For those about to rock. As it comes to music, it seems to me that majority of Pinoys have a strong preference for cheesy love songs. Ok, this is an unfair oversimplification. I’m basing my analysis on what most of the radio stations play, and what you hear just about everywhere you go. Not to mention all the folks singing karaoke; those karaoke machines really are ubiquitous in the country.
However, a small minority has acquired what I’d like to call good taste in music. In order to avoid pointless debate on the differences of various genres and styles, let’s call that music just plain ol’ rock ’n’ roll – an umbrella term covering everything from trash metal to melodic soft rock. On top of listening to good music, these guys do play as well – some being pretty damn good at it. Here’s an introduction to my favorite Pinoy rock bands and songs. Word of caution: if you are one of those who think that it is perfectly OK for a band to perform live without ever touching an instrument, this post is definitely not for you…
Small minority is of course a relative thing. For us 5 million or so Finns, a small minority, lets say 1 percent of the population, translates into around 50k people. With borderline religious dedication and commitment, these folks make sure that every time Metallica, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, or any of the like comes to see us in Finland, the stadium will be sold out within hours, if not minutes. Its funny to think that every time a band like that is playing, almost every hundredth Finn is there enjoying it. Now, out of hundred million or so Filipinos, one percent is already a lot bigger group. I’m not giving exact numbers here, instead I’ll let you do the math. 🙂 Anyway, the point is that even though rock and metal music is not that big thing in the Philippines, there is a significant number of Pinoy metalheads as well.
This post is not intended for mere reading: it needs to be listened (loud). Experienced. Lived. Hahah! Consider it as a field trip to Pinoy rock. It’s a long post, but there’s a lot to cover. Hope it will be worth it, if you decide to travel the road all the way to the end. Certain precautions, so to speak, are required before you can properly enjoy the experience. Make sure you can spare an hour or two or so, to really listen to all the songs. A good time to enjoy the experience is prior heading out to a rock gig or just your local bar or the like. Next, make sure you have a reasonable amount of your favorite beverage at hand – for this purpose, I would strongly recommend beer. If you are ”overseas” and thus can’t make that a Red Horse or Pale Pilsen, try some local counterpart. Whatever works for you. Serve chilled.
Then, just to get you to right mood, head to Youtube and watch an awesome live performance from your favorite old school rock band. You know, starting somewhere from Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, AC/DC, going through Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and all the way to Korn, Disturbed, Slipknot or any of the like. You get the point. Or, if you don’t, or you’re new to this and in need of some guidance; for something of truly epic proportions I would suggest Metallica playing Harvester of Sorrow at Tushino air field or Iron Maiden with their never-ending Fear of the Dark at Rock in Rio. Be careful not to get carried away thou. 🙂
As a totally off-topic notion: did you ever stop to think whether Metallica is an US band or from somewhere else entirely? Wonder no longer, I’ve found the answer. Kirk Hammett is half Filipino. Lars Ulrich is basically Danish. Denmark, as a Nordic country, at least from a global point of view, is about the same as Finland (you know, looking at it from across the world, the Nordic countries are pretty much all the same). So, that makes Lars Ulrich like at least a quarter Finn. That makes Metallica in fact a Finnish-Filipino band, right? Funny, I never thought of that before. Somehow, I’m pretty sure you haven’t either.
Those performances are the stuff of legends. As good as it gets. That is what every single rock band in the world looks up to and any rock fan loves. The very top of the iceberg, so to speak. If those songs don’t send the shivers down your spine every single time, I strongly suggest a medical check-up (preferably by a certified professional, not by someone who didn’t quite bother to finish med school!).
To continue with the metaphor, just below the imaginary sea level of global superstardom lies the rest of this huge iceberg of awesome rock music. Each country has their own great artists. The national rock stars – if you will. They are usually, up to a degree, known outside the borders as well. In my opinion, often many of these are not far behind from the ”world class”, if at all. But sadly we as humans have a very limited attention span and ability to process information. Thus, there’s only that much superstardom in the world; spaces are limited in the international Hall of Fame. It is also largely a matter of luck whom will break into global scene. Many top national bands in any country might never be known outside their own land or get the attention they deserve across the globe.
