Listen to MAGARIB and read about the profound experience on Siargao Island which birthed DATU.
What is your earliest memory of music?
Like a lot of Filipinos of my generation, it was my Dad playing Beatles albums on repeat. Every melody the Beatles have written has been ingrained in my subconscious mind since I was a child.
What were you doing before FTR and what made you stick to this project?
I was going through different phases in various subcultures throughout SoCal. I was raised on Hip Hop, but also influenced by the DIY Punk/ Hardcore scene; and even experimented in the early Rave/ Jungle movement. No matter what it was, I was always trying to find an answer to the conformist culture that was sold to us as the “American Dream.” I stuck to FTR because I wanted to create something original for myself regardless of the outcome. There were no record deals for people like me at the time, no future, so “making it” wasn’t really the motive. I created FTR out of necessity for my own sanity.
What was the first record you bought?
My first albums were bootleg tapes of old rap albums and DJ mixes. As far as my first purchase; I think it was either Eazy E – Eazy Duz it or 2 Live Crew – Nasty As They Wanna Be.
Tell us about being a Filipino growing up in LA.
Every Filipino has their own experience growing up in California. It really depends on what neighborhood your family landed in. I moved around a lot, and somewhat of an identity crisis followed me throughout my early years. Most of my close friends were also first generation immigrants and minorities of all different backgrounds. Black, Hispanic, other Asians etc, we were all the same.
On one end I was living amongst a beautiful melting pot of cultures united; but the flip side was that majority-authority figures treated us like a threat. If you were a minority where I was in the 90s, it was natural to fall into gangs or become some sort of misfit since we were already treated like criminals by default. Years of dealing with systemic racism, self esteem issues and teenage angst, I was eventually able to channel my energy in a more positive way through the discovery and love of Hip Hop Culture. The 90’s and early 00’s saved me from falling into the gang life and moved my focus into being creative through different ways of self expression – through DJing and dance cyphers. Myself, as a Filipino, and people of all backgrounds who followed similar paths found cultural identity in the unity of ideas without color lines. LA is one of the true melting pots of the World where, regardless if you have been disconnected from your actual culture or not, you can find refuge in the subcultures you create or discover.
Ph: Brendan Goco
When was your first gig in Manila?
2010 during an OBEY Records tour at B-Side.
Who are some of your favourite artists from Manila?
My OG’s from my first experiences in Manila till this day continue to be favorites of mine… Caliph8, Pasta Groove, Mulan, Red i, Astrid & Ras Taro etc. Honestly though, going out on any given night in Manila is a home run. Pretty much all DJs playing whatever genre I hear out there are great. There’s no shortage of skillful musicians and DJs in Manila.
Last year you curated a mixtape of some of your favourite producers including one of Manila’s most respected – Caliph8. Tell us more about Tempo Dreams, Vol 5.
The Brooklyn based, Bastard Jazz label hit me up about curating for their on going compilation series and I gladly accepted. They gave me 100% freedom to feature whom I wanted, and it was geared towards underdogs and underrated artists. Big names isn’t the draw for this comp; just friends and artists that I was feeling who were in my path at the time. I was traveling a lot then and chose various artists along the way from Jerusalem, to Osaka, to Rotterdam and beyond. Caliph being quite possibly the most talented artist I’ve ever seen live on an MPC, a creative genius and a dear friend, definitely fit to represent Manila. The Tempo Dreams series and concepts like this keep the culture moving forward.
You recently premiered a new track from Datu at Boogie. Tell us more about this?
Datu is actually a concept album I recorded during my time living in Siargao Island. It was originally inspired by an intense psychedelic experience that lead me through a wormhole of self discovery about my indigenous bloodline. I literally shot my consciousness like a cannon through the quantum realm and found myself in the jungle amidst beings who may actually have been my ancestors. Hands from what seemed to be a Shamans pulled me out of a river and brought me into a village. Strangers with detailed faces, communicated to me with words I couldn’t understand but had a message for me that I’m still trying to decipher. A theory in quantum physics explains that time is actually not linear. If everything is happening all at once, then my consciousness may have just made its way through my DNA in an attempt to show me who I really am. This is the short version of the story, but the whole experience felt like its own eternity and made me to look further beyond what I perceive to be reality. Honestly I have no knowledge of what stories exist in my blood beyond my grandparents. Unfortunately colonization, cultural amnesia, and the reshaping of Philippine culture throughout generations have me and countless others almost completely disconnected from our ancestral roots; especially as a Fil-Am.
Ph: Chico Zapotilla
The concept behind this album is my way of reconnecting with my ancestry in the spiritual realm of the creative flow state. This state of being, I feel is the realm of the gods, and if there’s anyway to connect with them, its by finding that place of pure focus by act of creation. I spent months tracking down rare vinyl and recordings of native instrumentation samples from throughout the Philippines before my leave to the island. I took a bare bones studio set up with me and created a 12 song album in 3 days in a simple hut of a house near the beach.
Why Siargao? What’s life like there?
