Sai Versailles is a writer and multimedia journalist by day. By night, we get to meet Versailles, the DJ; a dark-groove, stripped down edit version of her culture-questing-self.
While shifting between genres as if genres don’t exist, there is always a consistent distinction of percussive, euphoric, moody and smoothly pulsating elements from the Manila-based DJ. She is also the host of Cultural Learnings, a show on Manila Community Radio that takes deep and exploratory dives into music and culture.
Her concoction for Mixmag Asia Radio includes tracks from Underground Resistance, DJ Life, Green Velvet, Len Faki, Jeff Mills, K-Hand and plenty more. Hit play and dive into the mind of Versailles below.
Where are you based and how did you get there?
I'm in Manila right now. I grew up here but lived in the UK between 2012 and 2019. I was actually meant to go back to London, but the pandemic had other plans. Now I'm in Manila for the long haul, and it's been really nice!
What's your favourite thing about the music scene there?
My favourite thing about the music scene here is that it forces me to localise my references.
Living abroad and being western educated meant that, for a long time, I was subconsciously downplaying parts of my own culture. Colonial mentality is real here. It creates a very confused cultural identity based on appearing desirable to others. It's really difficult to unlearn, and I struggle with it everyday. But when I meet people who make shit happen on their own terms, regardless of what's "accepted," it inspires me a lot.
In five words, what do your DJ sets sound like?
Someone once said that my sets "make you do bad things." But right now, I'm "figuring it out as I go."
And in three words, how would you describe yourself?
Curious, attentive, and pragmatic. But people say I'm "intimidating" when they first meet me.
What recent trends in music have you been paying attention to? Have you caught onto them?
In Manila, I noticed that the more "commercial" roster of DJs, who would normally play R&B or trap, are starting to incorporate dance and electronic music into their sets. This is a notable shift in Manila's nightlife, which, until recently, largely favoured music with lyrics. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's actually indicative of a global trend, which is that dance and electronic music is becoming mainstream. The fact that Drake and Beyoncé made huge dance records last year, and Peggy Gou and Fred again... are household names, illustrates just that.
It also means that dance and electronic music in Manila will reach a saturation point soon. The algorithm is serving a small group of DJs in an even smaller nightlife circuit, and the challenge for local performers now is distinguishing themselves from others.
I've tried to counter this by being more selective with my gigs. I started DJing during the pandemic and when restrictions eased here, I was keen to play in as many gigs as possible. This meant, in some cases, I pandered on my selections which I never felt great about. Yes, dance and electronic music are getting more popular. But there still aren't many venues in the city that give a home to the music I like playing, which is breaks, techno, and acid. I slowly realised, though, that I'd rather have fewer gigs and play music I'm really passionate about than compensate for my selections and feel boxed into something I never intended to be.
I also try to distinguish myself – and this is my Gemini sun talking – by making an effort to switch up my genres. Like, I love dance and electronic music, but it's never about that for me. I have a huge collection of film and TV soundtracks that I love creating entire sets on. I recently went on a deep dive into hardcore rap from the UK and I'm trying to discover more dub, reggae, and 2000s downtempo. Not relying on Spotify for music discovery also helps with this, because I think it just suggests music your friends are listening to anyway.
Basically, my bottom line is to never compensate. Starting out DJing on internet radio really primed my mindset to keep my crates fresh, and I'm really grateful for that.
Are there any producers and DJs in Asia that have recently caught your attention? Please name up to 3 and tell us why.
Showtime Official Club is a music group whose founders are from Davao, Quezon City, Bulacan, and Caloocan. They're a Pinoy mutation of breakcore, jersey club, nightcore, and moombahton, and represent a unique point of view that Manila's dance and electronic music community needs more of.
Pikunin is a Manila-based DJ and producer who can skillfully intersperse hyper-pop, trap, and budots, and still leaves you full of surprises. He's a member of the boyband project Kindred, and is one of the most knowledgeable people in music I know.
I briefly met Pette Shabu during Di Linh's set at SadoMasoDisco. She's a rapper that traverses glitch, techno, acid, gospel, ballroom, and everything in between. When I met her, she was wearing a black dress and a massive green rosary while dancing like a queen. We, in the music scene, love a fashion icon.
Describe one prediction about dance music in a post-pandemic world that's being driven by new technologies.
One day, budots is going to put the Philippines on the map like gqom and amapiano did for South Africa. The internet will naturally do its thing, like how the internet allowed budots to simply be.
Tell us about the inspiration behind this mix - what drove your thoughts and emotions, and how did you curate your selection?
This mix is a set I played in Apotheka last March for the debut night of Bubble Gang – a DJ quartet composed of me, Baby Ikea, YUMU, and Shaoxing. By this point, I'd been playing a lot of breakbeat at gigs (alongside my favourite DJ and partner-in-life Duality) and I wanted to change it up with a headier but still groovy sound. I actually have a lot of these types of tracks in my crate but, for some reason, I haven't paid as much attention to it recently. I also think this set is influenced by Andi, Yumi, Kat, and Sean, who always challenge me to create new contexts for my music collection.
The set starts with some dub that feels like plunging your head underwater, and you're swimming down into something that's becoming increasingly dark and sinister. Lots of electro and four-by-four Detroit techno. Then your vision starts to blur when the acid bassline kicks in. You muster the will with your last breath to swim back up. You're rushed with adrenaline, then euphoria when you reach the surface. The end feels like a sigh of relief at the sight of a golden sunset, and your friends are waving at you from the shore.
What equipment did you record this mix on?
A Pioneer DJM-450 mixer, two XDJ 1000s, and the Behringer UCA 222.
What's the weirdest thing you've seen happening from the DJ booth?
A local A-list celebrity, one of the most "influencer-y" people I know, vibing to Overmono in a dark speakeasy. Never judge a book by its cover.
Where can we hear you playing next?
You can catch me on Refuge Worldwide with a guest mix by Baby Ikea on April 24, with my show on Manila Community Radio and the monthly Bubble Gang takeover of Apotheka sometime in May. I'm also heading to Bangkok that month, so maybe see you there?