Apl.de.ap’s new record label wants Southeast Asian talent

MANILA, Philippines – Apl .de.ap knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle to get your music out there. The Black Eyed Peas themselves almost gave up. “We would go to colleges like UCLA and ask, ‘Oh, can we perform at lunch time? Where everyone hangs out to eat?’” And since back then there was no e-mail, they would collect people’s addresses and send out flyers of their shows to their mailing list. They did this over and over, patiently building a following. They produced a demo after a year and a half, but it was dismissed by producers as not tangible enough. But one day, when their following had grown to generate a word-of-mouth phenomenon, Sony and Interscope came to them.

There was a bidding war. “Sony was offering us pretty good money; bigger than Interscope. But the president of Interscope called us to a meeting and said, ‘Well, you can go with Sony and get all that money. But if you go with me, you’ll always be making records.’” And that’s what got them sold. “When we heard that we’re always gonna be making music, that was more exciting.”

Apl vividly recalls going on tour for the first time in a trailer, the four of them ecstatic that they’d made it. And when they arrived, all the other artists had buses, and they were like, “Oh, I think we… sorta made it.” Where Is the Love is the single that globally put them on the map.

Untapped talent

As challenging as it was to get his own break, being a judge on The Voice of the Philippines was what really opened Apl’s eyes to the amount of untapped Filipino talent there is. The effect on him was poignant. “You’re like holding somebody’s dream, then you have to let go.”

Today, Apl is committed to actually seeing these dreams through via BMBX Entertainment (pronounced “boom box entertainment”), where he works together with his manager, Audie Vergara. “I just come up with the ideas, and leave the execution to Audie,” Apl laughs.

“BMBX kind of derived from Jeepney Music,” Apl says of the label he formerly put up. “But this time, we wanted something regional, starting with Asia. Jeepney was sort of confined a little bit, because if you go to, like, Malaysia they’ll ask, ‘What’s jeepney?’ And then I’ll say, ‘Music that travels.’ And they’ll just be like, ‘What?’ Some people might ask, ‘Is that a tuktuk?’ We wanted people to be able to relate and not feel excluded.” And so BMBX was born. “It’s like a resemblance of the old school; the first equipment that I used to use.”

Currently, the brand-new music label and production company has rock band Slapshock under its belt. “Oh, man. It’s crazy. Those guys are amazing,” Apl gushes. “I remember there were 30,000 people all rocking out to them. And I was like, what the hell, how come people don’t see this? It’s got to be shown, you know? We have a lot to offer. The talent we have here — we’re just naturally musically inclined. But artists here are marginalized. You know how much Koreans put value in their artists? They have like a stable. We need to do that here.”

We ask Apl how he discovers new talent.

“Well, The Voice helped me a lot (They’re currently negotiating Jessica Reynoso’s contract). I also go out a lot. I go to underground shows, like B-Side. And I’ll just stand there amazed like, ‘Is this coming out of the Philippines!?’ I also go on YouTube. I just type in ‘Filipino artist,’ ‘underground.’”

On collaboration and letting artists be

Thankfully, despite the regional thrust of BMBX, Apl does not subscribe to the vanilla idea of Americanizing our artists and producing only English songs so that, as is often reasoned here, people can understand. “Maybe with Jessica, because she’s young, there’s still some molding to be done. But with Slapshock, I just leave ‘em alone.”

“No translations?” we ask.

“Oh no, definitely Tagalog. There’s also this reggae kapampangan band that I’m really interested in.”

But make no mistake: Apl is not one of those impossible cultural purists. He’s all for mixing flavors that go well together. “I want to start collaborating with other Asian artists. With Slapshock, I had them collaborate with System of a Down. That creates excitement for them.”

He applies this as well when it comes to the production of the music. “We utilize the same pipelines that we, the Black Eyed Peas, used — like the guys who mixed our material and distributed our albums. We hook up with sound engineers in LA who worked with Guns N’ Roses.”

Ultimately, what Apl believes sets BMBX apart is how it’s not just a label. “It’s about finding ways to distribute the music — especially here in the Philippines where it’s so hard to break in. I want to be able to give musicians a chance.”

Apl cares about his artists’ revenue and the budget it takes to produce good quality sound, so he’s anti-piracy and considers means of distribution from a legal standpoint — from videos, to selling music to phone companies where people get the tracks on their brand- new mobiles or SIM cards. “It’s a new age of distributing music. We’re also going to do mobile tours, where we have a truck that can go all over the place, opens up into a stage, and you can perform there. And then there’ll be WiFi so we can podcast it live at the same time through YouTube or BMBX radio. We want to do it in a way that’s really being in front of people, like doing tours and creating a following — and therefore demand — for the artist.”

Indeed, it seems Apl has come full circle now. From his days of mailing out flyers and trying to get people to talk about his band, to being the outlet through which the next line of artists can achieve their much-deserved and much-awaited breaks. It’s an interesting melting pot of ideas he has, too, and we’re definitely excited to see how this plays out.


Originally published in The Philippine Star SUPREME (1 March 2014)


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