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SadoMasoDisco comes as the manifestation of new rave parties in Manila

Jacob Mendoza speaks to the founders, photographers & fans on what makes the events instrumental to inclusivity

  • Words: Jacob Mendoza | Photos: Gabriel Villareal, Ricardo Yan & Javier Pimentel
  • 24 February 2023

What is a rave? According to Google AKA the Oxford dictionary, it is defined as “a party or event attended by large numbers of young people, involving drug use and dancing to fast, electronic music.”

When I told my friends I was attending one last Saturday, they were generally surprised to hear that it wasn’t a thing of the past, and wanted to know if it was still held on open concert grounds wherein commercial EDM was played. There’s genuinely nothing wrong with the inquiry and it was really endearing that they were curious about it. This interaction led to wonder how rave parties are perceived right now in the Philippine zeitgeist.

My first experiences of a “rave” were actually in EDM festivals during the early 2010s, activated in a huge mall parking lot that resembled a tiny-scale, Electric Daisy Carnival. (I guess this revelation also shows what generation I belong in.) Moreover, I guess it really depends on who you ask, but these types of events can truly be considered raves as well. However, EDM festival raves heavily depart from its roots of underground music and an even more alternative counterculture.

Ever since those events, my perception of music and raves has immensely changed through diving deeper into its history and subcultures. Yet my experiences still felt more or less the same because the raves that changed my life primarily happened in open-air festivals or one-off concerts with high production value that consisted of consistently huge sound systems & LED screens and occasional platforms for the DJs.

That’s not a bad thing at all, in fact, the opposite of it. Nevertheless, only a few events, like that UNKNWN event with Kim Ann Foxman playing in an unfinished parking lot or nights by Kaput Systems or even online events such as Club Matryoshka, revealed a candid feeling of the “underground”. To stray away from digression, it was not the norm at all in Manila and rarely reminded one, even by a little, of classic acid house parties in the UK or those seen in the captivating 90s Manila nightlife photos of Eddie Boy Escudero.

Until I went to… SadoMasoDisco – a rave series that also acts as a safe space and acquaints people with both the local and international underground music scene. Even at the point of losing money, the organisers strive to price tickets as affordable as possible with the main intention being – “as long as people have fun.”

The word “rave” which originated in the early 14th century – meaning to “show signs of madness or delirium; to rage in speech,” – has developed to become synonyms of “hype”, “parties” and, of course, electronic music. With that being said, I assume that to write about SadoMasoDisco, or SadoMaso for short, with such enthusiasm would be more or less appropriate. But ultimately, this high regard is genuine and valid because SadoMaso may be one of the most straightforward raves, if not the most, in Manila right now.

“As cheesy as it may sound, we want people to come as they are and to have fun,” says Jeric Lim, one-half of the founders who is a student lawyer by day and a DJ called Limsum by night. Having previous experience in another music group called Ikigai Radio, Limsum currently assists in running Manila Community Radio and sometimes releases moody dance tracks on Sounds Nais.

Never having left his childhood love for music, Jeric continues to unknowingly inspire others to do the same by showing that you can still play even if you have a swamped schedule (and a bar exam in September). “I love playing everything from house to Italo to 90s trance/techno. But I think my favorite artist of all time would have to be Frankie Knuckles.”

While SadoMasoDisco may be direct to the point in its ambition, the party exudes anything but “straightness” – in the etymological or political sense. Otherwise known as SadoMaso, the rave prides itself in a safe space wherein the majority of the partygoers who belong to queer, gay, and creative communities feel safe to express who they are & dance freely. “Sado is not only a night of invigorating music but a common space for people of different backgrounds to open up themselves,” Jia, a patron to the rave, shares. “Can't express enough how much Sado has ignited a part of my soul.”

It just makes sense that SadoMaso is such a satisfactory and potent event because it was also created by Karlo Vicente, one of the organisers of the iconic and sincere, Elephant Party– a safe space created by queer people for queer people. On a first-name basis when he’s behind the decks, he first began DJ-ing in 2005 when he was asked to play for Fluxxe, a party he initially simply attended a lot.

“I like lots of kinds of music, and I guess that shows when I DJ at parties or clubs. My DJ sets can go from Belgian New Beat to disco to proggy house to old trance-y stuff to something like Madonna and Dua Lipa or early 2000s The Rapture or Playgroup,” says Karlo. Additionally, he hosts a party called Blitz that also acts as his radio show sharing adjacent music styles of house, acid, and techno.“Nothing quite spurs you to move your body so viscerally than the raw and steamy pulsating Sadomasodisco energy that reverberates in the entire space,” shares Paul, one of Karlo’s partners in Elephant.

