Phonography culture is constituted by DJs, collectors and other listeners who participate in diverse social practices centered on the LP. As part of phonography culture, the recent vinyl revival has cultivated and created shared musical places and events for DJs, collectors, and listeners alike. In the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, the intertwined relationship between digital technologies and musical production, listening, and circulation within phonography culture is inescapable. On media platforms like Instagram, Twitch and even Zoom, phonography culture—the curation, production, and circulation practices enabled by LPs/vinyl—has sparked new musical events and social relations. Through DJs and collectors’ Instagram posts and stories as well as dance and listening parties hosted on Twitch and Zoom, a phonography culture centered on original Pilipino music (OPM) and including participants from the Philippines and diaspora has emerged.
As defined by Patrick Williams and Jason Luther, phonography culture involves purchasing or selling LPs/albums through record stores, in-person record swaps, and e-commerce sites (EBay, Discogs, etc.); attending vinyl nights at local bars and clubs; taking part in listening parties (both IRL and, increasingly, online); participating in online Facebook groups and following Instagram pages for DJs, record stores, and labels.1 Against an individualized listening lauded by both digital as well as analog/collector cultures—one that (broadly) “isolate(s) signal”—phonography culture instead “make(s) space for social and aural noise.” Following Patrick Williams and Jason Luther, we can think of this noise as forms of disturbance: “the irregular fluctuations that accompany a transmitted electrical signal but are not part of it and tend to obscure it.”2 Here, the noise of phonography culture disrupts and unsettles, makes messy, the one-way signal espoused by DJ/record collector culture. And it does so by making space for the additional noise of emotions and affect. “Infused with fandom and participation,” phonography culture suggests and brings forth the elements of “memory, meaning-making, and nostalgia.”3
With the recent vinyl revival, we see these elements brought forth by fans of older musical/media formats as a resistance to increased “digitalization and corporate mass production,” “the unending stream of activities and contexts in which music fans are hailed.”4 Those who have turned to vinyl, as well as cassette tapes, find refuge from corporate media’s online and incessant hailing of them, as music consumers, through material culture. As a participatory culture, one where the distance between producer and consumer narrows, phonography culture helps us pay attention to how the vinyl revival has “create(d) new social arrangements (to) respond to the more isolating tendencies of “orphic media,” media that helps us affectively control our immediate sensory environments through devices such as headphones and personal stereos, and thus also cutting off our ability to be affected.”5
More recently, musical ethnographer Monika Shoop asks us to reflect upon the “vinyl revival” in Manila within an economic context and, in particular, the development of a “new consumer.”6 According to Shoop, this recent vinyl revival is largely linked to the cultural symbolic meaning of vinyl for young Filipinos as it signifies cosmopolitanism, middle-class aspirations, and a broader “technostalgia”—longing for outdated technology—that all fit within Manila’s current trends of gentrification. This vinyl revival also brings into relief the tensions between new consumers and long-standing record collectors who kept the vinyl “energy” going even during the CD revolution and LP lull of the 1990s. For Shoop, an analysis of LPs and vinyl records as commodities, even with an eye toward them as “multi-sensory” objects versus CDs or digital, takes precedence.
Working at the intersection of cultural sociology and material culture, Dominik Bartmanski and Ian Woodward, whose work Shoop draws from, instead argue for the LPs’ significance through its “haptic” format—its intertextuality with album cover art books, etc., its iconicity, and assigned cultural meanings.7 With a focus on format, Bartmanski and Woodward help us think of full-length LP/albums as akin to a collection of book chapters or short stories, a 45-inch record as a collection of singles easily played at parties or gatherings. Drawing from the words of John Cage8 and the work of hip-hop DJs, they ask us to re-imagine the LP/album as an archive, a repository of sounds from which we can learn and make new music. What does it mean to think of an album as an archive of sounds as well as a chronicle of pop musical history? These questions are especially crucial when it comes to the overlooked and understudied genre of original Pilipino music (OPM).
