A Festival of Shared Music: The JD Indiefest

As independent music fans, we tend to be protective, if not possessive, of our own respective scenes. We become ecstatic whenever we discover new bands like them, and subsequently feel some degree of pride as we watch these bands get better and develop a bigger fan base. As snobbish (or “hipster,” if you will) as it may sound, being familiar with any music act before it got popular will always give the most ardent music aficionados bragging rights of some kind.

1Hardly any of the twenty bands who performed last May 30 at the Jack Daniel’s On Stage event leg called the JD INDIEFEST, could be considered as completely unknown, however. Some of them – including Flying Ipis, Turbo Goth, Tonight We Sleep, and Autotelic – have songs on the radio, while others – like Ang Bandang Shirley, Peso Movement, and Reklamo – have members who have been active in the scene long enough to qualify as indie rock veterans. Twenty one of them, along with a few other bands that didn’t make the cut, performed in a series of Scouting Gigs organized late last year by independent gig production outfits both here in Metro Manila and in Metro Cebu and were hand-picked by Jack Daniel’s to advance to the next level of the campaign. All these bands played three songs to an appreciative audience of local music fans last May 30 at Capitol Commons Pasig, including last year’s JD Set top three acts Blue Boy Bites Back, Kelevra, and Mr. Bones and The Boneyard Circus also giving top-notch performances at specific points of the night.

While it was apparent that every band had its respective share of admirers in the crowd (indie rockers The Strangeness had a horde of friends cheering all throughout their set), one could imagine that there were more than a few individuals who saw some of the bands for the first time that evening, given the sheer diversity of genres showcased at the Indiefest. There was instrumental rock (Wilderness, Earthmover), post-hardcore (Lions & Acrobats, Tonight We Sleep, Runway Crimes), post-riot grrl rock (Flying Ipis), melodic indie rock (Autotelic, We Are Imaginary, Ang Bandang Shirley, The Strangeness), rap metal (Curbside), pop punk (Mad Hatter Day, Penguin), electro-punk (Turbo Goth), disco/funk (Kala), soul/fusion (Farewell Fair Weather), and riff-heavy rock and roll (Imelda, Peso Movement, Reklamo). Even Cebu’s music scene was represented by Foc Fashion, who likely made converts from the largely Manila-based audience with their hyperactive brand of dance rock. Whatever their chosen sound, each band brought their A-game to the stage, giving their all for three-song sets that may be considered too brief by some (there was a total of 23 bands, after all), but impressive enough to justify their presence in the lineup.

On the surface, the JD Indiefest was intended to highlight some of the more potent acts that the local indie scene had to offer. However, one could tell that the organizers made an added effort to give the event a more “festival” type of vibe, as a number of independent production outfits were invited to put up booths that featured some kind of activity that enhanced the live music experience. Attraction! Reaction! sold tote bags, t-shirts, and other merchandise, while Flat Five Records put up a mobile recording station for attendees to participate in live jam sessions. Elsewhere on the event grounds, one could also find a live percussion booth manned by some of the country’s best percussionists, as well as a variety of food stalls that served appetizing homemade chow. Of course, Jack Daniel’s provided the liquor for the evening, which easily fulfilled the drink requirement of both the musicians and the attendees.

All in all, the JD Indiefest was a successful affair, most notably in its goal to showcase some of the country’s best unsigned music acts without discriminating among genres and personal preferences, and solely basing its selection on sheer talent and live charisma. Whether onstage or backstage, it was apparent that the bands themselves welcomed the support from Jack Daniel’s, appreciated the company of their peers and hung out with their fellow artists, and gamely gave the crowd a show to fondly remember. From a personal standpoint, it was refreshing to see these relatively under-the-radar bands whose members possess varying levels of experience in the local scene play their hearts out without any hint of self-doubt or pretension. Whether they’re in it to eventually gain the top spot in the ongoing Jack Daniel’s On Stage campaign, or simply doing it for the added exposure and the long-term support it will give them, we may never know. But what is certain is that everyone in the audience saw twenty non-mainstream bands give sincere, in-your-face performances onstage that night, and for whatever reason, all twenty of them were definitely pleased to be there.

Indeed, the JD Indiefest achieved the essence what it set out to be – an independent music festival. At a time when the words “music festival” could easily be misused and/or abused, Jack Daniel’s got it right on many aspects, at the very least in sharing this still-mostly-unfamiliar music to a wider audience. If these bands themselves could welcome the prospect of getting heard by more listeners apart from their longtime fans, then their core fan base should likewise be pleased when that opportunity eventually (and deservedly) comes. If anything, Jack Daniel’s is helping these bands make the step into that direction.