Thursday, November 02, 2006

As it was, when it was: The new album on Pinoy underground 80s and the great rock ‘n roll swindle

...or in other words: the liner notes that never made it to the album.

80s pop culture was an enigma. Thick shoulder pads were the order of the day, while Aga Muhlach strutted his way to poseurdom. Yet, despite, the (un)forgettable state of Pinoy-pop culture at that time, another kind of scene was seething on the fringes.

There was a place at 18 Anonas St. Project 2 called A2Z records (relocated from Kamias). It was a record bar and at that time, had everything that wasn’t available elsewhere (at least in 80s Manila)– New Order, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Cure, Dead Kennedys, Psychic TV, The Jam, Stiff Little Fingers, The Damned were some of the music artists on the A2Z vinyl record rack. It was the coolest joint to hang out in.

And hang out we did, from local punk Dominic 'Domeng' Gamboa (Betrayed) and pre-Blues Binky Lampano (Dean's December); spending late afternoons individually discussing the meaning – or the lack of it – of life. Dina, the soul behind the A2Z desk, with the help of Sonia (later the soundbuzz.com lady) tried to maintain order and make sure the Recto punks wouldn’t steal the latest British copy of Punk and Disorderly.

The scene at A2Z at that time was straight out of that John Cusack starrer, High Fidelity – complete with blasting music, non-stop babble about the obscurest music trivia, as well as the bragging and sniping. The place, owned by my editor at Jingle Chordbook Magazine, Ces Rodriguez and her beau Leslie David, was a sanctuary for music of every kind because they did have Miles Davis and The Modern Jazz Quartet and Johnny Cash and The Band and George Gershwin and early Stones on their racks. So I hung, deeming that I had the right as a music journalist and record everything that needed to be heard, and partake of Leslie's cooking. That was a sign I was “in,” to have access to the basement kitchen and sleeping quarters.

And belong I did. On mornings, in the mid-80s, I worked as an early-day custodian for the bar, accepting a daily wage below the minimum. But that didn't matter. As long as I could record or get a copy of those fresh new-music records that Toti Dalmacion (yes, same dude at Groove Nation) lent to the store directly from Hong Kong or LA. It was music heaven. To have the first a copy of Psychocandy and Brotherhood – those were high points.

Chill out chong out


But new wave was the order of the day. While the entire country drowned in the music of Duran Duran and Culture Club, people at A2Z were listening to The Fall and Tones on Tail and The Specials and Bad Manners. Ces and company would later have successful new wave shindigs in small local bars in Malate where the likes of DJ Par Sallan (aka. Par Satellite), also a Pinoy punk scene staple, would spin some of the best if not the latest from British underground. The creative team would go on to buy airtime for their own radio show called “Capital Radio” so they could play what they wanted on DWXB 102, an underdog FM radio station, which by its sheer cult-status spawned many enterprises including a portion of the T-shirt industry along Recto Ave.

Bands such as XTC, Bauhaus, The Cure and Japan were first and only heard on XB, while Capital Radio scraped deeper with the Jesus and Mary Chain, Buzzcocks, Generation X, U.K. Subs, Circle Jerks, the Ska bands from Coventry and yes, even Motown. Local earcandy proponents Dean's December, Violent Playground, Identity Crisis, and Ethnic Faces also found a comfortable home in the government sequestered 10,000-watt radio station.

The term “chong” – to distinguish the new wavers from the punk rockers – originated from the jocks that spun for the A2Z team. Stubborn teens that couldn’t get into the music of Paul Weller or Joe Strummer would approach the music booth and irritatingly ask, “Chong, chong, 'State of the Nation' naman." The name stuck forever.

