There were fewer of us before. Fewer lights on the street, fewer signs of life. I remember it feeling like we were the only ones in the city, in the last open place before the world closed for the night.
Around 2012, the entire stretch of General Malvar Street in Cubao was empty and dark, save for a small golden corner hidden between two pawnshops. It was the size of a nuclear fallout bunker, and served a similar function: shelter. You'd miss its single darkened window in the daytime, but at night it glowed alone.
It shouldn't even have been there, but it was. You only found it if you knew where to look. Stepping in, in 2012, you'd see smoke-stained wood, a flimsy chandelier by the DJ’s booth, a shuddering air-conditioner, sweat on the floor, a shimmering disco ball. You'd also see many of us.
Today x Future had then just moved from its previous spot — escaping increasing rent and a difficult landlord — to a nearby middle of nowhere, right in the grimy bottom of the canyons of Aurora Boulevard. We followed it, and for a moment we were alone.
We sat on chairs scattered in the middle of the street, and our noise would echo up the unfinished towers. Music, different every night, spilled out like a leak. Slow jams on Monday and jazz on Tuesday gave way to indie pop, a live set, hip hop, house and techno, or an ironic burst of Top 40 past Wednesday. Saturdays led to a pulsating hangover on Sunday.
With its no-programming programming and freewheeling spirit, Future attracted a lively cross section: guys from the music scene, the LGBT community, college kids who hated Makati, semi-retired partiers on a nostalgic night out, suspicious undercover police, very tired nurses, nearby BPO workers, the occasional literally crazy person, curious walk ins, maybe even you. Every night inside it was an emulsion of people, meeting, temporarily, in a blender of sound.
And the people behind it let everyone in: sullen cashier Carmen at Expo glaring at an order of beer. Her happier replacement Palafox yelling from the bar at General Malvar. Servers Alvin, Jazz, and JP squeezing through a suffocating crowd. The cooks upstairs churning out wasabi burgers, beer bacon, and dry rub buffalo wings. And then there was the gang that ran it: Austin pouring shots down throats; Sam and Leah, gossiping in a corner; Sharon, drinking; Chie, arriving late; Christine, the apologetic manager that patron saints of de-escalation are made of. A revolving door of DJs at the start of promising careers. My friends and I on the dance floor, in the bathroom, off the walls, on the street.
I'd hear older nocturnal generations talk about legendary spots like Penguin, The Library, Coco Banana, Club Dredd, ABGs, Big Sky, Government, or Bed, and wonder what it felt like to have a shard of nightlife history to call your own. Now I know.
Every place is a litmus test for the people who go there. At Future, you're welcomed the first night you arrive. The second time you come, you belong.
Establishments are built and opened, but memories and friendships are made. Future, its energetic owners, its resilient staff, and its loyal regulars became my closest friends and second home over the years I returned, night after night. Nearly every single one of the family I've chosen in the past decade, I met first at Future. Without this tiny, stubbornly enduring sliver of space, we may never have met.
In 2016, I was emerging from a traumatizing three-year struggle. Those three years felt like a single event, but in hindsight, my life changed twice. First when I began to lose friends and people I loved, and again when I got out and came into the company of new ones. Future beckoned, and we sat on the curb. The crowd shifted around us every night as I returned, and the withdrawal ebbed.
Future was a beating heart in an unexpected place. It changed every night, but kept the same soul until its closure today. It was one of increasingly innumerable meeting points, as Manila's nightlife found newer epicenters, but it was ours. I remember being young and dumb one night in Cubao Expo, maybe in 2009, as I sat at Mogwai, wondering about the noisy happy weirdos dancing and screaming in the bar across. One day I crossed the street and entered it.
Future assembled the most varied, most tightly knit group of people I have had the pleasure of loving. This family I could never have imagined for myself founded me, guided me through the darkest three years of my life, and continues to walk with me into a future of my own.
A song goes, "Last night a DJ saved my life." In my case, it was where they were spinning. Thank you, Future, because the people dancing inside you saved mine.
Photographs by Joseph Pascual