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We Are Imaginary On Lessons Learned From Gigs Abroad

Lesson 1: Be inspired by fellow musicians
by Jill Tan Radovan | Oct 11, 2017
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Indie pop/noise act We Are Imaginary (WAI) is all set to perform at the Archipelago Festival, which will be held in Jakarta, Indonesia on October 14 to 15.

It’s not the first time the band is flying out to perform overseas. We Are Imaginary has participated in two Southeast Asian music festivals in the last two years, in Thailand and Singapore, respectively.

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The band was formerly known as Your Imaginary Friends. Two EPs, "One Dreamy Indeterminate Hum" and "Silence Is a Villain" were released before the band launched "Death to Romanticism," their first full-length album, last year.

As there has been a change in the band’s name, there have also been some changes in its members as well. The two constants are brothers Ahmad and Khalid Tanji, both guitarists with Ahmad taking on lead vocal duties. Vhall Bugtong plays the bass guitar and currently, Apa Rubio does the drum work.

Continue reading below ↓ caught up with Vhall, Ahmad, and Khalid in an exclusive interview where they answer questions regarding the upcoming festival and why they can’t stop joining festivals overseas, among other things.

How are you and what have you been up to lately? Has the sound, dynamics changed drastically with the new lineup?

Khalid: We’re doing good, thank you. Just becoming more health conscious, or trying to be, ha ha! Also taking our time to enjoy the good news coming our way.

Ahmad: The band is very much up and running.

K: Baler’s own Apa Rubio is banging the skins for us now. There are changes but not that drastic since we knew Apa personally and we are still playing our old songs.

Vhall: Dynamically speaking, it’s still the signature WAI sound. We are in the process of arranging new songs though, so it’s quite exciting. We might surprise ourselves in the process.

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Please tell us about the festival you're joining. What are your expectations from it?

A: Archipelago Festival is the first of its kind in Indonesia. It's a two-day music conference that aims to promote local artists and educate them on how to survive the music business. Basically, the whole day will focus on various TEDX-inspired talks and evenings are for music exposure.

V: This festival is all about getting inspired. We hope to meet other people who will help us push our music further. It would be cool to hang out and learn from different musicians as well. 

How were you enlisted and selected to perform?

A: It all started out when a friend from Bangkok contacted me and Dax [of Paranoid City] to show Teguh Wicaksono around Manila who was here on a business trip. We brought him to TresKul Records & Café, drank a few rounds and had a great conversation about our cultural differences and Asian music in general. Months after, we got an email from Teguh, inviting us to be part of this festival he is curating. The rest is history.

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This isn't your first time to join a music festival abroad. What was your experience like before?

A: We did Grass Tone Sound Festival in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand last December 2015. It was through the help of Boydd Kanokthep and Summer Disc Music Label head Thep Pilan Phongparnich. Boydd saw us play live at B-Side one weeknight and was convinced we were the best band in Manila! Ha ha! He was just so passionate to share our music that he arranged the tour. We can’t thank him enough.

For Rocking the Region 2017, it was the boys from Paranoid City that deserve all our love. They toured South Korea for Zandari Fest and met Joshua Tan of Esplanade. Months after their meeting, Josh messaged Dax for Filipino bands he should check out and he included us on that list. We were chosen then.

K: The experience was amazing and nerve-wracking at the same time. The organizers and crew are usually superb and so kind. We are well taken care of. The people were so supportive, from the locals to our kababayans, especially in Singapore. They usually have great locations for each festival.

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A: Remembering it now, it is such a wonder that the sweet combo of hard work and good music can bring you places.

Why do you keep joining festival overseas?

V: It is one of our goals ever since. We want to explore more and break the barrier—prove that indie bands like us can actually play outside the country. It's to prove to ourselves and everyone around us that we can actually pull it off with our music as the ticket.

K: Playing live outside is an exciting experience, no question. It’s just different in a wonderful kind of way.

V: We are also curious about the music scene of other countries. It is nice to share a connection with all the struggling musicians in Asia.


What does it mean to you to be able to perform in musical festivals abroad?

K: I am crossing out one item from my bucket list. It keeps the band intact too since it’s sort of like a bonding trip.

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V: It's a pleasure and a privilege. It gives us a sense that everything is possible.

Do you sometimes feel that your band/music is alienated locally?

A: Not really. But we do admit having limitations in reaching a wider audience since we are basically a self-managed band who does everything, from videos to promotion, on our own. Thank God we have our label Wide Eyed Records now to guide us further. Nine years on, we are still learning the ropes of the business.

V: I guess it all depends on the audience. We are slowly accepting the fact that our music is not really written for most of the listeners here.

Have you also participated in homegrown music festivals? 

A: We have. We were invited at the Wanderjam Festival at Tabaco, Albay, a small-scale benefit festival. We did our first UP Fair in Los Banos, which was awesome.

K: We did Rakrakan Festival this year; that’s their biggest so far, so we feel blessed to be part of it. There’s Intramuros Rising, too!

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What elements of these festivals could be applied to the local scene in order for it to improve?

A: In Thailand, all the people watching are there for the local bands. They were actually pretty regional in terms of supporting their countrymen. We need that kind of attitude here. Meanwhile, kudos to the Esplanade team in Singapore! They should be the criteria when it comes to concert management and sound technology.

K: I agree. They are very strict with the time; their equipment are well maintained and they were very helpful in setting up our gear.

V: The best sound check of my life is when we played in Singapore. They were pretty meticulous in assisting each member and letting you achieve your sound.  

K: I should add that there are NGO and government entities in other countries that support and provide funds for their festivals. I hope it’s as easy to set up events here.

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How would you compare the experience of performing overseas to local gigs?

A: All gigs are special. We give them the same attention. We do dress up a tad bit than usual for big gigs outside the country. Ha ha!

V: When it comes to local gigs, you are more comfortable when you play because you’ll always see familiar faces. But performing overseas is a different rush. It feels like a dream. I mean c’mon, who would have thought we’d get this far?

How is the crowd out there?

A: They are pretty much a listening crowd. We miss the open affection displayed by the audience in the Philippines, but their wide-eyed attention to your set makes up for their reservation.

Has performing in festivals overseas helped you increase your fans/following?

A: In some ways, yes. Some of our songs are included now on various Asian Spotify playlists. I can see a couple of comments here and there from foreign listeners.

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What’s your mindset going into this festival?

A: I remember being all nerves playing for the Singapore crowd. For Jakarta, I plan to loosen up and have fun.

K: Play one great show that they will not forget. That’s my mission.

V: I just want to give it my best shot and the universe will follow.

Follow We Are Imaginary on Instagram at @weareimaginary. You can also listen to their songs on Spotify

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