The Spiral

Photo by Fidel Ricafranca
Photo by Fidel Ricafranca

By: Ernest Dino

Everything starts with a mesmerizing spiral amid the vast dark of space. The cosmic hum builds up to a crescendo — an introduction to a blazing indignation made manifest, with biting prose howled in a bone-chilling baritone and scratching at the very door of mania. He starts upright, but soon succumbs to crawling and writhing, as if to shed the prison of flesh that binds him.

Enraptured masses swirl in a sea of limbs and hair, piling up upon themselves in sheer militant delight. He darts for the exit, not unlike a tragic villain before their transformation fully takes hold. Then the music stops, and you’d be lucky to meet Louell — one of the kindest, most knowledgeable and most sincere human beings to ever grace Cebu’s indie scene. If he were still in the building, that is.

Photo by Ernest Diño
Photo by Ernest Diño

He died on May 23, 2024 but the path he and his band The Spirals took before his untimely passing was one unbroken arc, gripped by the gravity of the scene, twisting ever forward and outward while colliding with so many other artists along the way. He was the proverbial enigmatic frontman’s enigmatic frontman, sans the ego. Pick any five middle aged guys in a gig crowd, and there’s bound to be one ex-Spiral among them. 

He always insisted that he was non-musical, which is hard to believe since he’s the voice of some of the greatest hooks in local indie. His body of work, dense with meaning, is almost sentient with the breadth and depth of human emotion only a radicalized Filipino working single father could have.

He often spoke with a built-in trail off to his sentences, topped with a self-deprecating chuckle at the end. A stark contrast to his voice as the frontman of The Spirals, and more recently, Offals, where he would rain lyrical fire and brimstone upon those who perpetuate injustices experienced by the common folk, and speak out against unfounded wars that target the destitute.

He was also an artist familiar with the myriad pains of mere existence — like love, loss, regret — and it showed in his pen. It also showed in his penchant for drinking. The most responsible of all the blackout drunks, he always managed to teleport himself home in one way or another. It’s easier to remember him in moments of levity among friends and acquaintances, often with the involvement of rum. It was in these inebriated moments, especially with newcomers, where he’d offer bits of sound advice, a sprinkling of esoteric music knowledge or a heaping of artistic admiration to nurture one’s creative seed. In due time he has built a forest — tall, deep rooted and far reaching. A gardener of men and women, with a 30 percent ABV watering can.

With all that’s been said it’s still hard to piece together a holistic image of someone who’s intentionally compartmentalized much of his life. Here are some of Louell’s friends from the indie music scene, and how they chose to remember him:

“There’s a strong possibility that Louell’s death could ignite a revolution in the Cebu indie scene. His absence could create a space for new voices to emerge, carrying the torch of post-punk and alternative music forward. Young musicians might be inspired by The Spirals’ raw energy and social awareness to create their own brand of music that reflects the current realities of Cebu. This ‘revolution’ wouldn’t necessarily mean forgetting The Spirals. It could be a movement built on their foundation. - Francis Rivas (Baldkharma Productions/Ajirakun/The Gospel/The Spirals)

“You were the one who sought me out and brought me back to radio at NU107 years after I called it quits. On many of my then dark nimbus days I’d drop off, you’d reach out to me. I was the cautionary tale, but for you it was a life’s adventure. My friends became yours and your friends became mine. You were loved by all. Farewell, Du, you’d always be the precocious kid some 34 years ago in Tabunok proudly showing me your X-Men card collection. To paraphrase a line from one of your fave books, “Stay golden Louell boy, and you did indeed.” - Dylan Carlo L. Gallegos (NU107)

“Though my encounters with Louell were now few and far between, I’d still relish in the not-so-often times that I’d get to talk to him, be it about petty jokes, music, pop-culture, other serious matters or me asking him about his songs. The recent tours to Bacolod and Dumaguete in the past year are something that I cherish as I had opportunities to reconnect with him. And I had also just recently become a fan of his latest project, Offals. Thank you, ‘dol Louell, for the friendship and for letting me be a part of The Spirals. I never told you this but I see you as one of my music heroes and it was a huge honor to have shared the stage with you. Rest in Paradise, idol Louell Armas-Lopez.” - Bobbi Olvido (Kubra Commander/Sunday Sunday/The Spirals etc.)

“Kuya Lou, I have more pictures of you than of my husband, and probably two, three of my kids. I’m not a photographer but your performances always inspire. You were a one of a kind songwriter and a compelling performer. I regret that we did not get closer sooner because you are a kindred spirit. Promise mu tan aw na ko ug ‘Fargo’ (the series) para ‘naa ‘tay ma sturyaan.’ You are simultaneously an enigma and someone who feels like family. We’ll miss you. Louell Armas-Lopez will outlive us all!” - Cara Muana-Rosende (De-facto Manager, The Spirals)

