If there’s something that Electrolychee does best, it’s melding Pinoy pop culture and art without being artsy-fartsy about it.
“We make wearable art,” explains Bru, who holds up half the sky, the yin to Marcushiro’s yang. Both artists in their own right, the two met at the workplace. Perhaps there were stolen glances or passing of artwork; we can only surmise.
Long story short, they decided that there was something more they could both do other than play beautiful music together. And that’s how T-shirts emblazoned with snakeman Zuma doing jump rope (“Zumasaya”) and “Adobo All-Stars” came about, as well as colorful buttons word-playing on a showbiz heartthrob (“Bitter Ocampo”), a national hero (“Boni Fasyon”), and a major thoroughfare (“Kamias You Are”). Their “Just-Tiis League” (a 3-D project still in progress, a preview of which was shown at Graphika Manila 2007) is a chaotic mix of characters in the typical Pinoy neighborhood, including the labandera (laundrywoman), the butcher, and the pedicab driver.
What Electrolychee does is simply art that sells, art that isn’t high brow. Art that every Juan (or Juana) can relate to. Which is probably why the duo thrives.
Of course it helps that a business strategy is in place. Starving artists are from centuries back, and a designer with strong business acumen can certainly profit from his artwork. “It’s just a matter of marketing,” advises Marcushiro, who brings this disciplined stance to the table.
It’s the end of the Graphika Manila when we sit down with Bru and Marcushiro in an empty auditorium (Centerstage at SM Mall of Asia). The fans, or fine arts students, rather, from an hour ago gone after getting their souvenir programs signed by Bru and Marcu, who also gamely pose for pictures.
In this casual chat with PinoyCentric, Bru and Marcu talk about their beginnings, love in the Electrolychee studio, and why ninjas never fail to pop up in their designs.
PinoyCentric: How was the name Electrolychee coined?
Marcushiro Nada: Actually it’s a play on the words “electro” and “lychee.” Electro signifies the digital stuff that we do, while Lychee is the organic side. More hands-on, manual.
Bru: How did you combine the two words?
Marcushiro: From electrolyte.
Bru: Tapos nung narinig ko yung Electrolychee, sabi ko gusto ko yun, kasi may lychee.
Marcushiro: Nandun siya sa set of words na naisip ko, so when we were looking for a name for our studio, naisipin namin ito. It somehow fit what we do.
Where were you before Electrolychee?
Marcushiro: We used to share an office—
Bru: I was with MTV Inc., the sister publication of Pulp magazine. During my last year I was the features editor.
Marcushiro: And I was the creative director of Pulp.
Bru: But we knew of each other way before.
You got big so fast in the last two years. But what were your struggles when you were starting?
Marcushiro: Actually we somehow established ourselves separately, and when we combined forces, mas na-boost ang mga projects.
Bru: The Website really helped a lot. It reached out to clients and people who wouldn’t have known about us. I think at the time, people were hungry for Pinoy design, and they were becoming aware that may eksena sa Singapore, sa Thailand. Ba’t wala dito?
At the time, it was good timing lang. We were among those who were starting. It’s good that nowadays there are events like Graphika Manila that really support design and encourage it here.
So what do you think makes Electrolychee sticky?
Bru: I guess it’s because what we put out is different from what everybody else is putting out. There’s a lot of client-based work coming out, you know, the kind that highlights the product. What we’re doing is we highlight the illustration.
Marcushiro: We take our projects on the art side of things. Siguro somehow nako-convey pa rin namin ang gusto ng client. If we had a choice, we’d rather paint and do exhibits. But it’s not the case here. Somehow we thought of making an income out of our art. We’re fortunate that napi-pick-up naman ng tao. They get us [not to do what they want] but what we [really enjoy] doing.
When I interviewed Nico Puertollano before, he said the first thing he did when he was starting was he walked around and introduced himself to the design studios. Was it the same for you?
Marcushiro: For us, it was a plus na madami kaming artist friends.
Bru: Even we were working, may mga raket na kami. Like Marcs was doing his children’s books way before Pulp. So from there may sarili na kaming clients. When we joined na-enhance lang yun. I think what got the word out was when we started doing album packaging, because that’s what people see more. Mas nagsi-circulate yun.
People are surprised to know that you’re actually romantically involved. Does that interfere with the business side of things?
B: Sometimes . . . Alam mo naman.
Are there times when it gets tough and you think you just wanna drop the entire thing?
Marcushiro: Akin ang printer!
Bru: Akin ang mga ninjas! Akin ang puting ninja, sayo ang black! . . . Minsan nagseselos ako. It’s a normal relationship.
So what do you think are the advantages of working with someone whom you know personally, or romantically?