Sampled from a late 70s sensual dance record by Must, SadoMaso was first conceptualised by Karlo in 2015 as an Italo disco party that didn’t come as big as the form we have now. Essentially, because there weren’t many DJs who played the original intended genre of the party. “I usually just play what I want,” Karlo expounds on his DJ philosophy. “If I enjoy the music I am playing, I sure do hope the people on the dance floor like it too. As for digging, I listen to lots of DJ mixes, and I research when I hear something I like.”

Skip 7 years later to present day, Karlo repurposed the name with Limsum to create a proper rave. The duo doesn’t exactly remember when they had first met but the Manila scene is not so big and everyone eventually meets each other, especially when one dances and listens to music in the same spaces.

“I can’t remember exactly how we met, but I’m pretty sure it’s because we hung out in the same spaces...but the first B2B set we did was during our first event. I think we both like the same producers and DJs,” says the SadoMaso founders.

With a simple purpose to introduce new and good regional music to the local scene, the SadoMaso duo started to talk in August 2022 about bringing in Romain FX (RFX) to the Philippines.

“I try to be as diverse as possible in my song choices so that I could introduce more songs and genres to people that they would not normally hear,” Jeric shares about his most recent playing principles which clearly reflects in the party. Moreover, being a subconscious salute to SadoMaso’s origins, it’s fitting that RFX would headline their first event since the genreless and footloose DJ plays deep disco edits and Italo bangers consistently wherein some tracks some can be found on his label, Fauve Records.

“For international acts, we just get artists we really love. For local acts, if we love their sound, we’ll get them,” states Karlo.

The first SadoMasoDisco was held in an old Japanese-Latin restaurant turned into a bar-slash-art gallery called Dirty Kitchen located in Quezon City. Also referred to as Gravity Art Space, the area was perfect for the intimate crowd. In a good way, it was dark and almost felt like a house party. The number of people in the space was just right and there was zero to no energetic separation between the crowd and the DJs. One could even have a conversation with Romain, the headliner of the night who says that he loved "the mix of the crowd, the raw energy of the people, and the openness!”.

The next two SadoMasos were held in an even more apt rave atmosphere. It was activated in Karrivin Plaza, Makati City on the 2nd floor of a fine dining restaurant – a multi-concept space that was still under construction and just bare bones. Nevertheless, it had all the essentials: a makeshift bar, a spacious dancefloor, efficient strobe lights, and a booming sound system.

The first of these parties was headlined by Fantastic Man who plays truly tremendous acid and the next party didn’t feature any headliner but was purely a celebration of 2023, the new year to arrive, for “big things to come”. “This was our attempt of making new traditions for holidays and making it more festive again.” Steph, an avid attendee, recalls how the NYE party was her favorite one yet. “My friend even brought food to the venue. It was very wholesome.”

The fourth SadoMaso which happened on February 4 was when massive stuff seemed to truly materialise. Befitting as a lowkey modern icon in the electronic music world, Mr Ho played a heated set of soulful and rampant acid-tinged dance tracks to one of the most, if not the most, receptive crowd in the Philippine capital. As it should be in any rave, the music brought us back to oneness – as if the DJ was a mitochondria powering the dancefloor as one singular cell in hopes of maintaining the body’s vitality.

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Kat, amongst other people, remembers getting chills when the Hong Kongese DJ played Duke’s “So In Love With You (Full Intention 12” Mix)” in the middle of his set, at the most fortunable time. During that night, I truly felt like I was on the cusp of something big happening in Manila. It was a signal of the start of this decade’s peak, like a lion opening its mouth to roar. “Cheesy as it sounds, but my favorite part of SadoMaso was just seeing the crowd go wild, and come in early and stay very late (or even until the end),” Karlo reveals.

When entering a Sado party, you are often greeted by the seemingly intimidating door person, Lance. But eventually find out that it is a pleasant welcome and a sure start to an excellent night full of great music and warm conversations. “Although rave is inherently underground, Sado has been a playground for people who want to share the dancefloor and experience good music with others who want the same, to sweat and have a good time,” Lance remarks.

Nights created by SadoMasoDisco reminded me of the stuff I read or heard about Consortium – raves in the Philippine capital during the 90s founded by Toti Dalmacion, a local legend who is considered as one of the pioneering messengers of house music in the country. Similar to SadoMaso, it was a rave series with a similar intention. “Corny when I think about it now, but it was just to show that it's a union of like-minded individuals who want change through music and dancing,” Dalmacion reminisces about his past passions.

