A Beginner’s Guide to the Best Places for Live Music in Manila
People are always talking about how vibrant and diverse the local music scene is these days, but where exactly are the artists? Where do you go if you want to catch the best of local music?
You go to their gigs, of course. Not all artists get to record their music and release an EP or a full album either in physical form or through streaming sites like Spotify, but the most serious ones play live in some of the city’s best music spots. Back in the day, we had the original Club Dredd, Mayric’s, Capone’s and Gweilo’s, (kids, ask your older brother/sister or your titos/titas about them) all of which have since closed.
Fortunately, some of the live music spots have managed to stay resilient amidst shifting music and entertainment preferences from a very fickle crowd. I asked a few regulars of the local music scene to share memories and experiences at these venues. If you’re already a local music junkie, these places are probably like a second home, but if you’re only starting to get into the scene, these are the best places to start:
7612 Guijo Street, San Antonio Village, Makati City
On paper, it doesn’t sound like Saguijo’s the kind of place where independent music will not only survive, but thrive: it’s tucked away in a relatively quiet, mostly residential area of Makati City, on the ground floor of a two-story apartment complex.
But anyone who’s anyone in the local music scene has likely gone through Saguijo multiple times in their careers. It’s barebones and no-fuss: one tiny room that fits artist, equipment, audience, bar and beer.
“The first time I went to Saguijo, I was mesmerized by everything,” says John Mari Marcelo, a musician, photographer and mental health advocate. It was 2006 and he was there to catch UDD. “I was 21, I believe, a relative newbie in watching my favorite bands play bar gigs. I remember the creak of the floors as I stepped on them, the music, the noise. I already had dreams of working in the local independent music scene, to be a part of it, and I went home more inspired than ever to fulfill those dreams.”
Marcelo, who now works with independent music promoter Red Ninja, says he likes Saguijo because of its homey feel. “What I love about it is how authentic the whole place feels. There's old wood everywhere, and sonically speaking, that's good for sound.”
As a music venue, Saguijo represents something like a Holy Grail, especially for new performers. “It’s an institution in the local independent music scene, there's no doubt about that,” Marcelo says. “My best memory of the place is when I first played there. There were about 10 people in attendance due to a storm, but I didn't care. I got to say ‘I played at Saguijo,’ which is something upcoming artists strive for.”
59 Visayas Avenue, Quezon City
As music venues go, Conspiracy is legend. Founded by a collective of well-known and well-respected names in Pinoy music (which includes, among others, Gary Granada, Noel Cabangon, Cookie Chua, Bayang Barrios, Cynthia Alexander and Joey Ayala), the restaurant/bar/live music venue has been a go-to place for those looking for a place to chill and listen to good music for almost 14 years and counting.
“I remember watching Noel Cabangon play for almost three hours, without break,” says Johnoy Danao, singer, songwriter and all-around music work horse. “It was amazing to see how he owned an always packed music room every Wednesday with his powerful voice. I thought to myself, this is how music should be done: with talent, honesty and passion.”
A full-time acoustic performer, Danao has played in countless venues in the country and even abroad, but still finds himself playing regular gigs at Conspiracy. “I like its intimacy, and people come to listen and experience the artist on stage.”
As for his most memorable gig there, the “Ikaw At Ako” singer says it happened recently during a gig with his musical brothers Ebe Dancel and Bullet Dumas (collectively they call themselves 3D). “We had to set up pocket stages without the sound system kasi umulan so we performed simultaneously in three different areas of Conspiracy (music room, bar and at the entrance) unplugged a la music festival. We switched spots after a set until we all performed in all stages. That was magical. Can't get more intimate than that.”
196 Katipunan Avenue, Quezon CIty
Route 196 has had a long and colorful history. What was once called Border Grill and Inihaw Republic (typical grill-type resto-bars) was re-christened Route 196 in June 2007, and, since then, it’s become an essential venue for established and up-and-coming artists.
I’ve personally organized a few gigs and celebrated a couple of birthdays there. To me, it’s the kind of place that I can go to even if I’m alone and I won’t feel out of place. Ene Lagunzad, creative industry professional and vocalist of The Ronnies, feels the same thing.
“Even if I'm alone, I can go,” she says. “I know I'll be safe. I also made a lot of friends there. All good memories, that place.”
Lagunzad has become such a regular at Route that people have seriously asked her if she co-owns the place. “The first time I went there, I was with The Ronnies,” she says. “I think it was our first year together, one of the first places we played at outside of Big Sky Mind (another hang-out for creative types in QC).”
On evenings when there’s a really big name playing, or a special event (like an album or music video launch), you’ll see a long line of cars stretching along Katipunan from the Bonny Serrano intersection all the way down to McDonald’s and approaching Conti’s. There’s an openness and familiarity about Route 196 that has made it a favorite hangout for artists and fans alike.
Km. 19, East Service Road, Sucat, Muntinlupa City
19 East is to people who live south of the city as Conspiracy is to northerners. It’s supposed to have a great view of Laguna De Bay, but I’ve yet to see it as I’ve never been there during daylight hours. What’s for sure, though, is that the place has built a reputation for having one of the best sound systems for live music in the city
“There are very few live music venues in the south and it's nice that one of the best ones is in our vicinity,” says Camille Castillo, country representative for the Philippines for Bandwagon, a music platform. “The sound quality is amazing. A couple of friends from overseas who have visited or performed there remember the venue for that fact. It's one of the reasons why we chose it as the venue for our upcoming event with (British songstress) Lucy Rose next September.”
19 East has been the setting for major events featuring some of the biggest bands and artists through the years. Castillo, who first stepped foot there in 2006 to catch a Bamboo and Sandwich gig, says her most memorable experience happened not too long ago. “It was the TTNG and Mylets gig by A Spur of the Moment Project,” she says. “It felt like home and there were no barriers between artist and audience. It felt so easy to connect with the people around you as well. The artists who weren't performing yet were watching the other acts onstage, showing their appreciation by dancing along. I wasn't even a fan of the bands until I saw them perform that night. Nothing beats the pure, unadulterated joy of listening to new music for the first time.”
46 Anonas Street, Quezon City
The granddaddy of local music venues, 70s Bistro has been home to countless bands and artists for almost a quarter of a century. Almost all of the most influential names in Pinoy alternative music—from Juan Dela Cruz and The Jerks to the Eraserheads and Rivermaya—have had their name on the marquee outside of 70s Bistro at one time or another.
“The first time I ever stepped inside 70s Bistro was in the early 2000s during my active stint with Orange & Lemons,” says Clem Castro, now known for The Camerawalls and his alter ego The Dragonfly Collector. “I clearly remember it as a dark watering hole where a great deal of named bands in the rock and alternative scene regularly perform. It is filled with so much history and I’m glad it still exists surviving its counterparts like Mayric’s and the original Club Dredd.”
Castro says his most memorable gig there was the first time he was invited to play during the bar’s legendary Beatles Night in December 2007. “Working and performing with professional and like-minded musicians was an incredible experience and an eye-opener as well. I am forever grateful for the opportunity.”
70s Bistro is Old Faithful; a place that’s sure to be there any time you feel like unwinding with good beer and even better music.