The ride from the airport to the hotel was, in retrospect, hilarious. Almost Spinal Tappy even. Imagine eight adults spending 40 whole minutes trying to figure out how to work Globe prepaid cards. “It’s not working. I’m not getting a signal.” “What does your APN number say?” “What if you go here and press this?” “No, that’s an old loaded page.”
This brings up an interesting question: do rock stars even have telephone numbers anymore? Or do they just arm their Smartphones with e-mail addresses, Facebook, Viber and Whatsapp and change numbers every country they end up in?
Anyway. Literally two minutes from the hotel one of the team finally figures it out. It’s Martin Doherty, who plays synths and sometimes sings for CHVRCHES.
“What’s the standard greeting in the Philippines?”
“Mabuhay? Or Kamusta.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Mabuhay is ‘live long’. Kamusta is ‘how are you’?”
A few minutes later I realize why he asked that question. The #chvrchesmanila hashtag goes crazy on instagram and Twitter because of this—
Martin Doherty. Onstage he is the most energetic of the three. This is especially apparent during Under The Tide, when he goes into a Thom-Yorke-by-way-of-Michael-Jackson fit. I ask him how he does his awesome dance moves. He rests his head on his fists, looks up, and tells me with a straight face,
“it comes from the heart and the soul. Then it comes out in my arms. It’s like Michael Jackson reincarnate, what do you want me to say?” He seems dead serious, almost pissed even, until he betrays everything with a slight smile. “I’m a genius”, he says, breaking into laughter.
Lauren makes the ‘jerk off + explode’ hand gesture made famous by Mr. Chow in The Hangover. “A couple of fans that come a lot to the shows actually made T-shirts with Dok (Martin) on it that said ‘Martin Doherty Academy of Dance. We are open for applications.”
We bring up the topic of “Ate CHVRCHES”, the moniker many Pinoy fans have given Lauren.
“What does that mean?” Martin asks.
“It means ‘Big Sister CHVRCHES’. Essentially it’s for people who are too lazy to Google ‘CHVRCHES lead vocalist’. It’s a term of respect. Hence, you would be Kuya CHVRCHES, which means ‘Big Brother CHVRCHES’.
“So there’s big sister CHVRCHES and there’s big brother CHVRCHES. What’s grandpa CHVRCHES?”
Martin laughs, “that can be Iain.”
Iain Cook is the night’s customary absentee-being-talked-about. It’s revealed the next day that he went walking around Bonifacio High Street on his own and ended up in Comic Odyssey, where the clerk happened to be wearing a CHVRCHES T-shirt. Right after the concert Comic Odyssey guy comes up to me with a bunch of comics.
“Can you please give this to Iain? He showed up at the store yesterday and I told him I had to sell my concert tix, so he put me on the guest list.”
Iain is, to borrow a phrase from the UK, a delightful chap. Always smiling, he’s the most social one. He stayed after the press con to shoot the shit with the press (who, I noticed, were all rabid fans who found a way into writing this one piece for their respective magazines) and boogied on the dance floor with all the fans during the DJ set.
In his Twitter account, he describes himself as a nerd. I believe him, because he tells me that he saw Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace again a few months ago. No one watches The Phantom Menace again. The whole ride to the airport was a complete geekgasm for us; discussing his favorite zombie movie (“Dawn of The Dead, definitely”), favorite comic book (“I’d be hard-pressed not to agree with you on The Dark Knight Returns, though my favorite character is definitely the Silver Surfer”), watching Star Wars in Machete Order (look it up it’s pretty much the best way to watch the series). We also discussed his thoughts on LOST (“I pretty much gave up after season 2”), The Walking Dead (“I think I’ve finally reached my zombie quota”), Dr. Who (“It’s brilliant. You have to watch it!), Watchmen (“I think I’ve missed the comic so much that I actually liked the movie”),Cabin In The Woods (“I’ve had like seven arguments with people over this movie. I think it’s horrible”) and Black Mirror (“the creator, Charlie Brooker, is brilliant. Look for his other stuff!”).
One of the most admirable things about CHVRCHES is their dedication to their fans. They’re naturally a private bunch, and definitely do not like being the center of attention, but you can see them turn it on and go the distance for their fans. During the meet and greet, two hours into signing records and taking pictures with fans, we ask their manager Cara if we should rush things. “No, no. Tell them to take their time.” At the very tail end of the line is a tiny teenager who stops and breaks into tears before meeting the band. The band all stand up and comfort her, taking pictures with her. It’s a total awww moment.
