Fil-Am DJ Manila Killa ‘comes full circle’ with Head in the Clouds PHL show

Charmie Joy Pagulong - The Philippine Star
Fil-Am DJ Manila Killa âcomes full circleâ with Head in the Clouds PHL show
Filipino-American DJ Manila Killa, real name Chris Gavino, brings on the energy in one of his US shows. He is set to play in 88rising’s Head in the Clouds music and arts festival at the SM Festival Grounds in Parañaque City happening from Dec. 9 to 10.
Photo from Chris’ Instagram

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino-American DJ Manila Killa, real name Chris Gavino, is coming full circle as he is set to play in 88rising’s Head in the Clouds (HITC) in Manila, the city where he got introduced to electronic music. The last time he played in the Philippines was in 2017.

“It feels amazing. 88rising is a record label that I’ve always looked up to,” he told The STAR in an exclusive virtual chat. “And to be invited to play at their festival in Manila is really cool because that’s where I discovered electronic music and that’s where I started producing electronic music. That’s a kind of full circle moment for me. So, it’s really amazing to be able to come back home and play there.”

The HITC music and arts festival will happen from Dec. 9 to 10 at the SM Festival Grounds in Parañaque City. It will also feature 88rising artists Joji, Jackson Wang, NIKI, Rich Brian, eaJ, and YOASOBI.

Also performing are Jessi, SB19, Denise Julia, August 08, BIBI, MANILA GREY, Warren Hue, Ylona Garcia, GUAPDAD 4000, ATARASHII GAKKO!, MILLI and Zack Tabudlo, among others.

88rising is a US-based entertainment company championing Asian and Asian-American talents.

The 29-year-old DJ is “excited to play” for the music fest and he wants to bring “a lot of energy” to the audience for them to dance and enjoy his music. He will play 10 to 11 tracks on his set.

Among the HITC artists, Chris had the chance to encounter Joji and MANILA GREY in the past. He expressed his intention to collaborate with them one day, as well as with some of the acts such as NIKI and Rich Brian.

Chris had been touring in the United States extensively and he would like to do more international shows, including the Philippines, and meet his fans very soon. His biggest dream is to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California.

Just recently, he dropped his debut record Dusk, which is about personal “growth and transition.” He described his music in the album as “more mature, more intentional and dance music-focused” as compared to the previous sounds he made.

The 12-track album was born over the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m not gonna lie, the pandemic was very difficult for me. At the beginning of 2020, I was supposed to have a lot of shows like I had my schedule filled up,” he shared.

“And then, one by one, everything started getting canceled. Eventually, it got to the point where I started thinking to myself like, ‘Am I gonna be able to do music again? Am I gonna be able to tour? Maybe, I should start thinking about getting a job.’ It got to a place where I was like I’m rethinking everything.”

Nevertheless, that period helped him “grow as a person” and “understand what I love.”

“It helped me protect my energy,” he added.

“In creating that album, growth as a term, was really sort of a big inspiration. It was me sitting down with myself and telling myself, ‘OK you’re gonna make an album. What is the type of music that you really gravitate towards the most?’ And I realized that it’s dance music,” he continued.

A trip to Joshua Tree National Park in California with his girlfriend was his main “creative inspiration” behind the album.

He recalled, “I was with my girlfriend at that time and we looked up into the stars one night. We were listening to some of our favorite music. It was just one of those beautiful moments of my life and that’s when I realized that the feeling that I’m feeling right now, looking out at all these stars, I want everyone to experience the feeling I’m getting.” So, when he worked on his music, he tried to “replicate that feeling very closely.”

Speaking more on his roots, Chris shared he was born in Washington, DC, but at the age of two, he moved to the Philippines and was going back and forth between the US and Asia until college. He also spent some time in Jakarta, Indonesia and studied there.

At first, his parents were hesitant to support his decision to foray into music full-time and he was not sure either. But, “I just knew that I had to, at least, give it a chance,” and so, he did and proved to his parents that it was worth trying.

He introduced his parents to some of his fans and made them come to his shows. “And after that first show, I think they fully understood that this was serious. This was just not a hobby of mine. This was something that I really wanted to pursue and something (I was) passionate about. So, that sort of change came when they saw it from their own eyes.”

Growing up in the Philippines, Chris was “surrounded by music.” He shared, “My parents would always be playing smooth jazz, (listen to) radio stations and I would always watch MTV and the music videos.” His parents would likewise encourage him to learn the cello and later on, he branched out to playing drums and the guitar.

It was in highschool when his interest in producing and writing music was piqued. “I learned that you can create full songs on your laptop like anyone can do it, anywhere…  And then, from there, I was like, you know, going to college and music was a hobby for me and so it wasn’t really my first choice of career.

“But you know somehow, some way, some of my songs are getting recognized by bigger record label here in the States. And then, all of a sudden, I started getting asked to play shows and that’s when I realized that maybe this music thing could be a career.”

He eventually “followed it” and “went with the flow.” In his words, “I kinda fell into the music thing, it wasn’t really like a choice. It was just something that gravitated towards me.”

Chris chose Manila Killa as his moniker to pay tribute to his parents’ home city — the place where he first learned to love electronic music.

On how he incorporates his Filipino roots into his music, he said, “I think when it comes to the Filipino style of music, aside from what kind of instruments Filipinos used, I think the No. 1 important thing is to bring a sense of emotion or to evoke emotion. A lot of Filipinos love ballads, love songs, things like that. I think, subconsciously, I’ve always brought that into my own music whether I realized it or not.”

“I think that whenever I’m starting a song, there’s one thing that it always needs to have. It needs to evoke some certain kind of emotion, whether that be sort of like a love song or a song about loss or song about excitement or sadness,” he furthered.

Chris also felt that there's more Asian-American representation now, as compared to when he was starting out in the US music scene. “Yes, I feel it. I really do. When I first started getting into electronic music, there wasn’t really anybody who looked like me. I think there was one artist, his name is Steve Aoki, who’s an Asian DJ (Japanese-American) as well. And he was kind of like my role model at that time,” he remarked.

“I do feel it (representation) a lot like I have a lot of Asian-American fans here… every day, more and more on Instagram. I’m scrolling through Instagram, seeing more Asian-Americans posts (of) them DJ-ing (and) playing instruments. I think it’s like I knew that this was gonna come eventually. Thinking back, I always knew that Asians were extremely talented when it came to music and it was just about time that they finally had to shine.”

Following that train of thought, Chris is “excited for the future.” “I think that Asian-Americans are really in a good place and I think Asians in general, too. Even with 88rising, they’ve been such a huge, huge help for Asian-American artists.”

“Aside from that, like also international Asian artists as well. Like for example, I also played (in) Head in the Clouds LA. What I thought that was so cool about the lineup was that they were bringing Asian artists from their respective countries to the States. There were like Thai artists that had never really played here before, but thanks to 88rising, they gave them an audience. So, I think it’s really cool and I do feel the support now.”


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