That incredible, fascinating PHL underground music scene

THE other day, someone posted on a music-themed Facebook page a picture of a mainstream music store closing down.

To many people, the music scene—especially, the industry where recording artists put out albums—is dead. Many believe too that music, the new ones especially, could only be found on streaming sites like Spotify, SoundCloud, or even YouTube, to name a few.

That isn’t exactly true. There is a vast underground scene where bands from all over the world thrive and put out their albums on vinyl, compact disc, and cassette. They cross borders regardless of language—and they sell.

Filipino bands are right in the thick of this burgeoning trade. Believe it or not, some even outsell local mainstream acts, despite the lack of attention from mainstream media or even hipsters. Conversely, bands from music scene hotbeds such as Indonesia and Malaysia, not to mention Japan, are also able to sell their music locally even if the songs are sung in their native languages! After all, they do say music is a universal language.

Now, how is the underground scene able to turn out their product when there are no local vinyl pressing plants, or even cassette manufacturers (is there still any for compact discs, though)?

As mentioned earlier, there is this vast network of underground labels from all over the world which all chip-in to have the albums produced in a variety of formats.

Asian market

CASE in point: One Saturday evening, on March 3, the self-titled cassette album of Realidad, a Manila-based hardcore punk outfit composed of members of eyesoffire, Killratio and State of Calamit, was released locally as a joint venture of Indonesia’s Sickos Records and the local Delusion of Terror Records. The album was recorded in Manila, then mastered and manufactured in Indonesia (including the printing)—all in a month’s time.

Indonesia is the closest country that manufactures cassettes. As for vinyl, local acts usually have them pressed in Europe or the United States. However, we were informed that a new pressing plant recently opened in China and for sure, the cheaper costs and shipping will allow for more records because of the lower cost of production.

Once these records hit our shores, they are priced anywhere from P350 to P900 and come in a variety of colors or even alternative covers that add to their collectability.

The releases of punk outfit Bad Omen and the split seven-incher of hardcore bands Random Violence and Value Lasts have come in different colors or even covers that have been prized by collectors all over.

A number of the records are also made available abroad and if you are not able to score one in the Philippines, you have no choice but to buy overseas (online is the quickest and cheapest way).

Do bands make money? They sure do. Not a lot, but they do. It’s enough to sustain them and put out more product and including merchandise.

There is an even bigger market abroad where fans simply buy music regardless of nationality or even language. It is quite surprising—and at the same time, disappointing— that foreign markets are willing to purchase products from local bands, as opposed to fellow Filipinos who mostly gravitate to the streaming services or even ask for free physical copies.

Small number, high demand

IF you move laterally to the indie acts such as electronic duo Tarsius, their latest EP Igado was released by Thailand-based label More Rice Records. Only 50 12-inch records were made available locally, while the rest were sold abroad to penetrate the rich Asian market.

Oh, about those 50 copies? Sure, it was a small number, but each one fetched for a thousand bucks each. And they were all sold out.

Small numbers, and almost no overhead… And those who run these labels, they all say they eventually sell everything out.

About a week ago, Still Ill Records also released the self-titled cassette debut of Reyerta, a half-Spanish and half-Filipino power violence band based in Singapore. This crew, which includes two women, will perform several dates in the Philippines this summer. The cassette has sold well and will do better when the band hits town.

Also coming out this March from several of these labels is a seven-inch record dubbed Pilipinas Hardcore which features tracks from four of the best hardcore crews in the Philippines today such as Barred, Badmouth, Veils and xFortressx.

One Saturday evening, the 2016 album of local metal band Mass Hypnosia, Toxiferous Cyanide, finally hit our shores in vinyl form courtesy of Sweden’s I Hate Records. This happened after Germany’s Ragnarok Records initially released it in CD form. The release did so well that it caught the attention of the Swedish label. The copies that are available in Asia will be sold equally at home and abroad when the band hits the tour circuit.

Aside from Mass Hypnosia, many of the underground metal bands such as Deiphago, Dreaded Mortuary, Paganfire and Pathogen, to name but a few, have had vinyl and CD albums released all over the world. And all of them have gone on tour abroad where they draw even bigger crowds. In fact, the joke is for local gigs, there are more band members in the crowd than non-musician friends. As for product buying, aside from the hardcore fans, most only would, if it is a hit abroad.

Split albums

THERE too is another option if there are available material concerns.

If a band cannot get a solo release, they also opt for split albums.

For example, in 2016, Pampanga-based punk band Monthly Red came out with a split seven-inch record with German punk band Raskolnikoff.

According to Sickos Records owner Bam Sickos he has had 11 original releases from his label and he has sold out everything.

Sickos makes his living as a graphic designer and his work for the cover art for an album of an American band helped fund his releases. He now makes use of the profits from that work to produce his releases, so there is no more cash out from him.

Local music market

WHERE are these records, compact discs and cassettes sold?

They are in underground shops in Makati, the Recto area of Manila, gigs, meet-ups and online. The good bands and the music spread via word of mouth—even across our shores.

During the album re-release show of 1980s punk rockers Intoxication of Violence’s Another Destructive Century a couple of weeks ago at Mow’s in Teacher’s Village, Quezon City, a Japanese fan who only gave his nickname “Masa” flew all the way for the gig and to buy a bunch of records, cassettes, compact discs as well as merchandise. And there were about five Caucasians also present during the show.

Masa said, “I don’t understand the Filipino words, but I like the music.”

So the next time you see a picture of a mainstream records store or any of their contemporaries that do not really cater to the music fan, take heart—because the scene is thriving.

And it crosses borders. Everywhere.


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