Friday, April 28, 2017

That amazing DIY Pinoy punk rock subculture

That amazing DIY Pinoy punk rock subculture
by rick olivares

Punk rock has always had this spot in my heart. From the very first record I got which was “The Best of Punk and New Wave Rock Vol. 1” to Ocean Zoo’s first single that was heavily promoted on DZRJ and my copy of American punk band, X’s debut, “Los Angeles” to my Rancid records and CDs, I have always treasured and loved them.

While some might dismiss punk generally as mindless or angry man’s music in short, chaotic bursts, the truth is not all of it is. I don’t think it is exclusive to punk to sing of social ills or injustices. Folk music, reggae, or even pop does the same too.

Musically, it wasn’t all discordant. Stiff Little Fingers imbued their music with rockabilly trappings. X wrote pretty interesting songs with their musical influences ranging from Gene Vincent to the Doors. The Clash fused punk with reggae and dub. And there’s more.

Aside from the music, the DIY spirit as well as the crudeness of the releases appealed to me. I could really identify with the homemade releases. After all, I did my own comics, mixed tapes, and even t-shirts.

Most recently, I got back into Filipino punk. It started out with the Ex-Senadors’ 7-inch extended play single, “Kamatayaan o Kalayaan?” that was released in 2015. How can you not be drawn to the blood red cover featuring two of the dead from the infamous Mendiola Massacre of 1987? The interior album art made use of more related photos juxtaposed with pics of the band. And the six angry songs contained within railed against the rich, multi-national corporations, and the police in Tagalog that didn’t mince their words.

I thought it was angry, graphic, and powerful.

Through the Ex-Senadors’ record, I re-discovered the entire punk rock subculture that is amazing with many lessons to be learned.

The small and independent record distributors (or “distros” as it is called in street parlance), have regularly put out their albums on vinyl even way ahead of the current renaissance of the medium. For the longest time, cassette was the preferred choice of release. However, vinyl crept into the picture.

Bad Omen, which released their self-titled album in 1994, has seen over 24,000 cassettes sold since then. That’s way more than even many mainstream artists. And several years ago, they put out the album in vinyl. Of the 300 vinyl records that were pressed, only less than 40 remain unsold.

Bad Omen isn’t the only punk classic to be re-issued on vinyl. The seminal Urban Bandits album, Independence Day, that was previously only released in cassette in 1985 by the now defunct Twisted Red Cross Records, received the vinyl treatment and remains a popular seller. Other 1980s punk classics re-released include albums from George Imbecile and the Idiots, Philippine Violators, and the compilation album, Fatal Response.

Many punk bands in recent years have put out their music in 7-inchers. With no local vinyl pressing plants, they go to the United States or even Europe for the manufacturing of their records. The 7-inch extended play records cost about P90,000 while a 12-inch full length album will need a budget of P200,000 (both costs for 500 records)!

As much as everyone would like a full length album, the 7-inch EP is attractive. Despite the size and limited track availability (four to eight songs that are spread across the two sides), still manage to show their creativity. Many releases come in different colored vinyl or even picture discs making them highly collectable among local and even foreign fans. The Bad Omen LP came in seven different variant colors! And I thought this existed only in comic books.

The 7-inchers of Monthly Red (split with German trio Raskolnikoff) and local bands Random Violence and Value Lasts come in picture discs. They’ve got lyrics sheets with liner notes and pictures. And even one has some download codes! How cool is that?

In order to get them out to the fans, what the indie record companies do is rather incredible -- they all pitch in to have it manufactured.

For example, Veils’ self-titled release last 2016 was put out by Aklasan Records and Get Up And Go Records that are both based in the United States; and the local labels such as Delusion of Terror Records, Love from Hate records, Left Hand Path Press, and Mutilated Noise Records.

However, we learned that some local labels do not see eye to eye and another joint venture (if the other is still a part) will not materialize again.

Regarding record sales, many of local punk bands sell a lot of their records in the first few weeks (at P250-350 a pop) then it trickles until the next release. Bands make a profit margin of about P20-30 thousand per release. It isn’t much but the scene is alive and moshing.