Oh, you don’t need to be mean. I’m well aware that it’s not like appearing in my blog is going to fix that for anyone 😀 But hey.. haven’t seen any of these bands introduced in Finland. So I thought I’d show my respect and appreciation for them and their music, and share my experiences.
An interesting question is, if most of the country listens to the cheesy love songs, how did I end up knowing about all of these Filipino rock bands? Well, that’s quite a story (already told in Finnish earlier in this blog). After just few weeks in the country, we went to a Couchsurfing event (first anniversary of Thirstday!) with a bunch of the exchange students. I’ve heard the CS has changed a lot since those days, and unfortunately not for the better, but that’s another story…
While we were having drinks at one of the (quite legendary) Central BBQs, a fellow couchsurfer asked where I was from. Now, Finland is often either totally unknown, or maybe known as one of the Scandinavian/Nordic countries. Some might know Nokia is from Finland (these days probably Angry Birds or Clash of Clans, more likely). One elderly couple in fact knew Armi Kuusela (the Finnish 1952 Miss Universe who married a Filipino businessman, I guess this story was well covered both in Finland and in the Philippines back then). I think the most random thing was that a Korean girl knew that Xylitol is from Finland…
Anyway, where was I…? Yeah, after finding out that I was from Finland, this guy went on to list all the Finnish metal bands and artists he knew. And boy, that was an impressive list! He probably knows Finnish music better than I do. All the usual suspects such as Nightwish and the like, were included, of course. He was also well familiar with some of the more outlandish artists, such as Apocalyptica, and a big fan of LORDI! Heck, this dude even knew the 2007 Finnish Idols winner Ari Koivunen! This is meant as no offense to Ari Koivunen, he gave awesome performances during the Idols. But you can probably relate when I was a bit surprised to realize he is known all across the world!
After finding this common ground, we kept naming bands one after other and found out we had practically the same taste in music! Both being familiar with the lyrics of a specific Slipknot song was a final seal telling that we would get along great! We did become great friends with this guy (hey, he has a name: Benj Espina. Hahah!), and he sure is an awesome instructor for the crash course to the best of Pinoy rock!
We decided to arrange an event, and this was the humble beginning of the ”First-ever Filipino-Finnish Metal Convention”. The idea was to have some drinks and listen to good music. We had a massive attendance totaling two people, and felt that the event was a great success! Meaning simply that one night, before heading out to a party, we met up at Benj’s place and listened to a selection of best Finnish and Pinoy rock songs. I also decided to give Benj a taste of the bizarre side of Finnish drinks, and made some ”salmiakkikoskenkorva” for the event.
Oh, another random note: the term OPM or ”Original Pinoy Music” is often used. In Finnish that would be ”oma pullo mukaan”, which stands for ”bring your own bottle”. Strange coincidence?
Anyway. Listening to these bands at home is a good start. However, these are the kind of bands you only truly know after seeing them live. And I don’t necessarily mean all the ”extras”, pyrotechnics, and what not that we see on the stadium-size gigs. I mean the music itself, the band playing, and the pure, raw energy on the stage! It’s just mind-blowing. A band called Slapshock is a prime example of this. Luckily for us, they, along with a couple of other bands, were playing in a small hole-in-the-wall type bar one of those weeks. We decided to check it out. The place where they were playing was really small, maybe a hundred people could fit in there or so (if my memory serves me right…). Now, this was during my second month in the country, and I didn’t really know the band. Benj told me to not be confused by the size of the venue: the band was a big one. Having had our fair share of drinks and taking a cigarette break, we notice Jamir Garcia, the vocalist of Slapshock coming out, and all of a sudden, Benj introduced us, telling that the show has visitors from as far as Finland!
Turns out Mr. Garcia, a big rock star, is very much a down-to-earth kind of guy. I told him how nice it is that such a band still plays in smaller venues as well. I went on telling about a small club in my hometown where all the biggest bands in Finland come to play, and how Slapshock should definitely come there too! 😀 At some point I got carried away by my own story and I, in fact, ended up pointing a finger to Jamir’s head like a gun barrel (hey, it had a point in the story). Benj later described that as a moment when he ”sobered up”, telling to me that ”you just don’t do that to rockstar, man!” 😀
You can tell by the look on Jamir’s face that he is probably wondering who the hell is this Finnish maniac and how to peacefully escape the situation; all the while making a mental note: ”Do not to ever go to Finland”… 😀 Thanks Benj for taking this first fan picture in our series, and big thanks to Jamir and Slapshock for an awesome, ass-kicking show!
