Philippines – What happens to a musician during a pandemic? “We find a way to survive as musicians—we always do,” says NINNO as we talk about his recent collaboration with Six The Northstar this 2021. Along with Six The Northstar, NINNO was in “Secret Avengers” with Lloyd, Liquid, and Raw Meta Fuego. 

“Secret Avengers” is only one song out of dozens that Six The Northstar has worked on and released throughout the last 18 months. “I became more productive with my music during the pandemic,” Six says as we talk about the spike in his music releases. “There isn’t really a lot of options laid out for you except to stay at home and work.”

What Made Music-Making Possible During the Pandemic? 

Six did mostly collaborative work during the pandemic—apart from when he was putting together SixTrueMentals Vol.3, his newly released solo LP—but that’s always been part of who he is as an artist. Six is known as a member of MDK and Shadow Moses, as well as for his collaboration with Dante and Amigo. His music sounds the most like himself when he’s making it with others.

If collaboration is so important for Six’s music, how did his productivity increase during a situation that made communication so difficult? Having access to the internet and relying on old friends and new equipment made all the difference.

Having Access to the Internet

Some of Six’s initial projects during the pandemic were collaborations with musicians from other places at different time zones—such as LA and DC in the US—complicating communication lines further. Working with these musicians also gave Six some insight into how the US was handling the pandemic compared to the local response.

“With Baji [ETC], I’d call him at the weirdest hours of the morning just to talk about the recording process.” Baji and Six, who’ve known each other since Six’s days in Bacolod, played around with the idea of working on something for years. However, the iso EP—the collaboration with the Los Angeles musician—came together only when the lockdown in the Philippines was announced and Six couldn’t step out of his house. 

“Same with Deja Vu—calling him at 2 a.m. to talk to him at 2:00 p.m. his time.” Deja Vu is a rapper from DC that originally contacted Six online when he got featured on DJ Skibeatz’s Instagram account. They were already crafting tracks for Deja Vu’s album Loverboy pre-pandemic but the process sped up during the lockdown in the Philippines early in 2020. “I liked how he pushed me in a musical direction that I wouldn’t normally go to if I was working on my own. It got really busy with us given that I had so much time on my hands and was staying at home for the entirety of April and May.” Deja Vu also remembers them using Discord to communicate.

Relying on Old Friends and New Equipment

But when Six could go to work again at his day job, time management did become more challenging. 

“During 2020, I realized how much music I was working on,” he says. On top of his collaborations with Baji and Deja Vu, Six has also worked on several local collaborations—with 8th Messenger, Eli, and Railkid, among others. “I needed to track most of my beats to digital so I invested in recording equipment given I would deal with standalone and analog gear more. Totally worth it.” 

Six also relies on music relationships that have stood the test of time. “I had a bunch of mixing and mastering engineers—like NINNO—who were available during the pandemic.” NINNO has worked with Six a lot, both as a rapper and an engineer, and there was no reason for this dynamic to change during the pandemic. “I sent NINNO a bunch of recordings online. It’s a good thing he could work on stuff even without having access to his studio in Cubao.” 

On Mga Kahon Mula Bodega EP with Railkid, Six had Al Facundo help them out with mixing and mastering. “Same thing with him,” Six interjects, “He has his gear at home and he could accommodate the process at home.”

How Did the Pandemic Change Music-Making?

As a musician that’s been performing for decades, Six is still getting used to mostly doing livestreams and pre-recorded shoots. Of virtual gigs, he says, “I really appreciate how people have supported me in every performance, especially during a time where things are really uncertain.” 

Therapy vs. Connection

He continues: “Music is really therapeutic for me and I really do it for myself but I love how some people would randomly tell me how the music gave them the same effect—how it also helped them out with their own daily struggles with anxiety during the pandemic.”

Railkid chimes in here in Tagalog, “Since pandemic ngayon, para sa akin music ang isa sa mahusay na channel upang makapag hayag ka ng mga naoobserbahan mo at maibahagi sa pamamagitan ng pag panday ng mga salita.” (Since it’s the pandemic, for me, music is one of the best channels for us to relay our observations and share them through crafting lyrics.) He says that during these times, music is an excellent channel to discuss your observations through words.