In an article by Didits Gonzales


Rock journalist and photographer Didits Gonzales made the better distinction on punks and chongs in a column called “The Low Life” for A2Z’s in-house newsletter and fanzine called The Shop (c.1987). "Chongs and mobile discos go together. You'll find them in trendiest discos, privately organized parties, 102 soirées, and Identity Crisis concerts. Chongs go to school and eventually take over the family's handicraft business. Punks avoid school like the plague, and if they don't end up dead, they end up scrubbing decks on merchant marine ships plying the Persia Gulf. You can have a decent if somewhat shallow conversation with a chong. You can have a slurring match with a punk but remember to duck when you see the first sign of a puke-a-thon. Chongs have cars, punks have no money. Enterprising punks have car spare parts. And when chongs and punks meet…they ignore each other." Well, that sums it up.

Punks not dead! Or so they thought


But another scene began thrusting its way out of the underbelly of popular culture. More than 10 years before the Eraserheads, and only a couple of years after Sid Vicious crossed the line between punk and stupidity, Pinoy rock was slashed in the face by an underground music scene that would leave a haunting scar.

Tommy Tanchanco and his Twisted Red Cross (TRC) cohorts led the way in the early ‘80s and introduced some of the best if not the brightest stars in Pinoy underground music. TRC was bred from punk. The music was harsh, hard, and in your face.

Bands such as Betrayed, I.O.V., G.I. and the Idiots, including two of my personal favorites, Urban Bandits and The Wuds, all in their combat boots punk regalia, were just among the few who carried the battle flag that would push Pinoy punkdom its demonizing identity. Like its origins in decadent 70s England, Pinoy punk created tribes stretching from the gutters of Malibay in Pasay to the sidestreets of Recto, disturbing even the once rural life of Malabon.

Pinoy punk threw their guttersnipe punches in Brave New World concerts at PhilCite, an ihaw-ihaw shelter in Malate called Katrina's, or at rundown corner gymnasiums, far from a police precinct. Chicoy Pura's The Jerks, who at one time played regularly at On Disco in Roxas Boulevard, became club favorites for performing upcoming classic punk tunes from London to New York. Indie filmmaker Patrick Puruganan would immortalize the Pinoy-punk scene with his short flick Generation Lost, making reluctant underground stars out of Noel F.Lim and Dominic Gamboa. And l
et's not forget, Dante "Howlin' Dave" David, RJAM rock jock meister who punked his way out of boredom called Martial Law.

Under the TRC label, Pinoy-punk would thrash their wares on the compilation cassette albums Rescue Ladders and Human Barricades and Katrina's Live – Tama na Away!, just to name a couple. Tommy documented everything in his very own punkzine Herald X under the editorial guidance of Edwin Sallan and the late great Dodong Viray.


Yet, however pure it was, the immaculately dark conception of punk just had to end. When the hype started to creep in, it was already a sign that the spiked hair and the bondage pants trend had become no more than a fad. The chongs ended up mixing with the punks and vice-versa, and suddenly, they melted into a single fashion statement. Blame it on MTV. Blame it on Aga Muhlach. And blame it much on Ray 'PJ' Abellana and Leni Santos, who starred in a 'That's Entertainment' variety show-type teen-trash musical movie called , whatelse, The Punks. The entire cast of Generation Lost deteriorated to the reality of being a lost generation. Along with the safety pins and Meralco safety boots, the music got lost too.

The Maya sings


So, what does a general overview of the 80s local underground music scene have to do with Rivermaya? A lot.

If the underground 80s showed us that Pinoy rock reigns beyond pop culture, the alternative 90s, on the other hand, gave rise to a new breed of Pinoy music pinned to the heart of Pinoy pop. Many of the bands bred in the late ‘80s from an underground rock bar in Timog Ave. called Red Rocks (later Club Dredd) and university belt favorite Mayric's produced some of the best Pinoy-rock bands this country had ever seen.

Although Rivermaya could not pinpoint their own origins in those places, the band has proven itself a tenacious wunderkind, churning out hits at the rate bands today come and go while maintaining an omnipresent “alternative” vibe that distinguished it from those slicked to commercial perfection by the mainstream music industry.

Except that Rivermaya was equally slick and commercial. I hated them. I hated how their manager was the Lizza Nakpil and how well she did her job pimping the band to the people, places, events Dreddheads and their ilk would never ever dream of being associated with.