Besides having fun through any vice and/or virtue, raves such as SadoMaso and Consortium or other music events like transit records’ Evening Breeze allowed people to experience transcendence, to undergo something more. “When you go to Sado, you owe it to yourself to have a good time. Nothing but the sound,” Pette, a promising techno rapper proclaims. “Instead of projecting your emotion to the air, do it with a little bit of dance and try to understand how spiritual and transformative it is. ‘Cause at the end of the day it's an intimate experience.” Sometimes emphasized by substance(s), these spiritual experiences clearly happen because of a united connection to the music played from the sound system.

“Going to your monthly Sado feels like going to your weekly church,” Jem, a loyal supporter of the Manila rave, says. “They've built a devout community that looks forward to seeing each other on the floor. Every curious first-timer by the wall ends up inching closer to the DJ, like they're hoping to get some blessing.”

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“With the help of the DJ, ravers embark on an overnight journey to a primitive paradise where individuality is left behind and communitas is achieved,” as written in an academic journal, The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures. “The rave experience might be highly symbolic, but these symbols are fashioned and imbued with such meaning that they far surpass the empty, touristic simulacra that some academic commentators consider them to be.” Furthermore, as written in the journal, a successful rave is one that “melds into one cosmic soup and everything is one and you can't separate the music or the moves or which came first”.

“Music, sacred spaces, and meaningful icons are the way we conjoin our minds with the transcendental,” visionary artist, Alex Grey, articulates. And this mystical merging couldn’t have happened without a genuinely creative team that all contributed to this celestial chowder. Interestingly but unsurprising that when I asked the photographers – Ricardo Yan, Gab Villareal, and Javier Pimentel – what their favorite photos were, they all chose ones with spiritual value.

“I love how when people dance, they seem to ascend into their higher self and become one with the music - as if being in a church,” says Ricardo Yan, a photographer who has a serious eye for intimacy.

“Dancing to techno or disco can be a very spiritual experience.” Consistently emotional in his work as both a photographer and a DJ, Javier Pimentel considers his most, most special photo to be the one wherein he captured his friends dancing together in one place. “These moments are always memorable,” says Javier.

Last but not least, Gab Villareal, a budding nightlife photographer, feels the same way regarding his best SadoMaso photos. “My favorite photos are the ones wherein people are losing themselves to the music, hugging each other, and obviously having a good time,” he says.

At face value, SadoMasoDisco is simply an uncomplicated rave.

Nevertheless, despite its recency, it already means something so much more to the usuals and the otherwise of the Manila nightlife scene. Fun. Wild. Chaotic. Intimate. All simultaneous descriptions of SadoMaso which is a cause and an effect of the rave’s playfulness, emphasised by its founders and team. “I think that has been instrumental in bringing together such a diverse group of people,” writes Lauren, a definite SadoMaso dancer. “It’s palpable.”

Whether with unconscious or intentional homage, SadoMaso excellently percolates the carefree nature of the original raves. “Just try to find humor in everything,” Nash Cruz, SadoMaso’s sole designer, insists.

“Personally, communicating your work in this way makes it more easy to digest, there’s also sincerity in making someone laugh or smile.” During his late teenage years in 2016, Nash started out as an art intern for a quarterly publication organising parties, wherein he met some of his friends from Elephant.

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Wearing the music hat as a DJ from time to time, Nash aptly approaches design like sampling music and absorbs inspiration from realms such as Kylie Minogue’s discography, Harumi Yamaguchi’s illustrations, video artist Nam June Paik, his phone’s camera roll, video games, Pinoy TV, new media artist Jennifer Chan’s fascination, ‘90s pop culture Instagram archives, and the list goes on.

“I really enjoyed the process of making Mr Ho’s poster. I was given a brief by Jeric and Karlo to make it look ‘oriental’. I don’t know where my head went and I wanted to reference Paris Hilton’s beach club billboard and package it as this pirated DVD cover that you find usually in markets. This resulted in something visually far from what ‘oriental’ should be, but then it works!” reveals Nash.

In this sense, life imitates art wherein the eclectic and evident creative force of SadoMaso is reflected by its colorful yet familiar dancers who all experience something distinct in, before, and after the rave yet similar in essence.

Carlos, a usual to the rave, even expressed how he finds SadoMaso to be a learning experience. “If music is a teacher, and I am its student, then nights like Sado are where knowledge is shared; I find that I am learning about myself as much as I am about sound,” and I couldn’t agree more. If music is the teacher, then what are the DJs? Esoterically, perhaps they are the Mongol pencils or chalk or instruments. Just like the meaning of a rave, SadoMaso continues to become lost in translation.