However, not all musicians are certain that the music industry will survive the pandemic—even though music is therapeutic. Deja Vu says, “The pandemic was disastrous for the music industry. Touring was canceled, appearances were canceled, and social distancing limited interaction with other musicians. The pandemic restricted travel. I would have flown to the Philippines to work with Six The Northstar personally.”

While Six doesn’t mention touring at all, it is also part of his life in the Philippines. NINNO shares that some of his favorite memories with Six were when they were on tour: “From our tours in Cebu and Bacolod—where we found out that the only Ilonggo word our Shadow Moses bandmate Vic knows is duha, which means the number two—all the way to performing in MOA arena, there’s just way too many dope memories with Six.”

NINNO also shares that one of his low-key favorite moments with Six happened while they were working on the skits for the Shadow Moses album. “It was incredibly difficult to maintain my composure,” he says. “In fact, you can hear me laughing in the background for a couple of our skits.” While it’s possible to make music during the pandemic, as Six has proved, moments like that are impossible to recreate.

Deja Vu seems to agree, as he maintains, “Everything is better in person—the energy, the vibe, everything.” 

Abundance vs. Stagnancy

Deja Vu does admit that there has been a positive effect on his musical output. “Touring for me is such a vital part of my process as a human,” he says. “Lack of touring has forced me back into the studio to create.” While many music venues and concert halls did not survive the pandemic because of a lack of touring, there’s a lot to look forward to in terms of music releases. 

This is echoed by NINNO, as a music engineer: “[There are a] Lot more gigs in the corporate world now though, more than ever. Everyone’s trying to release content because everyone’s at home. That results in more jobs for the audio industry.” He says that he made more money in music in 2020 than any other year. Stagnancy in other parts of life may indeed lead to abundant growth in others.

Apart from music therapy, maybe Six has also experienced music abundance—and maybe he’s shared this with some of his collaborative artists. Railkid says, “Nagagalak ako sapagkat hindi kami masyado na-hassle pagdating sa pag-create, dahil pakiramdam ko na parehas din kami na may gigil? Tingin ko nakatulong yun kaya nakamit namin ng swabe ang gusto namin mangyari.” (I’m happy because we weren’t hassled a lot when it comes to creating, because I feel like we both had that gigil [can’t help ourselves]. I think that helped us achieve what we want.) He didn’t find working on Mga Kahon Mula Bodega difficult during the pandemic, at all, and he found Six’s energy almost contagious.

How Exactly Did Six The NorthStar Work With Multiple Artists?

How does Six match other musician’s sounds in collaborations while remaining true to his own sound? While his energy to make music can be contagious, Six seems to put all of that passion into matching what an artist needs from his beats. “Definitely, there was some vibe that was converging among the collaborative projects but I was really making sure that each one didn’t sound like the other,” he says. 

“With Eli, we focused on different soundscapes—like each track definitely not sounding like the one next to it.” Eli, Six asserts, is Makati’s best-kept secret. He met Eli while playing random beats at Black Market—Eli spit a few bars over Six’s music and Six knew the rapper needed his own proper album. They planned to work throughout 2019, but because of the pandemic, the album Optics is coming out this November 2021. They have released the song “80proof” with Yorko, though. Six also produced and performed “Euphoria” with Eli last October at Purveyr’s Sound Fiesta series as it launched its third season.

“With 8th Messenger, I was a bit more inclined to imagine how people envision whenever he is on the mic,” As a Pamilia Dimagiba fan, Six wanted the influence of the group—of which 8th Messenger is part of—and the production work of DJ Arbie Won had on his perspective on music to shine through. Six actually met 8th Messenger in 2012, when the latter came back to Manila after being an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW). They met at Arbie’s record store and had been planning to work on music together ever since. 

