x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Eraserheads: the voice of a Filipino generation

No other band has made an impact as big as Eraserheads have on the Filipino music scene. In time for their Dubai concert, we look back at their legacy.

Eraserheads: Marcus Adoro, Raimund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala and Ely Buendia. Photo by G-nie Arambulo
Eraserheads: Marcus Adoro, Raimund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala and Ely Buendia. Photo by G-nie Arambulo

Often described as the The Beatles of the Philippines, the Eraserheads were more than just the country's seminal rock band of the 1990s. For more than a decade until their surprise disbandment in April 2002, the iconic quartet of Ely Buendia, Raimund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala and Marcus Adoro composed the collective soundtrack of an entire nation, hitting a nerve in every Filipino youth.

"By the early 1990s, there was this new generation of young [Filipino] listeners who were looking for role models to call their own ... the 1990s was the antithesis of the 1980s, glam and anything flamboyant was out and the kids were craving for something more real and honest," wrote the entertainment journalist Bong Godinez, the author of the Eraserheads Saga: The Making and Unmaking of a Rock n' Roll Dream.

"And that's what the Eraserheads came to offer. Aside from the straightforward lyrics and catchy tunes, the image of Ely, Raimund, Buddy and Marcus wearing T-shirts, jeans and trainers held the young listeners captive. With [their] ruggedness and irreverent attitude, the Eraserheads were a breath of fresh air in the midst of well-groomed balladeers and suave crooners."

Taking their name from the American director David Lynch's 1977 horror film Eraserhead, the four band members met in 1989, during their college days at the University of the Philippines in Manila. In their spare time, the newly formed student group did the rounds of gigs at several local universities ("So we could attract girls," they admitted in an interview years later), playing mostly covers. Disillusioned by how poorly they remade the songs of international artists, they decided to write their own original music.

In 1990, Eraserheads landed a regular gig at the legendary nightclub Club Dredd, then Manila's live music hotspot, where they quickly established a cult following and an impressive fan base. But their hastily arranged demo album, Pop-U, faced continual rejection from the country's major record labels, until BMG Records eventually took notice of their catchy, hook-filled tracks.

When BMG finally released their debut album Ultraelectromagneticpop! in 1993, it was a smash hit - and Eraserheads mania was born.

In the span of their 13-year career, Eraserheads produced nine groundbreaking albums that sold more than a million copies, turned out more than 24 chart-topping singles and won every industry award imaginable - including the MTV Asia Viewer's Choice Award in 1997, making them the first Filipinos to receive the coveted Moon Man trophy.

What explains the band's enduring appeal? "The reasons are simple: no other band has made an impression and impact as big as [they have] on the [Filipino] music scene," says Eric Perpetua, the station manager of the Manila-based FM radio station Jam 88.3, who produced the band's 2005 tribute album.

"No other band has captured every colour - from A to D - in the demographic rainbow. No other band is as witty, cheeky, spunky and as Filipino when it comes to lyrics. No one comes close to the Eraserheads, then and now."

"From chasing an object of desire in Ligaya, to the bittersweet side of romance in Pare Ko, to the melancholy of losing a loved one in Ang Huling El Bimbo, their songs transcend time," says the music writer Severino Soriano. "For every Filipino who came of age in the 1990s, they symbolised our hunger to be heard. We could relate to their music. Their lyrics stirred our emotions. They were fun, sharp, somewhat cynical and very real."

Next month marks the 11th year since Eraserheads parted ways. But like any band whose bid for immortality has been hugely successful, their music continues to course through the veins of the Philippine generation they defined.

Eraserheads's reunion show, part of the du World Music Festival, will be held on Thursday at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Doors open at 6pm and the show starts at 9pm. Tickets, from Dh125, are available at www.du.ae/wmf and www.timeouttickets.com

artslife@thenational.ae