Bru: Fan kasi niya ako eh. We’re mutual fans of each other even before we got together. Tipong, “Wow, kinakausap niya ako!”
Marcushiro: We were jaded.
Bru: Hindi naman. We’re just a small team, so when he has an idea, and I have an idea, bina-bounce lang niya sa akin and binabalik ko lang sa kanya. There are problems pa rin, but we’re able to keep it contained.
What are your working rituals?
Marcushiro: Wala naman actually.
Bru: Ikaw, you don’t want clutter. You have to clean up—
Marcushiro: Yes, before I work I have to clean up or else I can’t work because magulo.
Bru: We usually just let the ideas stew in our heads. We doodle in the notebooks before we take it on.
Pag matagal na kaming nagtatrabaho, like ilang months, may planned vacation na kami para hindi ma-saturate. It’s been pretty much hell week because we’ve had exhibits and then the Graphika Manila talk and a lot of pending projects. After that bakasyon! Recharge. Because we’re not machines.
What are you reading these days?
Bru: Design magazines.
Marcushiro: I’m not a book person but more of magazines. [To Bru] Ah, teka, may nabili pala tayong books no?
Bru: Na hindi mo binabasa.
Marcushiro: Lately naiipunan kami ng Computer Arts . . .
Bru: How [magazine]. But I haven’t had the chance to really read lately. I have a new book that I designed that I’d like to read again. Sawi [Funny Essays, Stories and Poems on All Kinds of Heartbreaks] by Milflores. I just found out that it was released and I was given a copy. Also I have a collection of graphic novels, American Virgin.
Who are your role models in the graphic design community?
Bru: Lahat sila idols namin.
Marcushiro: Yung mga inspiration namin more on the art side eh, like Louie Cordero, Jason Moss.
Bru: And other design studios and artist friends like Nelz Yumul (Darkbulb), whom we know for such a short time, but [we notice that] sobra na siyang litaw sa eksena. He has WeeWillDoodle and countless exhibits. Sipag.
Marcushiro: Team Manila because it’s really a business now. Malakas ang business sense nila. Sina Nico [Puertollano] rin. These are studios that weren’t there two years ago tapos biglang may identity na sila. Inksurge. Mostly mga design entities sa Philippines. In a way support group na rin siya.
I heard someone from the audience comment that you two seem obsessed with ninjas. What’s with ninjas?
Bru: Madali silang i-draw eh. Ako yung nasanay mag-draw sa ninjas. Madaling magpasayaw ng ninja.
Marcushiro: Ang ninjas kasi, di mo alam kung fact ba sila o fiction . . . We’re not obsessed naman.
Bru: Some people have pirates or porn stars. We have ninjas!
Marcushiro: Siguro din dahil sa eighties flick na Ninja Kids.
What must the Pinoy designer have to make it big globally?
Bru: Kailangan masipag ka talaga mangulit ng mga design portals. Submit ka nang submit pag may contests or updates.
Marcushiro: To make it big outside, you need a good sense of marketing. The others, medyo hindi na nila pinapansin ang business side, but to make it big, you really have to market yourself. A proper setup helps.
B: Kami DIY pa rin.
Marcushiro: We have two studios.
Bru: One studio and one [office], which is a room in our house.
Marcushiro: Sa kanila may Internet eh. Sa amin naman malawak.
Bru: And you asked what it takes to make it big abroad, it means to be big on the Web, because right now to be there, you have to have good Internet connection. Extremely fast Internet connection.
Last question: How did that ad with Lipton come about?
Bru: It was a really interesting moment. Actually nilapitan kami to design something for them. Tapos bata ang assistant brand manager. It was funny. He was suggesting that we be endorsers for Lipton. Kami naman, nanlalaki ang mata, thinking, “Is he seriously asking us? Is he saying what I’m thinking or makapal lang ako na iniisip ko yun?”
Designers kami eh, and he was a kid who appreciated the arts. And he also looked up to us as artists and it was flattering that we inspired him. Tapping something na hindi nila naisip before.
Where do you see yourselves ten years from now?
Marcushiro: I’ll never stop doing [what we’re doing now]. Definitely nag-a-art-art pa rin ako.
Bru: Maybe doing what we’re still doing now, only richer.
Bru: Ba’t hindi? [Laughter]
Marcushiro: Ita-try pa rin naming mag-inspire ng tao. Yung motto nga namin, “Inspire and be inspired.” Pag meron kang na-inspire na tao, babalik sa yo yan eh. Talagang sobrang natutuwa kami na andaming mga groups who are showing their works and continue to improve at it. Ang saya maging artist dito sa Pilipinas.
Photos of Electrolychee merchandise from the design duo’s official Website
Electrolychee photos at Graphika Manila by Ricky Manzano