OPM, or “original Pilipino music,” defines a broad category of music made by Filipino musicians. The term officially emerged at the start of former President Ferdinand Marcos’s martial rule, as the Philippine government began a national program to sponsor and promote original music by Filipino artists, all in the name of national identity. This program comprised songwriting competitions and festivals, including the Manila MetroPop Festival, as well as government mandates for radio stations to play a minimum number of OPM songs per hour.9 Hearing the term “OPM,” one generally and immediately associates it with the “Manila Sound” of disco bands popular in the 1970s as well as later balladeers/songsters of the 1980s, including Regine Velasquez, Kuh Ledesma, APO Hiking Society, and Gary Valenciano, to name a few. But, in the past forty years, the term has also been associated with all types of artists working in genres as diverse as indie, hip hop, R&B, jazz, traditional/fusion, and electronica. Most recently, DJ Joel Quiz (Joel Quizon) has offered the term “OPM +” to reference “original Pilipino music plus roots, pop, and covers from the Philippines and diaspora.”
Animated by these expansive musical terms, OPM’s phonography culture includes participatory practices that take place in Manila, across the Philippines, and the Filipino diaspora in the U.S. and beyond. Prior to COVID-19 lockdowns, these cultural practices and events included (in the U.S.) DJ JoelQuiz’s “Diggin’ Sundays” in L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown and MixCloud mixes (“Manila Sound,” etc.),10 DJ Les Talusan’s “Bahala Na” parties in Washington, D.C.,11 and DJ ET IV’s Bay Area-based “Astig Sound” vinyl party nights and mixtapes;12 (in Manila) The Diegos’ parties and gigs;13 record shops, including DJ Arbie Won’s Treskul Records and Noel Francia’s Mutilated Noise;14 the LP/record swap Kagatan15 and the annual and global “Record Store Day” events,16 to name a few. Here, we witness a phonography culture of exchange, learning, and participation that is more capacious than contemporary (read, solitary and digital) practices of listening. At the same time, with its focus on OPM, this phonography culture actively resists and listens against dominant scholarly and journalistic discourse that frames Filipinos as simply mimics and consumers of Western music, rather than creators, fans, and purveyors of our own popular music. For some, the act of listening to and sharing this music is imbued with nostalgia and memory. For others, mainly diasporic Filipinos and non-Filipino record collectors, this might be their first time listening to and learning about these songs and their musical histories. In either case, we not only hear an archive of OPM played and shared by Filipino DJs and listeners, we can also take part in a scene that crosses oceans and national borders, particularly in these current times when phonography culture’s reach has expanded.
Surveying a group of both Manila- and U.S.-based DJs at the helm of OPM phonography culture17—DJ Dayglo (Diego Castillo) and DJ DMaps (Diego Mapa) of The Diegos, DJ JoelQuiz (Joel Quizon) of DiscoManila, and DJ ET IV (Eduardo Taylor IV) of Astig Sound a few themes emerge:
For all DJs, their introduction to OPM phonography culture began with parents’ or older siblings’ record collections—ones they later inherited or that they DJ’ed from (at family parties) or created mixtapes from (for road trips). Along with these inherited family collections, as DJ Dayglo recalls, on regular trips to the Landmark department store with his mom, he would convince his mom to buy him LPs at the store’s record bar (located near its entrance/exit). Stories like these expand the genesis of phonography culture beyond just the DJs themselves and work to include the roles of female family members in record collecting.
For a majority of these Filipino DJs, their careers as record collectors began in the 1990s (i.e. before the current vinyl revival). Since CDs were the main format in the early 1990s, what drew DJ JoelQuiz and DJ DMaps to LP/records was that they were cheaper in record and thrift stores. In college, Joel recalls, “The dollar bins (are what) got me hooked on vinyl again.” When he really began “diggin’” for records, he made sure to pick up every Filipino record he came across. During those early days, DMaps “would buy only at thrift” and reminisces that, when he would “see OPM along the way, I would buy them because they looked nice or because I remembered a track or two.”
