The Rise and Fall of Club Dredd, the Great 90s Rock Mecca

It was THE club of 90s Manila rock scene, where band tiffs were settled and record deals sealed.

by Dodo Dayao, photo by Regiben Romana and Gil Nartea

Rock and roll was suddenly everywhere, like a wave, different strains of it, and several generations, too, all plugging away, flammable, recombinant, super-conducted, shape-shifting. And there was Club Dredd, like a lightning rod, right in the path of the surge.

 

The name was obviously a riff, a slightly cheeky one too, mashing Club Med up with Judge Dredd, conflating Mediterranean island paradise with punk-metal futuristic dystopia, and somehow nailing what Club Dredd aspired to be and ultimately was: a holiday retreat but with fangs, a safe house for rock and roll misfits, a comfort zone with the volume turned waaay up. In many ways, it was the perfect name to give your Third World rock club, not least for how it came on like a hook in a song, rolling off the tongue all juicy with snap.

“There was no grand plan at all.” Patrick Reidenbach, one of the two cohorts who masterminded Dredd, is going back to the very beginning of things. “There were no rules either. Except . . . No Cover Bands Allowed.” Robbie Sunico, the other mastermind of Dredd, did impose one other rule down the line. This was at the height of Nirvana’s infiltration of the mainstream. It lasted exactly one night: “I got so tired of everyone covering ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that I posted a sign onstage prohibiting it. First thing Robert Javier (of The Youth) did was to cover it.”

 

One of the owners, Patrick Reidenbach (standing)

 

Rock and roll is famously a culture of clubs. The player-fan covenant, the energy transfer, the consensual ecstasy, the sense of place, the immediacy, the sweat and grime. Clubs are conduits. They’re also territorial pissings. And churches. Music scenes are, more often than not, geographical phenomena, informed and invigorated by their own endemism and subsequently fetishized because of it:  Gapo, Madchester, Seattle, all that. But it’s mostly the clubs that we finish up romanticizing and mythologizing: the CBGBs and Max’s Kansas Citys, the 100 Clubs and Haciendas, the Buena Vista Socials and Knitting Factorys. Because whatever pent-up, restless, young, new rock and roll noise was spoiling to bust loose on the streets, it’s inside the clubs that they’re contained and corralled then propelled outward to combust.

When Katrina’s, the last great Manila punk club, closed its doors for good, it was as if that exhilarating D.I.Y. punk/new wave scene of the time grounded to a halt: Betrayed, Urban Bandits, Wuds, Third World Chaos, G.I. & The Idiots, The Jerks, Dean’s December, among others. The Brave New World concerts. Twisted Red Cross. A2Z Records. Panksnatded. No Future Sa Pader. Never Meant To Be This Way. It Doesn’t Snow In Manila. Lo-fi ghosts lost in time. This was the mid-80s, and Manila seemed caught in the grip of whatever after-party sag followed the end of an era.

 

Veteran rock jock Ramon Zialcita a.k.a. The Doctor, one of the regulars at the club

 

There was a smattering of underground gigs, sure, in odd places like Ortañez University or the roof deck of SM North and slightly less odd venues like Hotel California, but all of these were fleeting, residual. None lasted. “There were very few places to go to watch live rock music. Mayric’s was still a folk house then—bawal ang metal,recalls Reidenbach who was still in school then, a walking rock and roll fandom adrift in the flux. “We would drive all the way to Olongapo just to watch rock bands. On most days, we would just take over the sound system of whatever unfortunate bar we were drinking in. We were always in search of a cool place to hang out.”

 

“We were worried the audience would tear the place down. Chairs were piled all over and everyone was slam-dancing like there was no tomorrow.”

 

Red Rocks, the precursor of Club Dredd, didn’t last either. But it was a beacon, a game-changer. It was a cramped (50 sq.m., give or take) and, on most nights, intolerably humid box with appropriately “funky toilets,” squatting on top of a bar in Timog  Avenue, around which a re-invigorated music scene started to converge: old stalwarts like Cocojam, Bosyo, Joey Ayala, and Runaway Boys rubbing shoulders with upstarts like Advent Call and Color It Red. “We just wanted a place where these bands could play. What was grand was that there was a large community that wanted the same thing,” offers Reidenbach who, unsurprisingly, became more than a mere regular at Red Rocks. “I had a sound system, amps and drums that I rented out to them. I was there every night as sound tech. Eventually I ended up being in charge of booking the shows.”

This is where he and Sunico first met. The latter was a musician and a cook and a bartender, but more than that, a kindred spirit who had as much skin in the game as Reidenbach did in the lofty utopia of a thriving club scene.

