The three boys that make up O Side Mafia are crowded around a street food cart on the corner of their block, busy scooping steaming pares from bowls wrapped in thin plastic bags. The street is a jumble of informal houses pressed up against an aging condo skyscraper with a couple of mom-and-pop restaurants next door. It’s a part of Manila called Malate, and “O Side” is the nickname they came up with for this street. The block is tucked away at the very end of Malate’s main strip, a red-light district full of clubs and restaurants alongside Manila Bay.
“Growing up here was crazy,” Costa Cashman says, posted between teammates Madman Stan and Gee Exclsv along the stairs featured in most of their videos. “When I was like seven years old, a car pulled up right here and dumped a body out into the street in front of me. We also used to party with the prostitutes down the block.” This was back in their high school-age years, when they’d protect girls and in turn the girls would take them out to the clubs. The whole time we’re speaking, fireworks are exploding everywhere while people stop by to drop off merch from their various sponsors. It’s the night before New Year’s Eve, and they’re getting ready to perform for a street festival nearby.
O Side started dropping videos during the height of the pandemic in 2020, providing a much-needed outlet for the kids cooped up amid strict lockdowns and a dramatic health crisis. They got their start right on this street, recording in the home studio they used to use for producing and mixing other local rappers’ tracks. The trio was exploring styles, trying out Bay Area-inspired music like the rachet-flavored “KINIKILOCS.” But about two years ago, they landed on an angsty vibe that tapped into the swell of frustration of the pandemic years, typified by the ominous bells, growling bass, and grimy vocal delivery of “Tokyo Drift,” their first video to hit a million views. “It’s that rage music!” Gee announces proudly. “It just came naturally to us, it wasn’t planned. And the crowds loved it.” Their subsequent trap metal style—something akin to New York’s City Morgue—captured a moment when the whole city was tense with frustration, one that’s lasted much longer than the lockdowns.
The crowds that O Side attract to their shows became a part of their reputation, with rowdy and wild scenes taking place every time. “You can see it on their faces in the crowd when we performing, they’re full of too much rage,” Gee says. “It gets too crazy, people fight, the whole crowd rumbles,” Cashman adds. “But after they beat each other up, when the song is done, they throw the peace sign. It’s because of the music—afterwards it’s all love.” It’s basically a massive mosh pit.
Many of O Side’s events happen out in the street, with neighborhood kids happy to catch a free show and let loose. Cashman says the local government barangay councils are happy about it because it brings something to the area. People come from all over, visiting from different cities around the Metro area. “But the tanods shook, too,” he laughs.
Later that night, O Side headline the Malatefornia event in a different part of Manila, a few blocks deep into tight, residential streets lined by street food stalls, powdered milk tea shops, and cheap sidewalk restaurants. Onlookers watch the spectacle while making inuman; sipping on strong Red Horse beer and gin while snacking and chatting. At the center of a throbbing crowd mainly in their early teens and numbering in the thousands, a stage rises up bathed in flood lights, where O Side performs a short set of some new tracks. The crowd is definitely wild, but along the outskirts, everyone is polite and friendly, keeping to themselves. It’s a fitting end to a difficult year.