When the Urban Bandits debuted with their album Independence Day, Marcos was still president. Martial Law had been lifted only on paper, fear was still in the air, and the authorities roamed the streets. The Sex Pistols and The Clash made it past the censors to the radio. Troublemakers snuck out after the curfew with their guitars slung on their backs, their best defense being the instinct of knowing where to hide as soon as they spotted the light of a cop from a distance. Since then, the times have changed, but old habits die hard.
Tonight is the band’s first show in three decades. People have been waiting since three in the afternoon to get the limited-edition “cazette”, the show’s program and a poster all tucked into a cassette case. There are people in patches, ripped jeans, Doc Martens, and Chuck Taylors all around. Someone is sporting a shirt that says “Music for bored [sic] generation” and the iconic Twisted Red Cross logo. The stage is bathed in red and blue light, a homage to the album cover.
Backstage, the vocalist Arnold “Anoy” Morales walks into the room, eyes wide, hair gelled up in spikes. Blue and red stripes are spray-painted across his acid wash jeans, and reading glasses are tucked into the back of his collar. Heads turn.
There are legends circulating of him jumping off-stage mid-song to chase a heckler with a switchblade in Trinity College, getting beat up by the police for wearing red socks on the street, and waving a golf club around during an Urban Bandits’ appearance on national television to “smash the heads of assholes that are against the local punk movement.”
All of these stories are true.
I reach out to shake Anoy’s hand. Instead, he greets me with a hug and a beso. He promptly excuses himself for a meeting with the rest of the band. Erwin Romulo and Jun Sabayton, the hosts of the night, enter the room. Erwin grins and says this is his first time to see the Urban Bandits, too. He’s part of the later generations that the album’s radical politics and frenzied rage resonated with long after the band broke up.
“‘Di naman ako nagagalingan sa banda.” The Bandits’ guitarist Ferdi Dela Cruz shrugs. At the recording session, the band was intoxicated, so the sound engineer kicked them and out and instructed them to come back when they were sober. The debut album was recorded swiftly after that, and the popular response to it was unexpected. Even the Twisted Red Cross compilation Rescue Ladders and Human Barricades which they were on along with The Wuds and G.I. + The Idiots gathered a following, large enough to fill this very courtyard three decades later.
“Nakikita ko ang mga lumang punk dito,” says Urban Bandits’ drummer, Rogel Dela Cruz, “Kung saan kami pumunta, doon pa rin sila.” Everyone had their own tactics of staying resilient through the decades. A brief Criminology course taught Rodel the acute sense of body language to avoid trouble with the police, to the point that the police mistook him for an undercover agent at checkpoints. It’s a skill that, unfortunately, seems more useful than ever today.
“Wala naman nagbago. There’s nothing new under the sun,” Anoy says, “Na-experience na namin ito, mas malala pa noong time na iyon.” Outside, chaos escalates. Drunks have knocked over the merchandise table and the thin graffiti-covered plywood barrier separating the outside from the audience. The bouncers are struggling to keep the barricades in front of the stage up while GI + The Idiots play.
“Iniisip ko ngayon, yung mga lexo… gumagawa ng words for dictionaries, lexi-something, dapat mag-ibento sila ng bagong word for future, kasi na-hit na namin ang future!”
We’re by the bar, shouting yet barely hearing each other above the music. “Nakarating ang tao sa buwan, ang warfare, ang lahat. Ito na eh! Dumating na ang realization ng brave new world.”
The underground punk scene took a big blow when rumors spread that punks were Satanists out on the hunt for preschoolers to sacrifice. Cops cracked down on shows, so people had to lay low, leaving the field open for the new wave of bands who eventually characterized the rest of the decade. The Marcos dictatorship was overthrown. A sterilized derivation of punk showed up in Vogue. The rest is history.
“Darling, patay na ang punk, pero buhay pa rin ang mga punks,” Anoy concludes, before an old friend who flew in to catch the show calls him from across the room.
The barriers finally give way, and people pour into the area right in front of the stage. A policeman pushes his way onstage. What he says on the mic is rendered inaudible by the noise of the crowd that clearly doesn’t care. Nearby, three cops point flashlights into the slingbag of a man who otherwise looks innocuous.
Then “Anarchy in the UK”, the Philippines’ introduction to punk courtesy of the late radio announcer Howlin’ Dave, blares out of the speakers. Behind the drums, a man waves an autographed Independence Day shirt. There are skinheads, oi’s, and punks, dancing in the same pit that cleared up in front of the stage, even though they were once enemies. The Urban Bandits step onstage.
The show commences with “The Battle of Mendiola”. Anoy spits out the lines with the acerbity stemming from the anger of seeing student protesters being beat up by the police in front of the Malacañang Palace.
After that, the rest of their set is a blur. The audience sings every line to “Manila Girl”, drowning out the vocalist himself. Bouncers pull people off the stage in vain, only for more people to take their place. Anoy tosses a water bottle into the massive sea of bodies slamming into each other. There are people standing on the barricades, barely managing to balance. The band plays “Machine to Mark” which a band covered at a pro-Marcos rally, not knowing that “Mark” was “Marcos” abridged. The crowd screams “And I know why!” in unison during “Do You Rebel Rebel”, written in the wake of Ninoy’s assassination.
Thankfully, the unspoken conduct of pulling someone who’s fallen in the moshpit back up is still alive. What sets this night apart from the 80’s are the dozens of smartphones raised at any given point during the set by people trying to capture a subculture that stayed notorious despite the scarce documentation, by hook and by crook.
When the Urban Bandits break into their last song, the people catching their breath on the sidelines of the crowd dive back into the mayhem. For the first time in three decades, they yell in unison, “No future sa pader!”
Over the years, many have lent allegorical meanings to the song, when Anoy was just describing the sight of “No Future” spray-painted onto a wall in a dark, anonymous alley. It became the rally cry of a movement who left its mark on Philippine musical history through rebellion against the status quo and sheer glorious recklessness. In a moshpit, the future is the last thing on anyone’s mind.