Thursday, August 25, 2016

1. Wearing sunglasses on rainy days

After a successful LASIK surgery in 2009, my ophthalmologist prescribed the usual: eat healthy, exercise, sleep well, do not marry the computer screen. And then the unusual: wear polarized lenses.

My idea was to (technically) go under the knife, so I could once and for all do away with glasses, which are a hindrance to an active lifestyle, not to mention expensive in the long-run. But before I could object, the good doctor reasoned: they (1) reduce glare and eyestrain; (2) improve eyesight; and (3) protect the eyes from the sun, dust, and other harmful elements, natural or otherwise.

Paranoid and obsessive about my brand-new vision, I bought the best sunnies my money could afford. Since then I couldn’t leave the house without sunglasses. They’ve become apparatuses of extreme importance (along with my watch and cellphone, and former prescription glasses) that I couldn’t be bothered to take them off even upon entering a mall or when the weather turns gloomy.

The other morning, on my way to work, someone shouted, “Lakas ni ate, nakasalamin,” declaring the absurdity of wearing shades while the rain is pouring. To be fair, ten years ago, if I ran across a lady sporting Ray-Ban aviators in the middle of a windstorm, I’d be equally perplexed. But how I wanted to shout back at the rude passer-by: “Wala kang pakialam!”

2. Throwing ‘dialectic’ in casual conversation.

It doesn’t get any easier in your thirties. You’d think at this age, you’d stop feeling the need to explain yourself and conform. You’re wrong. The teenage confusion, the doubt, they don’t go away; they evolve into a new, adult form called over-thinking.

At a friend’s party, the conversation over sushi rolls took a socio-political swerve and one of the more sober participants was arguing her case. She was about to drop the term “dialectic” but instead opted for an easier-to-digest alternative that I don’t remember now.

I can smell fear of sounding too intelligent from a mile because I harbor it, too. Being told, “Wow, lalim!” after every statement you make will make you want to shut up for life — which is impossible. And this is one root of over-thinking. I can’t do that, it’s offensive… but I have to stand my ground. I can’t say that, they won’t understand… but that’s condescension. I must own my eccentricities, but I don’t want to drive people away. I hate people.

3. Approaching the cool girl.

Why was it easier to make friends in grade school? Back then my seat mate instantly became my best friend. Was it because we were stuck beside each other in the same room every day for months that we learned to bond for survival? Or was it just pure childhood innocence?

What I know so far is that my days of innocence are gone and taking its place is a crippling self-awareness. Even if I — by the grace of universe — were seated beside an interesting lady (I know because I follow her on Twitter), I couldn’t bring myself to say hi. Because other than the possibility of her being a total snob, I might say something embarrassing, or worse, bore her.

4. Failing.

And not in a grand, romantic way. Not in a way that makes for a classic graduation speech or a plot point of a blockbuster sports film; but in an everyday, “Damn another red light” kind of way.

In school they ask us, “What do you want to contribute to the world?” The question presupposes that whatever we are (and are not) doing now has no impact on our immediate environment. This framework endorses the notion that to do good (“to have succeeded”), we have to do something measurable — huge, to be precise: support a charity, write a patriotic novel, become president.

But it’s the little things, yeah? What defines us are the small, daily decisions we make when no one’s looking — sorry, documenting. I personally don’t fear failure as much as I fear the label “failure.” If we stop beating ourselves (and each other) up when things don’t work out despite all our efforts, then maybe we could do more and be more — or simply be.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Why cosplay

It’s fun. Playing dress-up, pretending to be someone else and being admired for it is an inarguable source of joy. But when does someone cross the line between hobby and passion, between putting on a costume and becoming a character? What drives those whom we now call “cosplayers” to shell out P10,000 and spend hour after gruelling hour applying make-up to, say, be Two-Face for a day?

“I’ve been fond of video games and anime since grade school, so I felt like cosplay was the next step to being a fan,” explains writer and cosplayer Luie Magbanua. “I really got into it when I was in university and found a group of friends to cosplay with. What keeps me passionate about it is the love of the character that I want to emulate.” Cosplay, it seems, is the most blatant, flattering expression of allegiance to a pop culture treasure, and goes hand-in-hand with community formation — like how it is in Western superhero flicks, where individuals with superpower, in their perceived isolation, discover each other and band.

“Back then, cosplay wasn’t even a word!” shares Mika Fabella of The Philippine X-Men Team (FILXMEN), an organization of X-Men enthusiasts. “I was just in costume because I loved the fandom. We used to go around malls in full costume and people would look at us weirdly, like, ‘Ano’ng meron? Halloween ba?’ Nowadays, it’s so much easier. If you go to a mall in costume, people assume it’s for a cosplay convention.”

