by Nicole-Anne Lagrimas
Professor Roselle Pineda’s memories of the UP Fair are of dancing.
It was the 90s, and as soon as the music started, sometimes as early as 4 p.m., fairgoers in their t-shirts, jeans and rubber slippers, the fashion of the time, would be moving to the rhythm, warming up for a festive night at a corrugated-iron barricaded Sunken Garden. There was jamming, too – lots of it.
“We’re a rock generation,” said Pineda, now an Art Studies professor at the University of the Philippines. “We would just go there to get drunk and get high, and then dance the whole night – dance and headbang and enjoy music.” Without a liquor and smoke ban, fairgoers of all persuasions, from the liberal, the laidback, to the “grade conscious,” were afforded more leeway to “let loose.”
Also held in February in observance of the Diliman Arts Month, UP Fairs in the 90s were more welcoming in terms of form, said Pineda.
It was not only a music festival as it is marketed today. Instead, Pineda said, it was a celebration of a counterculture condemning the state and the final vestiges of the Martial Law, a rock-transition era that UP sat at the very heart of.
“The air was about being alternative, and part of being alternative was this counter-hegemonic stance against the state,” she said.
While the bands that played at the Fair – The Eraserheads, Tropical Depression, Yano, The Wuds, among others – in those years had massive followings, they were not so much the stars as members of the scene, as fairgoers were treated not only to the age’s music but to multiform performances including dance, spoken word and even shadow play.
Moreover, art organizations and students worked more closely with the organizing team from the University Student Council (USC), giving the Fairs the art edge it has gradually lost over the years.
That art edge, it seems, is not the only edge time has rounded out, and this is not lost on Professor Pineda, who recalled the last time she went to the UP Fair: “Nahihiya na ako sumayaw, because nobody’s dancing nowadays.”
Kasama Ka Sa Trip
Misty Pegram, a journalism freshman, is going to the UP Fair for the first time. Having heard of what the Feb Fair at UP Los Banos is like, she had high expectations on UP Fair’s second night. Silent Sanctuary, Spongecola and Up Dharma Down would be headlining the concert, after all.
But at the end of the night, Pegram said she realized the Fair, “cool” as it was, did not live up to the hype.
“I guess I expected it to be more accessible,” said Pegram in an online interview. “Everything cost money and it’s so closed off in general.”
Moreover, due to “unforeseen circumstances,” Silent Sanctuary and Spongecola, two of the supposed headliners of Wednesday’s Overdrive cancelled their performances , much to the disappointment of fans who waited until after midnight for the bands’ sets.
The UP Geodetic Engineering Club (UP GE Club) and the Tau Alpha fraternity, meanwhile, released an online statement at 11 p.m. on February 14, apologizing for the “unfortunate circumstances” that occurred during Wednesday night. The statement cited problems with the USC’s ticket scanner provider and power supplier, leading not only to long lines outside the venue but to the organizers’ “redesigning the timeline in order to accommodate all the band performances.”
UP Fair 2016 was held from Feb. 9-13, catering crowds of as many as 12,000 people inside the enclosed area of the Sunken Garden in one night.
This year’s theme, “Kasama Ka Sa Trip,” was formulated collaboratively by the USC and the UP Advertising Core (UP AdCore). UP AdCore has been handling promotions for the weeklong fair and the USC night since 2014.
“We wanted UP Fair to be a barkada bonding activity, more than just a concert that happens every year,” said Denise Valdez, UP AdCore’s Vice President for Promotions and one of the heads for promotions of this year’s UP Fair.
“Main target audience kasi talaga ng UP Fair ang UP students. By choosing barkada as a theme, we hope to communicate UP Fair as the perfect UP event made for the typical UP barkada,” Valdez added.
The USC handled one fair night, Tuesday, and bid the other four to student organizations within the university – the UP Geodetic Engineering Club and Tau Alpha Fraternity, the UP Junior Philippine Institute of Accountants, the UP Philippine Society of Youth Science Clubs and the UP Economics Society with the UP Underground Music Community who organized the Fair from Wednesday to Saturday, respectively.
Up-and-coming acts and homegrown bands from UP shared the stage with the local music industry’s biggest artists, including Parokya ni Edgar, Up Dharma Down, Rivermaya, Hale and Spongecola.