“In 2019, received the news of a close friend hitting rock bottom of a downward spiral in Dut’s war on drugs. What news agencies fail to cover during that dark period of Philippine history, was the anxiety of waiting for this kind of news to finally hit you. In the wake of its destruction, I had to handle the gravity of the aftermath alone. Not even close friends or family could console me in this dark path that I had to tread alone — cluelessly. “The Curse” of The Spirals was on loop as I mindlessly went through paperwork, legwork, hours-long commute and countless tendencies of self-sabotage. I have never understood the power of music until it stops you from jumping a quiet Mactan bridge during a pandemic. It’s a shame I was never able to tell you this story personally. Rest in peace, Louell Armas-Lopez. ‘taya, gone too soon, Du.” - Fidel Laurence Ricafranca (The Pervs)

“You always stood back up every time you fell prone, whether on the literal or the proverbial pit. If only we could claw you out of this one. Next time we mop the floor with our bodies, it shall be in your name. And may we stand back up stronger. P.S. Friends, please take care of yourselves and look out for each other.” - Bugz Saavedra (The Pervs)

“I wonder if he knew how many souls he’d inspired? He wasn’t just the cool band guy with the stage presence. He always had a passion for purposeful creative work. He wrote songs against inequality, injustice, stood up for what’s right, and was never afraid to speak up. As a friend, he cared deeply and always did his best to help. A genuine, kind human being, one of the few who brought light into my darkest moments; my second family. I wish we had more time. There’s so many things I would tell him. First is to not let the world rob us of him.” - Malot Aznar

“PAWN and Bomba Press were established and borne out of necessity to showcase anachronistic music and on the fringes of the alternative music scene. Louell didn’t need to learn the assignment — he was the tenured schoolmaster we had to gather ourselves around and take notes from. Every show we put out and music we release is a living testament to his unparalleled genius. Our good friend and confidant may be gone from this plane, but his art, philosophy and worldview lives unto eternity. Rest in paradise, Kuya Lou. ‘The Spirals is forever!’” - Erik Tuban (PAWN)

“Louell was and still is the best poet that I know. He was the central force, the final boss behind the singular institution that is The Spirals, and anyone who’s ever had the privilege of knowing him will agree that no one else could ever command the stage quite like him. It was pure magic. It’s funny how it’s always the kindest and most unassuming folks that turn out to be the coolest and most influential people you will ever meet in life. It’s an absolute honor to have been his friend, his bandmate, and in so many ways, his student in music, poetry and art. Thank you for the magic, Louell. - Anne Amores (Hey! It’s Your Birthday / The Spirals)

“As insensitive as it may sound, I always had the feeling that you would not die of old age. There was this nagging voice in my head that we were running out of time and that we were racing against something nameless at that time. Little did I know that this would be it. We never shirked off from talking about death. Death was a recurring theme in the songs you wrote. You even repeatedly joked how if only you had no responsibilities that you would strap yourself with explosives and suicide bomb the vampires and leeches that are draining this country. Lots more to talk to you about but I will just end it here. Farewell, old friend. See you on the other side.” - Patrick Gallito (The Spirals / Holywood Folk Hogan / Folding Bed)

“Hantud karon, naglisud gihapon ko ug process sa panghitabo. Wa pa unta koy plano mopost, ako nalang gibuhat sa pamasin nga makuhaan gamay ang akong grief. Thank you so much sa opportunity nga naka banda tika bisan sa mubo na higayon. Diba sige nimo balik-balik ug sulti basta mag-inom ta nga, ‘Nganong dili pa man tawn ta dugay nagkaila/nagkasuod, oi banda na unta ta sauna pa, taas na unta ta ug agi.’ Wa man tuod kay nahibaw-an nga instruments except sa tambourine if that counts, pero ang imong lyrics makabuhi ug patay. Ngilngig gyud ka nga lyricist, way sama. Diri nalang kutob, du, hubag na akong mata.” - Joel Alcantara (Offals / Folding Bed)

“Yes, I remember [Louell, during the Bacolod tour]. He was a funny, great guy. We shared one of my cigarettes and he told me it reminded him of when he was in college.” - Dylan Almirio (Logic Lost)

“Words cannot express the grief as I bid goodbye to you my dearest friend. Those memories we had are etched in my heart forever. From countless adventures, (patimbang lata/puthaw para maka boodle fight, ligo sapa, gubat tirador, City-City, Battle City, Contra, Monopoly) to the drinking sessions that usually ends to our favorite “Tabunok Hits.” Because of your charisma, you have touched not just mine, but a lot of hearts that surround you. And because of that you will be always be felt in my heart and in the hearts of everyone who loved you. Farewell my dear Brother. You will be deeply missed, but never forgotten” - Julius Camota (Deanery/The Spirals)

“I will always remember him as someone who values the lost art of authenticity. He may not be perfect in the private space of his own personal life, but in his passion for his music — for his art — he fervently strives for authenticity. Whether he achieves it or not does not really matter at all in the whole scheme of things. The attempt itself is worth the ride. He was an inimitable presence in the music scene. The antithesis of a fucking rock star. A true-blue rebel. We can only emulate him. He was also a son, a father, a brother, a husband and a lover. Unfortunately, in life as in art as in everything else, there are only three exits: madness and death. To end this short eulogy, allow me to tamper with an infamous quote uttered by an infamous anti-icon who was cut from the same cloth as our beloved friend: If it’s Louell-Armas Lopez and your grandma on bongos — then it’s The Spirals. - Cheeno (The Gospel/Die Radio).

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