Ok, let’s get to the music itself. Slapshock has been around for more than 15 years. Obviously, I haven’t been a fan since day one. But seems to me they are a group that has been keeping it real (forgive the expression). Fifteen years in the business is a long time these days, most of the bands won’t make it even close. Slapshock was formed around the time that Korn and the likes burst into international fame and started the wave of nu-metal bands. Out of their contemporaries, many are long gone, but Slapshock is standing strong. The way you pull that off is to not to compromise: stay true to yourself, your music, and your fans. It seems that this is exactly what Slapshock has done, and along the road earned a loyal fan base that keeps supporting them. Even if you don’t like their music, I think that’s a band worth respect.
With 15+ years and many albums, I can’t say I’m familiar with all their songs, and I can’t say I like each of the ones I know. That said, the 2009 album ”Cariño Brutal” is just simply f-ing awesome! I don’t really have the words to describe it. I instantly fell in love with this album. It consists of only six songs. It’s a bit difficult to find them in youtube (there are many live videos, but the audio is often bad in these). Yet here goes the title track ”Cariño Brutal”, also giving a glimpse of what Slapshock is all about during live shows:
Woah. Love it every time! The song starts off with no-nonsense, we-are-here-to-kick-your-butt attitude and holds the grip all the way to the end. Personally, I can listen to a lot of different types of music, but this is really in the essence of what I like the most. If I have a chance to listen to music like this, why listen to anything else? 🙂 Slapshock has songs both in English and in Tagalog, this was an example of the latter. A few other really good ones I could find in youtube are, for example, ”Stronger”:
And ”Can’t Stop Us Now”:
The songs ”Forever” and ”Alive” are also among my definite favorites from the band. Ok, found the song ”Forever” too, (yeah, each song is on youtube) I’m just gonna add it as I really like this album:
The world definitely needs more this kind of music! In the end of 2011, Slapshock released their 7th studio album, ”Kinse Kalibre”. Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to really listen to it. Also, there are some really good songs on their earlier albums, but I don’t know those too well either, and even though the group has stayed true to their origins, Slapshock has also evolved musically throughout the years. They have made various types of songs, but for me, ”Cariño Brutal” holds the spot for the definite Slapshock album.
I don’t understand a thing about playing music, so I can’t really tell if a guitar player or drummer is doing their thing right. I can only judge the music based on the overall feeling it gives me, and the lyrics and the voice of the vocalist plays a huge role in that. Sometimes, the music can be really awesome, but if the singer is only screaming or roaring, it won’t become my favorite song. I like the vocalists that can go straight from that roaring into quite melodic singing and then back. Think Corey Taylor of Slipknot and a song like ”Wait and Bleed”, or Jonathan Davis of Korn. Or Jamir Garcia of Slapshock. Again, this is not an experts opinion, just my opinion: me like it like this.
Here’s one more. ”Stranded” with live footage from Dubai Desert Rock Fest 2008.
Ok, so Slapshock was the first touch to Filipino rock/metal/whatever-you-want-to-call-it music. Not bad. Just a week or so later, we went to watch Chicosci (pronounced chicosai me thinks..) and a couple of other bands. They played at an even smaller venue, Saguijo, which is another quite well-known rock club/bar in Manila. Now, Chicosci is not at all like Slapshock, their music is a lot.. well, softer. It does go sligthly too much on the soft side to be one of my favorites. But I do like some of the songs I know from them.
The song ”Diamond Shotgun” from their 2009 album ”Fly Black Hearts”. Lock and load, baby let’s go!
Or the song ”Breathe Again” from the same album:
Here’s another fan picture with Mong Alcaraz, the bass player of Chicosci (and guitarist of Sandwich). After this one, we had just got two pictures with me and a rock star, in mere two weeks. This led to the ambitious goal of meeting a new rock star each week! Well, we never quite made it there, not even to picture per month, but sure was fun! (We also realized we need a better camera, but never got that one either… So, sorry for poor quality pictures.)
