The last of the New Wave riders… Letting their hair down.
Catching up with Identity Crisis
by rick olivares
The three members of 1980s New Wave band Identity Crisis who all currently live in Manila gathered for a simple interview at Starbucks at the Magallanes Commercial Center.
They took a look at each other… and laughed.
Everyone – keyboardist and chief songwriter Leni Llapitan and vocalists Buddy Arceo and Carla Abaya – was in black.
“Hindi kami nagusap niyan ha,” noted Arceo who still has those 80s style wayfarers on.
“That’s how attuned we are to one another,” chimes in Abaya to howls of laughter.
It has been 26 years since Identity Crisis faded away after being a highlight in the burgeoning Filipino New Wave scene back in the 1980s. It has been six years since their surprise reunion show at the NBC Tent. And if the aftershocks of that show have all the right readings then Identity Crisis could resurface with a new album; their third.
“Think of it – as unfinished business,” pointed out Arceo.
“We actually cut a demo for our third album,” elaborated Llapitan. “Our sound had grown, changed through the first two albums, ‘Tale of Two’ and ‘Water Come Running.’ They had this experimental sound where we made use of a lot of synthesizers, effects. The third one was like the ‘Notorious’ era of Duran Duran (where Nile Rodgers of disco funk band Chic introduced more brass and emphasized bass).”
However, the musical landscape had greatly changed by the early 1990s.
“When Guns N’ Roses ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ came out with its guitar solos and harder rock sound, I went, ‘uh oh’ – there’s a shift in styles and tastes. Then Nirvana and grunge exploded. All of a sudden New Wave was gone.”
Identity Crisis played one last campus tour then the members just went about their own thing.
“We never talked about breaking up,” clarified Abaya. “We just got busy doing non-musical things. That is save for Leni (who would go on to work with the Dawn).”
Identity Crisis came up along with the Dawn and the Rage Band. Unlike the former that had a distinct Filipino sound to them despite the British influences or the latter that was like a show band, Identity Crisis had this aura of mystery about them.
For those who first heard them over DWXB, the other FM radio station outside DZRJ that played New Wave (NU 107 would come in a few short years), Identity Crisis sounded foreign. In fact, the song “Matador” by German Goth New Wavers X-Mal Deutschland, that was a staple of their later shows (a year after “Tale of Two” came out) was thought by many fans to be an Identity Crisis original.
“Plus the fact that we didn’t appear on noon time shows and didn’t want to give interviews,” added Arceo. “We just didn’t want. It wasn’t us. We weren’t being snobbish. It just wasn’t us. We didn’t realize that we were adding to the mystique about the band.”
In truth, there was no grand plan other than to play New Wave songs. That is if the rest of the band could figure out “what was New Wave?”
When Identity Crisis was in its nascent stages, Llapitan asked her UST classmate, Resty Cornejo if they wanted to form a band. The latter agreed but the two were not sure what kind of music they should play.
Recalled Leni, “The boyfriend of my sister said, ‘why don’t you ask Buddy to sing? He used to sing for Deans December (another New Wave band that took off when Binky Lampano became its lead singer).”
When Leni and Resty met up with Buddy, they asked him what kind of music he performed. “I sing New Wave,” emphasized Arceo.
“Resty, New Wave daw,” said a befuddled Leni.
“Ano yung New Wave,” wondered Cornejo.
“Heto yung songs,” shared Buddy. “Kaya?”
“Kaya,” chorused Resty and Leni. Abaya was soon recruited to join the outfit that already had Marvin Mendiola on drums and (the late) Bogs Ambrosio on bass. The burgeoning Identity Crisis made heavy use of keyboards but the swirling and brooding sound was arrived at by Cornejo’s experimentation.
“Everything,” pointed out Arceo, “was just spontaneous.”
As for their look -- Arceo and Abaya were natural New Wavers who wore their hair up and put on make-up and black clothing. The band soon followed suit. Before long, fans who did go to see them perform live soon came in Goth and New Wave attire.
“A lot of people watching our shows tried to imitate us,” recalled Abaya. “People asked where did we buy our clothes? But the truth is, we just our stuff at Cinderella and other simple ukay ukay shops. People don’t recognize us with our hair down.”
“One time,” added Llapitan. “Carla was looking for fancy jewelry to wear on stage. There were these fans who recognized Carla and they said, “Wow! Dito pala bumibili sa SM si Cool Carla! Sige, bibili na rin kami.”
The first song Llapitan wrote for the band was “Imagining Oktober” followed by “My Sanctuary.”
The songs received a lot of heavy airplay on XB where Abaya worked as a disc jockey. “I played the demo on XB and it got a good response. At that time, it was un-cool to listen to OPM as people were into foreign music. Identity Crisis didn’t sound local and it went from there.”
The band began playing to big crowds in big concerts. It was at Ultrastorm (now the Philsports Arena) where the band got really noticed by the major labels.
A week after Ultrastorm, Dyna Records came calling to offer a recording contract that the band eventually signed. The big single that emerged from these sessions was “Sumigaw, Umawit Ka” – the one Filipino song on the entire album.
“That song was big for us because it was anthemic,” observed Llapitan. So big that even years later, Rivermaya covered the song.
A few months after the recording, at a show at the Araneta Coliseum, the three band line-up saw the Dawn go first with the Rage Band, second, and Identity Crisis slated to be play last.
Back then, it was deemed unpopular to close out a show as crowds generally thinned out by then. The Dawn opened the show and received thunderous applause. When the Rage Band came on, they were booed by the crowd who perceived them to be sell-outs. When Identity Crisis came on, the crowd went nuts.
“We were nobodies compared to the other two,” remarked Abaya of the concert at the Big Dome. “The Dawn? That’s where (the late) Teddy Diaz did his epic violin on his lead guitar thing. When Rage performed, people were booing them and were throwing socks. We got so nervous and I remember asking, ‘Are there still people?’ Then the crowd began stomping their feet calling for us. We didn’t even prepare for an encore.”
However, old New Wavers never die. They just put on spray net and wear their hair high, they put on black garb and make-up and lipstick that would have you thinking ‘Goth.”
“We’re hoping to come out with one last New Wave record,” summed up Arceo. “We know that New Wave is long gone. But what we want to do is to maintain essence of Identity Crisis but with an updated sound for today.”
“Oh, we’re all in agreement to do it,” agreed Llapitan. “We just need to find someone who can fill in for Bogs who is no longer with us. And we need someone to light a fire under us.”