Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Twisted Red Cross: The Glory That Was in Philippine Music?

Given the dearth of both beauty and creativity of the current OPM offerings, will the retrospective of “past glories” kick-start a revolution for the “aesthetically ailing” Philippine music industry?

By: Vanessa Uy

Of all the 50 or so Original Pilipino Music in current rotation on the country’s leading FM stations and music video channels, only about one or two past muster – to me. This is quite sad because given the windfall of royalties – i.e. money – now up for grabs to every Filipino musicians and bands willing to release their works in the form of music recordings / downloadable media. Shouldn’t this have resulted to better songs, or at least a wider variety of musical genres? Sadly no, it seems as if the Bush-Cheney Neo-Conservative Cultural Gentrification Machine has reached our shores. And it probably established a foothold back in 1998! But all is not lost because a brilliant solution lay in the past, 11 or so years before I was born – 1985.

The Philippine record label Twisted Red Cross and her retinue of bands probably made the lives of a whole generation of Filipino teens seem more humanely bearable during the dying days of the Marcos Regime back in the mid-1980’s. But more importantly, Twisted Red Cross – quite single handedly as it seems – made bands like Wuds, Betrayed, Dead Ends, and George Imbecile (GI) and the Idiots establish the Philippine Punk Rock Scene when the phrase “Punk’s not dead!” is still a veritable cultural tour de force.

Like the influence of the record label Go Kart to the New York Punk scene of the 1990’s as epitomized by the runaway success of the Punk Rock phenomenon Lunachicks, Twisted Red Cross also had a lasting – if somewhat relatively obscure to the overall mainstream culture – influence on the Philippine Punk / Underground music scene. Even though our current powers-that-be in the Philippine music industry usually abhors the mere mention of Twisted Red Cross as a matter of policy. Especially when it comes to the record labels influence. Sometimes I wonder if these execs threatened by politically charged protest songs?

Though Twisted Red Cross recordings that survive the rigors of time are few and far between, especially when it comes to “garage sale” and swap meet availability. Fortunately during the 1991 to 1995 “Third Wave” of Philippine Punk, these albums were re-released – at the expense of the bands themselves – when they found out that there are still a market for their older stuff even though the record label was already several years defunct. You could almost smell the beer-stained floors of Club Dredd circa 1994.

After having acquired audio (and video) processing software that allowed me to digitize Twisted Red Cross’ cassette tape releases so that they can be transferred to CD while their audio problems like tape hiss and dull timbre can be alleviated in the digital domain. I manage to make them about MP3 download quality audio – you know that overly compressed Tom Lord-Alge kind of sound. Having allowed unsuspecting civilians aged 25 and below as my test subjects to gauge whether Twisted Red Cross bands circa 1985 can still rock their world proved really interesting. The test subjects’ first impressions of the bands’ performance were “highly gifted amateur musicians who should record and release an album”. I lied to my test subjects a little, telling them there a start-up band from my school – little did they know that they were already famous 23 or so years ago. My “test subjects” should plead the record label execs in Manila to re-release the entire Twisted Red Cross Catalogue.

Also, I recently acquired in a garage sale BETAMAX handycam recordings of the Wuds concert in PHILCITE – a purpose build ASEAN venue back in the 1980’s. Even though the quality is limited, this is probably the best live performance of the Wuds playing their two workhorses “Patay Buhay” and “Inosente Lang Ang Nagtataka”. Is this the famed July 1988 performance? Now transferred digitally to my currently available digital recording media available i.e. DVD and Video CD. In short, they too can still cut the proverbial mustard. Maybe I should start a campaign to re-release this stuff. Just to remind our current crop of mediocre musicians there’s more to life that riding high on the hog of music royalties. If you don’t want Anglo-Saxon musicians stealing your thunder, try listening to old Twisted Red Cross releases. We – the Filipino People - are long overdue to be amazed. I hope the next time when I turn on the radio or watch music videos on TV, I’ll be amazed as well.