Notes & Essays

Artists Are Fighting in Bars, And Hardly Anyone is Surprised

Artist Dex Fernandez sustained serious injuries from a bar brawl over the weekend, in the latest from a scene that tends to circle the wagons around bad behavior.
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano
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At Dulo MNL, where the music takes lead, it’s hard to tell who’s who. Sometimes that’s the point. On good nights, the space is so packed that you can’t tell who you’re dancing next to. Probably someone you’ve met before. Like a masquerade ball, but dressed in denim, instead of silk.

Last Saturday, Dulo celebrated its first-year anniversary among friends, doling out tequila shots for twenty-five pesos, getting closer to what would ordinarily be a very good night.

Here's what I know, pieced together from interviews with the people who were there: Dex Fernandez had just arrived in Dulo with four friends, when he “accidentally hit” (his choice of words) someone standing behind him. The person he jostled was talking to a third person, a common friend. Prior to this, that friend had told Idris that “maybe they should move,” because the space is crowded, but he had chosen not to.

Because of the accidental, ehm, hitting, Dex is punched in the face twice. Witnesses have pointed to his attacker as Idris Vicuña, who quickly ran to the bar across the street to hide.

While Dex is taking care of his bloody face, his friends try to confront his attacker, but are stopped by yet another clubgoer, who shoves one of Dex's friends. “Don’t you know who I am?” She allegedly asks. She says this multiple times. They didn’t know who she was. 

Should they have known? Why does that matter? And, the question my editor and I have wrestled with in the production of this piece: Why the hell are we even talking about a bar fight?

We're talking about it because Dex is also known as Garapata, who is a prominent artist in his own right; Idris is known as Eyedress, a musician and producer. “We’re from the same indie scene,” Dex says of the accused. “He was supportive, he would come to my shows.” (We’ve reached out to Idris for comment, but he has yet to respond.)

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I’m no stranger to the local indie scene, and I know local club culture is a strange beast. Artistic hubs like Poblacion attract young creative types, nurturing a strained intimacy where parties like Dulo’s first-year anniversary would have friends and frenemies standing shoulder to shoulder. It’s so curiously insular that this act of violence was met with a chorus of other artists taking to social media to say: “Yup, I could have told you that guy was trash.” 

Here's what I know, pieced together from Twitter, comment sections, and phone calls to other people from the indie scene: Many people would be happy to see Eyedress dragged through the mud. The rest, like his mysterious defender, think the incident is no big deal. (“We’re all drunk here,” she is said to have announced to Dex's friends. “Just let it go.”)

Earlier this month, basketball players Jeron Teng, Norbert Torres and Thomas Torres faced a similar assault: They were attacked with a knife in a parking lot and sustained injuries. That particular brawl, caught by bystander video, shows one of the attackers screaming, "You don't fucking know me! Who are you?" Teng responded with a raised middle finger, setting off a fistfight that ended up  with security guys coming in between the two men and Teng being led off with a knife wound in the back. At least the attackers were apprehended and hauled off to the police station.

Bar brawls are distressingly common, and perhaps we never hear of the vast majority of them because they don't involve famous artists or sports stars or musicians. These incidents are played out more publicly, thanks to the following of the people involved.

The incident involving Dex throws the spotlight on the subset of the creative industry that is the indie scene, and how it's littered with alliances—not just between artists and their managers and fans, but partners, collaborators, and their friends. In this community, artistic collectives are commonplace, and these professional alliances also nurture personal ones. Loyalty is a cog in the indie scene’s system, and this loyalty system, fueled by necessity, sometimes makes excuses that allows for bad behavior to incubate. Sides are made. Artists come for each others’ throats. But at what point does that loyalty start to hurt us instead of help us?

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So this incident is just one of many scuffles inevitable in such close communities, which sometimes end up in the use of fists. They’re not news to anyone, particularly those who recognize it as part and parcel of day-to-day operations. But maybe it's time to to stop and take stock of ourselves here.

We seem to have created a comfortable nesting ground for bullies who thrive on petty, violent behavior, physical or otherwise. Despite the drama of he-said, she-said, despite the easy excuses we can make, there needs to be accountability. Never mind whether the attacker deserves to be dragged or not; first we shouldn't let him get away so easily.

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About The Author
Nina Unlay
Nina Unlay is pursuing an MA in Journalism. She used to be the Features Editor of GRID magazine.
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