Alert Level’s 25th Anniversary: A reunion of the best of the Philippine alternative music scene
by rick olivares
Alert Level, that seminal compilation album that featured then four rising bands, will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Stephen Lu, formerly lead singer of Rizal Underground, one of four bands featured in “Alert Level”, is back in the studio re-mastering all 12 tracks for a compact disc re-issue.
“I think with the newfound excitement of the return to prominence of vinyl, hence the music scene, it seems timely that we’ll be celebrating the re-release of “Alert Level.”
Back in mid-1993, the country’s alternative music scene exploded. The Eraserheads were unleashed on an unsuspecting country that sent artist and repertoire managers scrambling towards every rock club in and around Manila in search of the next big thing.
One fledging production house, Loud House Productions, headed by Lu, former lead singer of the rockabilly trio, Runaway Boys, fortunately had dibs on that.
His old rockabilly trio, the Runaway Boys had broken up and he had gone into album production. “My first foray was producing was Binky Lampano’s album, ‘I Read the News’ in 1992. I learned from that process. It prompted me to produce an independent release. And the next feasible project for me was putting out an album featuring four rising bands.”
These bands were the Breed, Color it Red, Tropical Depression, and Lu’s new outfit, Rizal Underground.
“At that time, Color It Red had the Quezon City crowd from Red Rocks and Club Dredd,” recalled Lu. “The Breed had the Makati/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 to finish the recording and the post-production. All the bands were very cooperative. The problem back then was that Manila was deep in 12-hour brownouts.
“Bands were hanging out at the studio from 12 midnight to six or seven in the morning because that was the only time where we had electricity with no interruptions,” recalled Lu. “That bonded everyone and despite the difficult schedule, everyone put in their work. ‘Alert Level’ is something we were and are all proud of.”
The album was a popular release and following the Eraserheads’ explosive debut, local companies signed all the bands to contracts. Color it Red went to Alpha Records. The Breed to Dyna. Tropical Depression signed with Viva while Rizal Underground was snapped up by Polycosmic Records.
While “Alert Level” isn’t the first indie release as local punk music company Twisted Red Cross put out their own independently produced cassettes years before Lu conceived his own project, it did spawn other compilations featuring unsigned bands such Alpha Records “Alpha-Numeric Sampler to NU’s “In the Raw” to name a few.
“As the producer of ‘Alert Level’, it was gratifying to see all the bands secure contracts and record albums some of who released several records,” glowed Lu. His own Rizal Underground became popular first with their own songs then after receiving a massive jolt of publicity following their recording of the San Miguel Beer jingle “Sabado Nights.”
According to Lu, the 25th Anniversary Edition of “Alert Level” will be out this July 2017. “We’d love to have it out on vinyl but right now, the format that we can afford as an independent outfit is on compact disc,” said Lu.
“We are also planning a reunion show where every band will perform these old songs. The challenge though will be finding someone to take the place of Papadom (the late Dominic Gamboa, lead singer of Tropical Depression). Manny Amador (bassist of the Breed) is also no longer with us, but we are sure we can find someone to pinch hit. The details to the album release and the show will be finalized soon.”
“Vinyl is back and sales are at high levels so who knows, the re-release of ‘Alert Level’ just might find lightning striking twice.”
|With Stephen Lu|