I first discovered MANILA GREY through Kofie Yeboah’s excellent newsletter INFINITE SHUFFLE where they were featured with a glowing write up of their 2019 single, the slick and menacing “Night Code” along with it’s stylish, high gloss music video that they produced completely in house. I don’t usually pay too much attention to what an artist’s race or nationality is, but any time a Filipino is mentioned in the broader cultural sense it’s like catnip to me and they did not disappoint.
The ‘they’ in question this time around is Vancouver’s very own MANILA GREY, a Filipino-Canadian duo featuring singer/rappers Neeko and Soliven along with their primary beatsmith, producer Azel North. Judging just by that one single and it’s accompanying video alone, it was undeniable how much this group had complete control and command of their aesthetic. From the rain soaked, noir throbbing neon beat to the barely street legal sports cars carving up concrete in the visuals, MANILA GREY already appeared fully formed out the box and every patriotic atom in my being was so proud they buzzed in a frequency I hadn’t felt since I can’t even remember when.
Mind you, my caping up for MANILA GREY may come across as slightly disingenuous, an act as equidistant from cultural obligation as it is to actual and sincere appreciation, and I’m not going to deny having been a pretty shitty Filipino for a majority of my life BUT it’s hard not to get swept away by the sight of these two artists who look like MY cousins and MY nephews and MY friends producing excellence under a widening and well deserved spotlight.
I used to hate it when my parents wouldn’t let a day pass without reminding me that Bruno Mars was Filipino (technically half, on his mother’s side) during his heyday. MANILA GREY is one of the few pieces of Pinoy-centric pop culture that wasn’t forced down my throat by family members and their annoying Facebook posts. I can’t even imagine how insufferable they’d be if they knew that MANILA GREY was their kababayan AND nominated for a Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year AND (fingers crossed) THEY WON?!?!
Which shouldn’t be too surprising if they did considering how their new album No Saints on Knight Street followed up it’s predecessor, 2019’s No Saints Loading, with a more confident and adventurous version of their signature sound. Anchored by the soaring anthem “Backhouse Ballin” and the skittery airing of grievances via the boy’s Tinder contacts on album closer “Let’s All Get Along (LAGA)” the most tantilizing wrinkle on the new album was that it featured SOLO tracks from Neeko (“Long Game”) and Soliven (“Deep Cut”). As great they are bouncing off of each other (their chemistry is top level) those solo tracks provide an interesting contrast to the usual MANILA GREY formula and, more importantly, a creative tension that positively crackles with what if/sliding doors energy.
My anticipation for what MANILA GREY come up with next is so high that, to paraphrase Neeko himself, it’s like breathlessly waiting at a NEED FOR SPEED loading screen.
Illustration by Jericho Vilar