do it. Writing music on the piano already makes it more organic,” he continued. “Playing all those classical pieces, I kind of learned what is right.”

Sticking to the same writing practice, Zedd simply had to take cues from his surroundings when it came to producing a cohesive album. “After hearing four to five songs, I realized that all I’ve written were kind of different,” he replied when asked about the intention behind “True Colors.” “They have totally different colors and I thought that’d be a great concept — for every song to be some color. When you close your eyes, I want you to feel something in every single song.”

How anyone could keep their eyes closed during a Zedd live performance, I have no idea. One can only be drawn like a fire-hungry moth to the lights blazing throughout the arena. “The visual aspect is just as important for me as the actual music,” said Zedd in the documentary, Moment of Clarity. Unlike the random slivers of light that go on-and-off at nightclubs, the electric lights and graphics in his concert had a language of their own.

At one point, I found myself moving like the dangly neon straws projected on the screens. It was hypnotizing, to say the least. And when he played The Legend of Zelda theme remix accompanied by scrolling pixelated images of a video game character, nostalgic smiles flashed on people’s faces. Zedd might have been working his voodoo on us, but we would gladly submit to it again and again.

Towards the show’s final minutes, Zedd, going full circle, reprised the anthemic Spectrum and climbed the deck stand carrying the Philippine flag. Before saying good-bye for the night (he has always expressed a fondness for playing in the country), he had us dance to True Colors.

III.

“I would love to be remembered as somebody that made a difference in the electronic music scene… someone that had a big influence in its change towards something slightly more musical, more classical” was Zedd’s quick reply to questions of legacy. “There are certain bands that I look up to — Queen, Genesis, Beatles. Even when their sound changes, they’re still legends. They changed rock, they changed their genres.”

Touring the world at 24, making non-EDM listeners pay attention to the genre along the way, may not be a bad start. “I have a whole new respect for dance music, for how it comes together and the artists behind that beat that you’re dancing to,” Hayley Williams of rock band Paramore said as much after working with Zedd on the track, Stay the Night. And if my opinion counts, Anton’s true colors have just made me an even bigger, unapologetic fan of electronic music.

—Originally published in a different version on GIST.PH

Monday, August 10, 2015

See the world: notes on traveling

(An officemate dug this up, because it was his job to dig things up in the newspaper archive. This was written as a filler, and over a year later, I got praises for it.)

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There used to be, at least on my part, a great sense of romanticism when it comes to traveling. It is what you do to “find yourself”, “escape”, maybe meet “the one”, and if you’re truly lucky, discover a purpose in life. These may well be clichéd notions, but they are nonetheless alluring.

Not to say that the idealism is now entirely lost on me, only that travel has become such a buzzword in the past years that its initial glamour and mystery have somewhat waned. If you love traveling, or would like to try it, safe to say that it is easier these days. Travel deals and promos abound. All you need is some cash, time to spare, and an open mind. And this is perhaps where the difficulty lies, and why I haven’t been traveling as much as I’d like to: it is one thing to prepare the luggage, but quite another to prepare the mind.

When I said I love food, I didn’t mean I love all food. This was my first mistake in traveling with a group for the first time. Little was I aware of my biases, and instead of taking the chance to get acquainted with the unknown, I opted out.

Others would surprisingly confess that one of their mistakes when traveling is bringing a camera. Capturing the moment removes them from the moment. This is not to say that taking a photo in your trips is despicable, rather, it is a reminder to pay attention. Among all the things we associate with travel, we could at least agree that it is an occasion to see the world.

What I look forward to seeing and seeing more of is nature and architecture. What nature does is humble you with its vastness and inexplicable grandeur, and realizing that you are part of it is empowering. My faith in the universe is strengthened as a quiet voice says, everything is in its proper place.

Architecture, on the other hand, strengthens my faith in humans. Not a church-goer myself, I can stay for hours inside the Miag-ao church in San Joaquin. Why? Because these structures standing for centuries show that mortal hands can create something beautiful and enduring. It proves that we are intelligent creatures who care for each other.

I vow to get out more this year, and along with this is the promise to be more open and attentive; but this time, not just to nature and works of art, but also to other people. If I may borrow poet Mark Doty’s words, when people are “real” to you, you begin to understand them for who they genuinely are and not as part of a category.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from my few travels is that traveling can never be mere passing by, checking things out, and taking photos for proof. Most of all it shouldn’t be an escape as it ought to teach us to be “in the present”, and that seeing — giving your absolute attention to the littlest things — must be a way of life.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Heavydirtysouth

Cool Saturday afternoon with no threats of rain. You’d think everyone has already flocked to the malls, but Alabang Town Center (ATC) was met with light foot traffic. But then again, this was Muntinlupa, south of the metro, where the residents are known to take it easy.

At the shopping complex’ activity center, things were a little more interesting. A stage was set up and people gathered by the barricades. A shopper, obviously unaware of what was happening that day, asked the security guard, “Who’s performing?”

To those who had no clue, the baby grand piano might’ve deceived them and made them think that a crooner was dropping by. When the show started at 5 p.m., two masked men took to the stage and amplified the noise that the screaming crowd was making.

It was Twenty One Pilots’ debut performance in the Philippines and they treated the July 18th ATC concert no different than their other shows. Singer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun have a reputation for outrageous behavior — all in the name of good fun — and they served it up along with their genre-defying songs, which lyrics and inflections the audience knew by heart.

The duo began with Heavydirtysoul, the opening track of their newly released album, “Blurryface.” Tyler sang on a microphone suspended in air, speculated by some fans as representative of a noose; but if you asked us, it was simply a visually appealing arrangement.

