Pinoy’s classic alternative rock album “Alert Level” released on vinyl

“Alert Level,” which featured Breed, Color it Red, Tropical Depression and Rizal Underground, was proof of a healthy alternative music scene in the 1990s.

It seems like every generation has their own compilation album, the one that defined life and time and was the soundtrack to their lives.

If you were a kid in Manila growing up in the early 1980s, there was “Rescue Ladders & Human Barricade” which was released in cassette format by underground punk rock label Twisted Red Cross. It was dangerous and subversive. Like Molotov cocktails thrown by angry, disenfranchised young people who denounced the establishment during dark and uncertain years.

The punk explosion gave way to a pastiche of MTV colors and a more polished sound and this merged with 1989’s “10 of Another Kind” which was obviously more New Wave oriented.

Cut to 1992, the whole country was on notice when the Eraserheads generated a lot of excitement. Record labels scoured rock clubs for the next big thing. Incredibly, the alternative scene had become mainstream. And right at the forefront of that was a new compilation album released in cassette form.

It was “Alert Level the Album” from Stephen Lu’s Loudhouse Music Enterprise.

“Alert Level” featured bands that didn’t seem to belong to any one genre – The Breed, Color it Red, Tropical Depression and Lu’s new team Rizal Underground, who each contributed three songs to the album. They pointed out that there was a healthy and thriving alternative music scene.

The breed was heir to the so-called hard rock coño of Petrified Anthem. Color It Red sounded like a band from Mammoth Records who were one of the purveyors of alternative sound sweeping the world. Tropical Depression made a huge case for reggae with a distinct Filipino island sound. And Rizal Underground which was a blues rock outfit with a talent for melody.

“At that time, Color It Red had the Quezon City crowd of Red Rocks and Club Dredd,” recalls Lu, who in a previous incarnation sang with rockabilly outfit the Runaway Boys. “The Breed had the Makati and Kalye crowd while Tropical Depression brought in the Mayrics. I had formed a new group, Rizal Underground. So you can say that the groups we chose were not only the smart bets because they all had their own fan groups, but also for strategic purposes.

The biggest challenge for Lu was not to sell the album (released in cassette form) but to complete the recording and post-production. All groups devoted their time conscientiously and were very cooperative. The problem, however, was that Metro Manila was often plunged into crippling 12-hour brownouts.

“Bands would hang out at the studio from midnight to 6 or 7 a.m. because that was the only time we had electricity,” Lu recalls. “It gave everyone enough time to bond and work on his repertoire.”

If the Eraserheads lit the fuse, “Alert Level,” about its title in more ways than one, was like pouring gasoline into the conflagration. Record labels have definitely taken notice.

Color it Red went to Alpha Records released several records and scored some really big hits including the mournful anthem “Paglisan”. The Breed produced two albums under Dyna and paved the way for other labels to sign hard rock bands, such as Wolfgang, Razorback, Battery and Backdraft to name a few. Tropical Depression came out with a few albums under Viva and scored a scene-defining hit in “Kapayapaan”. And finally, Rizal Underground was snapped up by Polycosmic Records and then blasted one of the biggest hits of the 1990s with “Sabado Nights.”

What makes “Alert Level” a watershed moment in Filipino music is that it was produced independently; no one has had to compromise their sound.

Twenty-five years after “Alert Level” was released, only Color It Red and Tropical Depression are still performing, albeit with very different lineups. A few members of Rizal Underground and Tropical Depression merged to form the Rockoustic Blues Experiment. As for The Breed, they parted ways following the untimely death of lead guitarist and songwriter Manny Amador.

Now the Filipino alternative music scene? It’s healthier than ever. There are more rock clubs today than in 1992. Despite the digital revolution, the band scene is thriving with independently produced albums being released regularly. And what’s even more telling is that many of them are on vinyl!

“I think with the new excitement of the Pinoy music scene and the return to prominence of vinyl, it seems fitting that we celebrate the re-release of ‘Alert Level,'” Lu shared. has become a hot find, especially for Filipino music fans.”

The reissue is on glorious vinyl courtesy of Bong Cabral and Plaka Express (you can order through their Facebook or their website plakaexpress.com) with the tracks fully remastered by Shinji Tanaka. And who knows, lightning might strike twice.

After all, every generation needs its own compilation album.

Jack L. Goldstein