Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Let us begin with the examination of an oft-repeated differentiation: There is the mainstream, and there is the alternative. The problem here is that the supposed counterpart of the mainstream is defined in the negative, and its very definition falls into the trap of tautology: “The alternative is the non-mainstream.” This rigid distinction presupposes the idea of a designated center, and everything that flows outside of and away from it work only in relation to this main channel, which exerts its overwhelming force upon all other avenues.
It isn’t difficult to think this way. The mainstream marketing machine boldly announces itself as absolute: there is endless praise heaped upon “major recording artists signed to major record labels,” consolidating its rule over the territory, implying that all else is minor. The minor, the outside, the other has devised a clever term to combat the idea that all they do is in opposition: the “independent,” freeing itself from a geocentric model of music scene at large, operating as innumerable centers playing their own games with new sets of rules, with new definitions of success.
Wide Eyed Records Manila — the brainchild of Kathy Gener and Joey Santos — is an exemplary independent record label, currently forging their own clearing. They recently celebrated its 5th anniversary with Siraulo Gathering, a jam-packed event at Mow’s bar, featuring komiks readings (delivered by the artists Chamtamaria, Asshulz, and Hulyen), tarot readings, a raffle of utilitarian household appliances, and performances by their entire roster (Ang Bandang Shirley, Oh Flamingo!, The Strangeness, Halik ni Gringo, We Are Imaginary, and Rusty Machines). The night was a scene exploding with various signs of life; no records were broken, no major accolades came raining down from any award-giving institution, but the audience and the artists were enjoying themselves, celebrating five years of great music while looking forward to many more.
Both Gener and Santos shared their (re)definitions of success in light of the current trajectory of their own passion project, sharing a singular vision that seems to be propelling Wide Eyed Records Manila in the right direction. According to Gener, “success is when each of our roster artists gets successful individually in terms of they get to earn money — or even have music as their main livelihood — and have more fans of their music without compromising their musical integrity.” She adds that to be successful as a label would also mean having as much capital as a major label, for marketing and promoting the bands in their roster. “I’d like to see Wide Eyed Records Manila as a label known for putting out quality music more than anything else.”
Santos thinks that for indie artists today, success boils down to two things: attention and influence. “There’s just so much content out there you’ve got to fight through to get heard. Being able to attract and hold an audience’s attention means that you can keep making music that will get listens. The larger your audience, the greater your reach, and the more influential you could become,” he says.
As an indie label, Santos believes that Wide Eyed Records' role is “to handpick bands whose message and music we believe in, and share it to our audience,” to connect to listeners who can have a conversation with the label through the art performed by their roster of musicians. “Our label’s music isn’t for everybody, and it isn’t meant to be for everybody — hardly anything is — but if you get the music and the ethos, we’d like to make you feel that you’re part of something bigger than you, something really special.”
For Gener and Santos, it seems, the music takes precedence above everything else; Wide Eyed Records Manila aims to connect artists to a dedicated audience by giving them a platform to do what they please and create great music. If the critical reception of all the releases by their roster — as well as other indie artists from their immediate surroundings — and the collective euphoria emanating from the people who attended Siraulo Gathering are any indications, it does seem that success is on the horizon for independent record labels like them.