05 November 2015

A Talk about the Independent Culture Movement

Photos by Marvin Conanan

At this point in time when opposing ideals now overlap through channels brought about by technology and the Internet, one who attempts to define independent culture to differentiate it from the more popular genre would surely have quite a hard time. From the traditional perspective, nevertheless, independent culture is any piece of art (music, film, literature, and whatnot) that is produced outside of the realm of the mainstream in a manner not affiliated with any major corporate label. Independent cultures or subcultures are ‘symbolic forms of resistance’ defined by their alternative politics and bound by their rejection of mass-produced, commercialized culture (Shaw 2013, p. 335). Chris McAullife, professor of art history and theory (University of Melbourne, 1988-2000; Australian National University, 2015), remarks that they are counterculture beliefs and practices that are formerly known as the avant-garde: ‘innovative, experimental, challenging and devoted to the overthrow of orthodoxies’ (Shaw 2013, p.334). In that sense, we can settle with the notion that what characterizes independent culture are its products made for oneself and the collective he/she belongs in, instead of profit and fame.

On a historical note, on the other hand, Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow in Urban Geography and Planning Kate Shaw (2013, p. 334) points out that the idea of independent cultures (or alternative cultures, as she puts it) was first encountered during the time of Dadaism and Surrealism in Europe in the early 20th century and can be traced back, in the same way, to Africa and the black roots of the American South, to the existentialists in 1940 Paris, and to the situationists, who all share the same beliefs on resistance, subversion, anti-establishment, and anti-art. 

During this time of technology and internet prevalence, however, such identity of ‘the indie’ may not be as relevant as it was in the days of old. As anything that aspires toward survival in spite of time, independent culture, its characteristic and definition both, has evolved. The line between the mainstream or corporate and the independent has blurred as corporations tried to catch on with this style and, in the same manner, independent labels and (sub)cultures get commodified. As CNN’s Catherine Andrews (2006) cited, an example of this overlap is the adoption of business practices of major labels by smaller musical labels aiming for financial success and a broader audience. Another important tool for this practice is the social media where independent bands set up their online sites and distribute their music, independent clothing brands establish their online outlets for easier transaction, aspiring filmmakers upload their work to thousands of potential followers, and more possible applications. Likely, the slightly rebellious and creative aesthetic of ‘the indie’ is used by major labels and film studios, an example that comes to mind is the Cinema One Originals film “That Thing Called Tadhana”, in order to attract a younger audience hungry for a more authentic and offbeat entertainment. 

Despite this overlap and changing definitions, however, observers and indie supporters maintain that true independent culture is still or can still be alive. Although the scene may not be as exclusive and intimate as it was before, the ideal and philosophy for which it exists, that is maintaining the integrity over one’s art whether on one’s own or with a corporation, can still be kept. 

Although the aforementioned statements say something about independent culture and its nature, our understanding of this phenomenon can only be verified by those who actually count themselves within the scene itself. So we asked several independent artists and entrepreneurs about the independent culture and how it affected their lives. 

1. What is the meaning of the independent culture movement to you?

  • Mikka Wee (Managing Editor at Pepper.ph): I think it is a movement where individuals define their unique identities apart from the rest through their lifestyle, hobbies, unconventional jobs, etc.
  • Mak Azores (Co-Founder of Slick Barbers Co.): Being involved in the said Independent culture movement means that I went against the usual Filipino approach of barbering; for example, our group Slick Barbers Co. happens to visit different cities almost every day in a month. In the said approach, we’re helping to promote our brand and the brand of the store that we’re conducting the pop-up haircut session.
  • Kaye Ong (Founder of Habitual Coffee): A group of individuals that create and have the freedom to make or do what they want and express their own individuality without necessarily conforming to norms.
  • Aliver Cedillo (Photographer): Let me tell you a simple and corny story on how I understand it. Once upon a time there were 3 kids. Kid number 1 loves music, kid number 2 is a painter, and the last kid is just plain crazy. One day, crazy kid asked kid number 1 to make his own music just to try it out so Kid number 1 agreed and finished it. Kid number 2 decided to make a painting because he got inspired after listening to his friend’s music. The crazy kid liked the painting and made it as an album packaging. All of them liked it and decided to share it to other people which later planned small events, made t-shirts, discovered new media and became more creative. Because of that simple act, new breed of musicians, artists, and crazy people were born because they all got inspired. The effort done by all the individuals involved in the story is how I understand the meaning of independent culture movement.
  • Kevin Yapjoco (Owner of BespokeManBlog.com and Manager at Signet): The independent culture movement is about pursuing a meaningful life. It's about doing things differently that enhances your way of life and the lives of the people around you.

