Four songs at 4 a.m.
Three people watching the trio.
One even fell asleep.
That's how the founders of UBE, Gino Manglicmot and Michael Ocampo, remember their worst night ever as a band.
It was in the outskirts of Marikina, at a dingy bar on top of a beerhouse and tricycle terminal. They were invited by the drummer's acquaintance to a gig that also featured more than 10 acts.
The three arrived early, around 9 p.m., and registered for a favorable slot (around 10:30-11 p.m.). Instead, they ended up playing last, at the crack of dawn. Gino rememebrs, "Napansin din namin na inaapiran ng mga tumutugtog yung organizers, so in the back of our minds, 'Siguro tropa."
When it was UBE's turn, only the person who signed them up and two waiters stayed in the audience. The members knew that "the show must go on," although he admits, "Ang sakit din na liniligpitan ka ng bote tsaka binabaklasan ka ng lamesa, kahit na sabihing tumutugtog ka para sa sining."
Fast forward to September 15, 2017. The four-piece funk-blues-rock-jazz outfit launches the music video for their single "Sayang" at Route 196. Their backstory was just a testament to how making it big in the local industry's cutthroat environment isn't next to impossible.
One would think that with almost everyone coming from music-oriented families, including newer members, Emir Bernabe and EJ Romawac, not to mention having a burning passion for the craft, the rockstar life would come easier for these guys.
Emir had to choose between playing with his former band or working abroad as a chef. Financially speaking, the second option made more sense. On the other hand, EJ's siblings had already made a name for themselves but discouraged him from following the same path. "Pero gusto ko pa rin talaga eh," he says.
Mike and Gino didn't face the same dilemmas, but were present during the most difficult times.
In the dog days of college, Gino asked Mike if he could be the drummer for an experimental project. Eventually, they realized that he wasn't as good behind the kit as he is on guitars. Mike took over the frontman spot after writing the lyrics to "Sexy Dance on Ice," which turned out to be their first original song. This signaled the start of the drumming roller coaster.
Before Emir, seven different faces provided the beats for UBE. Each one of them had to say goodbye to the band to pursue more lucrative careers, or join more promising groups. While Mike and Gino were scrambling to find that constant third member, gigs were also hard to come by at the time; the independent scene was still buried underground.
Back then, you either had to be friends with organizers or submit pretty good demos to play frequently. "Lahat naman siguro ng nagbabanda alam yung hirap ng ticket selling," Gino exclaims. It didn't help that their genre of choice was an acquired taste, particularly during the post-hardcore explosion.
Strangely enough, what caused everything to fall apart wasn't even music-related. It was a case similar to that of of Joey and Johnny of the Ramones—something that's now perceived as an inside joke. Mike recalls, "Bago pa lang si Emir nun, tapos nagulat siya, 'Ano, hindi na tayo tutugtog?!'"
The internal conflict reflected in their performances, and for a blues act, UBE had no "groove."
After a two-month hiatus, they got back together. "Mas nangingibabaw talaga yung kapakanan ng grupo eh. Compromise na lang yung bullshit ng isa't isa," Gino explains. It may sound cliché, but that monkey wrench tightened their bond instead of completely breaking it.
Being taken in by Docdef Productions proved to be a turning point for the band, as it gave them regular gigs. And then there was the addition of EJ, who sprinkled a new flavor on their already delectable sound. He remembers telling his best friend Emir, 'Tol, okay sana kung meron pang isang gitaristang poposte para makalipad si Mike.' Pero hindi ko ipinilit yung sarili ko."
Not long after, they were among the finalists of the Jack Daniel's Future Legends, with the likes of Reese Lansangan, Jensen and the Flips, and Oh! Flamingo. The group finally hit their stride when they emerged as champions of the recent Yellow Room PH Battle of the Bands. Mike was even awarded Best Vocalist and Best Guitarist.
When asked what's next for them, the four responded in unison: "Album, pare." Gino adds: "Isang kanta lang namin na tumugtog sa radyo, masaya na kami." From the sound of things, it seems that UBE's future—hopefully one that's devoid of early morning closing sets and zero audience members—is as mouthwatering as its name.
Photography Krisline Avila