Out of Print

The Sound and the Fury

by Enzo Escober
Photos courtesy of Manila Communuity Radio
How Manila Community Radio is daring to reinvent the music scene.

“I always look towards the internet as a place for us to be free,” says Jorge Wieneke V, the co-founder and programming lead of Manila Community Radio (MCR.) “And even though some people are trying to regulate it, I still feel like it’s a place where we’re not limited by geography.”

Wieneke says this casually, but really he has just articulated the animating ethos of MCR. Since going live last July, the online radio platform has championed the internet’s more utopian qualities, opening itself up to broadcasters of diverse tastes, backgrounds, and experience levels. Tune in from 9AM to 12 midnight, and you’re likely to get anything from toasty lo-fi to trunk-rattling hyperpop to the best Blondie remix with less than fifty views on YouTube. The impression is of a community that is resistant to sameness, which is also a metric of a community that is healthy.

I’m speaking to Wieneke on MCR’s Discord channel, which hasn’t been opened to the public yet. Surrounding him are the rest of the founding members: Sean Bautista, Paolo Abad, and Matt San Pedro. Abad handles marketing and communications, San Pedro oversees web operations, and Bautista, also known as the d.j. Duality, helps Wieneke with programming. They talk comfortably from their pulsing video feeds, a preview of the hangout sessions and listening parties they soon hope to throw on the Discord. “People are looking towards d.j.s as less of rock stars and more of tastemakers and real people now,” says Wieneke. “There’s no more gap. The social dynamic when you go into a club is they put the d.j. in a booth and it’s a little bit elevated. [You get] this sense that they’re above you. Now on the internet, things are a little bit flattened...I kinda like it better when people can talk to us, realize that at the end of the day we’re humans, and we can relate on human levels as well.”

Wieneke’s distaste for the mystique that often attaches to d.j.s is just one symptom of his more general aversion to conformity. As an artist, he goes by the name similarobjects, and operates within an experimental strain of electronic music that can be both free-associative and intense. When I first saw him at a 2017 The Rest is Noise concert, where he was part of a lineup that included crwn and BP Valenzuela, his set jutted out like a fractured tectonic plate, heaving with glitchy blips and giant bazooka beats. Throughout his career, he’s also proven to be a deft designer of mood—with its creepy-crawly sequencers, his 2018 album quiet mode made me feel, at turns, like I was crouching in the belly of a wet extraterrestrial cave.

 Jorge Wieneke photographed Carlos Tarrosa. Photo courtesy of Manila Community Radio.

The sound of similarobjects is never predictable, but it is always bold and exhilarating and fascinated with its own component parts, often to an obsessive degree. As a child, Wieneke was a destroyer of machines, a “tinkerer” who jammed toys into VHS players and opened up computers to see what they contained. “I wanted to figure out how to make [them] work better for what I wanted,” he says. “And I think that’s also shown in my music. I’m trying to take something apart, dismantle and deconstruct it, or reconstruct it.”

But Wieneke’s rebellious streak has also been a liability. “You know how in Manila, there’s a certain aesthetic or vibe you have to follow to play in venues?” Wieneke says. “A lot of the things I wanted to move away from…were the gatekeeping culture and venue politics. I always felt oddly placed. I always felt trapped in some way in Manila, and I only started growing into myself when I started traveling or connecting with people via the internet.”

Disillusioned at home, Wieneke found inspiration in the cities he’d perform in. He discovered that places like Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Guadalajara had thriving grassroots-led radio platforms that welcomed more experimental artists. Oftentimes, they’d spotlight acts from other countries, like Wieneke himself, or the obscure Filipino vaporwave artist known as システム FAIRY. “I was like, shit, if they can do that, we can,” he says. “There are people that we don’t even acknowledge in our own backyards. People are actually noticing our talents that we’re not even talking about.”

Every single time, Wieneke would return to Manila with renewed purpose. The ambition to create a homebred radio platform in the Philippines became an idea he’d discuss ceaselessly with friends. One day early last year, he ate at the fried chicken restaurant Tetsuo, where Bautista and San Pedro were co-owners. There, they imagined the possibility together.

