This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
Palacio De Maynila is not nearly as luxurious as its name suggests. Located in the old Manila district Malate, it’s a straightforward events space for weddings and company parties. No one would ever think that an international DJ performed there to more than a thousand people one night in September.
The DJ was French producer Breakbot, and people danced to him all night while revelling in the event’s kitschy 80s gym dance theme. A similar event in February hosted DJs Crazy P and Cestqui in a 12-hour dance party at Manila’s historic walled city Intramuros. There, thousands danced while surrounded by Spanish-era ruins and greenery. Another, was in an empty parking building in the middle of business district Bonifacio Global City.
They were all organised by UNKNWN, a collective of Filipino DJs that wants to break the buttoned-up monotony of the metro’s nightlife. Each member came from a different scene—from superclubs to hole-in-the-wall bars—and together, they want to make Manila dance again.
“Filipinos are so used to expecting something—we wanted to shock them,” Emel Rowe, one of the DJs in the collective told VICE.
They only reveal details on social media a few weeks before the event and usually leave out information like the act or venue in their initial announcements. This style of teasing is similar to raves in cities around the world like London and Berlin, where the underground music scene is stronger.
In a way, Manila’s secret parties are a throwback to the city’s raves that dominated the 90s. They were called “consortiums,” or roving parties held in the most random spots. They were in shopping mall food courts, or a studio beside a cemetery. The parties were outlets for the youth, where they got to dance and dress how they wanted, away from conservative society. It brought together people from all over the city.
But this all changed in the aughts, when everyone suddenly wanted their own “rave." It was commercialised and suddenly, everything these events stood up for were forgotten.
The music and the way it's presented changed too. While underground parties are usually straightforward and mix genres, clubs play EDM with over-the-top strobe lights.
UNKNWN’s events provide an alternative. They play underground house, disco, and tehcno music with a good sound system, and not much else. The music is such a mix that it's rarely picked up on the song identifier app Shazam.
When we attended the Breakbot event in September, people were dancing with full on choreography, fanning each other in between moves just to beat the heat. It’s this open, community-driven experience that people are after. Unlike superclubs, these parties have no guest lists or dress codes.
“No one cares who you are when you walk in. We’ve had celebrities and influencers attend, but no one asks for their photo. They still line up to get in. They just all come for the experience, almost as if bridging the gap between cliques,” said Samantha Samonte (aka Samantha Nicole), another DJ of the collective.
This is especially freeing in Manila, where most people go out with a set group of friends and rarely interact with others in clubs and bars.
“People here go out with the same group. They get comfortable,” Rowe said.
Attendees like the change in mindset.
"I love that it was created by a community of music lovers to spread the joy of electronic house music. The venues are very well curated; places I would never go to alone," Monica Modomo, a partygoer told VICE. "They're not mainstream but they're very accessible."
The collective started three years ago and has now produced 30 shows, booking local and international acts like Four Tet, Jamie xx, Hunee, and Tim Sweeney. From their first party of a few hundred attendees, they now bring in over a thousand.
"UNKNWN provided a venue for people to actually participate. Crowds in Manila are usually too shy to move and react at shows. Bringing acts like Breakbot and making dancing and grooving cool makes it better for us DJs here," Deej Fabian, a local DJ in Manila who goes by the name Someguy, said.
And for many partygoers, this has been cathartic.
"I think a lot of people get conscious about cliques and communities," Mox Kaluag, a high school teacher who frequently attends the parties told VICE. "But certainly, it’s helped my self expression a lot."