Ever since the first raves happened back in the U.K. during the late 80s, its true definition has truly become more and more ambiguous. To limit it down to my humble definition, at its core, I consider a rave to be a community-based party wherein its sole focus is the music, “electronic dance music” to be exact, wherein the art, the lights, the substances, and the venue are essential accompaniments to it.

“They’re less about the extravagance of a venue or the popularity of the DJs playing. Instead, raves are a lot more down to earth, and focus on the actual connection between the people who populate them,” as written on Soundclub Mag article called ‘What is a real rave?’.

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“Whether as a DJ or dancefloor warrior, the rave is an experiment of what I want to see in my busy, daytime life. To me, that's more openness and freedom to be myself,” Versailles, a freelance creative, remarks. Besides the people dancing, DJs playing, Nash’s designs, and so on, it seems clear that the ongoing success of SadoMasoDisco is thanks to the two founders and their philosophies with music, specifically DJ-ing – “Just play what you want and trust your ear,” affirms the two founders.

So what is a rave? A lot of things and feelings, but what is certain is that it cannot just be talked about, it is meant to be experienced and created into one’s own definition! So as not to digress, finally but as important, raving about SadoMaso is well founded because it places an importance on the local scene. “We try to match the sound of the artists of the international acts we bring in with local acts,” mentions Jeric. Past iterations of SadoMaso featured talented local DJs such as Hideki Ito, Dignos, Duality, Baby Ikea, Wax, Samantha Nicole, Shrugs, LONER, and Papa Jawnz.

The international headliner is never truly the main act, but an esteemed guest who we welcome to our home, the Philippines with pure dancing, open arms, wholesome humor, and serious bangers. During every SadoMaso night, the international guest plays in the middle of the night and gets ‘prime time’ with it, always ending with a back-to-back DJ set by Karlo and Limsum to send off the party.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe these types of music events are the ones that can sincerely inspire a local scene to uplift themselves and eventually, the global zeitgeist.

“There was a lot of hype leading up to SadoMasoDisco’s headlining act for their inaugural night, the internationally renowned DJ Romain FX. But what I remember most vividly about it was the sense of pride I felt when his ecstatic set was afterwards topped by Manila’s very own: Karlo and Limsum,” Jason, fellow writer and Sado dancer communicates. “Theirs (Karlo and Limsum) was undeniably the best set of the night and it made me later realize that although Sado differentiates itself from other events through their featured guest DJs, it’s the local acts celebrated there that make them most special. It’s almost as if the subtext of Sado so far over the last few months has been that our local DJs are up to par with the best from around the world. So as fun as it is personally to attend these all-night raves, they’re also a great way to support some of our most creative local artists. They’re the stars of the show. Without each of them this burgeoning scene wouldn’t exist.”

The desire to rave and attend SadoMaso is immense and seen in the fact that people from cities hours and islands away would really find the time to attend the event. Jeric shares that his favorite moment in SadoMaso “would have to be the conversations I have with the people who go to our events.”

“The craziest I’ve heard was people actually coming from Baguio or Davao just to go to our events,” he says. Although the local scene is still far from optimal, straightforwardly, SadoMasoDisco is doing it right and starting strong. “I just want more people to be open to exploring new/other sounds/music and not just stick to what they know. Also, I guess it's the same with culture — I want people to be more open to new things,” exclaims Karlo.

Jeric shares the same sentiments – “I would want to see more people dancing and fully enjoying the moment. In terms of sound, I think I’m happy with where we are now. I noticed that with our crowd, they’re receptive to all kinds of music.”

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Big and good things are truly coming as SadoMasoDisco continue to be a simple reminder of the music and its complementary values by enriching the regional rave scene and continuing the spirit of true raves that came before them.

“Always remind yourself to have fun with it! Don’t take your work too seriously. There’s always this pressure that you get for wanting to make something to its perfect outcome,” Nash, the SadoMaso artist affirms. “You’ll end up limiting yourself if you take it seriously.”

The next SadoMasoDisco will feature the esoteric, genre-bending Remotif as the headliner along with local DJs Versailles, Wilson Ang, TeeGee, Nash and, obviously, Karlo b2b Limsum — and it's tomorrow!

Follow SadoMasoDisco on Instagram here.

Jacob Mendoza is a freelance writer for Mixmag Asia, follow him on Instagram.

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