“Whenever I talked to Jorge about it, we’d get really giddy and excited about how we could create this overarching platform that could house all of these different scenes,” Bautista says. One of his first brushes with community radio came when he heard Wieneke perform a set at the British station NTS. “I found it so interesting to have a traditional radio setup, but transposed into this internet context,” he remembers. “And what I found also was this interesting crosspollination between different communities. You could come in listening to a friend playing a hip-hop set, then the next hour it’s a techno and house set.”

That visit to Tetsuo was the last time Wieneke would leave his house before Metro Manila was placed under lockdown. After that, it became clear that the music scene was in urgent need of a lifeline. Several beloved clubs and bars began to shut down, leaving behind a city that struggled to be redeemed by its remaining noises. Wieneke, Bautista, San Pedro, and Abad pulled together members from their respective creative teams—BuwanBuwan Collective, Ikigai Radio, Transit Records, and UNKNWN—and got to work. Manila had lost its weekend nights and time had become a tedious feedback loop. Reality was soft, but that also meant it was ripe for reshaping.

Since launching on July 8 of last year, Manila Community Radio has focused on featuring a diverse set of programs not dictated by corporate agendas and mainstream gatekeepers.

On July 8, 2020, Manila Community Radio debuted on the air with a rosy, tropical-toned set from Local Sun: “Today I’ll be focusing on bolero and kundiman,” he began. “And I’m gonna show the progress of—from the start of traditional and how…” here his voice faltered, “…record labels affected it? I don’t know.”

MCR’s quiet agenda to democratize local radio continues to find expression in a loose, laissez-faire approach to broadcasting. Whenever there's speech, it is free of that preening, calibrated pep that characterizes most mainstream radio banter. The mixes, meanwhile, play like status updates on each d.j.'s current obsession. With no script to adhere to, everything feels immediate and particular and still warm from human hands.

But MCR isn’t just a corrective to the sterility of mainstream broadcasting. It’s here to question the entire industry's very merit. “Traditional radio...doesn’t really reflect what the Manila scene is like,” Wieneke says. “[It] sounds like a copy of Western culture. If you look at it, it’s like, how much of this is real? Or how much of it is gatekeepers trying to curate it in a way that aligns with the goals of the companies and monopolies that run it?”

MCR’s model isn’t built around the maximization of profit, making it both a passion project and an experiment. “If we can keep it within ourselves to keep running it the way we run it, it just allows us more agency to make the decisions we want to make,” says San Pedro.

Every broadcaster on MCR works pro-bono, and upkeep is largely self-funded. To maintain things like the website domain, the streaming client, and the chat client, people in the team pledge what they can, with a promise they'll be paid back sometime in the future through proceeds from MCR’s Patreon. Not all debts have been resolved—MCR currently has eleven patrons, earning just around $32 a month.

Still, because it isn’t subject to the usual investor demands, MCR is a more reliable cross-section of the Manila music scene than its mainstream peers. Since its barrier of entry is low—some sets are submitted by people with zero d.j. experience—its sensibilities are also far-reaching, and its artist demographics actually resemble a human population.

“Normal radio, they always look towards straight dudes,” Wieneke says. MCR, by contrast, welcomes as many women and LGBTQ+ creatives as it can. Somewhere in the team’s drive is a master file listing every artist they’re interested in, and this list is filtered through a gender parity checker. They also try to map out each Manila scene on spreadsheets, paying attention to which artists were most affected by the shuttering of venues. “It’s one of the first things we think about every week,” Wieneke continues. “Are we platforming enough? Is everyone here? Balance ba yung gender parity natin? I think we obsess about it. And we still don’t feel like we’re doing enough. We want to do more.”

MCR’s refusal to privilege big names over smaller ones has also made it a prime outlet for several artists under quarantine. The d.j. Pat Kay Laudencia, who goes by TWIN PKS, was invited onto the platform last October, and found that its lack of restrictions let her play around with her sound more. “It’s almost comforting to me to know in case I ever have ideas for a show, MCR is full of extremely nice and open people to host it,” she writes in a Telegram message. “If I didn’t get asked to play I probably wouldn’t try to perform anywhere else on my own.”

