Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Between Fragmented (and Bipolar) Days with Up Dharma Down

In Between Fragmented (and Bipolar) Days with Up Dharma Down
by rick olivares

Behind the lush and deep soundscapes that make up the music of Up Dharma Down is a band amused by the complexity of people trying to pigeonhole them. “At least we know that people are listening to us,” reasoned out keyboardist and vocalist Armi Millare.

Once you go beyond the music and notice how relatively young all the four members of the band are then you’d know that they do not meditate in the stratosphere between gigs. “We’re simple people with simple tastes and who live a simple lifestyle,” debunked bassist Paul Yap. But he confessed to a vice that isn’t one bit Imeldific. “I love soccer shoes.”

When the band released their debut effort Fragmented they made many a person’s year-end and must see lists. Up Dharma Down graduated from playing gigs where no one would applaud to opening for band that you might have heard of --- Incubus. “That’s was a typical reaction early on,” confirmed manager and local music scene impresario Toti Dalmacion whose Terno Recordings is a slap at the mainstream and at once a showcase for Filipino ingenuity. “But in reality, people were surprised by what they heard. Kaya pala ng local na banda yung ganyan tunog. Parang foreign pero at once very original. The fact the UDD was hand-picked to open for those bands says a lot about their chops.

The duality in the titles of their two albums -- Fragmented and the newly released Bipolar -- alludes to being children of the past and present, and how they are influenced by different genres that have cut a swath through their musical souls. “What we’ve done is to trace the roots of what influenced the music we listen to,” said drummer Ean Mayor. “Si ganyan was influenced pala by this, you know. That discovery opened us to old and different styles. Actually they may be old by other’s standards but for us it’s a whole new world.”

That’s why we refer to Bipolar as our second first album,” summed up guitarist Carlos Tañada. “Fragmented was more than two-and-a-half years ago. We’re not the same people we were before. We’ve grown physically, intellectually, emotionally, and musically. And the new album reflects those changes and influences.”

As part of the inspiration for the new album, the band had to take a trip down memory lane. Dalmacion lent his wards albums of new wave-era bands like The Blue Nile, XTC, and Prefab Sprout; artists whose craft for songwriting and intricately-layered music runs the gamut of genres that is distilled into something entirely original.

That’s what the band strives for originality, quality, and the timelessness of their music,” explained the noted audiophile who through the years has built a massive collection of vinyl and compact discs. “Up Dharma Down is about raising the bar musically for Filipinos.”

But believe it or not, the band stumbled upon their unique sound by accident. Fiddling around with their instruments, they added riffs, synths, melodies, and vocals here and there. Tañada was adding keyboards here and there. Yap helped structure the vocals while Mayor collected everyone’s contributions, sorted them out, and added his own beats. “You see,” cackled Yap with obvious glee. “There is a method in our madness. It’s like an artist throwing cans of paint on a canvas. It’s a nice mix.”

On the strength of word of mouth and critical acclaim (plus more than 10,000 CD sales of their debut album), UDD became the hot ticket in the local music scene garnering a slew of awards and recognition (the were featured in a July 2007 issue of Time Magazine). They went on to produce music for the advertising campaigns of Coca Cola (Buhay Coke, Buksan Mo), Lipton Tea (Clarity), and McDonald’s (Float Away) and picked up a corporate sponsorship from sports wear giant adidas. And it's a metaphor that isn't lost on them.

I cannot think of a more apt brand than adidas,” glowed Dalmacion about his favorite footwear as Millare and Yap nodded enthusiastically in agreement. “They’re (adidas) an institution. Their legacy is that their footwear stands the test of time. Some of their shoes are like timeless favorites and best sellers forever. We want to view UDD as something similar.”

When we signed a contract (with Terno Recordings),” recalled Millare. "All I cared about was getting our first record out everything else be damned. After that, we got to do so many things we thought weren't going to happen at all. And now we're on our second first album. Who would have thought? I have to admit that this has been too fun to pass up or ignore and is definitely something to be grateful for."

Join Up dharma Down as they launch Bipolar on October 24, 2008, 8pm at the Hexagon Lounge, 4th floor of the RCBC Plaza, Ayala Avenue corner Buendia, in Makati City. The band will perform all songs from the 14 track album plus some of the older band favorites. Php 150 gets you in with a drink, while Php 500 gets you in with a drink PLUS a limited edition Bipolar CD designed by Ean Mayor and Everywhere We Shoot!. It includes a DVD of "On Either Side," a 40-minute documentary directed by Keith Tan, offering viewers a peek into how the album was made and some insights from the band members.

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