A wise man once told me: “Tough break, kid. A lot of people think nothing is new in art anymore.” Being a true believer of the “don't-trust-anyone-over-40” axiom, I normally wouldn't put much stock in the unsolicited advice of would-be sages. That the assertion just happened to come from my mentor? Petrifying. Rather than engaging in a struggle for innovation, far too many of today's artists “make bank” by “borrowing” from the familiar forms. A cursory glance at any publication proves that this distressing trend has finally infected music. The ruling “bands-du-jour” revel in so-called “revivals” of what was en vogue in past decades, haughtily declaring themselves “pioneers”. Perchance “plagiarist” is more apt, my dears? Quite successfully, derivative blowhards climb the charts by aping The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand and even (God forbid!) The Bravery…the absurdity being that these groups, in turn, were aping The Velvet Underground, The Talking Heads and Duran Duran respectively. It is heartening, then, that in an industry increasingly lorded over by charlatans, frauds and brigands, a band like Whatevuritakes can come along to prove there are many roads yet untravelled.
Paradoxically, in order to articulate what makes this band so utterly “new,” I have to reference the “old.” Listening to a live gig or their 2004 E.P., the most apparent impression you get is that these songs are crafted by dyed-in-the-wool music fans. A silly statement, to be sure, but you would be shocked to learn how puritanical certain rock stars are with their tastes (or lack thereof). Older music “purists” categorically dismiss anyone born after 1975. Being part of the MTV generation means that we grew up in three-and-a-half minute increments; we thrash to Metallica, swaying to the hypnotic Snoop Dogg only a moment later. Hence, we supposedly suffer from a sonic Attention Deficit Disorder. Dispelling this myth, Whatevuritakes prove that the musical diversity of the late 20 th Century was providential.
Every one of their original compositions reads like a condensation of post-Motown musical history - leaving many a disgruntled critic wondering what specific genre this band falls into. There are implicit guitar references to 80s hair bands, as well as Metal groups such as The Deftones. You feel the frenetic energy of House Music perfected by acts like Thievery Corporation. There is an undeniable link to silky Nu-Soul grooves. And a healthy dose of Hip-Hop…and I don't mean the comical narcissism of novice rappers with their obsessive “laundry-list” lyrics enumerating personal possessions. I'm talking Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur and, more recently, N.E.R.D. Hell, you might even hear traces of Pinoy peers as they confess to admiring The Radioactive Sago Project, Liquid Jane and Urban Dub.
The most perceptible influence on this band is the 70s Funk Movement (Sly & the Family Stone and The Parliament-Funkadelic among others). Characterized by an emphasis on rhythm, a single “hook” is played repeatedly, pushing forward an improvisational bass line. The songs are non-developmental – merely initiated as an excuse to dance. Whatevuritakes are dissimilar in that their compositions just happen to have a clear direction. Their main touchstone, however, lies in the Funk-influenced Acid Jazz Movement of the 90s. With band favorites ranging from Incognito, The Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai, you can be sure that W.I.T. absorbed the best of this particular genre. Rambunctious bass playing. Trendy melodies simultaneously respectful to traditional structures. Most importantly, the sound is uplifting. But rather than rehashing personal heroes (as the “revivalists” do), Whatevuritakes have managed to deduce the “next step” in popular music. Brand-spanking-new. And downright fresh.
As with most archetypical bands, the group was conceived during a less-than-sober conversation. Noticing the complete absence of “dance-able,” yet hard-edged, Filipino music in December 2003, the premise was always simple: they would have to invent it themselves. Born as a four-piece, additional members were recruited in order to achieve the ambitious live sound they originally envisioned. Erwin Fajardo reminds you of a tasteful Billy Preston, all the while channeling the genius of P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell. “D.J. Flakey” Santiago adds juicy textures comparable with the efforts of Fatboy Slim and old-school Def Jam turn-tablists. The rhythm section of percussionist Clang Sison and drummer Dru Ubaldo are tenacious…raunchy one moment, dogged the next. Guitarists Sherwin “Monsi” Simon and David Baquiran are a revelation. The clever chord patterns, dexterous handling of the wah-wah pedal and the almost epileptic strumming call to mind Jimmy Page, John Frusciante and even Blur's Graham Coxon. Songwriter Brian Sergio pounds out unremitting and voluptuous bass lines easily reminiscent of Bootsy Collins, Flea and scores of unnamed Motown session musicians. As for frontman/lyricist Jack Esquivias? Let's put it this way: he flows with the chutzpah of an Anthony Kiedis, the smoothness of Tricky, the energy of Chuck D and the honey-voiced groove of Jason Kay. Not a bad looking kid either.
Any half-decent band can come up with its own version of “dance” music…yet why do so many fail to capture our attention? The ability to keep time does not necessarily mean you know chicken-shit about rhythm. The REAL task is to transcend an audience's misconception that it is socially “un-hip” to get “involved” in an otherwise catchy tune. For this type of music to be successful, it must be utterly in synch with the beating heart of even a casual listener. The greatest achievement of Whatevuritakes is their unrivalled ability to “read” a crowd. The band never coddles. They write songs that are easy to digest without insulting our intelligence as music-lovers. Instead of telling a room what to feel, the band acts as a conduit to more primal urges. They are participants…not preachers. Their sense of joy is so infectious that enthralled spectators often mob the stage. And they NEVER forget that music that is fun to play is often music that is fun to listen to. One thing is for certain: if you don't find yourself dancing by the opening bars of the second song, you might want to check that someone didn't pocket your soul while you weren't looking. Am I taking it a bit far? Perhaps. Gyrating to a pulsing beat never put food on the table. Music was never something to live BY. On the contrary…it is something we live FOR.