“The Philippine fans are amazing,” Martin tells me the night before. “They dominate social media. At first they were all ‘CHVRCHES please come to the Philippines!’ and ‘The Philippines loves you please fly over!” but then after a few months it was ‘why do you hate The Philippines?’ ‘Why aren’t you coming over? What did we ever do to you?’ We don’t hate you, we just haven’t had the opportunity to come yet!”
But they did come, and they fucking destroyed.
They started their set with We Sink, though it was hard to tell which song it was because the crowd was so loud. Iain would later tell the Hong Kong website Madbuzz HK that playing Manila was “fucking insane” and that he had to turn his monitor up to an almost deafening point because he couldn’t hear. Lauren’s learned some new moves as well since I saw them in Coachella last April—she uses her mic cable as a whip before holding it up to her mouth to sing, and she added a little shuffle to the signature Mayberry dance move during Tether.
They do ten more songs; some crowd favorites like Gun and Recover , and sought-after new ones like Get Away from the Drive resoundtrack. They finish the set off with the now-classic The Mother We Share, with the crowd sharing this magical moment of going “owoh-owoh-owoh-oh-oh” together. My partner in Vybe Aspen told them the night before to expect to hear a crowd of thousands sing along in perfect pitch. He was right.
As soon as they exit the crowd starts chanting “We Want More”, and in less than thirty seconds the band comes right back up to end their Manila set with You Caught The Light, Mockingjay’s Dead Air and finally the very epic By The Throat. Everything goes dark, the house lights come on, and everyone just stands there for a moment, stunned.
This would have been a perfect end to a perfect night, and then I realized that they’re still doing a DJ set.
Allow me to get cheesy for a moment here and say that CHVRCHES rarely do meet-and-greets, and that their DJ sets are few and far between. The reason they did both in Manila (and before and after the concert, which is not an easy thing) was not to make a quick buck (they hardly charged anything for both), but because they really appreciate their Manila fanbase. God, I love them.
I remember coming in to Raven for the DJ set and seeing a bunch of scantily-clad “Hypers” dancing, waving their massive phallic glowsticks around. All the fans were far away and down below. Suddenly the discourse I’d had with Lauren about feminism the previous night flashed before my eyes.
“Oh. My. God.”
I run to the band area, where Iain is enjoying the night drinking champagne as Martin and Lauren spin upstairs.
“Iain. Are you guys OK with this?”
Iain laughs. “It’s fine with me but I don’t know about them!”
Sure enough Lauren has her arms crossed, her face crumpled up as she talks to Martin with displeasure. Martin is nodding in agreement, facing the dilemma of whether to cue the next song or pull the plug. We run and get the people at the sidelines to come up and start dancing. Security starts freaking out but it’s too late– a veritable mob has formed on the dance floor. The “hypers” awkwardly step down, and Lauren’s face visibly brightens up. She asks Martin a question. He shrugs. She presses play, cueing Grimes’ Oblivion. Everyone goes nuts. She looks at Martin, beaming with pride (I’m thinking the question she asked is “you think these guys are familiar with Grimes?”) The set is a perfect combination of punk, hip hop, indie and punk classics, going from Blondie’s Hanging On The Telephone to Sleigh Bells’ Rill Rill to N.WA.’s Straight Outta Compton to Taylor Swift’s Shake it Up. I type “MICHAEL JACKSON HAHA” on my phone and show it to Lauren. She squints to read it, smirks, and nods in approval, cueing in Black and White. By the end of the night CHVRCHES’ whole entourage is up in the DJ booth, dancing the night away.
It’s punk. It’s pop. It’s genuine and saccharine, brilliant and familiar. It’s dangerous but harmless, ultimately powerful; the perfect amount of rebellion, like how one would intentionally spell “Churches” with a V.
 There’s this thing I call JarJaritis, where one might watch The Phantom Menace multiple times upon its release, blinded by their love, hunger and loyalty for Star Wars. After a few months, however, JarJaritis fades and it slowly sinks in how this tale of Midichlorians, Gungans and the battle of Naboo is complete drivel. No one in their right mind would ever go back to The Phantom Menace. Except, it seems, a certain brilliant producer/musician from Aerogramme and CHVRCHES.