Apart from helping Wieneke with Manila Community Radio’s programming, Sean Bautista also hosts his own show on MCR under his d.j. moniker Duality.

“Are we platforming enough? Is everyone here? Balance ba yung gender parity natin? I think we obsess about it. And we still don’t feel like we’re doing enough. We want to do more.”

Matt San Pedro, head of web operations for Manila Community Radio.
Sai Villafuerte, who spins under the name Versailles, only began d.j.ing after the lockdown. “I stumbled upon an e-mail I sent when I was around 14 years old, telling someone how much I wanted to be a d.j.!” she recalls. “That gave me the hindsight to realize that I’d been compiling music playlists since the early 2010s. So, come quarantine…it finally felt like the right time to pursue this new hobby.”

Villafuerte’s show, Cultural Leanings, radiates the fond specificity of a mixtape smothered in fingerprints. In one broadcast, she interspersed her mix with movie dialogue. In another, she traced the arrival of dance music to the local nightlife industry. “[MCR] champions the work of individual artists,” she says, “which is an incredible privilege in a country where creative ownership and visibility feels precarious.”

Though it’s named after the city it was founded in, MCR’s artist pool isn’t anchored to a single location. Its d.j.s come from places both within the country—Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Siargao—and throughout the Filipino diaspora—Chicago, Toronto, Long Beach. For artists like Kim FG, a d.j. from Iloilo whose work on MCR tends toward sunny house and disco, the platform has been a liberation: “A majority of clubs [in Iloilo are] very EDM-centric, with zero to fewer spaces where I can play the genres that I dabble [in]…What I loved about MCR is how there were no rules. You play by what you feel in that moment and capsulize those moments through your songs.”

Music criticism has found a home in MCR too—shows like Top of the Flops adapt a more podcast-like register, offering incisive takes on little-known pop records. “What MCR gave us was basically a timeslot to do whatever we wanted with,” co-host Apa Agbayani writes in an email. “So in developing Top of the Flops, we really just wanted to create a space to geek out and gush over records we felt were underappreciated. Frankly, I thought I could never do radio programming at all and it’s thrilling to be given that sort of space, like, ‘Okay what can I do with an hour of programming where I call all the shots?’ It’s a creative challenge every time.”

Agbayani’s co-host, the writer Jam Pascual, believes that MCR’s independence from big money has made his work on the show more rewarding. “To put it simply: less capitalism equals more fun,” he says through e-mail. “Because the show isn’t tethered to things like ad revenue, a listenership quota, key performance indicators, or whatever, we as creators can approach the show the way I think most people approach [MCR]—as an escape from money-driven drudgery. I admit that the thought of earning from the show did cross my mind, but it doesn't torment me. I’ll happily do this shit for free.”

More non-d.j. broadcasts have continued to get airtime on MCR. In November, Agbayani teamed up with Metro Manila Pride to produce TransGenre, a single-episode show where he helped interview trans and nonbinary folks about important works of art in their lives. In February, he also posted a recording of his interview with the singer Julien Baker. Wieneke tells me he’s excited by all the pitches he’s been receiving. An ethnomusicologist from the University of the Philippines may appear on the air soon, as well as a show called How to Disappear from the Internet, a crash course on data privacy. Someday, there might even be an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure-style podcast. And on top of all that, the site’s cheery Submit a Show! button remains tacked onto the homepage. “Imagine a world where everyone’s just sharing their digs,” says Wieneke dreamily.

It is astounding, at this time and in this country, to be witnessing the emergence of something so pure. A virtual space powered by free exchange, artistic inclusivity, and sick beats almost feels like it exists only by some happy accident. But perhaps the best thing about MCR is its total disregard for the rules. “If something doesn’t work for you, you can create something that does,” Wieneke says. “The traditional radio platform wasn’t really it for me. I want people to know that they have the power to create the context for their content.”

The context in question, drawn out of thin air, might have had the odds stacked against it. Yet in a year jolted by the loss of place, in a media industry premised on commercialism, one scrappy community radio station has arrested our attention not in spite of its limits, but because of them. Creating the context for your content is not easy. But sometimes imagination can be generous, and we all get pulled into its orbit.︎

Enzo Escober is a freelance writer currently based in New York City.