Indie veterans Narda celebrate Filipino Brutalism in new music video: “An archive of things past, before they disappear”

The band tell NME more about their resurrection and their new music video for ‘Ang Buhay T’wing Wala Ka’, released on Philippine Independence Day

Filipino indie veterans Narda have released a music video for their single ‘Ang Buhay T’wing Wala Ka’ which pays loving tribute to the country’s Brutalist architecture. Watch it and read our interview with the band below.

When Narda resurfaced in 2020 it was to do routine housekeeping. Bassist Wincy Ong had surreptitiously remastered their earliest EPs with Big Baby Studios to prepare for digital reissues and, since it had been 13 years since they’d disbanded, interest in the band needed to be drummed up anew.

Narda started hopping on weekend Zoom calls to brainstorm, with members from its two or three iterations – spread across the globe in Manila, Los Angeles, New York, and Canada – in attendance. But rather than simply rearrange old furniture, they ended up rethinking the entire house.

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They put out the new song ‘Juskopo’, and on the strength of that, Island Records came knocking. They got signed, then proceed to write and release two more tunes: Ong’s psych-rock-by-way-of-Manila-Sound ‘Ang Buhay T’wing Wala Ka’ and latter-era guitarist Tani Santos’ bittersweet ‘Milya’, which both came out in 2021. In an effort to reimagine their old material with “multiverse Narda”, they also rerecorded their swan song, 2006 album ‘Discotillion,’ subsequently rereleasing it on vinyl as ‘Discotrillion’ via Backspacer Records.

The eight-piece – Ong, Santos, singer Katwo Puertollano, drummer Ryan Villena, original guitarists JV Javier and Ed Ibarra, mid-era multi-instrumentalist Nico Africa, and latter-day synth player Jep Cruz – have unexpectedly peaked in activity like never before, and during an otherwise bleak time.

“It’s been quite the pandemic gift, an unintended consequence of friendship and creativity coming together at a really dark time in our history,” Puertollano says.

This year, Narda are celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band, and they’re doing it with poetic consistency: their newest output is, yet again, a bit of archival work with a twist. They’re kicking it off with a video for ‘Ang Buhay T’wing Wala Ka’ which also doubles as an ode to Brutalist architecture in the Philippines made in cooperation with enthusiast-archivist-preservationist group Brutalist Pilipinas. It features contributions of masters like Froilan Hong, Arturo Luz, and, most prominently, National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, and was released yesterday (June 12) on Philippine Independence Day.

Watch the video below and read on for NME’s interview with the band about their resurrection, Filipino Brutalism and more.

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Narda have signed to Island Records. How does it feel being given second wind in your late-30s/early-40s, as a group who largely work remotely from each other?

Katwo Puertollano: “[The band coming together again] was a beautiful reminder that making music with such kind, awesome, and funny people is a rare experience that has helped me endure very difficult times. And the thing that’s really cool about being with Island is that the work we’ve put in all those years is finally getting recognised, and I’m just so grateful that we get to experience it with the whole gang, and maybe pass that legacy to the next generation.”

You’ve been together 20 years. What has hindsight so far done to your self-assessment as artists?

Ryan Villena: “It’s still an ongoing experiment, honestly. How does one piece go well with one another – like Ed’s [guitar-playing] with Nico’s technique, or Wincy’s musical instincts with Tani’s interpretation? These individuals were never on the same Narda line-up. So, it’s like having a new band altogether, which excites me as a musician and a producer.”

Tani Santos: “My self-assessment is… I really need to learn home recording! [laughs] I think we became more creative and more resourceful when we were recording the new songs.”

Tell us about your fascination with Brutalist architecture.

Katwo: “Most of us are hardcore urban Metro Manila culture enthusiasts, plus we have two architects in the band – JV and Tani. Growing up in Quezon City, being around U.P. Diliman, Brutalist architecture was my first immersion into design. And its characteristics – the sense of geometric rhythm in concrete, the honesty of the materials, its contrast to the flora and fauna of the Metro Manila landscape – encapsulate what I love most about my childhood.”

Tani: “I’m just a big fan of “less detailed” structures [that are] very transparent. What you see is what you get.”

Still from Narda music video for Ang Buhay T’wing Wala Ka
A still from the Narda music video for ‘Ang Buhay T’wing Wala Ka’. Credit: Press

Wincy, when I was looking at an early draft of the video, my initial thought was, much like Narda’s upcoming projects, this is as much an archival effort as it is a music video.

Wincy Ong: “Yes, an archive of things past before they disappear, and we all disappear!” [laughs]

Directorially, did you intend for the presentation of the buildings to be like a pop art coffee-table come to life? What informed the look of the depiction?

Wincy: “We talk endlessly about album covers and retro publications like Jingle, [including] the fonts they used. I also looked into architectural coffee-table books from the ’60s and ’70s and fell in love with the look. [The video] even has that texture of pulpy paper, like the ones you find in grade-school textbooks.”

Wincy Ong of Narda
Wincy Ong of Narda. Credit: Cj de Silva

I saw your tweet bemoaning Filipino Brutalism being misguidedly associated with or ascribed to the Marcoses. Can you expound on that?

Wincy: “That was actually brought up by JV, our guitarist and resident architect. It just so happened the Brutalist movement [started] around 1965 and ended around 1989. Every structure back then was Brutalist – the malls (SM City, Greenhills, Greenbelt); the churches (Claret, Sacred Heart Makati); the offices (PLDT, AIM) – so it wasn’t limited to the Marcoses.”

Does their patronage sully any of it, though?

Wincy: “Good question! [Our] aim for the video was to stress, as Katwo said, that these buildings are owned by the Filipino people, not the Marcoses. There were no American or Chinese firms who did these; it was the National Artists who made [them], funded by our taxes.”

They were things of utter beauty, created during turbulent times. And we’re sort of entering a mirage of that, with [‘Bongbong’] Marcos, Jr.’s term starting soon.

Wincy: “Sadly, yes. But so much great music, art, architecture, and literature were made during those turbulent times. Which makes it ironic that during Duterte, the only revolution we got was Ben&Ben.”

Narda’s ‘Ang Buhay T’wing Wala Ka’ music video is out now

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