guide to filipino indie music
Image: Owi Liunic

The Guide to Getting Into Filipino Indie Music, the Diverse Sounds of OPM

From alternative rock to hip-hop, there’s a Filipino indie playlist for your every mood.

Before the pandemic changed life as we knew it, a typical Friday night in Manila would see a group of students and young creatives in a packed bar—San Miguel beer in one hand and phones snapping videos in the other. Everyone was sweaty and probably tired from a long day and bumper-to-bumper traffic but persistent to see their favorite bands live

The Philippines has a special relationship with music. You can see it everywhere, from daily neighborhood karaoke sessions, to TV variety shows and underground gigs. The global top 40 is popular, but there’s nothing quite like the sound of homegrown Filipino music—whether they’re in English, Tagalog, or another local language


Locally, these songs are known as OPM or “Original Pilipino Music,” a term popularized in the 70s used to describe pop music at the time. Years later, OPM came to describe all music from the Philippines. Today, pop, rock, hip-hop, and everything in between are all classified as OPM. According to Spotify, OPM has reached 10 billion streams as of 2019, with listeners in the Philippines and places like Singapore, the United States, and Hong Kong.

But classifying all Filipino artists under the same umbrella, regardless of genre, also made it difficult for listeners to explore new sounds. In search of something different, young Filipinos turned to the internet instead of the radio for new music. For years, the Philippine music scene was dominated by big labels and established stars. But more recently, the advent of platforms like Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and Spotify has made it possible for grassroots acts to promote themselves.

A lot of big artists and music executives also outgrew their major labels and started their own companies, giving new acts a chance to explore their sound and image without the pressures of catering to the mainstream. There’s Offshore Music by Ely Buendia, the frontman of iconic 90s rock band Eraserheads; singer-songwriter Rico Blanco’s Balcony Entertainment; Lilystar Records by Orange and Lemons’ Clem Castro; and Terno Recordings, which brought about the band UDD. And that’s just to name a few. 


Although Filipino indie is heavily influenced by styles from Europe and the United States, these songs are always mixed with local sounds and tell stories more relatable to the people from the country. Some talk about what it’s like to live by the sea, or more serious topics like the drug war. Others simply tap into universal emotions like heartbreak, which has become somewhat of a subgenre called “hugot” or “to draw out feelings.” After all, Filipinos love ballads and love songs, rooting from Filipino folk traditions like Kundiman—a style of traditional love song known for mellow rhythms and dramatic swells—and harana (serenade). 

Music venues like Route 196 and Mow’s Bar in Quezon City, and SaGuijo and B-Side in Makati, were the go-to spots for people looking to watch live music or discover new bands. There was also 20:20, which promoted dance and electronic acts, and Black Market for those into hip-hop. Right before the pandemic hit, less mainstream Filipino artists started going international too; synth-pop producer No Rome became the first Filipino to perform at Coachella in 2019, and local performers featured in international streaming playlists. While some of this has been put on pause, Filipino indie artists continue to produce music amid Manila’s crazy long quarantine. 

And there’s a lot to like. 


From alternative rock to hip-hop, below are some songs that make up the diverse sound of Filipino music. We will inevitably miss a lot of great artists, but this should give a taste of what the country’s indie scene has to offer. 

So you want to get into… introspective electric guitar-driven Filipino indie music?

If you were to go to one of those pre-COVID gigs, one of the bands you’d probably catch was Oh, Flamingo!, performing “Four Corners,” a 2019 single that paints a clear picture of lingering heartache with the same eclectic mix of pop and rock the four-piece band is known for. 

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Unique Salonga is bold with his lyricsm while creatively crafting strange but skillfully done melodies that he wrote, produced, and arranged—staying authentic to his artistry despite his already massive following on social media. 

Then there’s Hazylazy, the most recent solo project of Jason Fernandez from the band Serotonin, and fellow one-man act Markmuffins (by Mark Aze Deladia). Both rock out of their bedroom, bringing the fuzz with takes on shoegaze, marrying relaxing tempos with harsh vocal melodies.

