Taken from the Spring 2014 issue of Dazed:
Everything turns grey in Manila, where billboards fade from the rain, pollution ash gathers in the locals’ skin and walls are still stained from the floods of 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. Visitors often only experience the islands’ jej (tacky) mainstream entertainment – a cloying concoction of soap-opera love stories, ballad revivals and variety-show politicking – but for the culturally informed, Manila is at a tipping point.
There’s internationally acclaimed director Hannah Espia, designer Paul Jatayna and outsider icons like Mondomanila director Khavn de la Cruz. Most exciting of all, though, is 23-year-old Idris Vicuña, better known as electronic-producer phenomenon Eyedress, who will release his debut album through XL imprint Abeano this summer. A refreshing antidote to the neon flash of local karaoke strips and glitter of beauty queens, he’s already supported Grimes and How to Dress Well locally and is set to do for Manila what Arcade Fire did for Montreal and Pulp did for Sheffield.
I meet Vicuña at a village junction on a hot December afternoon. “I love it here,” he says as we trip through the streets, past billboards and rusty iron roofs, dodging smoke-belching jeeps and trucks,“but I wanna get out ’cause it’s fucking driving me crazy.” Despite having just got off the plane from Singapore (where his band Bee Eyes opened for Mac DeMarco), he’s full of Tigger-like energy, bounding through dry leaves and getting dusty from the city’s heat. When high-school students surround us, shouting “pictorial!” at his colourful presence, he poses with both middle fingers up.
“With all the natural disasters like the recent one, it’s just sad no one’s really gonna do anything. The whole country knows. Like, we all try, but our efforts always fall short because no one really cares about anyone”
At his townhouse, we settle on couches strewn with blankets among piles of cassettes and boxes bursting with neon-coloured Japanese ephemera. Toking on a freshly rolled blunt, Vicuña, who was raised in Arizona and California but moved to Manila eight years ago, talks about his North American upbringing. “There were a lot of gangsters in my neighbourhood, so I got into punk music,” he says. “Just a lot of leftfield anarchist types who thought they could change society but couldn’t, really.” He still distrusts authority, though. “With all the natural disasters like the recent one, it’s just sad no one’s really gonna do anything. The whole country knows. Like, we all try, but our efforts always fall short because no one really cares about anyone.” He laughs. “I’m not like a tough guy though. I got a Band-Aid on my cheek like Nelly!”
We head to his bedroom, where he scrambles around showing off his ragtag collections of masks, cassettes and menswear magazines. His music is also a bit of a collage. “Whenever I sing over something, I try to mimic something I’m familiar with,” he explains. “On ‘Nature Trips’ (from his debut EP), I was trying to be a girl. Everyone says it sounds like Chromatics. They might be right, but I was trying to go for Nite Jewel.” When asked what makes him original, he says, “I’m just borrowing. The original part is how I mix it.”
There’s a knock on the door, and he bounds though the flat to greet his wife, American-Japanese blogger Maya Kibbel, who’s just flown back from Tokyo. The vibrant, precocious 18-year-old grew up in New Jersey next door to the Jonas Brothers; after her father’s death she became close to Denise Jonas, the head of the clan, and spent much of her teen life on tour with the Disney trio. Kibbel met Vicuña through a mutual friend at B-Side, one of Manila’s premier alternative venues, on her first visit to the country in 2012. Both had previously worked for party-pictures website The Cobrasnake when living in the US.
“I like being married because I’m a psycho. If I wasn’t married, I’d be worried all the time, like, ‘Are you gonna marry someone else?’ We’ve created our own bubble”
Kibbel produces a pair of Pooh Bear costumes she’s brought back from Tokyo and the couple promptly suit up, despite the sweltering heat. We head out to hang by the apartments’ pool as Vicuña bowls along clutching his crotch like Mr Country Grammar himself. “I like being married because I’m a psycho,” Vicuña announces, mildly disturbingly. “If I wasn’t married, I’d be worried all the time, like, ‘Are you gonna marry someone else?’ We’ve created our own bubble.”
As night falls, we drive to fast-food joint Jollibee, known locally for its bee mascot. They splay out on the back seat, talking about drug experiences. “I don’t know if you know, but people see fairies when they trip to PCP,” Kibbel says. “I saw some and the park was lit up like Christmas-time.” They hold hands, and I notice a tattoo of Kibbel’s that reads: “Truth is the curse of liars” – a quote from “64” by Mellowhype.
Vicuña’s tripped-out approach to life, summed up by his EP title, Supernatural, is informed by a metaphysical belief that the world extends far beyond what’s visible to the human eye. His music can flesh out ghosts better left at memory’s floodgates. In “Nature Trips” he sings: “I just wanna forget everything that’s making me feel bad.”
Now he’s in a better place. He’s got a job. He’s got some bud. He’s learned to laugh at his former loves. He marches the streets to his own beat. He can bask in these moments, but Vicuña is born to run. “I need to grow up. I need to move out. I live with my parents so I’m fucking spoiled. I have everything, so what am I gonna do, be like, ‘I’m rich, bitch’? I’m not gonna sing about that. I want to find more difficulties.”