On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos ("Macoy") stunned the world when he declared Presidential Decree 1081, more known and feared as Martial Law. The Tagalog slogan of the day was: "Sa Kaunlad ng Bayan, Disciplina ang Kailangan" [In the Making of a Nation, Discipline is Needed]. As a dictator, he enforced this by the mighty arm of military rule. A curfew was set from midnight to four in the morning, and all those who were caught violating the curfew were detained at Camp Crame constabulary headquarters. I was one of those unlucky motorists apprehended by men in fatigues and brought to the camp where I had to cut cogon grass as a result of my innocent tryst in the wee hours. This hard lesson taught me to practice caution and I was never apprehended again.
Somehow, this rule of law played an enormous part in inspiring artists from all walks of life. In the music scene, for example, bands were sprouting up from one end of Manila to the other, extending to the exclusive subdivisions of Makati, an area located centrally within the 60,000 plus hectare area of greater Manila.
The Ayala Corporation of the Ayala-Zobel-Roxas families developed Makati into what is now the business hub of the country. The upscale residents in this enclave nurtured the bars and clubs in this area.
Eventually, in 1975, avant-garde artist Cesare Syjuco, his wife Jean Marie, and their outfit Mergatroid Productions partnered with Ramon Jacinto's radio station DZRJ and launched a nationwide Battle of the Bands contest. Sponsored by Pepsi Cola and its subsidiaries RC Cola and Seven-Up, the first-of-its-kind competition offered P10,000.00 as a major prize, together with an eight-foot trophy shaped in the form of a G clef. Three well-respected musicians were tapped as independent judges: the revered musical-director and pianist Emil Mijares, who at the time headed his own band called Time Machine; professor and trumpeter Eliseo Clamor, who headed the Winds and Percussion Department of the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music; and professor and pianist Carmencita Arambulo, a master's graduate from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, who headed her own music school called the Greenhills Music Studio.
The battleground was an empty lot along the corner of EDSA and the South Superhighway, and the participating garage bands performed on the makeshift stage built on the cogon grass field. The bands worth mentioning culled from various high schools and colleges from all over Manila. Some of the bands that competed and paid their dues were: Walter Wirth's Petrified Anthem, Johnny Alegre's Hourglass, Ed Jose and Richie Quirino's Destiny, Resty Fabunan's Maria Cafra, Alex Cruz's Anak Bayan, Florante, Gabe Ascalon and Harry Tambuatco's Mother Earth, Dennis Garcia's Red Fox, Heber Bartolome's Banyuhay, Gin Goni's and Jim Sarthou's Aunt Irma, and the late Hicky Tambuatco's Feathers.
The result of the competition was controversial because it was a tie between two unpopular bands involved with the experimentation of fusion at a time when rock music was at its height. At the time that the nationwide Battle of the Bands was held, composer-guitarist Johnny Alegre was a journalism student at the UP. He faithfully chronicled this event with precision:
"More than 200 musical groups of all styles participated to record their original compositions, and were subsequently given air time over DZRJ's Pinoy Rock and Rhythm Show. Of the bulk, twenty semi-finalists were selected, then short-listed further to ten. Concerts were held in "Jam Park", a vacant lot beside the Roche pharmaceutical complex in the corner of Epifanio de los Santos Ave. (EDSA) and the South Superhighway. The contest's final grand prize was adjudged a tie, between the two related bands that made a difference because they performed a jazz-fusion repertoire that was not considered popular at the time: Destiny and Mother Earth. Together with other participants like Petrified Anthem, Hourglass, Aunt Irma, Feathers, Banyuhay and Florante, they were given recording hours at the sophisticated Cinema-Audio Recording Studios to release a collective album. Leading the anthology of original material in this record project was Ed Jose's "Moments of Tranquility" for Destiny, a contemporary performance that heralded contemporary compositional ideas in jazz."
The overnight success of the Battle of the Bands encouraged the formation of numerous garage bands that were inspired by the new wave of fusion sound. Because fusion employed or borrowed a lot of rock elements, quite a few groups playing pop, folk, blues and rock die-hards, tried their hands at this evolving genre; some were short-lived, and others met with considerable success!
(Excerpt taken from Richie Quirino's "Contemporary Jazz In The Philippines: 1970 To The Year 2010", Anvil Publishing 2010)