Music, Wine, and Candlelight: Noname Wants to Breathe New Life Into Third Spaces

Courtesy of Noname

What started out as a post-lockdown project turned into a budding community for Noname’s Echo Bueno and Chili Perez.

A traditional abaniko, a smile, and a glass of wine. These are what welcomed each guest as they stepped foot into the penthouse dome of the First United Building for ‘Emotions’, the second installation of candlelit string concertos by Noname.

Accompanied by a Wine Flight, the concerto was held at what used to be the tallest building in all of Manila. Cylindrical moldings and beveled arches were set against a small group of 30, all dressed to the nines. (Dress as if you were in a ballet, the event info details.) Escolta, formerly known as the “Queen of Manila Streets”, houses a slew of historic buildings with similar geometric architecture that dates all the way back to the 1920s—a fitting location for a celebration of the arts.

The digital invite urged guests to arrive promptly ‘when the sun sets’. Sure enough, as golden light washed over Escolta, the dome began to come alive in flickering candlelight and chatter. As everyone settles into the intimate theater in-the-round, two unassuming figures emerge. Making their way to the center, Echo Bueno and Chili Perez introduce themselves as best friends and the two halves that make up the community-based collective, Noname.

“As you know, we’re Noname, but we go by many names,” announces Perez with a laugh. “Sometimes we’re quiz night masters, sometimes we’re music lovers, often wine drinkers, but today, we are concert producers.” As they welcome the mix of ‘Noname veterans’ and new faces, the two lead the crowd to a toast, and the show begins.

The Manila Philharmonic String Quartet begins their set with Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination.” The concerto is segmented into three acts: Wonder, Hesitation, and Passion, featuring a mix of pop songs, classical music, and film soundtracks. The set list is carefully curated by Bueno, a self-proclaimed pop music junkie, Perez, who grew up listening to classical jazz, and the Noname community, who were given the chance to send in their song requests beforehand.

Courtesy of Noname
Courtesy of Noname

“If you haven’t noticed, Echo and I are both frustrated artists,” shares Perez. “Eight to five, we’re marketers. Beyond that, it’s just fun.” The two creatives share a great love for the arts and a passion for seeking out unplugged experiences. They recall connecting over travel, booking red-eye flights and exploring speakeasies or jazz bars in unknown cities. 

It was a post-pandemic trip to Singapore that brought Bueno to an epiphany. Watching a concerto and hearing live music again after two years, he couldn’t help but be brought to tears. “Where is this in Manila?” he recalls thinking to himself. “Why can’t I experience this with my friends? Why aren’t people lingering more?”

Determined to breathe new life into a city recovering from the quiet of the pandemic, a spur-of-the-moment film screening in October 2022 quickly led to a slew of unique events: quiz nights, wine tastings, themed dance sessions, and, eventually, concertos.

“We started this out because, quite frankly, we were bored during the lockdown,” muses Perez. “We felt like time stopped for a while. And at the tail end of it, we realized we didn’t recognize the city that we were in at that point.”

Courtesy of Noname

Growing up in Manila, both Bueno and Perez have always been well aware of the city’s rich histories and cultural heritage. So when they chanced upon the penthouse dome of the First United Building, in their first visit alone they brought a measuring tape and a speaker. Bueno reminisces, “The first thing we did there was play classical music. That was it. And [after] the first note, we said, okay, this is it.”

“We were so inspired by the fact that it was a heritage building,” Perez adds. “And the idea there was, how do we breathe life to this space? How do we form sort of a love letter to it? Many of those heritage buildings are not appreciated at all, not invested in. And I think it was our way of sharing the potential and the beauty of that space.”

It was not long until the two built a special friendship with the owners of the space, who Bueno shares have expressed gratitude to the collective for creating “a way for them to communicate what the space means.”

At the core of Noname’s candlelight concertos is the desire for community and connection. Rare and uncomfortable as it is in the digital age to put our devices down and take the time to be still, to listen and to linger, ‘Emotions’ succeeds in bringing friends and friends of friends together in just a span of one night.

Buzzed with wine, the crowd crescendos into an impromptu choir at the quartet’s encore, belting the lyrics of Frankie Valli’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ in between bouts of laughter. Drunk on the exhilaration of singing with 30 different strangers, the quartet laughs along, big smiles plastered on their face as they, too, sway along.

“We want people to go to our events and have a good, fun, but enriching time,” shares Perez. “We want to meet people who may like the same things or may like adjacent things, and to learn from them. We want to stand for the importance of beauty and art and culture and community in, I think, an era that kind of says that that’s not important.”

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