 

Dredd co-owner Robbie Sunico and music scene photographer Didits Gonzales

 

Red Rocks lasted only a year and a half. After it closed, taking it over was a no-brainer for the duo. A name change courtesy of Sunico later, and Dredd Timog was off. Reidenbach assumed running their own bar would be as simple as picking up where Red Rocks left off. For the most part, it was. It did last slightly longer than Red Rocks, after all. And those two years were packed. It was at Dredd Timog where Binky Lampano jumped onstage with the funk-jazz big band Ugoy Ugoy and tore through a thoroughly jaw-dropping impromptu rundown of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child.”

Tirso Ripoll of Razorback recalls his first time at Dredd Timog and his first time meeting Lampano. “Jose Mari Cuervo was still our singer at the time. We were a new band who were playing at a club in Makati [Kalye]. This apparently gave us that Spoiled-Brat-Rich-Kid-Playing-At-This-Rock-Band image. Our street cred outside of Makati at this point was negative five—or worse. Needless to say, we walked into a very hostile environment. It felt like everyone wanted to kick our ass, or at least see us fail miserably. It was hostile enough that Patrick asked us to wait in the office as he was a bit nervous. So

Dave Aguirre and I are in the office having a few drinks and Dodong Cruz [of The Youth] comes in and hangs with us. He was really cool and genuinely warm and really made us feel welcome. I’ll never forget that. Great guy. After a bit, it’s time for us to go on. Binky Lampano introduced us. I’ll never forget this. He said, ‘And now here is a band from Makati . . . we all know what that means, right ?!’ Really drove it home. We get on the stage and the silence is deafening, the animosity was thick. We started our set with ‘Laki sa Layaw’ by Mike Hanopol. We rocked it—hard. The crowd went nuts and we had won them over by the end of the song.”

 

Dodong Cruz of The Youth, who helped welcome the Makati boys of Razorback to Dredd’s anti-burgis Quezon City crowd

 

Dredd Timog was also where the momentous, once-in-a-lifetime jam between visiting Japanese bands Shang Shang Typhoon and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra went down one quiet Sunday night that wasn’t so quiet anymore after they took the stage. The nasty feud between the Dawn and Afterimage came to an end here, too, after Reidenbach rather impishly booked them both on the same night and both bands finished up not only burying the hatchet but becoming friends. The sets were apparently fantastic, too.

“For such a tiny little space, we sure could cram a lot of people in,” says Sunico, who rattles off the names of bands who played their earliest gigs on that stage: Parokya Ni Edgar, Greyhoundz, Queso, Datu’s Tribe, not to mention the Eraserheads, Alamid, and The Youth, who were such fanboys of each other that they shared the bill one night and played each other’s songs.

“We had Punkilitos and MTV VJs, Reta and Sosyal, all crammed in the place together.”

“The original Club Dredd Timog was home,” says Raimund Marasigan. The Eraserheads were still unsigned and unknown at that time. “The people there challenged us to create and play original music.” He still remembers one evening when, over a meal of spam and rice that Sunico himself whipped up for them, the Dredd co-owner said, “Stop playing your silly covers. You sound like crap. Play your songs, they’re better.”  

 

Eraserheads in an album photo shoot at the University of the Philippines grounds, just before they head to a Club Dredd performance in Cubao

 

Dredd Timog’s last night was, in Reidenbach’s not so subtle words, no less than a riot. “We were worried the audience would tear the place down. Chairs were piled all over and everyone was slam-dancing like there was no tomorrow.” It was a packed two years, all right. Packed but unprofitable. “It was essentially a 26-month party where Rob and I eventually paid the tab. And washed the dishes after!”

But Dredd wasn’t through just yet. It certainly wasn’t through with Reidenbach and Sunico. It was, in fact, just warming up. Things did look bleak right after they closed in February 1993. Reidenbach fell into his own after-party sag, adrift in his own flux, like his college rocker self all over again. “What a failure,” he recalls now. The last thing he expected to pry him loose from this depressive rut was his own sister, whose college thesis just happened to be a feasibility study on re-opening Dredd. “I used this as a business case to ask for money from my folks.” The plan worked, too. Less than a year later, the supersized and professionalized Club Dredd opened on EDSA, in front of what would be an iconic road marker that read “KM 19.”

 

 

The party would last twice as long this time. It wasn’t just the expanded floor space, nor was it merely forward velocity from a second wind. There was something in the air, like an axis had shifted, whipping the crowds to a frenzy. Rock and roll was suddenly everywhere, like a wave, different strains of it, and several generations, too, all plugging away, flammable, recombinant, super-conducted, shape-shifting. And there was Club Dredd, like a lightning rod, right in the path of the surge.  “We were just at the right place at the right time,” Reidenbach says with a shrug. This was in 1994. The music scene was about to enter its most fertile, most rampant years. Right time, right place is almost downplaying it. And if the opening night was anything to go by, the party was swinging from the get-go.

