The queue was getting long and tempers were getting short as the sweltering afternoon sun slowly faded. The growing noise announced a crowd getting bigger by the minute. The pushing and shoving intensified the closer I got to the gate. When my turn came, I parted with practically my whole week’s allowance for a ticket. I remember I never had enough money in college but I thought this was worth the money and the trouble.
Lining up was half the struggle. Getting in, I had to squeeze myself through a phalanx of sweating bodies all trying to surge as close to the stage of the Sacred Heart gym as possible. I only half succeeded by the time the opening number exploded. Suddenly, the whole sea of now cheering teenagers (mostly) began to throb as one like an amorphous heart beating in time to the bass drum. This was exactly what I came for. Finally, I was seeing my rock heroes live and loud. At the peak of the concert, the whole audience screamed the lyrics of the songs together with the band like their survival depended on it, me included. By day’s end, I discovered hoarseness could be induced.
That was how I remembered Local Ground, circa 1991, the concert series that came to be adopted as the name of an era for Cebu. The years when bands like BTU, 40, and Etu were swarmed by fans hungry to hear their original rock anthems. Those old enough will remember that those years were the absolute peak of the local music scene.
An old friend of mine whom I bumped into recently lamented that the current local music scene could never compare. “Nothing at all like those good ‘ol days” was his wry observation. His laconic comment started me wondering why indeed was there never another golden era in the 15 years or so since Local Ground.
So how glorious were those glory days really?
While true that over the years, Cebu has seen many concerts dwarfing LG events, most of these are free-entrance concerts, or if otherwise, are usually headlined by Manila acts. And even then, the crowds today aren’t as loud, and are more apt to raise cold beer bottles to their lips than to raise voices at these events. They’re not there for the bands. They’re there for the entertainment.
While true that over the years, concert moshpits, that area immediately fronting the stage where slamdancing is the rule, have notoriously become livelier and more high-risk, you can’t exactly describe the typical mosher today as musically discriminating. They don’t sing to the band’s songs either, they slam to it. It’s obvious they don’t care to know the song. They only care to know that it’s loud. They’re not there for the bands. They’re there for the sport.
So where have all the true fans - the band-crazy, scream-yourself-hoarse-type of fans like those of Local Ground – gone?
Of course I exaggerate and make sweeping statements, maybe even unfairly and I admit to thoroughly enjoying it, but really, I still contend that the music scene has never really quite reached the peaks it once enjoyed in the early 90’s.
Ironically, during that era, none of the bands actually released albums. The exception was 40 the band that released Persistence of Memory but that album was released at the tail end of the waning era – post Local Ground, if you will. It was a reaction to the surge, not the catalyst. There was also a compilation album titled Mango Jam or something. I don’t remember exactly. But that too was released much later, again, more like an early tribute to an era past.
So what gives? We went through an era of hugely popular original music with only a fragmented music collection, old T-shirts and faded memories to prove it passed us. My 501’s lasted longer. The point why I bring this all back though isn’t to lament lost mementos but to dissect the anatomy of a movement, understand the chronology of an era, and ask whether maybe we could make it all happen again. Can we reverse-engineer the circumstances that spawned LG and bring about another golden age?
What ingredients made up the primordial soup of the early 90’s and do we have those same ingredients currently? Let’s see.
Supportive radio. Obviously, LG would never have occurred if local radio didn’t play the songs in regular rotation. Do we have that today? Yes. There’s even one in particular that’s a rabid promoter of Visayan Rock. Check.
Bands. Do we have as many bands now? Hell yeah, we’ve got more recognizable genres now than we had bands back then. Big check.
Recording Studios. Back then, I remember I knew of only two decent recording studios in the city. Now we’ve got at least a dozen good ones. Check.
Small venues to hone talent. Before, there was Shakey’s in Mango Ave and one gig place in Colon, that’s all I remember. Today, there’s Handuraw Café, Kahayag Café, Outpost, Vudu, Tequila Joe’s, Kasadya, and quite a number of other emerging venues, so another check.
Talent. Although the LG era produced rock legends like Benjie Rigor and Arnold “Anot” Ang, Cebu’s current crop certainly isn’t lacking. John Dinopol’s live performances with Urbandub, Paul Cañada’s improvisations, and Budoy’s showmanship, just to name a few. Another big check.
Fans. LG era fans swelled during concerts. But we have that too today. The regular fans who show up at large concerts and even the hardcore fans that flock special shows like punk events, reggae fests, etc.
Other ingredients that definitely help but weren’t there before. Music channels, internet forums, indie labels, you name it, we’ve got more happening today for music.
Hmmm, I’ve gone over list I made, only to find that whatever elements we had before that led to Local Ground, we have today – in fact, in heaps more!!! More bands, more opportunities for exposure, more fans. So why is it that after more than 15 years, we haven’t seen Local Ground happening all over again? Why hasn’t there been a groundswell when we’ve gotten more of everything! The answer is – exactly!
We’ve gotten to a point of abundance where it becomes impossible for one single movement to emerge. There’s simply a lot more bands. This breeds tougher competition and standards now way higher. So it’s not just more bands, its more good bands. The Cebu scene isn’t even isolated anymore. Competition isn’t localized. We’re now integrated with the bigger music scene, what with the shrinking of the Philippines – in fact, the entire world. Blame it on faster networks feeding faster demands for information which in turn breeds even faster networks. Bless Alvin Toffler.
Speaking of competition, remember that this is the age of MySpace and Youtube. Tell me, how can you hope to fascinate a captive audience long enough for them to want to line up for a concert ticket for two blocks -- when in two minutes, they can download whatever music or video they want from anywhere in the world with Limewire? How can you create a single large music movement for Cebu when you’ve got half a dozen or so large music movements going strong now? How can you create a single rallying concert for all the biggest bands when during Sinulog or Octoberfests, you’ve got multiple concerts all happening simultaneously and they’re all well attended!
Maybe the question should be: Why would you want to create one Local Ground when the nature of evolution is to spawn many?
So we are asking the wrong questions because fragmentation of the music movement isn’t necessarily division. It is democratization, which isn’t a bad thing. Why try to focus Cebu music again into one single ascendant music movement when its current divergence is exactly that new movement.
In the face of the future that is now, shouldn’t our challenge be to make our own mark in the much larger global scene? Why strive to create another Local Ground when in this age of globalization, nothing is genuinely local anymore? Music, like all continually evolving art can only move forward. Yet we still reminisce the past, half forgetting that the only reason for our fascination is because we understand but can’t seem to admit that it is a place we can never truly go back to.