When asked about the importance of OPM, their responses differed but also spoke to the musical genre’s diverse potential. As DJ Dayglo remarks: “[While] I’m not just unilaterally championing all OPM artists…I think stuff like the ‘Gapo (Olongapo) funk bands of the ‘70s are most definitely world class and, to my ears, even better than some of their more famous U.S. counterparts. [They] have to be presented that way…curation is important.” DJ DMaps notes the place of OPM within a broader “resurgence of new listeners who appreciate rare grooves like funk and disco, punk/hard rock, and psychedelic. [For example], Southeast Asian 1950s-1980s rare tracks sound really fresh compared to their Western counterparts.” If he played a full OPM set in the U.S. for such rare grooves crowds, it “could be a quality educational and expensive set. Worthy what Quantic does in his Colombian DJ sets or Keb Darge in his all Northern Soul/rockabilly sets.” Like DMaps, JoelQuiz’s goal remains to “put [OPM] out there but in a global context,” encouraging the many Filipina/o/x DJs out there to play more music from the Philippines. “Take it out of the context of your dad’s cassettes or the song selections on the Magic Mic” and consider it as part of the world’s music.
After these past 18 months, these DJs recognize the ways that OPM phonography culture reimagines the relationship between live performance/events and digital media technologies. It not only troubles the divide between the live and digital, but also expands the collaborations and audiences for OPM music. This current OPM phonography culture connects musical artists/DJs from the Philippines and across the diaspora, brings together family, friends, and fans of OPM who would not typically attend a 21-and-over club/bar party, and expands the possibilities for remembering and learning more about Philippine history through its popular music.
Patrick Williams and Jason Luther, “Noise over signal: Phonography Culture as participatory,” in Sound Effects: an interdisciplinary journal of Sound and Sound Experience, 9 (1), 20–37.
J.W. Morris, “Platform Fandom,” in The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, Melissa A. Click and Suzanne Scott, eds., (2017): 361.
Williams and Luther, 24.
Monika E. Shoop, “Putting a premium on music: Exploring the vinyl revival in the Philippines,” in Perfect Beat, 19 (1), (2018): 8–32.
Dominik Bartmanski and Ian Woodward, “The vinyl: the analogue medium in the age of digital reproduction,” in Journal of Consumer Culture, 15 (1) (2015): 3–27.
“What people ultimately have to learn is to use records not as music but as records,” John Cage cited in “Ohne Titel,” in Covering the Real: Kunst Und Pressebild von Warhol bis Tillmans, Bernhard Burgi and Hartwig Fischer, eds. (Basel: Kunstmuseum Basel, 2005), 12–23.
Listen to the first episode of “Usapang OPM,” an interview with Roger Rigor of VST & Company and Emmie Joaquin as part of DJ JoelQuiz and DJ Les Talusan’s “OPM Sundays,” 18 April 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKRvnYp7lJo, accessed 31 May 2021.
DJ JoelQuiz (Joel Quizon) on Mixcloud: https://www.mixcloud.com/joelquiz/stream/
Les the DJ (Les Talusan): https://lestalusan.com/blog/2020/7/10/bahala-na
Astig Sound (including DJ ET IV) on Bandcamp: https://astigsound.bandcamp.com/
DJ DMaps (Diego Mapa) on Instagram (with links to his mixes via Linktree bio): https://www.instagram.com/ukayslut/; DJ Dayglo (Diego Castillo) “Manila Times” playlist on NTS radio (https://www.nts.live/shows/vex-ruffin/episodes/manila-times-19th-february-2021) and his “Foaming at the Mouth” radio show episode, “Inosente Lang ang Tataka: the Independence Day Special,” of all OPM music (https://www.mixcloud.com/foaming_at_the_mouth/foaming-at-the-mouth-ep-12-inosente-lang-ang-nagtataka-the-independence-day-special/). The Diegos on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thediegosmusic/).
“Bandwagon’s Guide to Record Stores in Manila” (first published July 2020): https://www.bandwagon.asia/articles/list-record-stores-in-manila-philippines-vinyl-shopping. For an online record store specializing in OPM, see Pinoy Grooves on Instagram (with links to Discogs store and mixes on Soho Radio Mixcloud): https://www.instagram.com/pinoygrooves/
“‘Kagatan 28’ lures loads of vinyl lovers,” Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines), 9 September 2018.
“It’s Record Store Day Pilipinas on April 21.” Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines), 15 April 2018.
Author also reached out to DJ Les Talusan and Vex Ruffin (Stones Throw) who were not available for full interviews at this time. Special shout out, however, to Vex Ruffin for the ways that his “Manila Times” show (on global radio platform NTS) has worked to include his own DJ sets of OPM as well as to highlight other OPM DJs. For more, please visit: https://www.nts.live/shows/vex-ruffin.