It seems every generation has its own compilation album, one that defined the life and the times and was the soundtrack of their lives.
If you were a kid in Manila growing up in the early 1980s, there was “Rescue Ladders & Human Barricade” that was released in cassette format by underground punk rock label, Twisted Red Cross. It was dangerous and subversive. Like Molotov cocktails hurled by angry and disenfranchised youth who railed against the establishment during dark and uncertain years.
The punk explosion gave way to a pastiche of MTV colors and a more polished sound and that coalesced with 1989’s “10 of Another Kind” that was obviously more of a New Wave bent.
Cut to 1992, the entire country was put on notice when the Eraserheads generated a whole lot of excitement. Record labels scoured the rock clubs for the next big thing. Incredibly, the alternative scene had become the mainstream. And right at the forefront of this was a new compilation album that was released in cassette form.
It was “Alert Level the Album” from Stephen Lu’s Loudhouse Music Enterprise.
“Alert Level” showcased bands that didn’t sound like they belonged to one genre – the Breed, Color it Red, Tropical Depression, and Lu’s new outfit, Rizal Underground who each contributed three songs to the album. They underscored that there was a healthy and thriving alternative music scene.
The Breed were heirs to the so-called hard coño rock of Petrified Anthem. Color It Red sounded like it was a Mammoth Records outfit that was one of the purveyors of the alternative sound sweeping the world. Tropical Depression made a huge case for reggae with a distinct Filipino island sound. And Rizal Underground that was a blues rock laced outfit with a knack for melody.
“At that time, Color It Red had the Quezon City crowd from Red Rocks and Club Dredd,” recalled Lu who in a previous incarnation sang with the rockabilly outfit, the Runaway Boys. “The Breed had the Makati and Kalye audience while Tropical Depression brought in the Mayrics people. I had formed a new band, Rizal Underground. So you can say that the bands we chose were not only the smart bets as they all had their own sets of fans but also for strategic purposes.”
The biggest challenge for Lu wasn’t getting the album (that was released in cassette form) to sell but finishing the recording and the post-production. All the bands dutifully put in their time and were highly cooperative. The problem, however, was Metro Manila was oft plunged into paralyzing 12-hour brownouts.
“Bands were hanging out at the studio from 12 midnight to 6 or 7 in the morning because that was the only time where we had electricity,” recalled Lu. “This gave everyone ample time to bond and to work on their repertoire.”
If the Eraserheads lit the fuse, “Alert Level”, apropos in its title in more ways than one, was like pouring gasoline into the conflagration. The record companies definitely took notice.
Color it Red went to Alpha Records released several records and scored some pretty big hits including the mournful anthem, “Paglisan”. The Breed produced two albums under Dyna and paved the way for other labels to sign hard rock acts, such as Wolfgang, Razorback, Battery, and Backdraft to name a few. Tropical Depression came out with a couple of albums under Viva and scored a scene defining hit in “Kapayapaan”. And lastly, Rizal Underground was snapped up by Polycosmic Records and later detonated one of the biggest hits of the 1990s with “Sabado Nights”.
What makes “Alert Level” a watershed mark in Filipino music was it was independently produced; no one had to compromise their sound.
Twenty-five years after the release of “Alert Level”, only Color It Red and Tropical Depression still perform although with vastly different lineups. A few members of Rizal Underground and Tropical Depression have merged to form the Rockoustic Blues Experiment. As for the Breed, they broke up following the untimely passing of guitarist and chief songwriter, Manny Amador.
Now the Philippine alternative music scene? It’s healthier than ever. There are more rock clubs around today than in 1992. In spite of the digital revolution, the band scene is thriving with independently produced albums released with regularity. And even more telling is that quite a few of them are on vinyl!
“I think with the newfound excitement of the Pinoy music scene and the return to prominence of vinyl, it seems timely that we’ll be celebrating the re-release of “Alert Level,” shared Lu. “Many people are still looking for it and it has become a prized find especially for Filipino music fans.”
The re-release is on glorious vinyl courtesy of Bong Cabral and Plaka Express (you may order through their Facebook or website plakaexpress.com) with the tracks fully remastered by Shinji Tanaka. And who knows lightning just might strike twice.
After all, every generation needs its own compilation album.