Zild Benitez likes to crowd surf.
It is a smoggy Saturday evening at an outdoor venue in Mandaluyong, and Benitez, known better by his nickname Zild, is the last act to go on at “Si Idol Ka Pala,” a show organized by The Flying Lugaw and SYQL Productions. The lineup for the night also features emerging Baguio band Dilaw and DJ collective Showtime Official Club.
The crowd cheers as an operatic voice emanates over the speakers and members of Zild’s band — composed of musicians from other indie bands in the scene — set up their equipment.
Zild finally emerges, hair bleached half blonde and dyed half black, clad in a black sleeveless ensemble, fingerless gloves, and his signature stompers. More screams ensue. The band launches into the opening of “Crab,” a commentary on crab mentality. The audience sings along to every word. And they don’t stop singing, even through the political anthem “Dekada ‘70” (the song is named after the novel and film of the same name; at the start of the song he tells them all to raise their right fists and shout “Never again!”), up to the encore song: the sentimental alternative rock track “Kyusi,” and other hits from his albums “Huminga” and “Medisina.”
On stage, he is in full performance mode, dancing, jumping, and thrashing his arms around like an ‘80s goth rock icon. His audience behaves accordingly: there’s moshing and head banging. There’s screaming, there’s even some crying. And when their energy is at its peak, he turns around, leans back and allows the crowd to carry him through the pulsating beat and long guitar riffs of the instrumental.
Despite the intense smog from Metro Manila pollution, the morning’s heavy rains, and consequent standstill traffic along EDSA, over 900 people have shown up at 123 Block for the show. Most of the attendees are young, in their teens and early 20s. They arrive in pairs and groups, all dressed up in outfits inspired by subcultures of the ‘90s and ‘00s with staple black eyeliner, lace, plaid, chains, chokers, and platforms. A small art fair is located at the side, with local artists selling original prints, stickers, keychains. There’s even a booth where attendees can get piercings on the spot.
This is just a normal scene in Zild’s world. Since releasing “Medisina” in October 2022, momentum for his shows has picked up tenfold. The 26-year-old has earned a reputation for attracting mosh pits filled with Gen Z fans, no matter the venue location. It could be a basement bar in Quezon City, a tiny house-turned-gig space in Parañaque, or a major mall in Makati. Wherever Zild goes, they follow. And they will make the ground shake.
The road to “Medisina”
Two weeks earlier, I meet Zild for our cover shoot at a tiny studio in an apartment building in Quezon City. We are waiting for his nails to dry. “First time ko ‘tong gawin,” he says, right hand trembling as he applies jet black polish to the nail on his index finger — it’s a vulnerable moment that comes as a stark contrast to his onstage persona.
Coming from a three week self-imposed health break, the musician admits he misses playing in front of a crowd. “Physical rest is underrated. Pero miss ko na ulit,” he tells me.
Zild’s masterful command of the stage — and his audience — was not something he or anyone at his label had anticipated before he started playing live shows on his own in 2021. “Medyo nagka-awkward phase [ako] na parang, ’Sino ba ako?’" he recalls. “Sanay akong magtago sa shadows ng bandmates kaya bass [ang] pinili ko before. 'Tas bigla na akong nasa harapan.”
To make up for this awkwardness, Zild does what many creative minds do for inspiration — he consumes everything and is constantly on the lookout for media that shows the artistry of his idols and peers. “Not to the point of copying [my] whole personality sa personality nila,” he adds as a disclaimer. “Pero more to the point na 'ah, may naramdaman ako sa ginawa niyang 'yun. Gusto ko rin maramdaman ng audience 'yun pag ako'y nag-perform.”
I ask him if he can name any performances that gave him that feeling. First that comes to mind is a video of UDD’s Armi Millare at Route 196 performing “Tadhana.” “Minsan stoic face lang siya, nakatingin sa taas, may impact sa'kin 'yun,” he says of Millare, his number one idol. He mentions post-hardcore band LIMBS and Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis as other performance inspirations. “Nakatalikod siya pero grabe 'yung sigaw niya, 'yung screamo niya na parang minsan di mo pala kailangang humarap,” he says of LIMBS. “'Tas minsan, biglang, si Ian Curtis, grabe sumayaw onstage. Kahit awkward, ok lang. Minsan ok lang hindi lang gumalaw.”
Zild’s current look is a mesh of influences from emo, goth, punk, and post-punk subcultures of the past — a stark contrast to the quirkier ‘70s look that he sported just one year prior. “Noong pandemic kasi, nagskirt-skirt na ako at necklace kasi naging fan ako ng mga The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain — mga '80s goth bands.” It’s this era that awakened him to where he wanted to take his third full album “Medisina,” released last year.
“[The “Medisina” album] was a clarion call for a lot of the younger people, like sumakto pa yung trends ngayon at sumakto pa ang style niya at mga gusto niya genuinely,” says Elijah Pareño, who reviews music and organizes gigs under The Flying Lugaw (TFL).
Pareño cites the range of Zild’s musical styles in the album as instrumental in blurring the lines between indie and mainstream. “Yung mga punks can appreciate the stuff that Zild is making because there's no borders to the type of music that plays. He can switch to post-punk, indie rock, alternative rock, ‘OPM rock’ as he calls it in the 2000s.”
Forming a paniki parade
'Yung pandemic kids mas hungry sa live music, live performance, [basically] doing something in real life,” says Zild on the community that’s found a home at his shows. He uses his 15-year-old sister as an example to illustrate his point. “So nung lumabas na sila sa pandemic, grabe silang manamit bigla. Kasi parang, ‘you have to experience life.’ So 'yung gigs, pupuntahan nila kahit saan, mapa-bar gig or mapa-mall gig.”
