06 February 2016

A Discussion With. Similarobjects

Interview by Marvin Conanan & photos by Andrei Suleik

In today's fast-paced and ever-developing world, it is inevitable to experience change in all aspects of our lives. Even though there are developments that better the things around us, there are always different sides to it. In this discussion we wanted to talk about that but with a focus on music, that is why we talked with Jorge, more known as Similarobjects. Having his moniker associated with the rise of the Filipino electronic music movement, it is just proper to converse with him about its apparent trend. We caught up with Jorge on a confused sunny then gloomy day at Ongpin St., Binondo in Manila. We went with him while he was spending some time to relax and be inspired by a different setting. It became obvious to us that he is a man of many interests, but with an undeniable passion for one thing, music. We started with having lunch at his favorite spot in Ongpin St., a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, then followed by a stroll around the side shops. After a few stops here and there, we ended the afternoon in a local coffee shop to finally talk more about local music and his career within the industry.

Can you give us a brief description about yourself?
I’m Jorge, I’ve been making music for more than a decade (both as an electronic artist and with bands). For some reason music has always been a huge part of me, far before I was even aware of it. I knew it the moment I felt the hairs on the back of my spine stand up while listening to Beethoven as a child, and when I experienced the love-induced butterflies in my belly when I first heard The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever, except I wasn't hung up on a person but on a piece of music. I was in love ever since.

I devoured it all; from AC DC to Mars Volta, from Slipknot to Usher, from Aphex Twin and Brian Eno to Bone Thugs and Harmony. I took it all regardless of what category it was - if I could hear it, I’d listen. I’ve been in several bands growing up as well; I sang in a punk band and played synth for several emo bands before I eventually got myself to produce electronic music on my mom’s early MacBook, circa ’06. I’d sneak away and install various DAWs on it just to try making 8bit beats and random ambient type compositions. I tried making it work with my current band that time but it didn't quite fit in because of my lack of knowledge on theory then. Later on, I started investing in hardware synthesizers and basic midi controllers, then eventually got an MPC1000 that taught me more about sampling. I’ve adapted a creative workflow from those that I still carry along with me up until today.

Fast forward to today, I’ve gone through so much changes and developments - from geeking out on various software, switching machines, to sample hunting in both digital and vinyl crates. I've juggled through hardware and software, and drowned myself in countless forms of music. I was constantly digging for music for as long as I've known. Not for any other reason than the fact that I was addicted and in love with it. I fought for it for as long as I could remember.

A majority of local families in the Philippines will, by default, oppose your idea to dream big with your art. You will most likely be encouraged to chase a different path, perhaps in business or nursing. But I was blessed to have a family that was a notch more understanding than the usual, just enough for me to keep pushing. I’ve always felt out of place one way or another, dropping my MMA course on college for a music course was the point of no return, but I knew way before then that this was what I wanted to do all my life. Music is one of the only things in this world that truly makes sense to me and I thrive off making sense of this path for others as well, that is why I enjoy teaching music as a profession. Ultimately, I don't know if any of this counts for anything in the eyes of everyone else but I’ve basically devoted my life to music for more than 10 years. Safe to say it's a big part of me now and I don't ever think my relationship with sound will ever depreciate.

Talking about the “music industry” and how long I’ve been part of it makes me sound so full of myself (laughing) but to be honest, I’d say I haven't been a part of it long enough. I don't know exactly when one individual officially becomes part of the music industry, but for some reason up until this day I don't feel so much a part of it as I do feel alienated by it. However, as much as there is a lot to complain about I do believe there is much to love about it if you look in the right places.

What is your music philosophy? 
I believe that discovering your own sound is relative to discovering who you are as a person. The deeper you know yourself as a human being, the deeper you understand your relationship to sound and expression. Mastering yourself as a person will allow you to master your music and your craft. And I do admit that I am in a constant state of learning, evolving and adapting. I do believe at heart that we are all meant to be creators in one way or another. And I believe that there is an unseen, unspoken preparation to us creators that takes place in our earlier stages of life; our experiences, the environment we live in, our childhood, our friends, love life, breeding, values and principles. It all takes part in shaping our expression and ourselves. This is what makes us unique, this “marination”. I don't think any two people can have the same exact experiences, so no matter what we do we carry these things with us. Sometimes the output, the art, and the expression of a person can tell you far more things than you can learn from actually conversing with them. Music for me is more than a means of expression or a means of life, but more of a means of waking up.