After this great start it was time for the Deftones Diamond Eyes tour and their awesome show at the World Trade Center. Slapshock, along with Urbandub, yet another great band, were the opening acts. Deftones played a great show, and the crowd was amazing. The Philippines doesn’t really get too much of good shows like these, so everyone at the crowd had really been waiting for this and you could definitely sense it. I’m not gonna cover the Deftones gig in detail here. However, we did get another photo for our fan album: before the show we saw Ian Tayao (of Queso and Wilabaliw).
I’m not too familiar with these bands, but for a quick tour you can check out some Wilabaliw songs at their MySpace or watch, for example, the song ”Mottaka” from Queso at youtube. Sounds good to me! Deftones played again in Manila 2013, and this year Queso was one of the opening acts. You can read from this photo blog here how in 2011 Ian Tayao in fact sneeked into backstage, just to get a glimpse of his idols (and saw Chino Moreno sleeping at his tent, hahah). So we are all starstruck, even the stars themselves! By the way, if you want to see really good photos from the show (and other shows), head to that blog! Wish I could show pictures like that to you. But no, in terms of photo quality, our fan pic #3 is, in fact, worse than all the others. We still had the phone as our camera I think, and in addition the photographer is extremely drunk this time!
During the following months, we did watch a couple of shows in the local bars. B-side in Makati was one of the favorites.
We got our next picture with Aldrich Policarpio of Sandata, during one of the shows at B-side. You can check out some of their songs here.
And here’s Sandata with ”Unos”:
Ok, so with this kind of a start for the year, one might think it would be hard to keep it up. However, big things were boiling up. Slapshock has often been compared to Korn – a band that has special significance for me. I used to listen them like non-stop back in the days, although I don’t really know what kind of music they make today. Despite feeling less ”personal”, due to their immense popularity, another very important band for me has always been Metallica. Well, its technically impossible to avoid it if you like this kind of music 🙂 It’s like stating that you like to have some oxygen in the air you breathe. So, if Slapshock is the ”Korn of the Philippines” (such analogues are dumb, but I don’t think either of the bands would be insulted by this comparison), then the ”Metallica of the Philippines” is undoubtedly Wolfgang (same thing for these bands).
Now, Basti Artadi, the vocalist of Wolfgang, had been out of the country for many years, and the band had been sort of in hibernation for quite some time. But the Rock Gods were favourable to us: during the early months of 2011, Wolfgang announced its return, along with an upcoming tour and a new album! Having grown up listening to this band, Benj was naturally thrilled, and such level of enthusiasm is highly contagious.
The first Wolfgang-alone show they would play after the return would be at the historical venue of the Manila Metropolitan Theater. That was definitely an appropriate choice. The Met is an iconic, yet under-appreciated landmark in the middle of Manila. It was built in the early 1930s, and badly damaged during the WWII. It has been restored and abandoned from time and again, and there was a recent effort to return it to its former glory. The work was clearly in progress, with new seats installed but many places still in need of repair. The old, 1930s art deco style architecture and decorations, along with the hollow, semi-abandoned current state gave the place an overall eerie feeling. Wolfgang playing their first show after return definitely fit perfectly to this venue. Once the band got it going, only worry in my mind was whether the old ceiling would fall down on top of us! 😀
With their return, Wolfgang gave us a rock-solid demonstration why they are the kings of the classic hard rock in the Philippines! From many songs, it’s definitely not difficult to hear that Wolfgang has been influenced by many of the greatest rock bands ever. Their self-titled first album came out in 1995, and, again, such comparisons are dumb, but they do sound a lot like Metallica. And most definitely in all of the good ways. Of course, these guys are awesome in their own right and do not require any comparison to anyone. Here goes the first track of their first album from almost two decades ago. There aren’t many bands who could start it off like this, and it is easy to see (hear) how they were bound for greatness right from the start.
Doesn’t sound very fresh? No special tricks, no gimmicks there? Definitely nice, but maybe not very innovative? Well, if that’s what you expected, then you came to the wrong place. That was just a really f*cking good, classic heavy rock song. A piece of art. Two decades and still sounds pretty damn impressive. Pure awesomeness.
