If you were to ask any of the most popular bands of the 2000s onwards where they started playing their music live, Route 196 would be one of their first answers.
First established in the mid-2000s, Route 196 – fondly referred to simply as Route – was located along the Katipunan Avenue Extension in Quezon City. It was a one-story building with its doors and walls decorated with stickers from different bands, signatures, and a large mural with a Jack Daniel’s tagline that read: Play with heart, drink with care.
Route was a breeding ground for any band or musician looking to move forward in their career. It’s not an understatement to say that Route 196 saw the rise of today’s biggest acts like Ben&Ben, Lola Amour, Up Dharma Down, The Itchyworms, IV of Spades, and the list goes on. For many up and coming bands at the time, playing at Route was considered to be a career milestone.
Route was also a haven for budding production houses, where people could try their hand at organizing their own gig for an audience. Alt/Tab Productions co-founder Andy Pavia shares, “What set Route 196 apart was its ability to transform something sonic into a physical space. There’s nothing like it.”
“There’s nothing like seeing young, wide-eyed kids straight out of high school fussing over their first time to play in the legendary three-inch-in-height stage with a photo of The Beatles in the back and a mural that tells you to play with heart. It was always inviting and never intimidating, welcoming you in with open arms and the coldest beer you can find in Katipunan.”
In 2020, Route was one of the venues badly hit by the pandemic, and as a result, they announced that they were closing their operations. In the lead up to its official closure, they hosted an online gig called One For The Road: A Farewell Gig And Fundraiser. The gig was six hours long, with multiple artists that called Route their home playing their music virtually. Among those who performed were Ben&Ben, Ebe Dancel, Spongecola, The Itchyworms, Leanne & Naara, and Reese Lansangan, to name a few.
The community that Route built was palpable. From all over the country — and maybe, from all over the world — reactions, comments, and shares poured in from the thousands of watchers on the livestream. Route 196 co-owner and former CEO of Red Ninja Productions Nicole Sarmiento wrote in a tribute to the gig place, “Route 196 has been an essential part of my life. I’ve had so many experiences in Route 196 that helped shaped who I am. This place is and will always be part of who I am and who I am becoming.”
Today, the place where Route used to be is now a fried chicken restaurant. Earlier this month, former co-partner at Route 196 and The Itchyworms member Jugs Jugueta shared a nostalgic picture of the location, and comments poured out wishing for the acclaimed gig venue to come back.
The legacy of Route continues to live on in the hearts of music fans. It was a pillar of its time, carrying on and cultivating the culture of supporting local music. Alongside Route were the productions that staged gigs there, such as Attraction! Reaction! and The Rest Is Noise. As a result, they helped propagate the then-budding indie scene. Even when it was difficult to do so, Route helped build the foundations of how audiences appreciate Filipino music from the end of the millennium to beyond.