But let’s qualify that – that’s just for the records. Cassettes and compact discs are cheaper to put out and bands also additionally have them out in other formats and that tends to make more. So why vinyl? Is it weird to say – especially for punk – that it is a luxury? Do they mean to say that there are at least 300 (the minimum number of discs pressed per release) punk rockers out there with a vinyl habit that needs to be satiated?

In the resellers’ market, the records cost even more. The 7-inch album, Nightmare Vol.1, that features bootleg versions of the seminal songs by legendary hardcore band Betrayed and the Urban Bandits among others… fetches for at least P5,000 nowadays on Ebay!

And for the punk rock scene, there is a market for their music and releases in vinyl or CD or cassette abroad. Indie distros sells records from outfits from all over Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe. In fact, you can buy a lot of them over here. Many of the shops that sell Pinoy and foreign punk are located in Manila from the streets of Recto to unobtrusively located shops in San Antonio Village in Makati. Most though hawk their wares online with Facebook pages serving as their web pages.

A few of the band shave even penetrated the other bigger indie record shops. You can now find them in the Grey Market at White Plains with even a few at the Pop Record Shop in Makati that seems totally different from their standard milieu. But it is what it is. The higher profile distribution allows more fans access to the music.

It’s an incredible scene that many would do well to take notes. Punk bands release albums, videos, merchandise, and play to packed clubs. In fact, they do better than many mainstream acts. They might not make too much but their scene is very much alive.

Top: Veils and Bad Omen's excellent Echoes of the Quondam.
Bottom: Feud's For the Sake of Unity and the Ex-Senadors' Kamatayaan o Kalayaan?

Pinoy punk rock records in my collection:
Monthly Red (Love From Hate Records and Alleiner Threat Records)
If you like Veruca Salt. This four-piece outfit from San Fernando, Pampanga has a knack for the hook that makes their brand of punk pretty cool.
Two tracks – “Away from Home” and “Lie”.

Veils (Still Ill Records, Aklasan Records, Love from Hate Records, Mutilated Noise Records, Get Up and Go records, Delusion of Terror Records, and Left Hand Path)
Ah, dark, metallic hardcore. Comes in three different covers regular cover and the alternate silkscreened cover featuring artwork by Ralph Espiritu.

Bad Omen – Echoes of the Quondam (Middle Finger Records)
A six-track record where these punk purveyors cover songs from Ethnic Faces, Left of Center, Fatal Disguise, Third World Chaos, Signal 3, and George Imbecile and the Idiots. A nice record.

Feud – For the Sake of Unity (Mutilated Noise and Still Ill Records)
Remastered from the original 2000 release. This record is a declaration of what the band stands for – anti-posers, blind faith, human and women’s rights. This band asks the right questions and makes a stand. It’s too bad they have split up. This is a band that should be heard – fast and straight to the point hardcore.

Biofeedback – Karamihan ng Tao Ay Pu (Mutilated Noise)
A re-release of these classics from 1990s punk rockers. The source of this re-release is a cassette and not the original masters. It’s muffled and well, it blunts the raw fury of this band. Nevertheless, a must have.

The Ex-Senadors – Kamatayaan o Kalayaan? (Mutilated Noise Records)
Personally, a special record as this got me back into local punk.

Random Violence/Value Lasts (Still Ill Records, Aklasan Records, Love from hate Records, Left Hand Path, Get Up and Go Records, and Delusion of Terror Records)
A split record between Random Violence and Value Lasts. Each band has three tracks.

Killratio – Erehe

This is like someone unloading off an assault rifle in full automatic. Rapid fire punk. Short, fast and furious just the way it should be.

Top: Biofeedback and random Violence and Value Lasts split record
Bottom: Killratio's upcoming release Erehe (have an advance copy) plus Monthly Red's split record with German band Raskolnikoff.

Half the Battle's "What We Have"

Veils and the variant cover above.

The various Bad Omen releases with the LP variants. 

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