“If words are the language of man, music is the language of God and spirits. To me, music is the universal truth.”
Listen to LUSTBASS’ track “Vital Transformation,” and you’ll be tempted to believe that maybe, music really is a passage to something spiritual. It makes sense that this is the philosophy the musician adheres to, who is so adept at translating his thoughts to the physical world through sounds.
Doing music since his early childhood, LUSTBASS has assumed different names and has associated himself with different bands through the years: He was Villain when he was still into punk/rock, he’s a bass player for bands Wilderness and Chocolate Grass, a sound designer for imagineer company Migo, and above all, a music producer for various artists.
Having delved into almost all aspects of the music industry, it’s curious how Allan Malabanan, the man behind all these personas, has not gotten the fame yet he deserves. Aside from the music circle from which Malabanan has gained respect, only a few seem to know and appreciate the kind of music he creates.
“I’m in this career simply to make good music – timelessness over trends. Any byproduct from that is just a plus… Success to me is being able to make a good living doing what I do best, with no compromise or restriction,” says Malabanan.
Unlike other artists, he remains elusive. His social media accounts are not well-curated, and are actually a wall of random snaps and snippets. Aside from gig announcements and occasional sharing of stories written about his works, he really just makes music. No scrimmage, no gimmicks.
It is not so much as an exile, but just a refusal to ride into the pervasive self-branding strategy of most musicians. Timelessness over trends. Malabanan’s music is characterized by its needless want to rush, a breathing music that sets its own pace, and one that continuously evolves – perhaps a unique voice in an industry where artists are known for having their own mark and niche. For him, his only goal is to produce the music that he hears in his head.
“All in all, I don’t want to be one of those musicians who just sound the same forever. My work has to represent me and if it’s not changing, it means I’m not growing or learning anything new. They say you can either be a jack of all trades or master of one, but I want to be master of all.”
The musician remains committed to this goal, and so far, this journey of discovery has been nothing but diverse. From his earliest days, Malabanan did a lot of guitar-driven music. He did a lot of metal, post-hardcore and post-rock songs – basically anything that involved a guitar, looper and delay. As he grew older, he played bass guitar and started getting into progressive heavy rock. His jam were odd-time signatures.
He then came to love neo-soul and jazz. From aggressive sounds, Villain’s music taste started to mellow down. He found himself drawn to the piano and discovered the emergence of jazz-hop. As if he has not exhausted music enough, LUSTBASS was born as an outlet for him to play all the instruments he wants by producing music for artists whom he shares the same passion for the scene.
His chopsuey-like taste in music also explains his propensity to play with various instruments and styles. His influences include Eyedress, Musical O, folks from BuwanBuwan Collective, Robert Glasper, BADBADNOTGOOD, Erykah Badu, J-Dilla, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, D’Angelo, Led Zeppelin, and Floetry to name a few. Classic or contemporary, Malabanan neither discriminate nor box himself in the same genre over and over again.
Bending the rules
Malabanan’s first time to hold a guitar was cathartic. A friend lent him a guitar to learn the beginner classic, Extremes’ “More Than Words.” Too lazy to change chords throughout the song, he found a way to play it using only one chord with minimal variations and finger changes.
“That was when I figured I could already bend the rules.”
And bend the rules he did. In his collaboration with choreographer Chloe Chotrani and videographer Judd Figueres, the producer reversed the process between choreography and music by translating Chotrani’s movements into soundscapes. Called “Distant Early Warning,” the partnership among the three gave birth to a performance art and a stellar music video.
With such rich and varied background, it’s difficult to categorize the kind of genre Malabanan is in. But that is not actually a problem. The musician himself has stopped trying to categorize music a long time ago. For him, in whatever genre, there will always be beautiful ones, and “cringe-worthy ones.” But at the end of the day, they all boil down to one thing: they are all music.
“How we perceive them is going to be subjective anyway,” he adds.
If he’s to describe his music though, LUSTBASS would compare it to having a band with a bunch of his clones as members. He pursues two different approaches when it comes to creating his sounds. One that is organic, and another that is purely electronic. While he would spend days manually plotting out an intricate drum fill, he also likes playing with ambient sounds and heavy bass. This persistent exploration seems to be fueled by his desire to make sense of things, “even though there is no definite meaning or sense when the music is done.”
Wonderfruit, a homecoming
Early this year, the producer is slated to perform in Wonderfruit, the first lifestyle festival in Asia happening in Pattaya, Thailand. More than the music, what he is most excited about is seeing his childhood friends again after a decade.
It’s also a dream that finally comes into fruition. Malabanan spent sixteen years of his life in Thailand, until his dad decided to retire and move their family back to Manila. He was kicked out of highschool just before his band was supposed to play in the school’s talent show. From then on, he promised only to come back as a performer, with his glory intact on a big platform.
The producer will be waving the Philippine flag together with Red-i and his latest collaborator, Jess Connelly. Malabanan and Connelly might be performing their latest single, “2am/radar” on a “sunset set.” This is going to be his first international gig, which makes him an inch closer towards his dream of being able to travel around the world through his music.
But for an artist like Malabanan, or Villain, or LUSTBASS, for that matter, the road to music, wherever it takes you, is a never-ending path. The 27-year-old is not closing his doors to another metamorphosis. Who knows? He might go from producing to singing one day.
What can only remain constant, as far as his forecast can tell, is his perennial hunger to express himself through the language of the gods and the spirits. An intricate process to say the least, but one he is willing to undertake for the rest of his life.