Cover Story

Autotelic On The Changing Tides Of Their Music And The Industry

Autotelic take a bird’s eye view on how the music industry — and themselves — have changed since 2012

In the 2010s, there was a shift in the status quo of Filipino music. The prior decade saw the rise of acoustic — singer-songwriters wielding their acoustic guitars and waxing poetic about love, loss, and life. The country had seemingly moved on from rock and bands in general; radio stations and battle-of-the-bands competitions closed down, as well as the live venues that gave a platform for emerging rock acts to play in front of a crowd. However, when the 2010s came, the acoustic solo acts that dominated the mid-2000s slowly gave way to a new age of sound.

The bands were back.

A new wave of bands slowly emerged in the independent music scene, cultivated by new live music venues that nurtured their steady growth. However, it wasn’t the loud and heavy sound that the older rock heads were used to. This was a new brand of rock — relatively lighter, more synth and electronic elements, jangly guitars, more pop-adjacent. One of the bands at the center of the so-called “indie boom” was Autotelic, a five-piece indie rock band best known for hits like “Laro” (Let’s Play), “Languyin” (To Swim), and “Takipsilim” (Twilight).


Autotelic photographed by Jerick Sanchez

Now composed of Josh Villena on vocals and guitar, EJ Edralin on synthesizer, Neil Tin on guitar, Pabs Vargas on bass, and Gep Macadaeg on drums, it’s almost unbelievable that it has been 11 years since they first came together, and seven years since their platinum-certified debut album Papunta Pabalik (Going Back).

“Rollercoaster siya; very adventurous ‘yung aming journey” (It’s been a rollercoaster; our journey has been very adventurous), says frontman and chief songwriter Josh Villena. “Isa sa mga pinaka-highlight ay ‘yung relationships na nabuo throughout.” (One of the highlights are the relationships that were formed throughout.)

For Villena and the band, it’s not just about the relationships they’ve built between each other as bandmates. It’s about the listeners — both old and new — that they’ve grown up with over the course of their career.


Autotelic photographed by Jerick Sanchez

Tin shares that they’ve had fans come up to them talking about how they first became fans of Autotelic in high school, and now they’re working. It’s a telltale sign of what makes a band truly timeless: when audiences can grow up alongside with your music. It’s the reason why their songs like “Laro” and “Languyin” are still as memorable as they were seven years ago. 

“The general feel of it is hindi siya specific lang to love (it’s not just specific to love),” Villena says, when talking about why “Laro” and “Languyin” still resonate with people until today. “It can be applied to whatever you’re going through.”

It’s not just “Laro” and “Languyin” that encapsulate that timelessness. “Takipsilim” tiptoes around a “will they, won’t they” type of scenario, capturing that split-second doubt that comes with confessing your feelings to someone. Their last release, “Iwan” (Leave), grapples with guilt, grief, and regret.

The band, as they talk over each other, emphasize that while the world and audiences may change over time, the human experience does not. These make for the richest songs, the ones that you listen to over and over again. And when they play their songs live, each member in the audience can sing their hearts out to their music, whether they’re a student or a long-time professional.

“Isa sa mga pinaka-highlight ay yung relationships na nabuo throughout.”

“We treat each gig as a different experience. It’s not the same every time, even if we play the same things,” says Tin. “Yung nanonood, iba-iba every time. As a result, iba-iba yung experience na napaparamdam nila sa’min.” (It’s a different audience every time. As a result, we get a different experience with each show.)

From 2012 to 2016, their audience was the typical high school to college crowd, those who brought high energy to every gig, even in the smallest of venues. “Yung community, small pero tight-knit (The community is small but tight-knit),” Macadaeg explains. “Noong 2016, noong naka-launch yung album, nagkaroon ng boom talaga (When our album launched in 2016, there was a boom in the band scene).”

It wasn’t just for their band. It was a boom for every indie band that shot to the mainstream at that time. “Biglang dumating yung [IV of] Spades, Ben&Ben…nagkaroon na ng representation sa radio. “(Suddenly IV of Spades and Ben&Ben came along, and we gained representation on radio.)


Autotelic photographed by Jerick Sanchez

Autotelic’s audience, and by extension the Filipino indie band community, started to grow even larger. It wasn’t the students anymore who filled Autotelic’s venues — it was people from all walks of life coming together in one space. After that, the community of listeners who supported Filipino indie bands kept getting bigger and bigger, all the way until today, where “mainstream” is no longer just a product of what gets played on the radio.

Yet again, Autotelic are one of the bands experiencing another shift in the Filipino music scene. Social media and its algorithms have completely changed the industry, and where bands like Autotelic gained their popularity through live performances, many acts today capitalize on social media to put themselves out there.

Ngayon, more of discovery na ang audience (Now the audience is more into discovery),” Tin says. Macadaeg hops on, saying that the prevalence of social media has made the Internet part and parcel of being in a band. “[It’s] challenging. [Being a musician and social media manager] are two different jobs. Naging practical siya (It’s practical), but it’s also exhausting to analyze engagements and the like,” he explains. 

“Social media is a very powerful tool. It can make or break a band,” Tin shares. “You have to know the balance as an artist; when it’s time to use social media.”


Autotelic photographed by Jerick Sanchez

That hasn’t stopped them. To be timeless is to constantly evolve while staying true to what makes Autotelic, Autotelic. They ride the waves of the changing landscape, just like what they did in 2012, and what they’re doing now.

Maybe that’s why, looking back now, Papunta Pabalik is an apt, even prophetic name for their debut album. It’s a phrase that encapsulates not just the band, but their listeners — a constant discovery and rediscovery of Autotelic’s music. The horizon is endless for the band, and as they gear up to release new music soon, they maintain that the heart of their music will remain. With nowhere else to go but up, Autotelic can expect their old and new fans to ride that wave with them, as they navigate yet again the twists and turns of a dynamic music scene.

This cover story is part of Billboard Philippines’ Pinoy Rock series, where we define the sound the Filipino rock scene through 10 of the most influential bands in the country. Read more of the series below.

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