Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tell All Youth To Skank! Mixkaela Villalon's Take On The Recently Concluded Manila Ska Festival

(Blog owner's notes: This is my first of the numerous backlog posts that I owe you people. The largely successful 2nd Manila Ska Festival took place last September 4 at Cubao X...and like I said a while back unfortunate circumstances (a.k.a. fatigue, tight sched) kept me from attending and joining in the melee. But hey. Look what I have here. Fresh point-of-views are always welcome, ain't it? In this case, the post is written from Mixkaela Villalon's perspective. if you want to know more about Mix, let these links speak for her. Suffice to say, I enjoy reading her writings. She posts her musings here and here (this one being her erstwhile blog), and a sample of one of her award-winning works can be found here.


As for me, I wish to congratulate the people who made the 2nd Manila Ska Fest a howling success. Remember Piliskapinas, the same guys responsible for the Ska City United album compilation that is very very hard to come by these days? Piliskapinas is back after years of hiatus. Maybe an article about it should count as my backlog, too, hahah. Give yourselves a pat on the back as well: without you, none of these would have been possible. Oh, enough talk. Read on, kiddies.)


Tell all youth to skank!

Skinheads, Rudes, and Mods mob Cubao X!

RIOT, RIOT at the 2nd Manila Ska Fest!

(Text and photos by Mixkaela Villalon)

I’ll admit, we were late to the party. The 2nd Manila Ska Fest was due to start at 6pm on September 4, 2010, and I spent the first two hours in SM North EDSA, doing some last-minute jedi mind tricks on a couple of friends who had no idea what ska is and were dubious of the Philippine ska scene.

Don’t know what ska is? I outta slap you in the mouth.

Crash course: ska is a musical fusion of Carribean mento and American Jazz. It predates rocksteady and was the harbinger of Jamaican reggae and English two-toned. Ska history can be classified into three periods— Jamaican reggae also known as First Wave, English two-toned which was Second Wave, and the punk-infused Third Wave. Ska is characterized by the staccato rhythm played on the guitar that sounds like ska, ska, ska. Ska is the theme music to the lives of every steady-rocking, moonstomping, porkpie-hat-wearing, vespa-driving cool cat motherfucker to ever don the boots and braces. Seriously, educate yourself. I’m so embarrassed for you.

Finally, after much convincing and beer-bribing, we were on our way to Cubao X. The organizers at the entrance flattered me by asking if I was above the age of majority, to which I sweetly responded by flashing him my nearly-expired drivers’ license. A heads up, rude boys and girls: ska may be for everyone but ska gigs are no place for kids.

“This is the first time my cherry-red Doc Martens boots felt at home,” my friend told me. She’s been rocking them boots for some time, albeit tying the laces loose like a retard, but it was endearing all the same. And right here, right now, in the smoky night at the heart of Cubao was a sea of traditional black Doc Martens, laced up tight by the bovver boys, ready for aggro.

But there was no aggro to be had here, my droogies. Just some sweet, sweet ska. I believe Umble Uno, a Quezon City ska band, was playing. We had already missed the ladies of Cavite’s Fingertrapp, as well as Go for the Goat, and Bulacan’s finest Pulikats. What a shame.

We braved the sea of mods, rudes, and skinheads to grab some beer from the bar. My other friend, a long-haired dude who tagged along to experience this music he has never heard of, was suddenly thinking of getting a hair cut. He wasn’t the only one who needed it. I spied a handful of suedeheads in their tight pants and Fred Perry shirts, hiding their hair under flat caps and fedoras. Skinhead, skinhead, get a haircut!

Segue—A couple of weeks before the Manila Ska Fest, a friend and I were downing some bottles after work over at Metrowalk in Ortigas. Out of nowhere, three skinheads passed by. They were dressed right proper too: Fred Perry shirts, one in a Ben Sherman which must’ve cost him his mother’s eyes, 14-eye DMs and braces. And here I was in a Chelsea cut in need of a trim. Nevertheless, I offered a comrade’s greeting: “Oi, oi, oi!”

The trio slowed their prowl, glanced at me and flashed shy smiles before walking away. THAT WAS IT. No return oi, no knuckle-bump, no “Skinhead! Working class pride!” Honestly, I would’ve been a bit cheered to see a Nazi salute if it meant the subculture knew some of its roots. But there was nothing.

One of them didn’t even shine his boots. Kids these days.

But back to the show. Batangas’ Tellayouthska took the stage and it was time to skank. My friends and I hung in the back, watching the crowd skank near the stage. I was left trying to explain the behavioral codes and customs of the ska scene to bewildered friends. It was like a wildlife special.

“What’s the funny dance they’re doing? Like Charlie Chaplin.”

“’s called skanking. Left knee up, swing right fist up. Right knee up, swing left fist up. It’s like marching in place, but better.”

“Why’re those two dude skanking together, face-to-face? Are they gay?”