Problems, however, were inevitable.
Aside from the non-playing of Spongecola and Silent Sanctuary on Wednesday, band Perkywasted reportedly walked out before their set on Tuesday due to delays in the program schedule. UP Fair Team Overall Head Marjon Abut said logistical issues such as lights and wirings being set up later than planned caused the delays. He added that the team has already apologized to one of the band’s members.
Raimund Marasigan, frontman of Sandwich and former drummer and vocalist of The Eraserheads, weighed in on the matter through Twitter, where #UPFair2016Backstage was the talk among musicians and fair organizers. He said the “backstage drama kinda happens every year. The organizers (kids) never learn because it’s a new batch each year.” The succeeding nights, however, went by relatively smoothly, according to Abut and tweets at the aforementioned hashtag.
Drama at the #UPFair2016Backstage ? it kinda happens every year. The organizers (kids) never learn because its a new batch each year.
— raymund marasigan (@raymsmercygun) February 11, 2016
‘Progressive’ to ‘commercialized’?
One main difference between the UP Fairs Professor Pineda and Misty Pegram’s went to is their overarching themes. From the 90s to the end of the 2000s, the Fair’s themes were more “progressive,” usually discussing the struggle for greater state subsidy in education. For instance, in 1997, the Fair’s theme was “P500 Fair Unit,” condemning the UP administration’s proposed tuition fee increase. Ten years later, the Fair was called “UP Not Fair Sale,” as a response to the actual tuition fee increase. In 2011, the Fair’s theme was “Education in desFAIR.”
The shift in the tone of UP Fair themes is illustrated in recent years. 2013’s theme was “Live it UP,” while last year’s was “Soundtrack Natin ‘To,” both of which are friendlier not only to sponsors but also to audiences, said USC Chairperson JP Delas Nieves.
I see all these corporate names and I get disgusted by it. I will not pretend that we were not inscribed in ideology in the 90s, but you had an idea that what you were seeing was not as packaged.
Delas Nieves said the organizers take on commercial giants such as Smart and SM Youth as sponsors to cover expenses for the weeklong concert, which he estimated can cost up to P4 million, the chunk of which is taken up by sound system rentals, booth tents, lights and security. This estimation does not yet reflect band fees.
Professor Pineda is not as convinced, saying, “I see all these corporate names and I get disgusted by it. I will not pretend that we were not inscribed in ideology in the 90s, but you had an idea that what you were seeing was not as packaged.”
USC Councilor Beata Carolino said the UP Fair can only be considered commercialized when it prioritizes profit generation over the showcasing of local talents.
On the other hand, Abut categorically said, “It’s not about profit generation. All proceeds from the UP Fair would go to the renovation of the Vinzon’s Hall.” Delas Nieves specified the proceeds would be used for the construction of a student lounge.
Abut maintained that the UP Fair is “for the students.”
“Annual event siya (UP Fair) na nagsasabing ang UP students ay hindi lang focused sa acads – we know how to have fun, we know how to make fun of little things,” Abut said.
Echoing this, Delas Nieves said the UP Fair is a venue for showcasing homegrown talent. “The UP Fair is a way para ipakita kung ano ‘yung galing ng mga UP students.”
As for the themes, USC Councilor Franzine Foronda said the more recent themes of the UP Fairs were not as specific as that of the older ones because each night promoted a different advocacy.
Last year’s included the Freedom of Information. This year, the advocacies are students’ rights, labor rights, voters’ education, world solidarity and gender equality, causes handpicked by the USC, said AdCore’s Denise Valdez.
But these “socially relevant causes” are still “easy to sell,” said Professor Loujaye Sonido of the UP Department of English and Comparative Literature who was also a UP Fair frequent in the late 2000s.
“I think there are things we can be bolder about,” Sonido said. “I get that there are advocacies that are easier to sell, but you don’t advocate because it’s easy.”
She remembers traces of the punk days of the UP Fair when the tickets cost P80, when it was not out of the ordinary to see the wilder section of the audience throwing plastic bottles at performers onstage and when the organizers advocated for causes like sex education and state subsidy.
Whether or not such causes will return to the UP Fair is unclear, but Professor Sonido recognizes UP as a space where such a kind of boldness is allowed.
After all, she said, “this kind of freedom is not afforded anywhere else.”