So Rivermaya looked alt, smelled alt, their songs sounding kinda alt, but I felt that wala pa rin silang karapatan. Their creds shot by a…marketing plan.

In the '90s, Rivermaya was not only the new-kid-on-the-block; they were, in the elitist underground I prowled, the only-kids-outside-the-block. For example: while many, if not all of the Pinoy bands played for beer money at the piss-smelling Club Dredd Edsa, Rivermaya gigged at an Italian-cuisine restaurant at the Atrium in Makati on weekends (same place where Razorback and Wolfgang got their kicks).

The band wooed the crowd from International School. They were safe and fashionable for Makati’s teenage elite and quickly landed a record deal maybe not by sheer talent alone, but – according to rumors that were going around at that time - by the industry connections of its movie director manager (Chito Roño) and his socialite PR partner. (Nakpil vehemently denied this unfair assertion.)

They were cuties too who Chito Miranda of Parokya ni Edgar and Ely Buendia of the Eraserheads – certified Dreddizens – couldn’t hold a candle to. I mean, let’s be honest here – Rico Blanco’s Ube-colored hairdo and Mark Escueta’s collegiala-killer looks? They just haven’t paid their dues, yet.

Worse, the band suffered the stigmata of being a manufactured band, as many in the alternative music scene back then originally believed – gotten together by Roño and Nakpil on the basis of specs. Of course, I conveniently forgot that the Sex Pistols were manufactured too, even if they later leaped across Malcolm McLaren’s svengali fantasies and took a life of their own.

But the specs were spot on. The band had chops, looks, talent (I myself, unashamedly have 214 in my iPod). In 2000, Rivermaya even made mini music history by being one of the first mainstream acts to eschew normal distribution channels and market their album online. Their schtick: Free, the aptly named CD, was a gift to fans. It also marked the first time Rico Blanco emerged as frontman.

Why do Rivermaya continue to remain equally strong and high-profile? Well, Rico Blanco, feyly good-looking, knew how to write three-minute pop gems – emo but affecting, hummable but inspired.


Kayong nag-tataka, nag-tataka...

So, for Rivermaya to cover what is probably one of the best songs to come out of Pinoy punkdom, by a band who probably receive teenage panties and bras for Christmas from their girl fans, is courting danger. The Wuds' “Inosente Lang ang Nagtataka,” as with the Urban Bandits' “No Future sa Pader,” is a classic example what 80s underground music really was - fast, hard and painfully true. (Personally, I would have chosen The Wuds’ “Nakalimutan ang Diyos" for this album. But that would have been truly ironic.)

In fact, with this new album Isang Ugat, Isang Dugo, Rivermaya is on dangerous ground. If it were an extreme sport, they’d probably be jumping from a high rise to their deaths without a chute. Nonetheless, it takes courage and real gall for a band to do something like this, as they mined from a time that many people would not even care about today. And from the cream of the underground who didn’t give a rat’s ass about them from the get go.

When the compilation album 10 of Another Kind came out in the latter part of the ‘80s, it sank without a trace. However, it contained legendary names that completely defined what Pinoy rock music should have been if they actually made it at all. If you don't know how Dean's December, Silos, Violent Playground and Ethnic Faces sounded like, then Rivermaya has just made the perfect album for you to listen to.

For members of Rivermaya, the influence of 10 of Another Kind is inseparable to their success today. The album is a salute to the music that made the band create better music. Music already stamped in the annals of Pinoy rock history.

If Rivermaya does better than the originals (but then again, as they say, nothing beats the original, right?) then, good. If not, the very effort itself is commendable. No one would have done it anyway, not at this time (but maybe this will start a new trend?).

The inclusion of other all-time favorites from The Jerks, The Wuds and even Joey Ayala is evidence of the band's eternal respect of the music that somehow helped shape the ‘80s underground music scene.

There are tributes and there are tributes. Actually, there are plenty of tributes going around nowadays. If there's a difference, you can easily spot one here – it's either music you never heard of from bands totally unknown to you, or music you've been longing to hear again.


-- Jing Garcia



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