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The Origins of Budots, the Philippines’ Catchiest Viral Dance Craze

In “Budots: The Craze,” filmmakers Jay Rosas and Mark Limbaga try to figure out where the budots genre came from.

by Lex Celera
10 September 2019, 9:06am

Photo by Jay Rosas. 

In the run-up to the 2016 Philippine Presidential elections, countless of videos featuring then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte went viral online. However, nothing was more head-scratching than one that shows him dancing with five teenagers, gyrating their bodies to a loud, repetitive tune. It had pitch-shifting whistles and heavy percussions. The bass was hypnotic.

The YouTube video made its rounds online, garnering millions of views across various re-uploads on Facebook. People can debate endlessly about whether videos like this helped Duterte win the presidency that year, but one thing is for sure: it launched a regional dance craze into the Philippine mainstream.

The song and dance genre is called budots, slang for “slacker” in the Visayan language, and had been popular in Davao way before Duterte’s video. A contestant on the reality television show Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) rose to fame for performing the dance on nationwide TV in 2008. In 2012, budots was featured in an episode of Philippine news show Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho.

Budots eventually made its way into parody. In 2017, Philippine electronic music collective BuwanBuwan composed a playlist of budots music with clips from Duterte’s speeches and released it on Soundcloud.

Other politicians have also tried to use it to attract voters, like this year’s senatorial candidate Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. who appeared on a national television ad dancing to budots music.

It has also taken over Philippine streets, where budots remixes of popular songs are mainstays during festivals and Christmas parties.

Now, budots song and dance compilations have millions of views online. They all look similar: Myspace-era graphics, free-wheeling dances, and the names “CamusBoyz” or “DJ Love.”

But for something that has penetrated multiple levels of Philippine culture in such a short amount of time, no one really knew where budots came from or who created it. This was what film producer Jay Rosas and cinematographer Mark Limbaga wanted to find out. Their exploration turned into the short documentary Budots: The Craze, which premiered in August at the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. They dove deep into the genre’s origins and even tracked down its creator DJ Love who is still making budots music and its accompanying dance videos more than a decade after they first surfaced online.

Intrigued by the phenomenon, VICE spoke with Rosas and asked him what he discovered while working on the film.

Why did you decide to make a documentary about budots?

I have always been fascinated by budots as popular culture. Although I already knew that it originated from Davao and has kind of characterised Davao's idiosyncratic pop culture, I have always wondered how it started.

There's also a lack of related literature on it, except perhaps this college thesis that a former colleague did, which the documentary was partly based on. The thesis touched on a lot of elements of budots, like its association with juvenile delinquency, but the writer was not able to interview the creator itself. That was my point of interest — to really know the creator or originator of budots music.

How long did it take and what did it entail?

We didn't really have a budget. My friend Mark, who's a cinematographer, was also very interested in the project when I pitched it to him, and similarly wanted to do something like it as well. We didn't have much planning. We just went to his neighbourhood in Davao and asked around. We did some initial interviews and came back for the actual interview and shoot.

Who’s the main subject of the documentary?

His name is Sherwin Calumpang Tune but he is known in the budots remixes as "DJ Love" or “Lablab."

In the documentary, it's said that the budots dance takes from the Mindanao and Badjao cultures. Does this mean the dance existed before the music?

According to our interview with Lablab, budots as dance came first. The electronic mix that is known as budots music now came after. In the first videos of Lablab’s rotating roster of dancers known as CamusBoyz, I think they were still dancing to electronic dance music. I also thought that budots was kind of inspired from the Badjao people, since the weird noise or hook that is indicative of budots is the one you hear the badjaos make when they go Christmas carolling or begging for alms. This claim is only from Lablab. I have a friend, who is kind of well-versed on budots culture, who said that the cultural inspiration of the dance itself went beyond the Badjao. I only knew about this later, when we already submitted the film. This was also why we initially intended for the documentary to be full length — to explore more aspects of the culture.

If you're familiar with Ruben Gonzaga, a grand winner of the reality show Pinoy Big Brother, he was the one who popularised the dance during his stint in PBB. He attributes the dance moves to these "budots communities" in Davao.

Did this kind of music exist before people started calling it budots? Where did the music come from?

As you've seen in the documentary, Lablab said that the music only came after the dance. He was making the music and remixes while managing his internet shop, probably bored because he had nothing to do in his cramped corner.

Since he is also a choreographer and has an ear for music, it was easy for him to create remixes. As you can see in the documentary, he uses the music production software Fruity Loops. A lot of it is really a derivative of electronic and house music. There is just that trademark sound or noise — that "tiwitw" hook — that you can distinguish. But with budots, there's that element of virality — like memes and cat gifs — that's why it got so popular so fast.

budots-creator-dj-love
Dj Love at work. (Photo by Jay Rosas)

Some people in Davao even ask DJ Love to remix songs for their Christmas parties! What do people there think of budots?

Like any other piece of idiosyncratic pop culture, the popularity of budots comes from its novelty. But maybe in Davao, where it started, it is no longer just about novelty, it has become mainstream. It's already part of the culture. It's more than music or dance; sometimes, it can be used as a form of self-expression. “Ka-budots pud nimo uy (You’re so budots),” like how in Manila you'd say, "Ang jologs mo (You’re so uncool)," but not in a derogatory manner.

Another element of why I think budots is a unique piece of pop culture is that it originated from a grassroots movement. Usually, the pop culture that we have are hand-me-downs from the United States or the West.

It’s like K-pop; you know that it’s K-pop because of its aesthetic. While some use it to get famous because of its virality, I also feel that for these people, this is a kind of identity badge they use to express themselves, and they're proud of it. The fact that it’s even used in Christmas parties and played on the radio means it has achieved a certain level of acceptance as a culture and part of our identity in Davao.

Would you say that budots is the first truly original electronic music genre from the Philippines?

Maybe. Yes, you could say that, in a way. Pinoy-fied (Filipino-fied) electronic music.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

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Tagged:
dance
Viral
Philippines
Duterte
Davao
budots
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