This playlist ends with “Kagulo,” from Sandwich, a feisty track that further solidifies why they’re one of the most respected bands in the country. After over 20 years in the scene, their energy has yet to be matched.


Listen to this when you’re... in the mood to rock out in your room.

You’ll dig this if you like: Mac DeMarco, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, Last Dinosaurs, American Football, My Bloody Valentine, Snail Mail, SASAMI, Wavves, Broken Social Scene

Playlist: “Four Corners” - Oh, Flamingo! / “Easy Boys and Easy Girls” - The Strangeness / “Trying Too Hard” - Rusty Machines /  “Juxtapose” - Hazylazy / “static” - Markmuffins / “Huwag Ka Sanang Magagalit” - Unique Salonga / “Broken Glass” - She’s Only Sixteen / “Whiskey” - Lions & Acrobats / “The Place” - Honeydrop / “Ghost” - Megumi Acorda / “empty houses” - half-lit, B. P. Valenzuela / “Goes Without Saying” - Parlor Parlor / “Kagulo” - Sandwich

So you want to get into… dancey Filipino indie music?

Dance music in the Philippines has long been thriving. Disco music topped the charts in the 70s, with artists from the decade pioneering “Manila Sound.” It has since evolved to be more electronic and stylized. Depending on the producer, local dance music could also be influenced by heavy techno and trance.

Start with “Out Of My Mind” by Techy Romantics, a mellowed out dance track produced in 2010, but very much still a bop today. It’s a combination of the synthesized sound of lounge and electropop, matched with dreamy vocal work that takes you out of your headspace. 


“Telephone” by Ena Mori is a more recent single, a bubbly fast-paced track that puts you on hyperdrive, setting the bar high for pop music in the country with its catchy hooks and intricate production.

Although it took a while for bedroom production to take off in the Philippines compared to its neighboring Asian countries, local beat makers have caught up. Acts like Thirst Kid, Local Sun, Arthur Tan, Pamcy, Aries, and lui., have honed their own unique styles, creating a characteristic mix of live sounds, synths, and drums that step out of just U.S. and European influences.

For something even more rooted in the Philippines, there’s “PARA SAYO” by LONER, which sounds a lot like a mix of house and UK garage, but in Tagalog. 

Listen to this when you... have some friends over at your place and want to bust a move or listen over a few drinks.

You’ll dig this if you like: Jamie xx, Disclosure, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Flume, SG Lewis, Disciples, Parcels, Haruomi Hosono

Playlist: “Out Of My Mind” - Techy Romantics / “Telephone” - Ena Mori / “Para Sayo” - LONER / “The Sun in My Window” - lui. / “Rajah a Omaka-an” - Local Sun / “Wake Up!” - Thirst Kid ft. Chris Azanza / “Beauty Parlor” - Pamcy / “Ratatat” - Aries ft. St. Vincent and The Grenadines / “Elixir” - BEDSPACER / “City Runs” - Arthur Tan


So you want to get into… R&B Filipino indie music? 

R&B was always a staple in the Philippine mainstream, with many big artists championing the genre in the 90s. But with the advent of bedroom production, indie beat makers have taken over, bringing in a more layered mix of jazz, pop, soul and electronic with well-thought-out concepts.  

King Puentespina, the producer and drummer for alternative band She’s Only Sixteen known as crwn, has that magic touch when it comes to beats. No matter which singer he’s working with—from August Wahh to Jess Connelly—he somehow finds ways to make each track stand out with his masterful mix of textures with lo-fi beats.

The same can be said for producer LUSTBASS, who on his track with Jason Dhakal “Body & Soul”, perfectly captures that rare, tender moment of submission to a lover.

Then there’s Leanne & Naara, Leila Alcasid, and Jolianne, all of whom have mastered lyrical honesty pooled in with soothing vocal prowess.

Listen to this when you’re... in the mood to *feel things* and unwind after a long day. 