Reidenbach, on another of his canny whims, decided to ditch the usual name acts and crowd draws, booking instead then-unknown upstarts like Keltscross and Askals. At some point, the cops had to come. The crowds had spilled out on the street and were starting to cause traffic. The stuff of legend, no less.

Everybody managed to stay indoors for the Dawn’s farewell gig, but the place was packed past crushing that the floors ran wet and slick with sweat all night. “We had punkilitos and MTV VJs, reta and sosyal, all crammed in the place together.” Another night, Hanopol asked Pepe Smith on stage at the end of his set and it was an instant and wonderfully ramshackle Juan De La Cruz semi-reunion. “No practice, and they messed up several times, but no one cared.” Then, of course, there was the night Metallica’s Jason Newsted came to town. “He wanted a place to jam and his record company thought of us, only it was a Sunday. So we opened up with a skeleton crew, wala pang text [messaging] noong araw, but with word of mouth, people came over. Wolfgang, Razorback, Datu’s Tribe, Electric Sky Church all came to play.” Newsted had just gulped water from a plastic bottle by the bar, and he was believed to have spurted it all out as soon as the drummer of Electric Sky Church began pounding on the drum set. Needless to say, the American was blown away.

 

Pepe Smith holding court in July 1994

 

This was the noisy blood that ran through the veins of Dredd EDSA over the next four years. Not just the warhorses and the stalwarts but also the bands that rose above their stations, the Eraserheads and the Rivermayas and the Yanos and The Youths and the Quesos and the Jeepney Joyrides, and perhaps even more crucially, the bands that fell between the cracks only to become their own self-sustaining myths of failed grandeur: Sonnet 58, Mutiny, Erectus, Tungaw, Sugar Hiccup, Put3Ska, Tame the Tikbalang, Feet Like Fins. Dredd EDSA was on fire, and it burned white-hot bright before it burned out.

 

Mike Hanopol asked Pepe Smith on stage and it was an instant and wonderfully ramshackle Juan De La Cruz semi-reunion. “No practice, and they messed up several times, but no one cared.”

 

“It came to a point when we had more willing performers than paying audiences.” Reidenbach is talking now about the end of things, when it all came crashing down. “I remember my band directory at one point had over 200 bands! But often we would have a dozen acts in one night but yet sales were dismal.”

Dredd EDSA was already in its own mid-stage, slow-motion financial crumble when the ‘97 financial crisis cut a brutal swath through Asia, stacking even more odds against its favor. The strain of running a club under such conditions became too much. Reidenbach decided to close Dredd for the second time.

I ask him if he thinks there’s a place for Dredd in the future and he tells me he isn’t sure. “The scene then was very different. People were hungry for something new and we were the only place that gave that. You can get ‘new’ in a lot of places now, even online.”  Despite the profusion of gig options these days, he hardly goes out to catch one, too busy running his own IT company and raising a family. Sunico still does, mostly because he has to. He has since returned to music and managing bands. “The music scene is very much alive. Moneywise, though . . . meh.”

Club Dredd was neither the first nor the last of Manila’s iconic rock clubs, but it could well be the last that made its mark in a cultural climate and musical landscape we may never see again—which is really the last 60 years before the Internet flipped the way we consume music on its head. In many ways, it’s this fixed point in our rock and roll timeline. This is not inflated mythologizing on my part. But even if it were, it’s the least it deserves. It’s the least any of these clubs that sustained us, and sustain us still, deserve.

“It was my life before,” Cookie Chua says, talking about the Dredd years, when she was still in Color It Red. “Halos araw-araw right after school dederetso kami dun. Not only to play but to support other bands.” Color It Red sort of failed their first audition for Reidenbach, and it took a while before he gave them a spot. During their first gig, they were to follow the Wuds, who ended their set with a killer “Inosente Lang Ang Nagtataka.” They were petrified. But they came back after that. Played many gigs, swigged many bottles of Tanduay, built friendships that remain sturdy today. They also met Dodong Viray and Jing Garcia there. Viray and Garcia were crucial in brokering their record deal. “What I remember most? The people,” she says now. “May soul yung lugar eh. Nagkaroon yun ng soul dahil sa mga tao. And siyempre the beer bong!”

Bobby Balingit of the alternative rock group Wuds

Like Chua, Reidenbach and Sunico both look back at the Dredd years with the same fervor and fondness—as they should. It was the time of their lives. And for those of us who were there, who basked in whatever emanated from that stage, that confluence of howl and vitriol and beauty and sneer and revolution and narcissism and ghosts and anxiety and politics and hard-ons and weak knees and impossible dreams and love, it was the time of all our lives, too.

This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Rogue.