MANILA, Philippines—The birth of rock and roll in the 1950s coincided with the rise in popularity of disc jockeys or DJs who spin the music of the hottest singers and bands of the day on radio and, later on, in clubs.
First to achieve rock-star status was Alan Freed, a.k.a. Moondog, the American radio DJ credited for coining the term “rock and roll” and promoting the music heavily on his programs in Cleveland and New York.
There was also Cousin Brucie and Murray the K (who called himself “the fifth Beatle”) — said to be rivals on US radio at the height of rock’s golden age in the ’60s and ’70s.
In England, the DJ most famous for playing the widest range of music and introducing unknown acts on his radio show was John Peel.
Filipinos got a glimpse of the outrageous and witty DJ via Wolfman Jack, who appeared as himself in the 1973 film “American Graffiti,” and Dr. Johnny Fever, a character played by actor Howard Hesseman in the late ’70s sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.”
The ’70s and ’80s were great times to be a DJ in Manila. There were a number of AM and FM stations that boasted some of the best radio jocks then. Upon waking up and just before bedtime, our ears were mostly glued to DWRT, DZRJ and DWWK.
RT, which played the latest pop and rock releases from America, had Al W. Leader, Mike Pedero, Eric Caine, Joey Pizza, Bob Curry, Vince St. Price, Adam Kite, Mighty Thor, The Doctor, and even the station’s owner, Emilio Tuason, who went by the moniker JW Christian and E.T. The most popular of the bunch, Jeremiah Junior, was also its most flippant.
RJ, which introduced the album-oriented rock format on AM and FM, had Stoney Burke, Little Rock, The Madman, Bob Magoo, The Unicorn, Double A, The Spirit, The Mole, Jim Mo J, Bob Sellner, The Doctor again (who moved from RT), Ralph Ding (who anchored “In Session,” a jazz fusion program), among others. The hippest of the lot was Howlin’ Dave, who hosted RJ-AM’s groundbreaking show, “Pinoy Rock and Rhythm.”
WK, which focused on contemporary jazz, had Ed Piczon, Jing Magsaysay, Ronnie Malig, Pinky Villarama, Ronnie Quintos, Charlie Little, Dodie Lacuna, among others. The station’s most recognizable voice was Brother Wayne, who would also become a TV host.
When disco became the music of choice among the city’s night owls, the club DJ was king. At Where Else? in Intercon hotel in Makati, everyone on the dance floor would look up at the DJ’s booth to wait for the next song that Lord Shiloh or Boyet Sison would play.
Fast-forward to 2012, the club DJ has become so famous that he could sell millions of albums featuring dance tracks that he remixed and produced. He could, in the case of French DJ David Guetta, even attract a large audience during his show at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena.
Swedish House Mafia, composed of DJs Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso, is set to perform on Jan. 16 also at MOA Arena. We’ll have to see whether there is indeed an audience big enough to watch a show with just DJs spinning records.
In any case, it’s quite apparent that there is a vibrant scene out there where the club jock is virtually a celebrity. DJs Jon Tupaz, Nina and Par are three of them.
DJ Jon Tupaz
Jon, who holds court on Friday nights at Jill’s in Bonifacio Global City, is known for playing hit tunes from the ’80s and ’90s.
But on the night we visited Jill’s recently — actually the formal launch of Jon as the club’s new resident weekend DJ — the music included a mix of late ’70s classics by Michael Jackson, Chic, Earth, Wind and Fire, Robbie Dupree, Donna Summer, Teri DeSario and, good grief, VST & Co.
For a moment we were dumbstruck upon hearing VST, but later Jon told us that it takes guts to play the Pinoy disco group’s songs — he only does it when the people dancing are enjoying themselves so much that they have no choice but to keep on grooving.
Jon is also the DJ on Magic 89.9 FM’s “Friday Madness” show from 9 p.m. to 12 midnight (his set at Jill’s is thus broadcast live on the station). He said he started spinning records in 1983 and became a club jock at Faces until 1993.
He stopped working from ’93 to 2000 when “trance [a type of electronic dance music] was the trend. Masyadong malalim at kailangan naka-‘E’ ka (it was too heavy and you had to be on Ecstasy).”
Why is he partial to ’80s music? “Kasi nakakanta mo e (You can sing along to it).”
We first chanced upon Nina when she was the featured DJ on Tuesday nights at Dragon, a new dance club on Roces Avenue, Quezon City. She looked very young but seemed to be well-versed in classic pop and rock.
Aside from playing the obligatory Michael Jackson tunes, DJ Nina surprised us by segueing into The Outfield’s “Your Love.”
When we returned to Dragon on another Tuesday, DJ Nina was no longer there. Turned out she had been hired by Opus and Republiq, two hot clubs in Resorts World Manila.
At the recent launch of Monster Headphones at Opus, DJ Nina handled the warm-up music and was seen wearing one of the Monster product lines that cost quite a sum, which means she’s now one of its endorsers.
In our view, one of the best club jocks in town is DJ Par, who spins the music on Tuesday nights at a club called Borough at The Podium mall on ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig. He also presides over the club’s “Vinyl Nights” every first Monday of each month.
Par (real name: Edgar Sallan) is a passionate music fan and is very knowledgeable about pop and rock from the ’60s till the present — quite a rarity because DJs tend to specialize only in specific music eras and trends. (Although he tends to be very partial to British punk, the Clash being his top idol band.)
“I always make it a point to mix old and new music at my club gigs,” Par told the Inquirer. “That way, I get to educate both the young and old in the crowd.”
As a regular jock at the old Roxy’s on Makati Avenue during the ’80s, DJ Par attracted music buffs from International School, Colegio San Agustin, La Salle and other schools. He moved on to spin records in such high-pressure clubs as Superstar in the old red-light district of Ermita, among others.
For a number of years he produced the highly entertaining and educational weekly radio show, “Pirate Satellite” on FM station NU 107.
Recently he was the guest jock at the Philippine premiere of “Subculture: Fred Perry” — a documentary by filmmaker, musician and DJ Don Letts.
Last April, Par was the DJ front-act at a Hard Rock Cafe Makati gig that featured Marky Ramone, former drummer of the legendary punk band Ramones, and his band Blitzkrieg.