“Probably not. ‘s cool, though, it happens. When skanking together, you try to meet your partner’s boot. ‘s not gay. Though there’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Why do the girls have weird hair cuts? Like someone upended a soup bowl on their head and cut the bangs.”

“’s called Chelsea cut. Fuck you, it’s nice.”

“What’s with all the checkered patterns?”

“’s like a ska logo, all right? It celebrates the history and tradition of ska as a two-toned scene, a merging of both black and white cultures.”

I was getting tired of playing the tourist guide so I coughed up an excuse to take photos near the stage. Once in the heart of the sweaty, rowdy crowd, I knew I was home.

Tellayouthska busted out the song People Act like they don’t know, the horns section and chorus of which was unapologetically yoinked from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ The Impression I Get, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Replication is the highest form of flattery, and if you’re out to copy someone, you may as well copy from the best. The music swelled like a heartbeat.

Next up was Stolen Shots from Albay. Now I know the gig is called Manila Ska Fest, but what that actually means is that the gig is to be held in Manila (Quezon City actually, since it was in Cubao). What’s that mean? Simple. Ska isn’t limited to a place, hence how this beautiful music scene has jumped from ship to ship, country to country, and found itself scattered in the islands of the Philippines. Every ska band injects its own take on the genre. They take the music, spin it and make it their own. But the general flavor is the same. It’s ska, and Ska City United. Manila skins and rudes and mods all skip and skank to Albay or Cavite or Bulacan ska. It’s a wonder to behold.

“Early in the morning, I woke up and hear the rude boys playing. They were noisy, they were rude, just like me,” Stolen Shots play in their song Chocolate Brown Coffee. That’s what’s up.

Pink Cow was up next, breaking the consistency of singers wearing Fred Perry and two-toned bough shoes (that’s bough shoes, not boat shoes. Leave those to the hipsters who hold court in Cubao X during the weekdays). Here was the oi music I was waiting for, and as always, that was the crowd’s cue to mix and mash skanking with slam dancing. The bouncers and security guards were beside themselves, wondering if they should break the violence up. But there was no violence here, mate! Just some steady-moving oi, and if you get hit and fall on the stage (like I did), you pick yourself up and slam right back.

“Pare, pare, may natamaan na, (dude, you’ve hit someone),” I heard a bouncer tell a skinhead to which the proper reply was “E ano ngayon? (so what?)” The same skinhead who knocked me down pulled me up, brushed me off, and we both went back on our merry way.

“This last song’s for the bouncers,” Pink Cow announced before shouting “Here monkey boy!” and diving headlong into a punkified version of Toots and the Maytals’ Monkey Man. The crowd went nuts. Needless to say, the security guards and bouncers made themselves scarce after that. In Ska City, we govern ourselves.

“This beer is making the bands sound the same,” my long-haired friend said when I went back to check on them. Despite being newly-baptized in the United Church of Ska, they seemed to be having fun.

“This is so weird, everyone’s extremely friendly,” cherry-red DMs friend said. “Even the thug-looking bald people in boots.” What can I say, it’s a fun music scene.

“Which band should we be looking out for?”

I didn’t even have to think before answering. “Shuffle Union.” And what do you know, they’re taking the stage.

Now Shuffle Union’s been around the block a few times, paid their dues, earned the chip on their shoulders and the laces on their boots. In my not-so-humble opinion, they’ve taken the reigns of Pinoy ska after Pu3ska disbanded and Brownbeat All Stars ran the scene for as long as they could. I may get curb-stomped for saying this, but when it comes to the local ska scene, few other bands have been so prolific and consistent with their sound. Shuffle Union has popped up on so many reggae and ska compilation albums, it would be a bit unfair to still call them ‘underground.’ But by dint of the very musical genre and by not having a major record label, all right, I suppose they’re still underground.

Proving their salt, the ska scene veterans held their ground and delivered a tight set even after the bouncers have surrendered the night to the rowdy crowd. Judging by the way Shuffle Union barely batted their lashes whenever the drunken rude boys swarmed around the stage, grabbed the microphones and sang along to their songs, I think it’s safe to assume we’re skanking with the heavy weights now.

Right on their tail, the Marcos Cronies from Pampanga were just as good as I remember. They’ve been around since I was in high school (which says more about me than them, I suppose). Like the band before them, these guys have toured the ska hotspots—Pampanga, Bulacan, Baguio, Manila — seducing your good ol’ Catholic boys and girls to a life of blue beat and booze.

I’m not sure how accurate my memory is, but I do remember some rumors about the Marcos Cronies’ EP Skacity being pirated by the bastards in Carriedo, Quiapo. Which is a cheap shot, really, when you’re pirating independent labels and underground bands, but you can’t deny that there’s a certain dark prestige about that. These unsigned guys are good enough to be pirated, guys! Seriously, Marcos Cronies are great. The skanking crowd somehow organically evolved into a breakdancing-style dance off to one side of the stage.