The beginnings of the album Isang Libong Taon began pre-pandemic. “The first recording sesh was at Liquid’s studio during December 2019, but progress was halted,” 8th Messenger notes. However, pandemic travel precautions soon lifted. Six relates: “One of my awesome memories of this time was finding a way to travel to Cavite to the studio so I can be present during the recording of my favorite track “Fall of Men”—with Pamilia Dimagiba’s Young Galaxy and my homie, Defcon, from MDK.” 8th Messenger recalls this as one of his favorite memories of making the album.

Moving the Dial

Sometimes, collaborative work needs someone who will make things happen. “I always wanted to merge homies from different crews who never got the chance to be on the mic together and just put it out there,” Six says. This was the idea behind “Secret Avengers.” Lloyd of The Pharm is now settled in Australia but is one of Six’s oldest friends, Raw Meta Fuego was somebody he was around during the earlier Fliptop days, and NINNO is his Shadow Moses bandmate.

Six ended up taking the reins during the collaboration. “I was up on all of them and just followed up on where they were with their verse—like I was some agent following up on some contract. Comes with the territory! If you want something done, you gotta put hella work on it.” 

Trusting the Feel

How does Six know which beat he makes belongs to which collaborative artist? He says, “There ain’t really no science to eat—you know what I mean? I’d wake up, fire up the MPC or whatever and just make beats from records I got from some digging mission I did over the weekend.” To find his groove and survive during the pandemic, he did what was most intuitive. He trusted how he felt.

“I guess I am always about feel. I’m not the most technical dude out there,” he continues. “I’d just know as soon as I play a beat. I know which emcee would sound good on it or if an emcee is actually needed on it. I definitely make a bunch of beats in a day and I sort them out depending on the voice of the artist. I picture how an emcee’s flow and voice would sound like on one of my beats, and that’s how I find out which beat belongs to whom—know what I mean?”

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This approach can speed up the music-making process. “March 2021 namin napag-usapan ang proyekto. Around March up to April, nasa akin na yung mga beats na likha ni Six,” (We talked about the project in March 2021. Around March up to April, I already had Six’s beats) Railkid relates, reveling in the speed at which his project with Six progressed from March to April this year. “Then buong month of May ko sinulat yung limang kanta. June to July yung process ng recording, mixing and mastering, tapos August release na agad.” (Then I wrote five songs during May. Recording, mixing and mastering was in June to July, and then it was released in August).

Beyond the Pandemic: What’s Next for Six The Northstar?

The pandemic has been going on for so long that some of Six’s collaborations with artists have spawned further projects. For example, he’s worked on a second album with Deja Vu—Glow, released within the first two weeks of 2021. 

Solo Releases

However, what his fans can look forward to in the future is a welcome surprise. Six The Northstar is coming out with the third volume of his SixTrueMentals series of albums. Each volume marks certain aspects, events, and emotions of his life—in fact, Six calls them “a diary in the form of sound.”

SixTrueMentals Vol. 3 is, at least, partly about the pandemic. Six says of “Desire,” the album’s lead single, “I felt like it represented my thoughts on hope and change. Not to get deep into a commentary of what is happening around right now, but I feel—on a personal level at least—that I need to remind myself that things are going to turn around for me… for everybody.” 

The album was released digitally on September 19, and a vinyl release is planned for December 2021. Six hosted an online album listening party for SixTrueMentals Vol. 3 at Manila Community Radio, digital content of which should be uploaded on different platforms soon.

Collaborative Releases

Along with working with Eli on Optics, Six is also working with Railkid again—on a full album this time, to be released in 2022—while juggling other projects that have yet to be named or scheduled. 

In some sense, Six The Northstar seems to have traced a musical path during this pandemic that mirrors his entire journey—so far—as a musician. Amazing as a solo artist but excellent as a team player has always been Six’s signature. Somehow, being a lone wolf that nevertheless works with others easily worked well, music-wise, throughout the COVID-19 precautions in the Philippines.

 

Thanks to Six The Northstar, Deja Vu, Railkid, NINNO, and 8th Messenger for their interview responses. Thanks to Paolo Narciso for helping facilitate the interview with NINNO.