Here’s another great song from the same album: ”As Oceans”. It starts slowly and is quite an emotional piece. A good friend once described it as a song that ”reminds me of tired old men traveling to strange, distant shores”. With so many great options, it’s a tough call, but this could well be my favorite Wolfgang song.
Close your eyes and rise as oceans / Breathin’ floatin’ across the waves
Underneath you all sorts of emotions / As this blue horizon calls /
And no God or man can control where you roam / As current serves my motor
Now awake! / like the oceans feel your waves / Tentacles to crash rocks on shores
Tides devoid of emotions / All your wonderful dreams washed away
As I stand on the sand being dragged by your hand / Like an anchor thats bringin’ me
Down below the water / ’Cause man he can’t control where you roam
Now rest as oceans / Be still, still yet always in constant motion / Quiet but never afraid
Silent but always awake /And no God nor man can dictate where you stand
No boundaries cast forever / You last forever / As the ocean calls your name
Ok, I must admit that I’m probably the worst rock show photographer ever. Anyway, here’s a few pics from the Met:
…and naturally we got our fan pictures too! Here’s one with Manuel Legarda, the guitarist of Wolfgang. We attended the gig with a whole crew: in addition to me and Benj, there’s Hugo, definitely an all-time favourite Panamaniac of mine (at least, right after Jess anyway?), and Mikoy at the right. You can’t really see all the texts clearly, but I like how Benj has a t-shirt that says ”I believe in music” and mine says ”Don’t stop believing”. Mikoy readily agrees with ”Same, same”. It’s all about the details.
And of course, one with Basti Artadi, the vocalist of Wolfgang. These were our last fan pics. It was subconscious, but I think we realized that we had reached the peak of this mission and decided to stop at the top. In addition to Hugo and Mikoy, we have Tet there at the front. For some reason, Basti Artadi personally does not like Benj at all, and only agreed for a picture if Benj would not be in it. Joke lang. 😉
Benj also covered the ”Wolfgang at the Met” show in detail in the unofficial Wolfgang fan blog asoceans.com.
Just like this wouldn’t have been enough, along comes the Tanduay First 5 rock tour. Tanduay is the local rum brand, and also guilty for providing plenty of other great drinks for thirsty people in the Philippines (trust me, I’ve tried plenty of them). The idea is that the annual tour has five different bands, the list of bands varying a bit each year. The 2011 tour had on board Chicosci, Kamikazee, Parokya ni Edgar, Sandwich and Wolfgang.
Naturally this is overly commercial stuff. But it is extremely easy to forgive that, as Tanduay brings the biggest bands to one stage, with shows all over the country, and at a price point that is affordable to most people. And they do make kinda cool commercials. So definitely thumbs up for Tanduay, good job! Hey, the drinks are great too. Drink moderately!
The Kings of Rock Royalty! 😀 Epic! Count me in.
We decided to book flights well ahead in time and go to see the Tanduay shows at Negros Island. The island is part of the Visayas region, and consists of the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental. It’s well worth the trip even without any rock shows, but that’s another story. There were two shows, in both of the provincial capitals, Dumaguete and Bacolod. So we flew in Dumaguete to see the show there, and then took a bus through the island to watch the other show the day after at Bacolod. Big thanks for Gringo for hosting us and showing us around the next day while we were in Bacolod.
Somehow Benj once more managed to get us backstage passes, thanks once again buddy 🙂 As we were on a rum-sponsored tour, there was plenty of drinks for everyone. When bartenders like this keep asking ”what would you like to drink?”, it is a safe bet to guess that I wasn’t exactly sober… Still, surprisingly, I was way too drunk in only 50% of the shows. I’m counting that as a great success. Oh yeah, that was probably because the Bacolod show got cancelled in the middle as it was raining too much… Damn.
I will carry on with the tradition of poor quality concert pictures. The city of Dumaguete was really nice, and the show awesome. The venue for the Bacolod show was an old airfield, which is a nice final touch. Unfortunately for all the fans who had gathered there, they had to interrupt the show as it really started to rain too much.
A bit more of the actual music, you say? Ok, here’s Wolfgang with an acoustic version of the ”Center of the Sun”.