Another legendary band takes the stage and the night seems to be heading at breakneck speed. It’s Jeepney Joyride! The energy in the place, it’s now thick as thieves! The vocalist still wears those pockmarked spoon-eyed goggles! He still egg rolls on the ground! The songs are different though—new but still good. Although I did miss their older songs, Lilim and Kape. The older songs seemed more energetic, or maybe I just haven’t warmed up to their new tunes. But hey, they played that old school tune, Jeepney Joyride, to cap their set off.

One of the best things about ska, I believe, is its willingness to keep the past alive. Let’s face it—mod three piece suits? Braces and boots and crombie jackets? Fedora hats? That’s old school, man. But the ska scene recognizes the need to always—always—remember their roots. And why not? Of all the youth subcultures that’s come and gone, it’s always been ska that bore the brunt of history’s cruelty, no thanks to mass media. Mods are a caricature of themselves now, represented by Austin Powers and black and white youtube videos of The Who. No one knows about ska (as evidenced by my two newly-initiated friends), and skinheads have become the international symbol for white-power hate and fascism.

But go back, look back, follow the immortal words of Mikey Dread and “Remember the days of bread and water, remember the days of hunger. Don’t forget your roots and culture, don’t forget your place of shelter.”

Know your culture, Rudie, and trace back where ska came from. It isn’t racist and it isn’t dead. It’s alive and kicking, not only in the West but all the way in Malaysia and Japan and Israel and the Philippines. Ska was the born from the immigrants, culminated by cultural clashes, polished by the working class. You pay your dues and you pay your respects. You keep the torch burning and you stand your ground, even in the face of people who claim that ska isn’t for you.

Speaking of keepin’ on keepin’ on, enter SMB also known as Steadymovinbeat. When last I heard these boys, they still had a girl vocalist. I guess times change, but their sound’s still pretty much on the ball. These guys aren’t afraid of throwing back to the greatest of the greats, busting out a cover of Gangsters by The Specials in the middle of their set. It’s a good feeling, watching the younger kids in the crowd—dreadlocked and sporting Nike kicks instead of shaved heads and boots— getting an education on ska’s glorious past. Nothing bridges the generation gap better than shouting “Don’t call me Scarface!” over the hypnotic keyboards. Betcha these kids never thought the phrase “Pick it up!” can mean so much more than just an anti-littering slogan.

By this time, the management of Cubao X has been threatening to shut us down the closer we approached midnight. Not that this crowd was going to take it sitting down. If they cut the microphones and amps and shut the lights down one more time, they’d have real aggro in their hands. Fortunately, the management relented long enough to let the last two bands play on. For that, a hundred thousand thanks to Mogwai even if they ran out of beer before the night was over.

Coffeebreak Island was the last band I saw that night because my friends were getting tetchy and Mogwai had already run out of beer. What can I say about Coffeebreak Island? These guys are my absolute favorite and they didn’t let me down this time. Covering both 54-46 was my number and Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals, they even played the first few opening seconds of Symarip’s Skinhead Moonstomp.

By this time, the slightly elevated stage was more of a suggestion than an imposition, as the crowd swarmed and stood on any available flat surface. The floodlights have been bumped this way and that and the band had to adjust themselves accordingly to be illuminated. If the microphone stand falls, no worries. The crowd’s there to scream lyrics right back at the band.

I hear Bulacan’s proud sons, Skabeche, played the last set of the night, and these guys are boss too. I wish I stayed a bit longer for them, but my friends were looking to find more drinks and I was hitching with them. All the same, I was pretty sure the exuberant mix of mods, skins, rudes, and the handful of people who were starting to rethink their subcultural allegiances were there to make them feel more than welcome. All in all, it was a fine, fine night for Manila’s Ska Fest.

Parting words now. A round of applause to all the bands that played, and all the ska kids that crawled out of the woodwork, and a full case of beer to the organizers for pulling this off. If the night’s turnout is anything to go by, it’s a pretty good bet that there’s going to be another one of these epic ska nights next year.

Pick it up, pick it up!

(Oh, and if there’s anything I could wish from any succeeding ska gigs, it’s this: someone has to cover some Streetlight Manifesto. Make it work, rudies!)

*******
Up next: Hm, lemme see. Ok. Let it be Andy Deported. And most likely a new playlist. See y'all soon. Yay!

5 comments:

The Majestic Mademoiselle Mae said...

speechless..... bow

Marika and friends said...

well done ^^

Anonymous said...

nice one.... if i was around that area, i would have gone there and skanked the night away but what can i do i'm from cebu but i show my support and raise my glass with respect to all the rudies, mods, skinheads, suedeheads and all other subcultures that were present there. i loved the part when you said "it's called chelsea cut. fuck you. it's nice". classic line there.

ska_nurse said...

skankin

Marika and friends said...

@anonymous: daghang salamat bai. tinuod ka, mixkaela stated that classic line re chelsea cut, haha! i salute the lady^^

@ska_nurse: yay! a health professional in our midst! someone to look after the pasaway rudies pag nadidisgrasya, hehe :P