All beginners are welcome
In a piece called In Defense of Amateur by Stan Barkhage, the American filmmaker makes the case that when art is described as “amateurish” (as opposed to, say, “professional”)—though the word is often used as a derogatory—it is an admirable quality for a piece of art to have. He writes, “the amateur, thus, is forever learning and growing through his work into all his living in a ‘clumsiness’ of continual discovery,” and so the work the amateur creates is honest and genuine. It’s good to be an amateur; after all, it’s how everybody starts out.
Perhaps this is the principle Wax Roland (Founder and Creative Director), Ella Francia (Externals Coordinator), Neema Villarin (Logistics Coordinator) and Kiana Refuerzo (Marketing Coordinator) had in mind when they created Don’t Tell Nanay, a production that champions amateurs and beginners of all stripes.
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“As we developed the idea, we also wanted to make a gig space for newer artists, for younger bands and musicians that don’t usually get a chance to play gigs, because maybe they aren’t known yet…so we wanted to provide a medium for them to grow and meet like-minded people,” says Roldan. Consider the prod’s debut gig, which featured a lineup of bands whose work bristles with the untamed energy of juvenilia, such as MATOKI, Plain Folks Scare Me! and Sunday Stallone
DTN was founded sometime after quarantine regulations loosened just enough for live music to return to a hungry gig scene, after years of being without live music for so long. One can imagine a new generation of artists honing their chops in quarantine, just waiting for a stage to play on. Don’t Tell Nanay makes those spaces.
As Francia puts it: “There’s a lack of space where a lot of musicians—and even visual artists and different kinds of artists—are able to experiment with their sound, with their visuals. Especially now, we’re expected to have our craft sort of honed in, or like, magaling na kami dapat.” A great demonstration of this ethos is through their most recently organized event.
Don’t Tell Nanay: DJ Ako! was a DJ workshop that sold out on tickets fast, and was led by instructors dot.jaime and FIERCEANGEL. The craft of DJ-ing looks rather insular to outsiders, where practitioners are expected to know their stuff as soon as they get their gear and crack their software of choice. Deliberately, DTN lowered the barrier of entry, making the craft more accessible to aspiring artists who weren’t necessarily sure where to look.
That’s the ethos in summary. In detail, Don’t Tell Nanay articulates their principles through their manifesto, which was put together by the team when they were invited to a zine-making event at Anima Art Space, organized by their contemporaries Elev8 Me L8er. The north stars are as follows: 1) Never lose your childlike sense of wonder, 2) Music has no boundaries, 3) Embrace mistakes, 4) Build relationships, 5) Create opportunities for all and 6) Have fun! All these “rules” kind of fall under the umbrella virtue of inclusivity—not just with regard to identities, but also genres, styles, backgrounds, skill levels.
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So when Metro Manila-based prod Don’t Tell Nanay puts up a show or organizes an event, expect not to see the old guard or scene veterans of generations past. They wanted the prod to be a place where artists just starting out could take their first step—regardless of their social capital, or lack thereof.
“As a joke, a lot of us within [the community] like to talk about gatekeeping. Like ang laki ng concept na yun sa space natin,” says Francia. “Even just as an enjoyer of local music, local art, where do you start to discover all these new artists, these new bands? How do you discover people who are also figuring out what their art is? So, how do you fit in with all of these people? That’s where Don’t Tell Nanay is situated in the scene—it’s a gateway.”
Ideally, any production is supposed to function precisely this way, in terms of being inclusive. Realistically, what we see is that prods tend to form their own cliques while establishing a barrier of entry. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least when it comes to scenes and subcultures developing their own identity. So it’s weird to say that DTN does things differently, precisely by operating the way a prod ought to operate. It’s like they’re breaking a rule, sneaking off without their folks’ permission to do something they’re not supposed to do.
Capping off this workshop is a DJ recital taking place on the 17th at Anima Art Space. For sure, more gigs are in store for DTN’s future, but maybe also more workshops, and classes, and other such events that break the mold. “It first started out as a gig prod, pero I think now it’s so much more than that,” says Ella.
Words Jam Pascual
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver