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Meet the musicians leading the new wave of local queer rep

Beyond its dynamic history of show tunes, ’80s power anthems and all that jazz, queer music continues to evolve through the young folks next in line. While Western LGBTQ+ artists have left their own mark in popular music’s DNA, the other side of the globe is rising out of the fringes, leaving a permanent trail in the process.

Mainstream queer representation in the Filipino music scene has a long way to go, but these artists are stepping up. Two faces of queer music, Kio Priest and Stef Aranas from R&B duo Stef and Euge, may be the next staples in your mix—just press play and take a listen.

Kio Priest

kio priest
Singer-songwriter Kio Priest is defined by contradictions that in the end, fuse well together. On one side is a Kio pulled in by dark stories of aliens, witches, the so-called cursed. In contrast, his alter ego is formed from the streets of Harajuku, filled with pink hues and vivid colors. The same could be said for the duality of his music, which is on the brink of its own dramatic evolution.

“If we’re talking about my past releases, it mostly revolves around escapism, depression, anxiety and social issues,” he tells us. “I was in a bad place and it reflected in my work, but if you’d ask me now, the future will be representing the different faces of the LGBTQIA+ and it will be literal.”

With a discography filled with infectious beats and personal narratives, the openly gay artist plays a role in changing the musical landscape as we know it—something Kio thinks we desperately need. “I really think we need a voice in this country in the scene. This could be me, it could be anyone. I don’t really care who, as long as we get to have proper representation.”

When someone tunes in to your music, what message would you like your listeners to keep once the track ends?
To be brave. I want them to just take a risk and stop overthinking. It’s nice when you get that small nudge to help you fly like a thousand doves—that’s from Lady Gaga—and if you want to feel that, please listen to my future releases. [laughs]

How would you describe your sound? Is there a song you’d say perfectly captures your story?
I want to release everything that I have right now so everybody would understand, but it’s not just one song that can perfectly capture my story. I’ve been through hell and back.

But I’ll be soon releasing a song titled “Sugarbaby.” It could be taken literally but as I see it, it’s a song about any other person who can celebrate the act of submitting yourself to someone, letting go of your pride and letting yourself be vulnerable sometimes.

There’s not enough visibility. We need love songs for the queer. We need songs about he and he or she and she or being trans, liking girls and boys or being drag. We need that.

How has the visibility of queer artists in the local music scene evolved throughout the years?
I’m talking to you as a friend, and to be honest—there’s not enough visibility. We need love songs for the queer. We need songs about he and he or she and she or being trans, liking girls and boys or being drag. We need that.

Growing up, I’d always listen to songs that I can’t fully relate to because of the pronouns. It was hard not to have a legitimate role model. We need that here. I want to see my brothers and sisters—including myself—up on stage singing a gay song.

kio priest

Are there certain pressures when it comes to representing your community? What are the aspects that you love about it?
You really need to do your research. One wrong step can hurt a million people online and create a domino effect.

I don’t know everything about the community yet. I’m still growing. That’s the pressure, but what I love about it is that there’s unity, there’s passion, there’s fire. There’s variety. It can be fun. I’m so happy that God made me gay. [laughs]

What does the future hold for Kio Priest?
My tarot reading says that if I do this “one thing” right, it would bring me success. But if I don’t, on the other hand, then things aren’t gonna end up pretty. No pressure, Kio, no pressure.

What’s one advice you’d like to give to aspiring queer musicians reading this?
Whoever you are, send me a message, drop me a line. Let me know if you need any guidance or help regarding any music software.

Also, stay in school. Please. That’s my one regret. No matter what you do, keep studying before you get famous. [laughs] The bills are cruel. I love you.

Stef Aranas of Stef and Euge

stef and euge
For duo Stef and Euge, their 2018 single “Eyes” may have triggered a turning point in their careers. It’s their discography in a nutshell: The track has their signature rhythmic beats, which could fit into a montage of someone driving by a beachside boulevard. The R&B pair’s smooth and stylized style would later make its appearance in the other tracks of EP “Palate Cleanser.”

