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First Encounter with December Avenue

For Filipino millenials/Gen Y and Gen Z, the band December Avenue does not need any introduction. Obviously not belonging to these generations, my introduction to this band was during their 2nd engagement in Edmonton, last July 2022. I have heard about December Avenue since they were here in 2019, but did not know much about them.

December Avenue is an indie pop/alternative rock band from Manila composed of Zel Bautista (Songwriter, Vocals), Don Gregorio (Bass), Jem Manuel (Guitars), Jet Danao (Drums, Backing Vocals) and Gelo Cruz (Keyboard, Backing Vocals). Friends from the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music, they banded together in 2008 (save for Cruz who joined them in 2018) as "Sense of Sound". They later rebranded themselves as December Avenue to signify a change in focus, in reflecting music that spoke of forging ahead, of hope and renewal - with December, as the last month of the year, as an Avenue in ushering a new year.

Luckless in nabbing a record label, the band turned to social media and gradually gained a loyal following. In 2016, they released a self-titled album under Tower of Doom, and self-produced a major concert. With an increasing online presence and constant release of songs, they gained national recognition. In 2019, they had over 200 shows, including a tour in Canada and the United States, and topped Spotify's Most Streamed Artists list in the Philippines, the first for a Filipino artist/band, followed by Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Ben&Ben, and Ariana Grande, for the Top 5. They had garnered almost 70 million streams on Spotify and 120 million on YouTube. In 2020, with live shows on hold due to the pandemic, they continued to release singles and do live streams, won Collaboration of the Year for their song "Kung 'Di Rin Lang Ikaw" with Moira Dela Torre at the 11th Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC) Star Awards for Music, and performed at the Dubai Expo. In 2021, they were again awarded by the 12th PMPC Star Awards for Music, this time for Rock Artist of the Year, and Rock Album of the Year for "Langit Mong Bughaw". And now in 2022, they have embarked on a national tour, and a 2nd North American tour (9 cities in the US in May and 10 cities in Canada, July-August).

The Meet and Greet with December Avenue was on July 23 at noon, after a late night concert in Calgary the day before. Not exactly sure on how they looked and how to distinguish them amidst a generic looking crowd of t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies and baseball caps, I did not notice their arrival at the venue - which is actually not a bad thing. They were respectful, quiet, accommodating, and had no airs or celebrity mentality, compared to other visiting artists I have seen who were... well, not as nice. And I think this is part of their appeal, why their audience base relates to them as artists and to their songs.

December Avenue performs "emo" or "hugot" songs that speak of heartbreak, hope, longing, and forging ahead. Their lyrics are emotionally charged, performed with sincerity and distinct drum beats, patterns and guitar riffs. A fan explained to me that their music sends him in an unexplainable emotional high right from the first chord. This was evident during the concert, where a beginning chord can send the crowd into a frenzy. In between songs, Zel would tease and banter, making girls tickled pink, and others just deliriously happy. The stage is marked with pleasing and eye-catching graphics and visuals that highlight the song's emotional tone. Despite the massive number of people, this provided an atmosphere of an intimate gathering with friends just hanging out and having a good time. The crowd enthusiastically sang with the band the whole night, even drowning out the band's vocals. And you can see in their expressions that they are reliving memories, may it be past or current loves, experiences from home, etc. Some have shared how vital December Avenue's music has become for them - how it has validated their own experiences and given them perspective.

December Avenue's music reminds me of the style and imprint of the Juan de la Cruz Band and Manila sound. This, for me, foretells their music as an OPM classic. December Avenue is living up to their name, not only through their music but also as a band, in the way they have forged on through the years. Zel attributes it to "the determination to keep performing, playing music, and writing songs to express ourselves artistically despite the struggles". Their journey is one of perseverance and commitment to their music, making them more grateful for every success. And from the looks of it, they are poised to traverse more avenues and scale greater heights.

Presenters for December Avenue's concert in Edmonton and select cities in Canada were My780Creatives, YY Entertainment Productions and Baks2Baks Productions.

Photos c/o Bram Asuncion via FB: December Avenue


* This article was published in the August 2022 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.


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