It doesn’t merit discussion: Christina Bartges aka Badkiss is among the unmatched few who can command a dance floor, often with zero need to amp up the pitch — at peak time, no less. The 41-year old seasoned selector has been cutting her teeth behind the booth since 2003, playing an extensive library of rare grooves and soulful picks one won’t usually hear anywhere else.
DJing wasn’t always the plan for the industry veteran, whose vast history of playing across the archipelago and overseas — often billed with likes of Trus’me, Jazzy Jeff, DJ Spinna, Jazzanova, Crazy P, Simian Mobile Disco, Chromeo, Justice, Tony Touch and staRro — started out as a bartender when she was in university.
“When the music was good in the club, I was turned on and could sell more drinks, and if it was trash, I got irritated,” she laughs. “I started bringing songs into the club for the DJs to play, and they did. It was great! Then after a while, I thought, might as well learn how to DJ. I bought a mixer and started buying records. I never planned to have a career in music or ‘be a DJ’. It was just always something fun and entertaining for me to do, by myself at home, or out and about.”
At a time when the majority of night outs in the Philippine capital meant clubs blasting mainstream music, Bartges, perhaps unconsciously, was on a mission to shift the tide. Growing up in Germany, she was exposed to uncompromising club nights that platformed dance floor education.
“Where I'm from, we loved dancing the night away to songs we hadn't heard before. When I was fresh off the boat from München, the "going out" scene here looked very different,” she recalls. “In Manila, people often love to hear songs that they already know and like. When one plays too much ‘unheard-of music’, they could get bored easily.”
Despite her personal expectations falling short, Bartges was undeterred in discovering what else the metropolis had to offer. When she found herself at an unlikely place that often staged bands and played alternative music, a delightful jolt kicked in.
“Saguijo was one of the spots that truly had a nice blend of people. The first time and place I ever saw Erwin Edralin was there, and seeing him, I knew: there was more here.”
In no time, she was headlining gigs front left and center. In an industry that was (and still is) pre-dominantly male, Bartges was a breath of fresh air, inspiring existing and future DJs to learn a boundaryless direction; where to be on the sweatbox meant the privilege of taking dancers on a journey. At one point, she was even playing to a big crowd during her third trimester of pregnancy.
“What helped me was that I was out there as a girl with records, when not a lot of girls were. So people remembered me. But it was never a crusade of mine to represent the girls. I just wanted to play. I always thought, girls would have a lot more fun if they just dared to get their hands dirty and their knees scuffed. If you wanna sit pretty, that's your choice, but I'm out here sweating and having fun!”
She was arguably the only female DJ masterfully blending vinyl at the time, and one can tell: she gets lost in music — and takes just about everyone along with her. However, her sharpness — both in practice and principle — also meant embracing the challenges that came along with going analogue.
“It wasn’t really about falling in love with vinyl. I fell in love with mixing and blending two songs together and making it sound like one continuous song. Back then, vinyl was the only way to do that,” she explains. “With records, I'm always in a slight panic mode: ‘What’s the next song? Where’s the record? How come it's not in the correct sleeve? Shit, why is it skipping? Oh no, I missed my cue or, that’s not the track I wanted!’ I can hear one side is grounded. It just goes on like that all night. It definitely keeps you on your toes! CDJs is really chill compared to that. The easiest part about them is really that in the blink of an eye you can just hit cue and start the song from where you wanted it to start.”
Unrepentantly, Bartges’ musical focal point has always been soul and grace — both in DJing and dancing. She’s captivating, with a limitless and infectious prowess to get revellers into the groove.
“Dancing has always been the backbone of my DJing. I just know how music is structured, I know where I am in the song instantly. I don't have to think about it.
I think being a dancer and a DJ is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because you know what music feels good for dancing, but at the same time, technically you could dance to anything, and anything could make you dance — even silence. So getting a song request like ‘Can you play something we can dance to?’ I don't know how to react, I cannot relate.”
Having played to generations of ravers, Bartges has been at the forefront of an evolving scene unfolding before her. It’s perhaps one of the reasons why she’s stuck it out this long. That, and her enduring love to share what else one can hear, and eventually fall in love with — and introspectively, what else she can learn from.
“The scene blossomed again, but it took a good 10 years. I’m proud to say that in those 10 years, I was able to hold the torch for the spirit of it. I shat on venues that were obviously in it for the profit, and for the profit only. They already had a huge following of sheep. They could've easily pushed better quality music and the sheep would have followed. Having been doing this long enough, I can tell: these venues were just about business. So what I think DJs and promoters can learn is, keeping your soul and the soul of your party intact pays off in the long run because now that the electronic music scene is strong again, I'm still a part of it while others have been forgotten.”
With an extensive network of nightlife communities, promoters, music heads, fellow DJs and followers that continue to define her as an artist in a league of her own, her distinct style — and an earned prerogative to tell it like it is — Bartges continues to aspire for a collective experience on the dance floor.
“My personal wish for the scene is that it will find a good balance between the communal aspect and the individual aspect of the dance floor experience. I wish for people to be able to close their eyes and really freak to a song, without having to check if everyone else is feeling it too. I wish for people to recognize great songs without anybody (popular) having to tell them that they are great songs. On the dance floor every moving body is a planet, and when these connect through music, it becomes a universe. But you cannot build a universe without strong, self-aware and self-confident individual planets.”
[Images via Badkiss, Unknwn & Black Market