As expected, Tyler was all over the place, meaning he sprinted, got atop the piano, jumped down from it and back on it again. By the third number, Tyler dove into the pit and rapped the first few verses of Holding On To You while being carried by the lucky few who were staying where he landed. Josh also got into the action and somersaulted from the piano to the ground (was that piano ever for playing?).

Tyler Joseph scales one of the nearby pillars.
To be honest, a concert at a mall is quite an odd affair. People go there for different reasons and while a public space, aren’t guests entitled to a piece of privacy? Imagine how a customer at the adjacent café, who wanted nothing but to sit in silence, felt when the audience shrieked, “Somebody stole / my car radio / and now I just sit in silence.” For the ticket-holder’s part, it may be unfair that interested passers-by can watch for free. In addition, it must be difficult to head-bang when others are staring.

But Twenty One Pilots and their “Skeleton Clique” were caught in a world of their own, with an understanding that “sometimes quiet is violent” and if music were curative, they’d take it wherever they could find it, onlookers be damned.

In a GIST exclusive interview, Tyler explained that Blurryface is a made-up character symbolizing a person’s insecurities. “People are drawn to music. We say the things they’re afraid to say, we are their outlet,” he shared. A segment of the entertainment scene may communicate empowerment and it’s admirable but, when overdone, is also alienating. We have our inner rockstar, yes, but we also have our inner Blurryface, who, whether we admit it or not, care about what other people think.

And this honesty, which is far from self-deprecation, expressed in rhyme, catchy melody and energetic beats, is why we trust Twenty One Pilots to take us on a musical ride.

It doesn’t hurt that they’re a riot on — and off — stage. Tyler has a habit of climbing whatever he could climb and when we thought this antic wouldn’t be possible in such a family-oriented establishment, the singer scaled one of the nearby pillars.

For the finale, Josh and Tyler each banged on an acoustic drum poured with water — at the mosh pit, above the crowd.

The show only lasted for an hour but everyone had a satisfied look on their face after. Twenty One Pilots brought sixty minutes of madness to an otherwise peaceful south, and we were all the better for it.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The only reason I don't want my mother dead is my father will be lonely.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dislocation

Neither feel safe nor free in my own house.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The world through prism-vision

“We’re going all around the world spreading light,” said Katy Perry on “Vevo Tour Exposed” in describing the Prismatic World Tour, which is in support of her fourth studio album, “Prism.” According to billboard.com, Perry originally intended to make an acoustic record with “depressive shades,” but instead “found inspiration in more positive places.” The site quoted the singer: “All the light hit me and it influenced the songs.”

On May 7, the tour marked its first anniversary and biggest show to date at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan. For two hours, Katy Perry fans, also known as “KatyCats,” were transported into and enraptured by Perry’s Prismatic world.

The show was divided into seven set pieces, each one showcasing Perry’s music and personality. The first part, “Prismatic,” opened with the pop star’s recent #1 single, Roar and immediately raised the room’s energy to stratospheric heights.

Perry came out on stage donning a gladiator-inspired suit, not without a touch of Katy quirkiness — glowing cats eyes on the chest, lights at the seams, and more strands of light flowing from her ponytail. Around her were dancers wielding fluorescent spears.

She was just starting. Next up was the “Egyptian” section where the audience saw their princess riding a mechanical horse around the stage and a giant snake dancing as she sang Dark Horse. At this point, it was difficult not be impressed by the elaborate stage production and be convinced that “more is more.”

After the stormy performances, the playful, campy Katy Perry we knew surfaced, taking on the role of her cat Kitty Purry (or was it the other way around?) in the “Cat-oure” section, which was packed with every visual and aural cat pun and reference — from the theater theme that was reminiscent of the musical, Cats to making a catwalk out of the stage. A highlight within this highlight was Perry sashaying in a glittering fishbone dress to the tune of Madonna’s Vogue. In this part she sang an early hit, Hot N Cold and International Smile, a potential new hit from “Prism.”

The singer displayed both her warmth and sense of humor in the “Acoustic” section, dishing out emotional songs like By the Grace of God and the soaring ballad, Unconditionally. In between she talked to the fans and even asked a die-hard KatyCat to come up on stage and teach her Tagalog.

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“We may have different languages but we both share the love of music. We all came here and went through the traffic because we love music,” she remarked and continued in a more serious tone, “We hope that you come out of this show feeling happier than when you came in.”

The following section, “Throw Back” was all about good ol’ fun. It began with dancers grooving to old-school hip hop beats like Good Vibrations before Perry came back on stage to perform Walking on Air, Last Friday Night and This is How We Do, employing humble props like SUV-sized flying emojis (the poo emoji a crowd favorite) and an inflatable car.

Later on Perry brought the California vibe to the Philippine Arena in “Hyper Neon,” where the audience reveled in Katy classics, Teenage Dream and California Girls. Meanwhile the dancers played with their colorful version of the HOLLYWOOD sign, spelling out words that define our time: YOLO and LOL, among others.

Perry ended the night belting out Firework. Here the audience was encouraged to put on the prism-vision glasses that diffract light — a final kaleidoscopic touch to the spectacle that preceded it.

The Prismatic World Tour had every intention do dazzle and succeeded. It’s a rare concert where one can say, “I’ve never seen anything like it before” alongside “Ah, that’s where my money went.”

It’s one thing to mount a show with a scale as grand as Prismatic’s and quite another to replicate it (from production quality to energy intensity) in 138 cities across different continents. “I’m proud that we never had a major injury or show cancellations,” declared Perry in the middle of the concert. “We get tired, we get homesick, but we show up every single time because we said we will show up.”

On behalf of the 30,000 people who went to the Philippine Arena last Thursday, we thank Katy Perry and her crew, who came over bringing music, humor and, as promised, light.

—Originally published on GIST.PH