You’ll dig this if you like: Jordan Rakei, Toro Y Moi, Tom Misch, Kaytranada, Kali Uchis, Sabrina Claudio, Jorja Smith, Chet Faker

Playlist: “Seasons” - crwn feat. August Wahh / “Chatter” - Jess Connelly / “Run Run” - Leanne & Naara / “Better Weather” - Leila Alcasid / “But I Don’t Mind” - Kyl Aries/ “Body & Soul” - Jason Dhakal ft. LUSTBASS / “Friday Afternoon Drive” - Ysanygo, marciano / “Catching Feelings” - Earl of Manila / “Irises” - Jolianne


So you want to get into… relaxing acoustic Filipino indie music? 

The acoustic guitar is a staple sound in the Philippines. Whether it’s at a food park, mall, or even at ubiquitous “restobars,” there’s always a live band singing renditions of hit ballads. Acoustic covers of pop music are common on radios but there are also some really exceptional original songs. 

You’ll find comfort in Coeli, an indie darling whose tracks are an emotional mix of pop and folk that tackle a spectrum of topics, from yearning relationships to celebrating life.

Meanwhile, Reese Lansangan’s sweet pop melodies are dreamy yet grounding, speaking of trips to the moon and nostalgic childhood memories. 

Explore artists like Ourselves the Elves, Clara Benin, and Munimuni, then end with “Ninuno,” a classic by Bullet Dumas, that pays tribute to the roots planted by our ancestors and worries about the current state of the environment. Its tension will have you on the edge of your seat, leaving you wondering throughout about where the song will take you. 

Listen to this when you’re… working alone or on a road trip thinking about life. 

You’ll dig this if you like: Bright Eyes, Sufjan Stevens, Fleet Foxes, Adrianne Lenker, The Staves, Laura Marling, Waxahatchee

Playlist: “Magkaibigan O Magka-ibigan” - Coeli / “My Sweet Hometown” - Reese Lansangan / “Force Field” - Ourselves the Elves / “all in” - Zirene / “Wine” - Clara Benin / “Dahil Tao” - Jesh / “Sa’yo” - Munimuni / "Settled” - The Ransom Collective / “Ninuno” - Bullet Dumas


So you want to get into… hip-hop Filipino indie music? 

Hip-hop has one of the biggest followings in the Philippines, with artists stretched out all over the country rapping songs in different languages such as Tagalog, Bicolano, Chavacano, Cebuano, Ilocano, and English. It also tackles the widest breadth of topics, from love to social issues.

Calix and BLKD open the playlist with the politically-charged track “Kildemol,” followed by “Sandata,” their song in the album Kolateral, the brainchild of artist-research collective Sandata; both tracks call out the devastating outcome of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war. Tracks on Kolateral are based on meticulous research and on-ground interviews with drug war victims. It’s highly recommended for deep listening as a standalone album to give a picture of what many Filipinos have to live through. 

After similarly intense tracks from Tito Uncle and Scarly, Yorko, Six the Northstar, King Promdi, Bugoy na Koykoy, Kemikal Ali, and Emar Industriya, the playlist closes with “Fax Machine” by switchbitch and MALLWARE, which expresses disappointment in how the Philippine government has handled the pandemic.

Listen to this when you’re… all worked up and looking for music that’s socially relevant.

You’ll dig this if you like: Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, Mobb Deep, Eminem, DMX, MF Doom, A Tribe Called Quest, Schoolboy Q, JPEGMAFIA, Griselda Records

Playlist: “Kildemol” - Calix, BLKD / “Sandata” - Kolateral / “Posse” - Kartell’em / “Mansion X” - Tito Uncle ft. Scarly / “Eye” - Yorko / “80proof” - Six The Northstar, Eli, Yorko / “Soju” - Curtismith / “Gang 2x” - King Promdi / “Gwapo” - Bugoy na Koykoy, Ives Presko / “Bolo Brigade” - Kemikal Ali, Bambu, Sayadd, BLKD, APOK, Emar Industriya, Kjah / “Celebrity Status” - Sica / “Morpema” - Emar Industriya / “Fax Machine” - switchbitch, MALLWARE

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