Zild mentions this as parallel to his own experience post-pandemic. His mainstream success came at the cost of him missing out on small gigs, often a rite of passage that earned artists credibility in the local music scene.
As a solo artist, he started going to the gigs he would read about online. One night, he met Pareño of The Flying Lugaw and Dave Opiniano of screamo/shoegaze band Walktrip at a gig in Motorista Bar along Scout Albano. After a fun night bonding over music with their other friends, they planted the seed for an idea that would eventually become the Paniki Collective: an event organizing body composed of music lovers in their teens and early 20s. With limited funds, their hope was to create a safe space where “kids” could have fun and enjoy music since they didn’t feel like younger ones had a place in the contemporary gig scene. It’s through the collective’s DIY gigs, usually called “Paniki Nights” that they popularized the format seen at“Si Idol Ka Pala,” featuring an art market and a diverse lineup.
“Gusto ko yung mga kasama ko, surrounded ako. People na gusto lang mabuhay 'yung culture,” says Zild. Opiano (now a core member of the Paniki team) shares a conversation he and Zild once had. “Parang may pedestal 'yung fans tsaka 'yung artist dati, tapos ngayon sa ginagawa sa amin sa collective, naramdaman niya 'yung community na binubuo namin na parang nagkaroon ng community or subculture,” he says.
The word paniki was used to refer to the audiences at these events because of how they dress (like Zild, in all black) and the fact that many of them come from out from the shadows. The term has also become associated with Zild’s fans.
But while Zild might be the face of this burgeoning movement, he is quick to credit the work of his peers — mostly his age or even younger — for turning the community into what it is today. “Super community-based lahat na parang it takes a village,” he says. “Hindi dahil porket ako'y nasa harapan, ako na 'yung dahilan bakit ganto, ganyan.”
“Sa perspective namin, very wholesome [ang Paniki goers]. Knowing na nung unang una pa lang na 'yung age nila, nakapag-create na sila ng safe space sa isa't isa,” says Kat of the Paniki Collective.
Zild sees this while on stage, too. “Napansin ko nga, minsan sa gigs, maraming circle... iba't ibang friendship circle tawag ko diyan,” he says. “Nakuha din nila — not only the fashion — but also taking care of each other sa mosh. 'Tas pag may mga bastos, kini-kick out nila.”
He even recalls one time that he spotted a pregnant fan in the moshpit of a show. The others in the pit formed a protective circle around her, saying "Hayaan mo siyang mag-mosh mag-isa," to protect her. “Naka-outfit rin sila. Nagmo-mosh din sila, pero hindi lang sila dumidikit sa [pregnant] girl.”
The Zild effect
Riding on this momentum, Pareño of TFL says that the DIY gigs that Zild performs at become avenues for his audience to discover bands that don’t get the platform of mainstream concerts.
“For Zild [gigs], we want to showcase that these cultures can coexist, hindi exclusively for goths or post-punk people…The more we invite these acts na ka-taste namin, we realize we have faith that these kids will love the music we like. We have trust in the kids.”
He talks about the “Zild effect,” a term jokingly mentioned by Iñigo Lapuz from new band Cheeky Things. After playing at a Zild gig at Sining Shelter, Cheeky Things jumped from single digit monthly listeners to over a thousand. “Kung sino man na nag-invite ang mga bands na nagustuhan niya, that's where everyone else will discover these bands that we like,” says Pareño.
Perhaps one of the main reasons that the Zild effect is so tangible is that it’s all so well documented. From video recordings of the performers and photos of the gig goers, there’s a lot to sift through. This, says Zild, is intentional. He wishes there was enough documentation of the local scene as there is from scenes abroad like in New York and London, so he’s trying to practice that with the scene he and his friends have developed. “May movie lang sila, documented lang sila kaya immortalized. So habang ginagawa natin ‘tong lahat, immortalize natin lahat ng ginagawa natin para 10 years from now, when we look back, happy tayo sa mga ginawa natin.”
I ask him if he feels a responsibility of some sort to further the movement that they’ve built up. But living up to his reputation, he answers simply: “Musician lang ako na nagre-reflect sa mga paniniwala ko sa buhay. So priprioritize ako na hindi mawala ‘yun, na dapat para sa masa o dapat ‘yung buhay ko maalagaan, tapos maalagaan ko rin 'yung buhay ng iba kasi pag naalagaan sila ng ibang tao, like other people, gagawin na rin nila ng good thing na nagawa sa isang tao.” It’s a chain effect, he says, where by doing something good for himself and other people, they’ll be compelled to do the same for those around them. “Feeling ko andito lang ako for my friends and the people na nakikinig sa music ko. For my friends, andito lang ako para sa kanila. For the people na nakikinig sa music ko, I’ll do my best to create more music.”
“Musician lang ako na nagre-reflect sa mga paniniwala ko sa buhay."
It’s hard to avoid looking at listener counts and charts, he adds, since he does need to earn somehow to actually live. But practicality discounted, he’s more concerned about making music that’s timeless. “Pag stats...makaka-pera ka, makaka-gig ka, pero ano 'yung buhay mo after?” On stage, like at 123 Block, he always reminds people that he sees them as people during his spiels. Before taking the stage, he takes time too to talk to fans who approach him, even recognizing them from previous shows.
“Alam ko kaya sila nag-gravitate towards that music kasi may mga na-experience sila sa bahay, sa life na hindi nila ma-put into words,” he tells me of his audience. After all, he too is a music lover with his own idols. He shrugs, bashfully. “Di naman ako icon or something. Musician lang talagang gumagawang music.”
Photos by JL JAVIER
Styling by PAUL JATAYNA, assisted by BRUCE VENIDA
Sittings by GERIE MEDINA
Video by SAMANTHA LEE
Cover design by THE PUBLIC SCHOOL MANILA
Produced by GABY GLORIA