2. What makes one a part of the independent culture movement?

  • Mikka Wee: Being proud and unafraid to express one's individuality despite its deviance to the norm.
  • Mak Azores: For me and my colleagues, we call this movement the D.I.Y. (Do it yourself) Culture which happens to be in nature in every human being. To be a part of this culture, all you have to do is promote camaraderie amongst the people who understand your brand, stay true and humble with your passion.
  • Kaye Ong: Apart from creativity and uniqueness, also the courage and confidence to pursue what one is passionate about.
  • Aliver Cedillo: Simplest way of being a part of this movement is by supporting it.
  • Kevin Yapjoco: Bringing people with a shared passion together. Through blogging and organizing meet ups, I was able to connect and bring together people who were interested in men's style and grooming. During these meet ups we would also have deep conversations on our favorite designers and makers, construction of garments, personal style and how clothing impacts the world.

3. What are things that you are proud of in being part of the independent culture movement yourself?

  • Mikka Wee: Celebrating diversity, being art-forward, and meeting like-minded folk who share the same values, principles, and perspectives.
  • Mak Azores: Slick Barbers Co. provided new heights in my life. Being able to provide quality haircuts and go around places to meet new friends it’s just awesome.
  • Kaye Ong: I'm proud that I am able to continue to pursue things that make me happy, and as a friend once said, be able to inspire others to live their lives with the same abandon and courage to also go for what they are passionate about.
  • Aliver Cedillo: I am really proud that I have been a part of the 20/20 exhibit organizing team. I think that that event inspired young creatives to do new stuff and tell themselves “Wait, I can do this.”
  • Kevin Yapjoco: 1) A few years ago I started organizing meet ups for people who were into men's clothing. We would occasionally meet and just talk about our shared passion for menswear. The number of people attending the meet ups kept growing and growing as there were so many people out there just like us. Many of the guys I met have become good friends. 2) By pushing forward men's style I can see that more men have started to express themselves more through clothing and developing their own personal style. They dress better and more appropriately now as well as maintain good hygiene. They have become more particular about how clothes and shoes fit and the quality of the grooming products they use.

4. What are the wrong perceptions about the independent culture movement that you have noticed?

  • Mikka Wee: When people misconstrue it as self-entitlement and being selfish.
  • Mak Azores: Most common incorrect perception on barbering is that you are just a service provider and that you will not become rich. When, being in this movement, I can say that most of the persons who know us has a different way of thinking amongst barbers. Slick Barbers Co. aims to help that stigma to be removed especially here in the Philippines.
  • Kaye Ong: I think one of the things I've noticed is that people feel that it's only appreciated by a niche market, or can be quite clique-ish and intimidating, unattainable and sometimes not sustainable.
  • Aliver Cedillo: The “wala kang kikitain dyan” or “pang mayayaman lang yan” perception.
  • Kevin Yapjoco: I've noticed that people think it is a phase someone goes through in life before they settle down and have a family. People think that these pursuits are mere hobbies that you will eventually abandon once you become older. But if you take these hobbies seriously it becomes a way of life and eventually even pays the bills.