What made you decide to make music full time as a producer and beatmaker? What were the struggles in pursuing this career and how did you start?
Music as far as I can tell is the only thing I truly know. I’d go above and beyond for this, that's why I get so hypercritical about it at times. Going full time on music wasn't an easy decision of course, because of how people perceive it as something that isn’t so sustainable. You’ll be surprised how much we musicians have to put up with on a daily basis - all the rejection, skepticism and self doubt, and that's only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s exhausting both physically and emotionally when you're trying to get better and move forward with your vision while everybody is judging you for every move you make. The challenge of keeping your passion intact by living a freelance kind of lifestyle, and juggling multiple projects at the same time is a lot harder than what people think. That's why I feel so bad when people belittle what we do. But we have to deal with this every day; we have to ignore the possibility that the work we’ve dedicated our lives to is merely a delusion. It’s really a lot harder than what people think when everyone is expected to have achieved certain things by a certain age. I live for music. I’m at the point where creation is more than just a want, it's already become a need. The struggles go deeper than anything I’ve experienced. You lose friends in the process, you lose your sanity when you delve into this thing, you realize how f*cked up the industry can be. I’m not going to go into detail but I hope people can learn from reading this. It isn’t all rainbows and butterflies so be prepared to chop wood and carry water.

Moving on to how I started doing this full-time, aside from my early background with bands back in college, I was doing people's homework for money. I was in Multimedia Arts and would occasionally offer my services to get a quick buck, and eventually got offered to do some arranging jobs for some Music Production students. I realized I had a knack for arranging on software. I think that's when I knew I could spend countless hours in front of the laptop studying pieces of music, making songs and just experimenting endlessly with sound. Then I eventually shifted to Music Production and delved deeper into every aspect of sound. In school I was studying music theory, arrangement, learning to read and write notes, while at home I was collecting all sorts of occult books and some on psycho acoustics. I geeked out a lot of different studies on how sound affects people and some theories which were considered conspiracies. When you go deep enough, this starts to become more than just expression for you and you start realizing that there really is more to it than how people make us think - but I’ll leave that to the interested reader to figure out on their own.

It took me a long time to leave the whole band scene because I really enjoyed making music with my friends. It was a huge part of me but eventually when I decided to take on Similarobjects full-time I found myself taking everything more seriously. I started organizing my own shows with BuwanBuwan Collective, a group I started with likeminded individuals I met online. At that time there weren’t many venues that fit the context of what we were trying to do, or if there were at that time it was hard for us to do anything without proper funding, so we decided to take it into our own hands. We were doing monthly shows called Bakunawa at an art exhibit space called “Arts in the City”. This allowed us to cultivate our own artists and play by our own rules. It was a space for us to be free with our craft, then it eventually grew and started to attract more people. After some time we moved to Black Market when they opened. At this time I was juggling between doing DJ sets and live sets everywhere depending on the context of the event or the gig, but I was learning how and where to fit myself in more and more. The club scene taught me a lot, from understanding complex rhythms, to how to move people through drum patterns or the familiarity of certain songs, and playing different edits (and some of my own material too). I noticed even my production was changing. But at this point I was solidifying the relationship of DJing and producing. I was doing gigs almost everyday while simultaneously conducting a private mentorship program with some people who were interested in learning production. I was offering them lessons in the comfort of their homes, I was trying to make music sustainable so I was really taking any job I could. I tried applying as a video game sound designer at some game company too but they didn't seem interested. So I stuck to what I knew and just kept doing the gig thing, and also did some freelance film scores and audio related projects on the side.

Playing in gigs tirelessly every night wasn't a lost cause though because it garnered me a lot of opportunities to share my work. Being able to play for festivals like Manila Music Fest and all the years of Malasimbo were definitely an experience. I also got to do one gig abroad in Hong Kong, but somewhere down the road the momentum slowed down. Later on I got absorbed into a University and decided to make teaching a bigger priority. As time went by I got tired of doing the same thing over and over, and things were getting a little saturated. I decided to take a break from doing shows to focus on my development as an artist, to cultivate my own sound, to focus on making this music thing more sustainable, and to crystalize my vision as an artist.

What is the reason behind the name Similarobjects? And are you pursuing other musical personas other than that?
Similarobjects is a moniker that came to me during a mind expanding spiritual-awakening experience that happened in 2010. It was hinged on the idea that all entites are cosmically connected in one way or another. I wont get so deep into it, but that became the driving force in a lot of my creations back then. Yes I do have a bunch of musical personas that I allocate to certain moods and levels of expression, but similarobjects is still- and I think will always be- my primary channel.

 Other than pursuing music as an artist, what else do you do? 
Well, when I’m not making music for myself I’m making music for film, TV, digital content for brands, jingles and sound effects. I also produce beats for clients, and I teach music production part time in two different schools namely; De La Salle College of Saint Benilde and The One School. Other than making music I like dabbling in other forms of expression like digital art. I’ve been recently picking up the camera to explore and experiment with film. I’ve also been playing around with basic 3D modeling and some basic coding for sound and interactive media.

How do you think is the local music community doing nowadays?
Looking at the local music community I’d say it’s thriving. It's alive and kicking in in its own way. You're bound to find a little bit of everything if you're searching in the right places, but I think the problem is that people aren’t really looking beyond what’s presented to them. The Philippines admittedly is quite late when it comes to picking up on something. I guess it's because most people are waiting on signals from the neighboring countries as to what to pick up on. Or maybe the people here would always need an opinion leader to tell them what’s worth their time. People just need to learn to make up their minds more, you know, think for themselves. A lot of formidable artists are surfacing and a lot of young talents are effortlessly making a name for themselves.

