WAS NEARLY MIDNIGHT,
and there was a ghost on my radio. The phantom voice that haunted my speakers
not only sounded disembodied but it seemed to be ascending to the heavens.
However, the icy falsetto did not belong to an unseen creature that hid
in the shadows nor was it the chilly cry of the dead. Instead, it was
the eerie introduction of a song from the Dawn. Entitled “Enveloped
Ideas,” the track opened my ears to the Filipino underground of
the late ‘80s. While America continued to manufacture one spandex
metal clone after another, young bands in Manila absorbed the expensive
British punk and New Wave imports they acquired and kicked out the jams.
DAWN MAY NOT HAVE BEEN THE FIRST,
but they were Ground Zero for me. The lush, atmospheric synthesizers and
swirling, neo-psychedelic guitars of “Enveloped Ideas” was
a revelation to somebody whose only exposure to Philippine music were
the folksy storytelling of Freddie Aguilar and the MOR mush of Martin
TIME I HEARD "ENVELOPED IDEAS"
on Manila’s New Wave powerhouse XB-102, the speakers would rattle
from the volume knob being cranked, and my heart beat a little faster.
Other similarly influenced artists such as Dean’s December and the
Identity Crisis proved that the Dawn weren’t a fluke; there was
explosive talent in Manila beneath the radar of its own record companies.
THE STORY ENDED TOO SOON FOR ME. Clutching
a worn tape of “Enveloped Ideas” I recorded from XB-102 –
yes, I still have it – I returned to the United States before 1987
ended. The Pacific Northwest became my home, and nobody knew who the Dawn
was. Nor Dean’s December. Nor the Identity Crisis. Seattle had given
birth to grunge, and its unkempt, unruly offspring were a million miles
away from the spirit that opened “Enveloped Ideas.”
COULD ONLY IMAGINE WHATEVER HAPPENED
to the promising youths who dared to rebel against the well-groomed millionaires
who sang the ballads of others for Philippine stardom. It wasn’t
even until ten years later that I discovered that the Dawn’s genius
guitarist, Teddy Diaz, was dead. I read about the alternative-rock revolution
in Manila during the early ‘90s as major labels embraced groups
like the Eraserheads, Keltscross, and Color It Red. But, aside from blink-and-you’ll-miss-it
airplay on some specialty radio programs, none of their noise reached
EARLY 2002, STRUGGLING WITH PERSONAL DEMONS
and frustrated and angered by how alternative rock in America had devolved
into an unholy fusion of heavy metal and gangster rap, I asked my friend
Denis Batungbacal in the Philippines to record me tapes of NU-107. I feel
like I’m dying in a desert, I recall writing to him in my Wavelength
mailing list. Although I was hired by the Tacoma, Washington independent
label Know-It-All Records as its A&R Representative, essentially a
talent scout, I was on the verge of giving up on new music. Alternative
rock is dead, I told a buddy of mine. I envisioned becoming the Generation
X equivalent of a baby-boomer who refused to buy any records released
after John Lennon’s assassination.
WAS PAST MIDNIGHT when
I began playing one of Denis’ NU-107 broadcasts and suddenly my
radio came alive. There was a voice I’d never heard before; it was
wounded and fragile. His words described domestic violence with unflinching
honesty. I was finishing an assignment for the All-Music Guide; however,
its completion would have to wait as I turned from the computer monitor
and listened to his story. Click. Wirrr. Listened to his story. Click.
Wirrr. Listened to his story.
TALE WAS CALLED "A COLD AND BETTER PLACE,'
a pop masterpiece by Manila’s rising underground stars the Pin-Up
Girls. My love affair with the Pin-Up Girls began with an accident; Denis
simply let his stereo record everything on NU-107 to fill two cassettes.
EVEN HERING ANOTHER TRACK,
I offered to sign them to Know-It-All Records. Although I have always
believed that Filipino musicians were capable of producing rock &
roll that was just as good, if not better, than their American and English
counterparts, I had no intention of signing any of them to Know-It-All
Records. It was too risky; just because you and your countrymen admire
an artist doesn’t mean Americans will warmly embrace them. The U.S.
market is a tough nut to crack. But the Pin-Up Girls have “It,”
that indefinable quality that appeals to people of all cultures. They
write poetic songs of love and loss and joy and sadness that anybody can
relate to. Listening to their two-and-three-part male-female vocal harmonies
and ‘80s New Wave jangling guitar riffs is as soothing as a backrub
underneath the summer sun.
THAT THE PIN-UP GIRLS WOLD OPEN THE DOORS
for Pinoy Rock in America, I added two other Filipino groups to Know-It-All
Records: Chain-Gang and Sheila & the Insects. They joined my other
discoveries, Liverpool, England singer/songwriter Peter Coyle of the Lotus
Eaters and half-Chinese, half-American crooner Matt Easton.
THE PIN-UP GIRLS, I
don’t believe Chain-Gang and Sheila & the Insects would be able
to cross over into the U.S. mainstream with their quirks and rough edges.
It took the young punks Nirvana, and not their older brethren Soundgarden
and Mudhoney, to penetrate the American suburbs with grunge. In July,
Know-It-All Records released the Pin-Up Girls’ U.S. debut, Taste
Test. The first printing is nearly sold out in America, and many of the
customers weren’t even of Asian descent.
CD HAS RECEIVED COVERAGE
in England, Sweden, and Japan, and now the Pin-Up Girls are swiftly gaining
new American fans, including influential radio programmers, none of whom
had heard Pinoy Rock before.
are about to swing open.
TIME TO LET THE REST OF THE WORLD
hear what the Philippines has to offer in terms of original, cutting-edge
sounds. And Know-It-All Records is extending an invitation to any person
who’d like to ride with us. Know-It-All Records is not a Pinoy label;
it is owned by an American, Lazarus. However, our ears are open to the
world, and it will be through collaboration, not just through personal
achievement, that’ll enable Pinoy Rock to make an impact in the
A FILIPINO A&R REPRESENTATIVE
for a U.S. label with an international pool of talent, I am blessed with
the opportunity of showcasing my native land’s most creative musicians,
letting their enveloped ideas be heard by a global community.