Fellow FILXMEN member Myke Dela Paz takes cosplay’s popularity as a corollary of the geek developing as the new cool. And with cosplayers having their own booths in conventions, signing autographs, posing for photos, and generally wowing audiences, it’s tempting to lump them together as another breed of celebrity. In a previous interview, Spider-Man cosplayer and former Kikomachine bassist Dan Geromo comments on this speci c allure of the practice: “Puwede pala ‘yong ganiyang klaseng buhay, ‘yong para kang pseudo-celebrity; hindi mo gamit ang totoo mong mukha.You just get into a character and automatically people will respond positively. Parang si Jollibee. Parang pagmamascot,” he says. “I thought, ang sarap siguro kung ganiyan ang trabaho mo.”

Fame can no doubt be a result of cosplaying, but Stephen Aguilar, also of FILXMEN, would rather see it as a bonus and not as an end. “Even though cosplay has become mainstream, it’s still a recent movement, so people are still confused about its role in pop culture. People think cosplayers are just hungry for attention and find it easier to dismiss us as celebrity wannabes,” he opines. “They see us at the cons and think that we’re just walking photo booths. That’s why I feel the need to emphasize the artistic side to it — the long hours, intricate craft sessions, and ambitious photo sessions. It’s like painting or playing music, but instead of a brush or a guitar, we use our bodies as instruments and the whole experience as our canvas,” he continues. “I see cosplayers as artists, and as artists they try to one-up one another. This pushes us forward and keeps things interesting.”

For these serious practitioners, the paradox is that this whole act of stepping into another’s skin is in fact their great means of self-expression. “Cosplaying is an extension of how much of a geek I am,” shares Mika. “I always say that I cosplay because I’m a grown adult and I still like to play dress-up and make-believe. That’s really what it is: you’re role-playing — the same thing you used to do as a kid, except now you can do it with the facilities and resources that you have as an adult.” With adulthood, however, comes adult problems: like cash.

Luie notes that one of the most challenging aspects of cosplaying is the budget, especially if you’re a perfectionist; while Stephen remarks that finding reliable tailors and suppliers is also a cause of headache. Age is another challenge: “Lately lumalaki ang tiyan natin at bumababa ang metabolism, so I need to do cardio first,” Dan points out.

“But when they go, ‘Oh my gosh, look it’s (name of character)!’, it’s all worth it,” says Luie, and it’s a sentiment that these cosplayers share. “My favorite reactions so far have been those I’ve seen with my Weeping Angel cosplay,” says Mika. “They would scream and run away and yell out, ‘Don’t blink!’ I loved it because I had so much fun scaring people, and also instantly discovering more people who like Doctor Who!”

It’s magic. We all know it’s an illusion — that underneath this superhero (and supervillain for that matter) is an ordinary person who happens to be crazy enough to paint themselves and walk in body-distorting garments. But who could deny its wonders? ”The best part about cosplaying, I can sum up in a short story: I was dressed as Psylocke at a convention one time. We were having our photos taken and in the crowd, I saw a little boy holding a Psylocke figure, staring at me in disbelief,” narrates Mika. “He really thought I was Psylocke! It’s that feeling, that moment of being able to convince all the kids and kids-at-heart that yes, the characters and the stories you know and love can be real. And the biggest part of making them real is you.”

—Originally published on GIST

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hands-free

In The Mix. August 18, 2016.
The 1975, James Bay, Panic! At The Disco
Third Eye Blind, Elle King, Twin Pines
When Brendon Urie said, 'If you heard about my band the very first time, it was probably from this song,' I thought they were going to play Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off, because that’s the song that introduced me to Panic! At The Disco (it was my ringtone at one point in time).

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I kind of enjoyed Panic!'s set more, even though I mainly came for The 1975. My box was dancing silly when Panic! was playing. When The 1975 came out, most of them were glued to their phones.

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Girl on our right was screaming all the lyrics to all Panic! songs. ALL.

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Girl on our left only came to life when The 1975 took the stage. She had this one-dance-move-fits-all-songs going on. ALL.

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My favorite surprise was You (which light play was poetry). Didn’t expect them to perform it. When I was just discovering the band, I'd leave their EPs on loop till I fell asleep. You's chorus—the repetition of those simple words, 'It takes a bit more', and that hurried guitar-strumming against an andante tempo—would wake me up like a gentle but scared child, asking to be held in the dark.

It is the sound and song structure that I will always associate with the band.

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It was the best concert I've been to since working in the media industry. It feels great to buy tickets to support artists you believe in and not worry about framing the experience in a sellable story.

Most of all it feels great to throw both your hands up in the air.

But you can't take the digital jungle out of the girl. I had to have some souvenirs, so I took out my phone during the performances of my least favorite songs.