We know you are part of the first ones who pushed the electronic/producer scene in the Philippines, can you walk us through how different it was back then compared to today?
I guess to some people I may have been considered somewhat an influence or a positive force in the scene, but I still really think that I was just lucky enough to be doing what I was doing when the situation called for it. I wasn't the first at anything, maybe I was just one of the artists that ended up getting that association or title. But if you think about it, I was just a dude with a vision and dream that I wanted to stick to. It's a bit different now because electronic music is starting to become more accessible, the forms are continuously evolving, and the appreciation for it is becoming more and more commonplace than it used to be. People are starting to develop a more open mind towards laptop artists and the whole idea of producer/beatmaker culture as well. It has become less alien to people and in fact I hear some talk that “DJ’s and beatmakers are the new rockstars” and I do see how trends have been influencing the society in becoming more accepting of these cultures.

Is it right to say that the digital trends and modern ways have made it easier to produce music, hence a growth in a number of local artists? How is it affecting the community in your opinion?
Yeah, I really do agree that technology is making it easier for anyone to do anything nowadays, but it's also easier for anyone to destroy themselves as well. So many talented new artists are emerging left and right from the depths of their bedrooms and into the Internet world. And with the emergence of all these forums and knowledge sharing groups I’m not really surprised by the rapid increase of skilled and masterful producers, since it takes less to make music nowadays compared to before. However, people fail to acknowledge that taste still plays a powerful key element in creation, and this proves to be a good thing for everyone as well. It just means things are growing and developing at a faster rate creatively, we are living in the future after all. The community is very healthy if you think about it. There are different scenes locally and internationally, and different ecosystems that are all intertwined in a way. Mainstream, underground and everything in between, they all work like an ecosystem and they feed off each other in a way. So I guess this evolution benefits everyone in the end, but of course not everyone will agree.

With more local artists emerging every now and then, there becomes more competition within the industry, do you think this has elevated local musical talent or is it the opposite?
The reality is that a lot of people really look at this thing very competitively even though it doesn't have to be seen that way. But I guess I can understand, as I also tend to see things from this angle. It takes a level of understanding to realize that in the end its all music and they all add up to each other. There’s room for all things to co-exist and there is enough going around for everyone. And that's something I still have to completely internalize myself. I admit I do get envious of others but I’m slowly learning how to dampen the ego as the journey unfolds.

If there are changes needed in the industry to keep it growing, what are some changes you’d want to happen?
I don't think I can blame the industry for anything, it's not their fault. The system was made to create a demand for something so there’s always gonna be some monetary or political aspect that will try to curb the taste in favor of a select few, but that doesn't mean that all hope is lost. I think what people need to do is look deeper. I do believe that there is always more to uncover for those willing and hungry enough for more answers. So I guess the solution isn’t to change the system or go against it but to focus on what we want. Sounds a lot simpler than it actually is.

Let’s talk about the mass Filipino music consumers, what can you say about their preferences and knowledge for music recently?
I think a lot of the Filipino consumers aside from a select few still wait on tastemakers and influencers for clues on what to intake before they actually listen. I think the problem is if it's something new or alien or just simply unfamiliar a lot of our own people are quick to shun. I think what we lack is people learning how to make up their own minds on what’s compelling or what’s not. But I guess a select few are starting to develop varied and complex tastes due to the freedom and ease of discovery and exposure on the Internet. Everything is at the tip of our fingers but some choose to ignore.

What’s your view about the ever-challenging difficulty of finding the balance between mass appeal and musical innovation here in the Philippines?
I think as a creator it's a huge challenge for us to stay true to ourselves and stick to our guns but it's something you end up developing as you go on. We have moments when we would make music just for our own satisfaction and contentment but it's undeniable that when we get to the point where people are listening, the temptation of making things for our listeners will arise. It's not a bad thing to create for others, I guess it just boils down to your intentions. Some people create for the fame, some people create for expression, and some do it to heal and some people do it to cause trouble. It’s just how it is. It’s all infinite. And we just got to respect that. But never forget who you are and why you started doing this in the first place.

Also, because of digital trends, the mass consumption of music here in the country has changed, what are the effects of that change to the community?
Looking at the bigger picture, this is good for musicians as it gives us more opportunities to connect to our listeners on different avenues and platforms. People are now open to digital transactions and artists have more chances of getting paid for their work because of the emergence of various revenue services. The internet is becoming an even playing ground for those who do research and those who are aware of its capabilities.

Given its state today, what are the things you’d want to happen in the relationship and consumption of Filipinos with music? 
I just think people should dig deeper in all senses and break the cycle of monotony and nepotism. Just let the art speak for itself.

Lastly, what are significant developments that have happened in the industry that you have noticed? What do these developments entail?
In general, everyone is beginning to develop a more refined taste for music and art. There are more venues now that support different kinds of artists, and unlike before it has become more common to see an electronic act amidst a line up of bands. I guess that just says more about how everyone is opening up. Pop culture is growing to accept electronic music and its numerous facets. This proves to be advantageous for some artists as well.


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