He’s the king of reason / the leader of none / the lord of question / the ever trusted son
though his body rests eternal one / he’ll be known forever as the center of the sun
And with quite a lot faster ”RP Deathsquad”:
Wolfgang also has made many different types of songs throughout the years. I feel this is somehow ”untraditional” Wolfgang, but I really like the song and the lyrics. Here’s ”Man 98” from the 1999 album ”Serve in Silence”:
Another huge band from the same era as Wolfgang is Razorback. We did get a chance to see them as well, and a few other bands at the Amber Lounge. That’s a more high-profile venue, but frankly, I prefer the earlier ones. Infinitely more ambiance in them. Anyways.
You can probably notice how the guitarist on the left looks oddly familiar. Yeah, that’s Manuel Legarda of Wolfgang. Well, back in those days, Kirk Hammett was already occupied with another project. It seems that if you wanted to have a great guitarist, you would always go for Mr. Legarda! 😀 Ok, in truth, he actually took up the guitar in Razorback at a later time. But it’s somehow funny to me that two of the great bands of that era have the same guy playing guitar. Well, I guess the guys in these bands are good friends, and there’s clearly plenty of good energy between them. The bands make fun of each others on their shows (Razorback joking how their next album, although long in the making, will still come out before Wolfgang’s, and vice versa). They also play songs from each others albums on their shows, and have shared the stage many times.
Here’s Razorback with the title-track ”Star” from the 1998 album. That’s Basti Artadi singing the intro, by the way. However, I somehow never got to know Razorback’s songs nearly as well as Wolfgang’s. Probably also partly the influence of my guide.
My first idea was to make a list of top songs, but I quickly realized that I don’t know the bands and songs well enough for that. So I decided to just go with this overall intro to my favorites. For the final question, which was the best band? I feel this is analogous to how I feel about Metallica and Korn, two of my favorite bands when growing up. Both are awesome, and although Korn is no small player, Metallica is still in its own league in popularity and influence. However, personally Korn is more important to me. I remember very well seeing them both live in Finland for the first time, just a month apart from each other. Metallica played an awesome show to 40,000 fans. Korn played ”only” to 8,000, but it was Korn’s first show in Finland, and probably, to this day, the best show I’ve seen. Every single person in there had waited years for that gig, and, well, acted accordingly!
Similarly, Wolfgang is an awesome band and a gigantic influence on the Philippine rock scene, and I love their songs. Yet, Slapshock was the first band I saw live, sort of what started all this, so that gives it a very personal feel. For that, and the amazing energy on their shows, and the awesome Cariño Brutal album, they take the number one place. Sorry Benj, I know you disagree here hahah 😀
Finally, this was not a definitive listing of all the great Pinoy rock bands, just a reflection of my experiences. So please don’t be offended, I’m aware that many big, small, good, great, awesome, and interesting bands were not included. There are many I know were not mentioned, and probably even more of those that I don’t even know. If you know other great Pinoy (or any) bands, please feel free to share it in the comments. What quickly comes to mind are Urbandub, Up Dharma Down, Bamboo, Eraserheads, Kamikazee, Parokya ni Edgar, Rivermaya, Firefly, Greyhoundz… in no particular order. And there are many more. If you are interested, here’s one Top-10 list. Google and Youtube are your friends as well.
Well, what more can I say? I’ll let Wolfgang finish with ”Ladies & Gentlemen”: Welcome to the end.
Hope you enjoyed this crash course to the best of the Philippines’ rock. I know I did. Luckily Benj is already well familiar with the Finnish music scene, as I don’t think there’s ever a chance for me to offer a similar tour for him (once he’ll visit Finland). Well, come during summer, and I’ll show that we do know a thing or two about festivals as well. A big thank you to all the bands and the great music they are making. And to Benj for introducing me to the best of Philippine rock, maraming salamat po, kuya! 🙂
Ok, that felt like a too sad song to finish with. Let’s add something to lighten the mood in the end: Basti Artadi of Wolfgang and Tirso Ripoll of Razorback enthusiastically playing a cover of ”Call me maybe”:
Pictures: thank you Marie, Jay-R, and Benj.