Eraserheads: A musical history of the legendary band’s rise and fall

Eraserheads, arguably one of most influential bands in the history of the Philippines, made headlines recently when they announced they would be reuniting for a one-night-only concert this December. It’s been eight years since the foursome played together at a decade-defining Esquire Philippines collaboration where they launched two singles, 1995 and Sabado, and 13 years since their last official reunion concert, Eraserheads: The Final Set in 2009.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

The upcoming reunion is just the latest chapter in the band’s colorful and storied history, which began when Raimund Marasigan, Ely Buendia, Buddy Zabala, and Marcus Adoro formed the band in 1989 while they were all students at the University of the Philippines. They exploded into the mainstream with their groundbreaking debut studio album, Ultraelectromagneticpop! in 1993.

Their impact on the country’s music scene was so large that many have described them as “The Beatles of the Philippines”. But Buendia, the band’s frontman, has described the Eraserheads as a “Frankenstein monster that somehow worked”.

Until it didn’t. After several successful albums, tours, and concerts, the band started the downward spiral that ultimately led to them breaking up in 2002. Still, there’s no denying their massive influence on the local music scene, as the Eheads continue to gain new generations of fans two decades on, many of whom were not even born around the time of their breakup.

Even though the band seems to have patched up some of their old wounds and gotten back together for a few shows over the years, fans had been waiting with bated breath for 8 years to find out if the original Eraserheads would ever play together again.

Now that’s it’s finally happening, we thought it would be a good time to do a deep dive into the band’s history to explain how momentous this reunion is, particularly for younger Eheads fans who may not have any memories of what went down behind the breakup of the biggest band of the ‘90s.

1989-1993: The Early Days

Before the Philippines’ Fab Four came to be, they were all students at the University of the Philippines, playing with different college bands. Adoro, Marasigan, and Zabala were members of the band Curfew, whose female vocalist had just left. Around the same time, Buendia posted an ad for auditions at freshman dormitory Kalayaan Residence Hall for his band, Sunday School. As if by fate, only the three showed up at the audition, with Marasigan initially taking on bass and Zabala drums, but soon they decided to switch instruments.

The four formed a new band and called themselves the Eraserheads, inspired by the black-and-white film Eraserhead by David Lynch. The band would later say it “wasn’t the best name, but somehow it stuck.” They started playing covers of bands such as The Cure, The Beatles, and Metallica at school gigs and in the local rock club circuit, but to little success.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

As a band, their sound was raw and their musical proficiency “technically lacking”, but they found potential in their original songs — particularly after the crowd warmly received the expletive-laden Pare Ko, one of the first songs Buendia wrote and one that would later become one of their biggest hits.  In an Esquire interview, Buendia recounted: “I was aware that we were lacking somewhat in chops. Raimund was just starting out. Marcus just started learning guitar and Buddy wasn’t really a bass player. That was one of the reasons why I had to focus on songwriting and tried to be unique and new as possible.”

The band began recording a nine-song demo in Marasigan’s provincial home in Candelaria, Quezon, and later shopped the demo around in clubs, music labels, and radio stations. But each time, they got rejected, with reasons ranging from their music not sounding “pop enough” to them not being handsome. A humanities professor, Robin Rivera, who would later serve as the band’s producer, helped them re-record and mix better versions of their demo and called it Pop U! — a cheeky retort to the not-pop criticisms.

Buendia had begun working as a copywriter at BMG Records, writing for BMG during the day and writing songs with the bands at night. The demo reached the label’s A&R director, Vic Valenciano, who took an interest in the band — he thought they were technically raw but had something promising. The label took a chance on the Eraserheads and signed them to a three-year record deal in 1992.

In 1993, the band released their debut album, Ultraelectromagneticpop!, featuring Pare Ko in both original and radio-friendly versions, as well as Toyang and Tindahan ni Aling Nena, which were all present in the demo. Initially released with 5,000 copies, Ultraelectromagneticpop! became a smash hit and turned sextuple platinum, with the label selling 300,000 at the end of the year.

This marked the band’s foray into mainstream success. They would go on to release a total of seven albums throughout the rest of the ‘90s and early 2000s, garnering international attention along the way. They released an album aimed at the Asian regional market, Aloha Milky Way, which had a single, “Julie Tearjerky”, that topped Indonesian charts and earned them one of the famous Moon Man trophies for the 1997 MTV Asia Viewers’ Choice Award.

2002: The Band’s Breakup

A year after their last album, Carbon Stereoxide, was released, Eraserheads broke their fans’ hearts when they announced they were splitting up. Long-time followers were even more inconsolable when they found out that the breakup happened over text, with frontman Buendia simply saying, “It’s time to graduate.”

Buendia’s manager and wife, Diane Ventura, spoke to music magazine PULP to recount their version of events on the day Buendia decided to quit the band. According to Ventura, it was spurred by a conflict caused by a miscommunication with the band’s roadie. This resulted in Buendia being late for a mall show, which resulted in the band giving him the cold shoulder. Ventura insisted she and Buendia didn’t received the usual text or handout they normally get to confirm the gig. “Since neither of these happened, for the record, we were absolutely oblivious of the mall show that day!… that was [the roadie’s] job.”

