How a community-run studio carved a niche for outsiders in the music scene

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Rehearsal and recording space Redverb Studio shut its doors last Nov. 9, but it won’t be forgotten. Photo by JANLOR ENCARNACION

Editor’s note: Mariah Reodica is the vocalist and guitarist of The Buildings, and the organizer behind Salad Days, one of the first independent gig prods to be held at Mow’s throughout 2015 to 2017.

In the early 2010s, Filipino music was reckoning with itself. Listeners and musicians alike were still coming to terms with loss of radio station and rock music bastion NU107.5, which had signed off in 2010 and left a big OPM-shaped gap on the airwaves. The “OPM is dead” debate that arose in late 2012 was popping up sporadically across the papers, to varying degrees of causticity. But by this time, more and more musicians were learning to record and produce their own music in their own bedrooms — many of which could be found on an emerging platform called Soundcloud. Artists were transitioning from Yahoo! Groups to social media in order to promote their shows. Throughout it all, musicians continued to play, and music was still being made. No, Spotify wasn’t in the country yet. Yes, people still bought CDs.

Yet in 2013, a community-run recording studio called Redverb opened along Matatag Street in Teacher’s Village, Quezon City. It began as a small business by RJ Mabilin, its owner, main sound engineer, and manager all-in-one. The studio was tucked inside a gated, semi-residential compound, and became a well-loved haunt of many musicians in the independent music scene. It housed the online live series with the gig production Alternatrip. Now, after an eight-year run, it closed its doors with “Last Song na Po,” a two-day online farewell show via Facebook last Nov. 6 and 7. Coincidentally, as guitarist and former NU 107.5 Jock Evee Simon pointed out, NU signed off on the seventh too.

Redverb Studio began as a small business along Matatag Street in Teacher’s Village, Quezon City. Photo by JANLOR ENCARNACION

The show’s lineup traversed genres, and more importantly, entire generations of music scenes: from Bobby Balingit to c a t p u k e, Aldus Santos to Shirebound and Busking, and Ang Bandang Shirley to Formerly Maryknoll. Underground student bands, tight-knit shoegaze collectives, the Peenoise Music Chartposting regulars — all of them found their way there. They all have a story to share about the studio itself, as a space that felt like a second home, where no idea was too crazy, and no amplifier was loud enough.

"I will miss the vibe of the recording studio," musician Diego Mapa tells me over Messenger. His bands from Eggboy to Pedicab have all played at the studio. "RJ always ask[ed] what we needed, and [did] his best to give it." The farewell show was also the debut of his new band Kagid, whose members also hadn’t ever been in the same room at one time after the band formed during the pandemic. But bands have been finding ways to reinvent the wheel, by hook or by crook.

Venues and recording studios like Redverb were hit as hard when the pandemic happened. In photo: The Geeks (Nigel Cristobal, Mags Borbon, Brian Sangco). Photo by JANLOR ENCARNACION

Janlor Encarnacion, the documentarist behind the channel JLE Music which releases music videos of live bands, also found a home in Redverb in 2017. “Redverb was the place where I made deeper connections with bands and friends while also improving my video production skills,” he says. “I feel that my photos show a humble little studio that wants to properly represent music and musicians.”

Venues and recording studios like Redverb were hit as hard when the pandemic happened, as if being a musician pre-pandemic weren’t precarious enough of a livelihood. There were no gigs, which was the main way musicians earned money for rehearsing and recording. Because there was none of the latter, the studio’s business was halted. Music had always been precarious, sure, but closing shop was a tough decision that Mabilin was forced to make as the rent backlog piled up.

However, Redverb didn’t go down without a fight. Since March 2020, the studio has held several online shows and a superband series called “Friends of Alternatrip." Mabilin even co-wrote and organized the release of a song titled “Ngayon ang Panahon,” an indie anti-tyranny protest featuring over 30 musicians collaborating remotely, and standing in solidarity against the Anti-Terror Law in July 10, 2020.

“Ba’t tayo umabot ng eight years?” Mabilin said over a Zoom call. Redverb started as his small family business, borne out of an insatiable thirst for music. Mabilin worked across different practices: playing guitar in the raucous, freewheeling protest rock band The Axel Pinpin Propaganda Machine while doing freelance filmmaking work. Running a studio became something he could do for income, while also offering affordable recording services for young musicians around Quezon City. And, as many who played at Redverb would attest to, (myself included), it sounded damn good.

Redverb Studio owner RJ Mabilin. Photo by JANLOR ENCARNACION

Redverb’s rehearsal studio drew in Jam Lorenzo, vocalist and guitarist of cult band The Geeks, who would also come to form Alternatrip, which produced and released numerous Live Sessions online, a la KEXP Sessions.

“Lahat ng bands na naging part ng history ng Alternatrip, in the first place ay puro mga outsider,” said Lorenzo. “[They had] nowhere else to play, so eventually nag-gravitate towards each other.” The Alternatrip show was a DIY live performance series by bands and filmmakers that released shows prolifically from 2015 to 2017. In the years after, it proved to be a high-fidelity record of the scene at the time.

Music scenes — or most independent art scenes, really — are notoriously bad at keeping documentation. Online platforms that were dedicated to covering music like Vandals on the Wall, Splintr, PinoyTuner, and RadioRepublic are no longer online. Even the gloriously wild Meiday parties of Cubao X are but sparse hand-held video recordings on YouTube now. Several other bands on the Alternatrip Show series have already disbanded, gone on hiatus, seemingly vanished. All things must pass, but it’s nice to have something to go back to for posterity.

The author along with her bandmates from The Buildings, and The Purplechickens after an Alternatrip shoot in 2016. Photo courtesy of the RJ MABILIN

Yet many other aspects of Redverb may remain anecdotal. As I write, the soundproof panels and red carpet are being dismantled, and one of the studio’s amps has already been put up for sale. (Howard Luistro of Oh! Flamingo, at the farewell show, suggested that the carpet be cut up into small squares and given away as memorabilia.) It was a space that was road-tested by the many bands who’d come to hang out before heading out to gigs, and there were always familiar faces.

“Palaging andoon ang reality na you're a small scene,” said Mabilin, “Pero ayun, it's not necessarily bad. In recent years, madalas naming gamitin [ang term na] 'in our little corner of the indie scene.'" Even under the nebulous term “Philippine indie music scene” itself is many different other niches and groups which can intersect or never even meet entirely. Although what they do eventually ripples out.

A couch inside Redverb studio. Photo by JANLOR ENCARNACION

Redverb and the shows it has produced has inspired younger collectives such as Elev8 Me L8r which have popped up within the last year. Some of its members were even part of the several musicians who dropped by at the studio during the farewell show to pay their respects.

"Ang mga question ko before if the things we really do are rewarding, lahat yun nabubura when may ganoong bagay,” shares Mabilin. “Na, 'Oh shit, may impact pala tayo.'"

To tell the truth, I’m writing this too late. It’s a sad but all-too-common occurrence that spaces such as Redverb, where artists thrived and a scene gathered, only receive recognition and praise from the public once they’re gone. But like the modular guitar effect from which Redverb derived its name, these sounds echo, decay, and diffuse, fading until they’re imperceptible. They can also return in full force, even surprising us with new sounds, movements, and generations, whether it takes milliseconds or years.