I fell in love with the island instantly; the vibe, the atmosphere, and the people I consider family at this point. It didn’t take much for me to decide Siargao is where I want my next FTR headquarters to be; possibly my retirement if/ when that happens. I went in on some land and I’m currently building houses/creative studios in a collective of units with my team. It’s a current evolving project and will be called ‘Alima’ located in Barangay Malinao. Life there is as simple or intense as you want it to be. Having lived the city grind of LA along with the endless touring and wandering the globe for so long, it’s nice to change the vibe. I also fell in love with surfing somewhere on this path, and it goes hand in hand with the creation of music. The ability to improvise, take chances, and put yourself in the flow state are all part of the process of both surfing and creating. Having the ability to synchronize both of my passions is a powerful force, and on this beautiful island is where I would like to spend my time doing so.
Not many people know that you love surfing? How long have you been surfing for?
Surfing came into my life as an anomaly. It’s rarely on the agenda of anyone who grew up heavy on city street culture. No matter who you are or what you’re into, the moment you give it a shot, paddle out, pop up, and actually ride a wave changes everything. It’s like popping up into another dimension. All of a sudden any reserves or ego you had are let go of. It humbles you because sometimes you feel like you’re gonna die, but it’s extremely fun at the same time. My staff and team at (The Crosby) introduced me into surfing awhile back as an alternative to the daily stress of running a restaurant/ bar/ venue. We would literally have our meetings, or “board meetings”, out in the water every morning before working into the night. I got more serious about it a few years ago though, just a bit before my first time coming to Siargao.
Would you consider moving more permanently?
Yes but for now semi-permanently will have to do. I still have so much I have to do musically in LA, no matter how torn I am between these two lifestyles. For now this balance of living between the city and the island is working pretty solid enough for me to stay inspired.
Ph: Brendan Goco
Last month the death of legendary LA beat maker Ras G shocked the international beat community. Can you tell us about the impact he made on you and on the LA Scene?
Ras G just went home. He was always out of this world, traveling in other dimensions and back on the planet. While he was on Earth though, he was our brother, teacher, and low key spiritual leader in LA. Like a monk he would manifest his sound in the spiritual realm and create these vibrations, perform them, and heal you like a Shaman. His music was one thing, but his magnetic outlook on life is what inspired people to keep an open mind, stay humble and be original. Everyone loved him, from every hood in LA to around the world.
“Everybody on the planet can’t be the same …so accept and respect the difference …be grateful that your voice and ideas are genuinely your own” – Ras G
One time after some shows we did in Europe, we landed together in LAX. Reflecting on what we just did – playing these massive crowds receiving love in these amazing cities, we had this conversation about keeping it humble, and not deflecting from how and why we do this in the first place. Back to square one with a simple dap and a hug we parted ways as if it didn’t even happen. He got on the 40 Bus to South Central, and I got on the Goldline train to Pasadena; it was right back to the studio for the both of us with our egos left in baggage claim.
You’re considered a pioneer of the LA Beat Scene. What’s it like now versus back then? How has this scene evolved?
In its beginnings the scene was very small and experimental. LA never had it’s own signature sound in electronic music, but with all the creative energy in the city and the evolution of LA Hip Hop, things naturally had to move forward. There weren’t many venues who would take chances on anything new, so the small amount who did, people would flock to. With roots between the various local events like (Project Blowed, Concrete Jungle, Sketchbook, The Rootdown, Firecracker etc.), parking lot cyphers, DIY underground events and raves; something fresh was bubbling and ready to burst. Then The Low End Theory came into this grimey space called ‘The Airliner’ and provided a stage for the scattered weirdos throughout the city. It was like a synergetic bomb going off. Suddenly everyone from all over LA and beyond had a real place to call home every week. You went to Low End to hear something you never heard, to collaborate on ideas, and ultimately contribute to something that was truly Los Angeles.
Over the years the scene evolved quite a bit in different forms. On all levels artists were getting worldwide recognition which spread even more influence in different places. These days the bar has been set and countless artists from the scene have reached extreme accolades and general “success.” There is now a digestible palate for what happened in LA through the years. Like all things, what that started off experimental and left field, became the building blocks that paved way for newer generations and ideas reaching audiences of all kinds.
Do you have any advice for people just starting out?
One bit of solid advice is to maybe start with Ras G’s quote… But to build on that, I’d say don’t be afraid. Anything truly original may not be the most palatable sound for most audiences at first, but sticking to your guns is not a bad way to change minds. There’s an audience for anything. Just don’t be forceful or judgemental if people aren’t on your level.
When will you be back in the Motherland?
I’m trying to come back during the Holidays . If not then definitely when our Alima houses open up on the island.
And finally some Mynila Meets Questions…..
What are you favorite spots in Metro Manila for –
Eating: Locavore, Sarsa, Manam and Ministop (fried chicken)
Drinking: Boogie, Oto, Limbo, Annex House, Dulo, Futurist, Kartel, Casa Bambu, Ringside, and that Cat bar behind the Pandesal shop..
Dancing: Boogie, Black Market
Shopping: Cubao Expo, Greenhills bootlegs and computer repair shop
Which area of Metro Manila do you like the most and why?
I know its typical, but Poblacion of course. From my experience, its the first walkable area where you can do a million things in a night.
(Datu cover by Phil Nisco)
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