MANILA, Philippines – The first time I watched a live concert was in August 15 of this year, when pop punk band All Time Low held their concert at SM Mall of Asia. To say that the show was a surreal life experience is an understatement – after listening to all their albums and watching most of their performances online, I finally got to experience jamming to their songs live in concert.
One of the most memorable moments of the show for me came just before they played their iconic hit song “Dear Maria, Count Me In,” when lead singer Alex Gaskarth hyped up the crowd one last time. “Make some noise for live fucking music! It feels good,” Alex said. “I hope it does not take us as long as it did last time to come back.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, we were forced to turn off the mics and amps for artists, and concerts for acts such as Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, Avril Lavinge, Alanis Morisette, and Khalid were canceled. Artists like All Time Low – whose last pre-pandemic Manila concert was in 2017 – only got to come back to the Philippines after a few years, when lockdown restrictions were lifted.
Among the biggest local live events players affected by the pandemic was PULP Live World, the company that organized All Time Low’s 2022 Manila show. PULP Live World is a subsidiary of PULP Magazine, a music publication in the Philippines.
Founded and led by writer and musician Vernon Go, PULP’s initial primary focus was rock music, but it did not take long for the company to expand and diversify its featured artists. One of the catalysts for PULP expanding their featured genre was Happee Sy-Go, PULP’s current chief operating officer and Vernon’s wife. Happee was an avid K-pop fan even before the Hallyu hype became mainstream, and the couple made it possible for PULP to host the first K-pop concert in the Philippines with boy group Super Junior in 2010.
Since then, PULP has hosted big acts that cater to fans with different interests. They’ve organized events for artists including Kelly Clarkson, Aerosmith, Megadeth, Mayday Parade, and EXO. Before the lockdown started, PULP was able to host six shows in 2020, including those of Silverstein, As I Lay Dying, WINNER, SEVENTEEN, Tiny Moving Parts, and NCT Dream.
When asked about his feelings on the lockdown, Vernon responded, “Of course, we were greatly saddened, as not only was there [a] total halt to our business, we eventually had to let go of our staff that could not be meaningfully utilized online.”
However, the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions did not stop PULP from putting on a show for their fans, albeit online. “We explored streaming possibilities, and Happee engaged in a number of online promotions and even became a DJ hosting regular live fan meets,” Vernon said. “Happee was very effective! She really kept K-pop fans engaged.”
Despite the successes of their online initiatives, Vernon admitted that it did not compare to the hype of live events. “We both felt that doing concerts online was not a meaningful alternative to [doing] what we like to produce – which is really a [face-to-face], live interaction between artist and fans,” he said.
Hands-on relationships with fans
Online, Vernon and Happee are known for quickly and personally responding to the messages and concerns of their fans through social media. They would retweet or respond to different kinds of posts, from concerns about acquiring tickets to posts hyping up PULP’s upcoming events.
The couple also uses their platform on Twitter to address ticket scalping concerns, most recently that of ENHYPEN’s MANIFESTO show happening in 2023. Happee assured the fans that she herself will be going through each ticket to make sure their strict protocols are followed.
Such initiatives have received praise from ENGENEs and other fandoms, and other fans have also expressed hope that organizers of their favorite artists’ live events would consider implementing the same protocols.
Navigating live events post-pandemic
Reflecting on what PULP and the live music industry have accomplished this year, Vernon says, “The return of live entertainment has been explosive, to say the least. The majority of our shows have experienced lightning-fast sales with many selling out almost half a year in advance of show dates.”
But reviving the local live music scene was no easy feat. Especially with the persistent threat of COVID-19, mandates on vaccination and testing, and the volatility of the national economy, companies like PULP are still navigating through added logistical challenges in bringing these big acts to life.
Vernon emphasized that testing still poses the biggest challenge in hosting live concerts. “Not only does this present a further time constraint, it is also a significant cost and even more so when staff test positive and replacements or double duty is a necessity.”
My own personal experience with attending the All Time Low concert is a testament to PULP’s quality of work post-pandemic – the entire experience from acquiring tickets and getting into the venue to experiencing the boys’ live performances was very smooth. Venue security was thorough in checking the vaccination cards of concertgoers, and everyone was also expected to keep their masks on throughout the duration of the event.
Pricing tickets was also among the concerns that PULP ran into post-pandemic. “We really just need to follow the currency trends, so prices were definitely affected by the downturn in the peso,” Vernon said. “But we are, of course, trying to get as close as possible to prices we believe fans will find reasonable.” Fortunately, this was exactly the case for All Time Low’s concert – I also braced myself for possible high ticket prices, but their ticket prices were just about the same in 2022 as they were for the band’s 2017 show.
Despite the added challenges for artists, event organizers, and concertgoers, reviving the live concert scene has proven to be a worthy endeavor, as everyone is ecstatic about what the future of live music holds. “Now, work is constant with active shows and shows that are in the planning stages. We are very deep into 2023 with shows that are yet to be announced. And we look forward to all of these shows, and the shows yet to be dreamed of!” Vernon said.
Mariane Avendaño is a Rappler volunteer.