Ventura and Buendia resented the fact that the roadie made the couple look bad and unprofessional, as the latter insisted he had informed the two of them verbally at a previous bar show. The band’s manager, Butch Dans, also reportedly took the roadie’s side without considering Buendia’s version of events and said the couple was probably “too high on drugs” to remember the gig schedule. This led to Buendia’s famously cryptic text message, which Marasigan said he was “semi-surprised” to receive.

In an email to PULP, Buendia wrote, “Eheads was an experiment gone bad. It had escaped from the lab and wreaked havoc upon its creators and the unsuspecting townspeople…. Me, I’ve already made my mind up about the band. It was good while it lasted, but now all I can remember vividly is the ugly business that led to the breakup. I just wish those people hadn’t involved Diane and our family.”

While the actual split seemed like it came from left field, later accounts by the band and those close to them revealed that this was a long time coming. Buendia apparently already felt burned out by the time they released their sixth album, Natin99, in 1999.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Buendia and Adoro — who were once roommates — had been arguing more frequently, while others alleged Buendia and Marasigan were caught in a Lennon vs. McCartney-esue feud. Although both later denied they had fought, Buendia later acknowledged that he was resentful of Marasigan’s creative success with his band Sandwich, which he founded in the later years of the EHeads.

Speaking to Esquire editor-in-chief Erwin Romulo in an interview, Buendia said: “​​I was envious of Raimund. Because he was playing with a band [Sandwich] that was close to what he wanted. It was the sound he wanted. It was the bandmates that he wanted. That’s why they played well and I was stuck with the Eheads. I was stuck with a band that I didn’t form in the first place. They recruited me. I was a recruit. It was the three of them: Buddy, Raimund and Marcus.”

In a 2020 MYX documentary, producer Robin Rivera said that the band had outgrown each other and the tensions were not just between Buendia and Marasigan, citing a mix of creative and personal differences between the foursome.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Within a few weeks, the Eraserheads quickly introduced their new bandmate, Kris Gorra-Dancel of the band Fatal Posporos, who would serve as singer-guitarist. That was short-lived, however, as Adoro decided to quit the band soon thereafter. Remaining members Marasigan, Zabala, and Gorra-Dancel went on to form Cambio with Diego Mapa and Ebe Dancel. Adoro founded Markus Highway, while Buendia started the short-lived Mongols and Pupil.

2008 and 2009: The Reunion Concert and The Final Set

In 2008, fans rejoiced when the Eraserheads announced they would reunite for a one-night-only concert. Yet the events leading up to the sold-out show were marred by controversy. Just a week before the show, anti-tobacco lobbyists had pushed for a major tobacco sponsor to pull out of the concert, threatening the show’s cancellation — but the band itself saved the concert, announcing it was pushing through as scheduled.

Sadly, two days before the concert, Buendia’s mother passed away. But organizers assured the press the show would go on as scheduled. Halfway through the show, Buendia, who had already been suffering from heart problems, had to be rushed to the hospital.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

The singer’s sister, Lally, had to break the news to the audience: “Thank you for supporting the reunion concert of Eraserheads. We, however, regret to inform you that due to my brother’s poor health, the emotional and physical stress that he’s been experiencing, we apologize for cutting the concert short. My brother Ely had to be rushed to the hospital for medical attention. Again, we apologize and thank you all for coming here tonight.”

The year after their reunion concert came to an abrupt end, the Eraserheads redeemed themselves to their fans by staging a second reunion concert, dubbed “The Final Set”. Unfortunately this concert was also marred by tragedy as their guest performer, king of rap Francis Magalona, passed away due to cancer the night before.

2014: 1995 and Sabado

After a smattering of shows here and there abroad, Eraserheads announced the band was releasing new material for the first time in 12 years — the songs 1995 and Sabado, which were released in a special issue of Esquire Philippines with a cover of the four walking on Abbey Road like the iconic Beatles album cover.

Playing before an exclusive guest list at the Dusit Thani in Manila, the foursome was adamant that they were not officially playing together as their old band. They told viewers, “This is not the Eraserheads. We are not the Eraserheads,” before calling out names of their current bands.

2018-2021: Will they or won’t they?

In 2018, Buendia sparked interest and semi-controversy after posting a cryptic tweet that read, “Some people will never understand that people who don’t get along can’t work together.”

Fans took that to refer to his former Eheads bandmates, who just days before, had played at a gig called ULTRA COMBO with Moonstar88 vocalist Maysh Baay, spurring calls by fans for the band to get back together.

In 2021, fans’ hopes were reignited when Buendia quote-tweeted a fan who asked if there was a chance the Eraserheads would play again. The singer replied, “‘Pag tumakbo si Leni (When Leni runs),” but later backtracked on his comment after the then-Vice President announced her candidacy for the May elections, saying it was a “half-serious joke.”

Finally, on Sept 19, the band made good on all the teases by announcing they would be getting together for an officially for another reunion concert on December 22 at the SMDC Festival Grounds at Parañaque City.  The Instagram caption of the official announcement includes the line “Ilang awit pa ba ang aawitin, o giliw ko?” (”How many more songs will be sung, my love?”), which is a lyric from 1993 hit song ‘Ligaya’ from their debut album.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Tickets for the show have already sold out because no one is sure if Eraserheads will ever play together again or if this will be their last performance together. But one thing is for sure, their music will live on.