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Filipino electronic music continues to flourish despite zero nightlife

In the midst of club closures, curfew & struggling spaces, the Philippines may be ushering in a golden age of local electronic music

  • Samantha Nicole
  • 3 February 2021

With over 520,000 COVID cases and 10,000 deaths, the Philippines ranks among Southeast Asia's top five when it comes to COVID counts. Also not the kind of top five it wants to be in. Despite staggering numbers, the country's recovery rate has reached 92% — relatively successful compared to high-income countries yet far less superior to its neighbouring Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.

Since it confirmed its first case last January 30, 2020, various sectors have felt the pandemic's impact, with nightlife being one of the most crippled. The capital, Metro Manila, has seen numerous closures of loved spots such as Today x Future, XX XX, Limbo, Black Market, Route 196 and Nokal, some having existed for more than a decade.

In the face of empty dancefloors and yearning communities, Filipino electronic music is currently carving a promising corner with a string of endless productions.

No Filipino talent too far

Just months after their latest album, Culture Cow was released, intoxicating duo Tarsius opened 2021 with 'Disco Manila' — a track born out of an overseas, purely online collaboration with fellow Filipino and Stones Throw-signed Vex Ruffin who lives in California.

As to how this exhilarating team-up came about, Tarsius' Diego Mapa explains: "[Vex] invited me to do a mix for him on NTS radio called, Manila Times. That’s when I asked him if he would like to sing on a Tarsius track that we already have that could use some words, and he instantly agreed. I asked permission if I could release it in Body Clock Records."

It seems distance never stopped Filipino producers from finding each other in hopes of continuously celebrating and showcasing homegrown talent. Having put out Tropikal Diskoral Volume 1 before the pandemic, Filipino-Belgian Steffi Sturm just announced the compilation's second volume all the way from Brussels, featuring the likes of VVVV, Lui. and Loner.

Thailand-based label More Rice Records' Volume 1 championed the likes of Club Matryoshka co-founder and esoteric producer, similarobjects, Wonderfruit alumni and local scene mavericks Lustbass and Hernandez Brothers for the first volume of its compilation Harvest.

Bridging the Philippines and Japan is pioneering Filipino reggae and dub producer and DJ Red-i who's been hard at work at his home studio and is looking forward to launching his fifth vinyl release with Tokyo-based label OTO Records towards April 2021.

In tropical shores

During the early months of lockdown last year, UNKNWN took its efforts online to showcase musicians through their segment, UNKNWN.From Home, providing a platform for established and upcoming live acts such as Pamcy, Tin Titus and Ean Mayor.

Without the after-hours revelling, DJs Mica and Alinep used their time from home to finally announce their long-overdue, Sayaw Records, with an initial genre-spanning release graced by the likes of Big Hat Gang, Silverfilter and Abdel Aziz.

More novel Filipino electronic gems can be found in Sounds Nais, a new-breed selection of young, auspicious artists. Co-founder Jacob Mendoza shares: "Nais can be considered a movement for artists who are continuing to pursue their craft despite the current circumstances. The name comes from the Tagalog word nais, meaning 'to desire', 'will', 'wish', or 'dream', and at the same time, it’s also a play on the word ‘nice’."

"[Transit Records] has a few projects lined up for 2021, such as publishing more music through the label, strengthening our channel on YouTube with unique video content lovingly called Transit Home Videos, new merch, and a project through our favourite club night Evening Breeze. We're stoked to have an opportunity to bounce back from the pandemic and inch closer and closer towards live music and events once vaccines become commonplace."

Ambition amidst a pandemic

The pandemic has been ruthless in its plight to keep clubs shut down. Fortunately, local and global audiences are continuously spoiled with enormous talent coming from this side of the region, with electronic music as diverse and hopeful as its communities.

At the rate these local electronic artists are tirelessly going, it should come as no surprise that more international festivals in a post-covid world will be billing Filipino acts; further stamping the country's very own musical authority it has so long hoped for — and rightfully deserves.

[Images via UNKNWN, Stones Throw Records, OTO Records, CNN Philippines and Transit Records]

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