Two years later, Stef and Euge are serving a Pride anthem of their own called “Live for Love.” Like an anthology of three-minute memoirs, their songs are grounded in the reality of trans singer-songwriter Stef. “As the one who writes the lyrics, I guess the overarching theme [of our songs is] my life. The songs I write are either based on real-life experiences or my perspective on a certain situation,” she says. “Much of our music, especially in our debut EP, revolves around love in its different stages. Recently, our messages have been more political with songs like ‘Unrest’ and ‘Live for Love.’”

Alongside producer Euge, Stef creates tracks that are more than just head boppers, but sources of comfort and inspiration for the queer folks tuning in. “Whenever I get messages from other queer people who feel validated or inspired by our music, it is the most validating, uplifting thing in the world,” Stef tells us. “Next level kilig, ganun.”

When someone tunes in to your music, what message would you like your listeners to keep once the track ends?
Stef: I want them to find themselves in the lyrics. If they relate to the song, and if it resonates with their own experiences, then I’ve done my job.

Euge: I work a lot with emotion, especially with my job of setting the tone for the song. If I can make the listener feel some type of way in the songs that we create—along with the lyrics, of course—then I’ve done my job too.

How would you describe your sound? Is there a track you’d say perfectly captures your story?
Stef: To me, our sound lies where pop and R&B intersect. As a singer-songwriter, I am largely influenced by R&B divas like Ariana and Kehlani, alongside a lot of international and local pop music. Whatever I create comes from a mix of these sensibilities, which I then relay to Euge, who translates it into the song production. Siguro, “Eyes” is our signature song kasi doon kami nagsimula as a duo at ’yun din ang pinaka-masaya gawin live.

Euge: Being a duo who mostly creates pop and R&B, we take a lot of elements from hip-hop and electronic music and make it our own. I also feel that “Eyes” is the song that captures our sound because it really shows all the different sides of Stef & Euge into one song.

Yes, society may make your life difficult at times. That doesn’t mean you can’t take up space in the music scene. It just means you, and your music, have a more distinct and unique path to take than others.

How has the visibility of queer artists in the local music scene evolved throughout the years?
Stef: I think we’re very lucky to have more and more successful out and proud queer artists locally. It’s so nice to see artists like B.P. Valenzuela and Jason Dhakal, among others, be openly queer in the music scene. I feel like in the online sphere, the “woke,” accepting side of the internet grows larger and larger. However, there are still very few visible transgender artists in the music scene, and it isn’t because of a lack of talent. There are numerous extremely talented trans musicians and performers who deserve a platform. I consider myself blessed to have whatever platform I have now.

stef and euge

Are there certain pressures when it comes to representing your community? What are the aspects that you love about it?
Stef: There is so much pressure for women, in general, to look and act in a certain way. Kailangan respectable, maganda, mabait. For trans women, it’s amplified a million because there’s an added layer of struggling to be accepted as a woman. It can be difficult for girls like me to be confident in showcasing our talents because people often see us as trans first before an artist, or anything else. I don’t know what it’s like to not have my identity as a concern when making or putting out my art. Despite this, I do love performing.

What does the future hold for Stef and Euge?
Stef: More music and content for sure.

Euge: We have a lot of plans this year, with some collaborations and a lot more releases. We just released a new single titled “Live For Love” to celebrate Pride Month. It’s on every major streaming platform right now.

What’s one advice you’d like to give to aspiring queer musicians reading this?
Stef: Despite what society has to say about you, you are absolutely valid and powerful. Try not to see your queerness as a limitation, because it isn’t. Yes, society may make your life difficult at times. That doesn’t mean you can’t take up space in the music scene. It just means you, and your music, have a more distinct and unique path to take than others. Channel your experiences into your art and show people how powerful you are.

SCOUT Friday Picks is our dedicated column on music, with a focus on familiar faces and new, young voices. For recommendations on who you want us to feature next, send us an email titled “SCOUT FRIDAY PICKS” to [email protected].

Read more:
Express yourself: Three young queer creatives on style and identity
Pamcy’s ‘Sayaw’ EP is a love letter to late-night gigs we temporarily lost
How Unique’s music makes us reinterpret the world

Photos courtesy of Kio Priest and Stef and Euge
Art by Kristine Paz-Yap

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