A video posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on


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Tiny downer: Thought of having dinner first while waiting for my friend. Rain poured and delayed things as it often does. When we entered the arena, Third Eye Blind was already wrapping up their set. (I was also looking forward to seeing them.) Glass half-full: I heard Jumper and Semi-Charmed Life live.

What did I miss? Did they perform How's It Going To Be, Losing A Whole Year, Deep Inside Of You, Never Let You Go, and other hits?

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My original companion had to cancel at the last minute. I was stressed out a bit because that might mean one wasted ticket (I could always sell it to scalpers or be a hero and give it to a desperate fan, but those were the last options).

Long boring story short, I managed to tag Nicole along. It didn't take much convincing on my part because she's a big fan of The 1975 and Panic! as well—and now a James Bay fan.

Classic case of things falling into place.

If I may quote her: 'Yesterday was just a blur of good surprises. The kind of day that just shakes everything up and reminds me a lot of good things happen, too.'

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Do you wanna dance, do you wanna dance, do you wanna dance, dance

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Road to Justice

1. The press release landed in my inbox May last year. “In 2007, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay — better known together as Justice — released the single, D.A.N.C.E., which infectious beats captured a multitude of music fans… On May 14, 2015 the Parisian dance production duo will drop by the Philippines to heat up the Valkyrie dance floor,” it read. Why have these infectious beats not captured this music fan yet? I asked myself. So I searched for the song, which turned out to be catchy as fu…advertised (all those nods to Michael Jackson adding to its charm). I saved D.A.N.C.E. to my music bank then moved on with life.

2. The trailer for DJ film We Are Your Friends, starring Zach Efron, came out in the same summer. Included in the motion picture soundtrack was Justice’s remix of Simian’s Never Be Alone. Despite Efron’s good looks and my inclination towards EDM, other forms of distraction won my attention at the time. I neither saw the movie nor heard the OST.

3. YouTube recommended that I watch this Zedd interview, so I did. One of the questions was what got him into electronic music (he was a drummer for a metal band before becoming Zedd). His response: he bought Justice’s album, “Cross” and figured he wanted to make music like that. While metaphorically throwing my hands up, I thought, That’s it, I need to sit down with Justice.

4. Played “Cross.” TTHHEE PPAARRTTYY, with its relaxed, almost-bored cadence, instantly appealed to me. But it was the vocalist’s affectation of coolness and tongue-in-cheek lyrics that sold the song. Imagine Paris Hilton playing dumb blonde — it’s so easy to be annoyed by it if you take it seriously; but take it as an act and you’ll enjoy the ride. DVNO also stood out as a sing- and bop-along tune that has a sense of humor about it (part of the hook goes, “No need to ask my name to figure out how cool I am”).

5. Went on a stalking spree. What are Justice up to now? Are they touring? Do they have new music? Research led me to this Euro 2016 ad, which features Genesis, the first track on “Cross.” Maybe it was the setting of the video, but watching it made me realize what I liked about Justice: theirs is the kind of music I would leave in the background — not overbearing, not boring — and before it could fade in the subconscious, a soaring phrase will suddenly grab you by the collar, demand that you return to listening. Like classical music, only electronic.

6. Played “Cross” again. Tracks sans lyrics highlight how rhythmically engaging Gaspard and Xavier are, and how thoughtful their musical decisions are. Let There Be Light is particularly rewarding. It opens with fast drum beats, then by the fourth bar a distorted sound drills through and grows coarser every eight measures. At the three-minute mark your grandma might already condemn the noise; but let it run for a few more seconds and the notes shall gracefully fall into a quiet, pleasant version of the distortion — there’s the light and we discern the supple skeleton of the song.



7. I wanted more. Listening to their discography was imperative. Listening to what they listen to was sheer pleasure. I checked out every available mix they made and stumbled upon Jamelia’s Something About You and The Paradise’s In Love With You — songs I just knew I’d play for ever but wouldn’t have discovered if it weren’t for the French duo.

8. Justice released Safe And Sound last month. For some reason the single reminds me of Karl Jenkins’ Adiemus — perhaps due to the choir singing, the dream-like vibe, and the fact that I can’t immediately make out the lyrics. Jenkins is said to have utilized the human voice purely as a musical instrument and thus created “words” integral to the sonic experience. I’m not one to read much into a song’s lyrics, but I think Safe and Sound’s work both on the sonic and, however cryptic, semantic levels. In short, I like it.

9. I regret not catching their show when I had the chance (the pain is aggravated each time I listen to their live album, “Access All Arenas”). But I’m not too late a fan. Justice confirmed that they’ll soon release another studio album. I’ll be waiting, stalking, and — negative reviews aside — watching We Are Your Friends till that moment arrives.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

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Read part 2 here.