5. Did the movement influence your life decisions? If yes, how?

  • Mikka Wee: It's actually the first time I heard of the term "independent culture movement". I think our generation (the millennials) are extremely drawn to this because it allows us to be who we want to be without feeling sorry about it. For me, I'm just glad that my parents supported me in my life decisions and didn't hold me back.
  • Mak Azores: Definitely. Especially when I went full time and left the BPO industry. The movement helped me to be more mindful on my decisions thru money and future goals.
  • Kaye Ong: Yes! I left a very stable and financially rewarding career in corporate banking. While the banking job paid for the bills and provided me with a very comfortable lifestyle, nothing beats waking up every morning without that feeling of dragging yourself to work.
  • Aliver Cedillo: Yes. I quit my stable job for 3 years, and decided to take event photos instead. I have learned a lot because of the new people I met that have the same interests as me. Interacting with different kinds of people helped me understand people’s behavior which helped me with marketing. I even had a chance to work with people that I respect & look up to.
  • Kevin Yapjoco: Yes! When I graduated from college, I thought that working corporate would be the way to go. I've realized that I cannot thrive in that environment. I would rather take the unconventional path and more calculated risks that have a huge chance of becoming incredibly rewarding.

6. How did the movement become a part of or help mold your character?

  • Mikka Wee: I think for the most part, it was a lot of positive reinforcement. A lot has to do with my friends who exhibit this philosophy in their own lives. Being able to connect with them and have meaningful conversations with them just strengthened my determination to do my own thing and be my own person.
  • Mak Azores: It helped me to be more mature in making decisions for the group. I always make sure that it would be beneficial for everybody. It definitely help me build skills that you won’t be able to learn in a normal workplace setting.
  • Kaye Ong: I think more independently and have better self-belief now. As we strive to do things differently, I've learned that I have to firmly believe in what I am capable of. Being part of this movement gives us that privilege to open eyes and minds, so it's important to be able to confidently convey our message well.
  • Aliver Cedillo: Talking to the right people and listening to their stories made me tell myself “I know I can do this”. It made me more confident in what I can do. It inspired me to think of new ideas for a project, a new concept for an event or a shoot, new design for a t shirt, new marketing strategy, etc.
  • Kevin Yapjoco: I've become more open to expressing myself, experimenting with what works and what doesn't (not just the way I dress), and doing things myself because no one else will do it and will do it better. Most importantly, I'm taking full control of my life and where it's headed.

7. Do you think you would still be pursuing the same things even if you have not been immersed into the independent culture movement?

  • Mikka Wee: Of course.
  • Mak Azores: I think, yes, I would still be learning the craft of barbering but maybe providing it in a different platform.
  • Kaye Ong: At one point or another, I'd find a way to come across it, I think. I get quite bored easily, so I'm always seeking new things that inspire me, or seeking like-minded individuals to discuss ideas with.
  • Aliver Cedillo: Yes of course. I've always been a fan of this culture & I have high respect to the people who are doing their part to keep it moving. I think I will still find a way on how to support it even if I have not been a part of anything.
  • Kevin Yapjoco: No. You have to immerse yourself completely. When I was still working in corporate and blogging on the side there was only so much I could do to push men's style and grooming forward. Now that I run a men's clothing store I have a hand in choosing what styles we carry and shaping the store's overall aesthetic through our channels.

8. What are some tips that you can give to someone who wants to be a part of the movement?

  • Mikka Wee: Just be yourself, believe in yourself, and take the necessary steps needed to become the person you want to be. Be brave always.
  • Mak Azores: As long as you go out of the norm which is dictated by the society around you – it could be different through music, fashion, beliefs etc. – you automatically become a part of the movement and if you share that same passion with the people around you, that makes it a culture. If you happen to be already inside of this culture, I hope you keep up with the struggles and keep moving forward.
  • Kaye Ong: Have a clear vision of what you want to do in life. Then do it.
  • Aliver Cedillo: Be true to yourself. Ask yourself what do you really want to do.
  • Kevin Yapjoco: Start something. Get involved. Meet people and understand what makes them tick.


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