INTERVIEW | John
DROPSET / 50 CALIBER / BUN DEM OUT
One of my first shows upon immigrating to the UK was watching an all day FULLY UKHC show here in London. Band after band annihilated the iconic New Cross Inn – a venue that I had been watching on via David Tan’s YouTube channel for years now. As every band humbled my entire being, there was one particular band (50 Caliber) that stood out to me…not only because of the pummelling music, but because there was an Asian member on stage killing it. That amazing dude was Juanton…who also moonlights in bands like Dropset, Bun Dem Out and King Street. Homie is of Filipino descent and you KNOW your boy had to get him up on this website.
Below is a nice intro interview I did with him that really got deep into his history and his family’s history of moving to the UK raising this young lad.
First though…go listen to the music this dude’s a part of.
Yo bud! I had no idea the UK LBU scene had Asian members in their bands! I was stoked to see you on stage with 50 Caliber a few weeks back! Let’s start at the beginning – where are you and your family “from”? I know that for some of us that can be quite complex.
My family are from the Philippines but I was born and raised here. I was born here then my parents sent me to live in the Philippines and I believe I came back to the UK when I was 5 or 6 years old.
Oh nice! So it’s like the reverse experience! Hahaha…why did they send you to the philippines for those first few years?
Back then my parents were working multiple jobs to build a strong foundation and a secure future for me and my brother so as a result they struggled to look after the both of us. They thought it would be best that we go live with my grandparents and aunts back home for a few years while they continued to build.
What were they doing in London back then workwise?
My dad was a chef and my mum at the time worked in hospitality.
Nice! And when you went to the Philippines – do you remember what that experience like?
Surprisingly very well. I spent my time in the region where my mum is from which is a place called Isabela. As I reflect now, even though I was very young, I remember life being simple. Spent most of my time in the province surrounded by farm land. I still vaguely remember coming back to the UK and when I saw all the tall buildings etc I genuinely thought I was in the future because all of this at the time was completely foreign to me.
That’s so interesting! And when you returned did you also have to get used to being in an all English environment? Do you remember that transition back to the UK?
Very well! My first language was actually Filipino but the Ilocano dialect not Tagalog. When I came to the country I couldn’t speak English at all and my mum had to accompany me to school to help me during my first few months.
Woah! And I’m sure those memories have been seared into your head! What was school life like for you when you first started at a UK school? I remember that when I used to travel to Pakistan for the summer I was surrounded in Urdu so when I came back to an all English speaking school – it took me a good few weeks to adjust back. So I was very quiet etc
School was alright for me. I felt like I adjusted pretty quick after the first few months. At first it was genuinely intimidating knowing that I wasn’t able to communicate but with my parents encouraging and pushing me to learn I felt my confidence come up really quick.
As you were growing up was there ever a cultural divide between you and your parents? With your parents growing up in the Philippines and you growing up in the UK?
I don’t think there ever was to be honest or I don’t think I really noticed it because my parents seemed like they adjusted well to the English culture. The problem with most foreigners coming over and living here is they stick to their comforts with the same people from their country whereas my parents actually made the effort to mix in with different cultures.
100%! Even my parents when they moved from Pakistan to Hong Kong that’s all they did was look for fellow countrymen and stuck with them. So that’s great your parents had the foresight that to assimilate into the country they’re immigrating to would be the best for everyone.
So let’s get into your path into hardcore. How did that happen?
So back in 2010 I used to work with a guy, Ron Gilman (vocalist) of now disbanded act called Crimes. He knew I was a guitarist but I was only into metal and for a while he kept telling me about hardcore and I genuinely had no clue other than it being similar to punk. For a while he kept asking me to come to a Rucktion show and I kept politely declining at the time because for me I was more into tech and death metal. Eventually after listening to some bands he recommended (Knuckledust) I decided to go because I was intrigued. There was something raw about the sound and also passionate about the music. When I went to my first Rucktion show it was actually Knuckledust’s 15 year anniversary show. When I stepped into that small room in 12 bar my first thought was wow these guys look nothing like what I thought and to me they looked like your everyday person, if that makes sense, until they started throwing kicks and punches.
Something about that made me think, this is absolutely nuts but I wanted to be a part of it. Ron then went onto introduce me to Pelbu and we had a brief chat. If I remember that convo it was more or less like this is my mate and he’s a guitarist. From that convo I didn’t think anything of it and a few weeks later I get a message from Ron’s partner at the time Maya saying that Pelbu wanted to reform Bun Dem Out and wanted me to try out.
The rest is history and I haven’t looked back. Of course at the time I had no idea who the band was and after just leaving my previous band I didn’t know if I was ready to join a band but thought what’s the worst that could happen so I went all in and tried out and here we are now over 10 years in the band and I’ve made a lot of friends now that I consider family.
Sick story! In Hong Kong where I’m from that’s exactly my journey too. I first got into metal and much later got into hardcore but it was also ONLY after I saw it in front of my own eyes that I finally felt the immense power of this music. What was it about seeing hardcore live that converted you?
The community and the passion. Felt like this is what I was searching for my whole life without realising it. There’s this sense of family behind all of it.
Absolutely. That’s the thing about this that separates it from all other forms of heavy music. But having been here in London for almost 2 months now, I’d say there’s something even more warm and welcoming about the London scene in particular that is truly special.
That’s what it is. I was this outsider coming into the unknown and the first thing that surprised me was how welcoming and friendly everyone was. Never really felt that in the metal scene mainly because I don’t dress metal if that makes sense. I did wear the occasional band shirt from time to time.
Yeah – the scene is so sick here. The dudes pummelling each other in the pit are the first to welcome you with a big smile and a hug. Love that shit!
That’s the mad thing coz where I grew up in London if someone stepped up like that it’s game over for that person. But when I saw people getting knocked over it was great to see people stop and help make sure the person is ok before proceeding to pummel each other. That’s it.
Originally, what was the kind of metal you were into?
Started off with thrash and when I went to study music in college my teacher at the time turned me on to progressive and tech metal.
Oh wow – so you were really into technique, shredding, odd time signatures, etc. How do balance your love for that and hardcore?
For me I actually stopped listening to it for a while and went all in on hardcore to really get a better understanding of the genre. These days I balance it all out based on mood.
Actually bands like 50 Caliber have a cool balance of metal elements so that’s a good way to stay get your metal on! Hahaha
My perception of hardcore back then was it’s like punk. But I came to realise it’s not since a lot of hardcore bands have metal influences. This made me realise that it’s all about community and the music can be whatever you want it to be as long as there’s a strong message behind each song.
So now that it’s 2023 and you’re killing it with the bands you’re in (Dropset fucking RULES) – what’s your ideal/dream situation?
Well I’ve only realised a few years ago that a scene actually exists in the Philippines and this is something I’ve always to delve into and understand more. I’ve checked out some of the bands there such as Armas ng Lias, Piledriver and Off the Chain to name a few off the top of my head and was blown away because even though Philippines is on the other side of the world, the message and everything remains the same.
Playing the Philippines I guess is something that I’ve always wanted to do. Explaining why it’s important is tricky but at the heart of it, what’s better than playing a show to your fellow countrymen and showing them what the UK scene has to offer.
My ideal and dream situation would be to play a few dates around the Philippines starting in Luzon and play places like Manila, Laguna and then Cebu and some cities in the southern islands.
If I could do that then I guess I’ve ticked everything off on my bucket list.
Just to show you how bananas the Philippines gets…peep this vid of Sunami ripping it up recently: