Trance in Manila and Why I Will Miss Big Fish

It was with great disappointment that I read the announcement earlier in the year that Big Fish would not be putting on any more events for the year. Citing civil unrest and the danger of large gatherings as the reason for this.

The company has had a string of failed events in recent years. The cost to the company I am sure was significant and would have been a major setback. Ever since that failed EMF in December 2014 the three to five regular events have all but disappeared from the calendar. I am sure they will be back, but by then i will not be based in Manila. So it is an early and unexpected goodbye.

It is their prerogative to do what they like with their own company, but the idea of changing your life to fit in with terrorist groups may or may not do doesn’t sit well with me. if you couple this with the pro-Duterte brigade who are saying that the country has never been safer then you can see that there is bullshit all through both sides of this discussion.

Regardless of the true reasons for the hiatus, and the status of the city’s terrorist alert status, I want to say thank you for the work that Big Fish has done throughout my stay in the Philippines. It was at their parties that i often felt most at home. Not because of the people or the environment, but because it was the only place in the city you could get genuine quality Trance acts from around the globe. Attending the types of parties is something my best friends and I have always done together for many years.

The Acts

For anyone who is a genuine trance lover then the format of a Big Fish party really hits a sweet spot. The budget for the party would not be enough for most of the biggest trance names out there. What you do get is that next tier down. These are the guys who are in the engine room of the industry and producing many of the tracks that the big names play. They are every bit as good, but don’t quite have the same profile.

With most parties featuring just two of these acts, they would get a couple of hours to dive into their sound. At times doing a back to back set to finish things off. I will never forget the two greats Sean Tyas and Simon Patterson going back to back back at Halloween Cream Ball 2012. The thought of it still gives me goosebumps!

Back home in Australia these mid tier acts would only ever appear at a festival with 50 other acts, and get a one hour set. While it may look good on a poster, Trance is not that kind of genre. It is the EDM crowd that demand the cheap thrills of non stop radio hits, and a DJ shouting put your fucking hands up during every build up. It is a hollow and soulless genre, and the masses are welcome to it.

A real trance set requires time. It is a series of peaks and troughs that will take you on an emotional and energetic rollercoaster, and is a true showcase the talents of the man behind the decks. This might sound cheesy to most who read this, but it is a deep genre that is a rarely understood by outsiders that has an amazingly devoted fan base around the world.

The unusual contradiction about these parties is that Trance is not popular at all in the Philippines. In what is a very shallow and vain culture this should not be a surprise. Yet these parties succeed. The fact remains that Trance is fucking awesome to party to. Even if you are not a fan it is hard not to have a good time dancing to it.

This limited popularity has kept these events at a size that allows for great quality acts in a venue that is small enough to always have a great atmosphere. The funny thing is i think that over the years we have been spoilt with some of the things we have witnessed, and many in the crowd would never know it.

My personal highlights

Armin Only in a venue a quarter the size of the Sydney party. I went to both and Manila was far more enjoyable. With the recent flop of the Armin Only 2016 tour this may have been a one off.

armin only manila

Giuseppe Ottaviani in the pouring rain at EMF 2014. Great fun!

Simon Patterson vs Sean Tyas at Halloween Cream Ball

Sander Van Doorn at Haze in a crowd of no more than 200 people.

The Crowd

Over the past ten years Trance events in Sydney have gone from 2,000 capacity parties to 20,000. Bigger festivals have gone from 5,000 to 70,000!! As these things go more and more mainstream you attract a different kind of crowd. The change is never a good one.

The Philippines has kept its friendly vibe as long as i have been attending parties here. I have met many people at events that i have gone on to maintain friendships with over many years. Something I have never done back home, despite going to parties for well over a decade there… I sound old when i say that.

Both markets have a pretentious element. In Australia it is shirtless, steroid fuelled, wankers who spend six months in the gym preparing for the day – and you can imagine the type of girl they attract too. In the Philippines you have two seperate groups. The VIP level wankers – who the fuck wants to sit at a table at a dance party? – and your bathroom selfie girls who spend all night at the back of the room making duck faces. The Philippines are the clear winner here with both of these groups never getting in the way of anyone else having a good time…. The shirtless roid munchers usually do.

My First Big Fish Event

A month after I first arrived i was sitting in that lonely hotel room one night and an ad came on TV for a Big Fish event featuring Dash Berlin. I thought to myself that Trance must be huge here (and for any DB fans, yes this was back when he did play good trance and not that commercial garbage that has featured more recently).

It was only a month earlier that me and my friends back home went to a Dash show for my farewell party. I wanted to check out what the local parties were like, and was not going to pass up the opportunity for round two with Dash. I hadn’t made any friends yet who i could ask to go to that sort of thing, but fuck it. I was going anyway.

What I didn’t know about Philippines night life yet was that nothing ever starts on time, and that most people turn up late to things. This turned out to be a good thing as I was near the front of the line when they opened (an hour late). So I avoided what I later found out to be one of the slowest, and poorly thought out ticketing and queue systems I have seen anywhere in the world – Big Fish, if you make a comeback I would encourage you to hire a consultant on this one as you never got this right!

When in line I was approached by a promo girl for a cigarette brand. She told me that I cannot get in wearing shorts. I found this strange that in a country where it is 30 degrees every day that i couldst wear shorts. Lucky for me this turned out to be incorrect and I was fine. This story was only worth a mention as i found the irony of her approach amusing. I was being told that wearing shorts was against the rules by someone promoting and giving away cigarettes – a practice that has been illegal in Australia for over 25 years. In comparison I don’t think my shorts hurt anyone.

With the dance floor mostly empty I did not exactly blend in.I was relieved that someone did come up to talk to me after I had only been there a short while. Another Aussie guy who had been doing some volunteer work in the province was there with a small group and he invited me to join them. So I made some new friends straight away.

The warm up DJ that night was excellent! I wish I knew who he was as i found that just about every other local DJ I saw over the years went more after cheap thrills – like smashing out Swedish House Mafia songs that suck balls, but appeals to the mainstream crowd. This guy built up the atmosphere like a pro.

Dash killed it of course and the atmosphere was electric all throughout his set. It was a different kind of atmosphere to what i had experience both in Aus and at many of the major festivals and clubs in Europe. It seemed to be a different kind of fun loving, easygoing, and friendly crowd. I don’t recall talking to so many people at an event… Plus there was the added bonus of being taller than most so i could see and breathe easily.

For anyone who has attended a party like this in Australia the first thing that you notice is that everyone is off their head. Ecstasy, coke, caps of MDMA… You name it, you can get it and if you were in a crowd of 20,000 you could be sure that 19,500 of them are on it. Out of the Big Fish crowd I only noticed a couple who were drug affected.

I make the above point for comparison only and that it was a different type of crowd. A pill popping party goer has never bothered me in the slightest. Interesting to note though that the country with the super urgent drug problem that is taking over, actually seemed to have far less users than back in Aus. Something to think about.

EMF 2012

I could not believe my eyes when i saw where this party was setup. It was right in the middle of a residential area and surrounded by high rise condos. This was super convenient as it was only ten minutes in a taxi to get home! The sound was booming until the early hours of the morning, and the lights were beaming all over the neighbouring buildings.

While the party was fun, it was not amongst the Big Fish highlights for me. It was another amusing comparison though. With many large parties in Sydney hosted at the old Olympic Park area it is miles away form the closest home. There are hotels there though. I remember attending a party that was on the same night as the Destiny’s Child concert in the nearby Super Dome. Apparently there were complaints from the hotel that night about the noise, so from 1am until 6am the music at this party was as loud as an iPod speaker. Much to the disappointment of the 5,000 strong crowd.

Poor Beyonce couldn’t get any sleep…

Innovation White

There can be a lack of original ideas all throughout the Philippines. Many tourist attractions are simply rip offs of other concepts or places around the world. Santorini hotel, painted houses in Benguet, Very few of them have the same irony as the concept of Innovation White.

Innovation would suggest something cutting edge, yet the white party concept has not only been done before. It is the basis of what has been the largest and longest running dance party brand on the planet. I couldn’t help but have a chuckle at this each year. Great parties though, just call it something else (same could be said about the Trance Energy parties – ripping off the name of global powerhouses ain’t cool guys).

* This is an old video now, but still gives me goosebumps the same way as the first time I saw it. If you ever get the chance to go to an Amsterdam show. Do it!!

Halloween Cream Ball

This party is just complete madness. Halloween is not big in Australia, but i have quickly learned that it is well loved in the Philippines and everyone goes to a lot of effort to get into the Halloween spirit. Nowhere is this on display more than at the Cream Ball. One of the most memorable concepts i have attended any where in the world – all because of the effort the crowd puts in.

I still don’t know how this guys spent hour after hour on the dance floor dressed like this. My hat goes off to you good sir…

I have assumed that this part is is sanctioned somehow by the mega club brand Cream, but with other names and concepts being ripped off I’m not so sure.

EMF 2014

I wanted to leave this until last. It was the party where i thought that Big Fish and the party scene in Manila had really turned a corner and was going to the next level. The line up was epic – Giuseppe Ottaviano, Arty, Solarstone were the highlights for me. I get the feeling most were there to see Krewella, but there was a big crowd there nonetheless and it was a great party.

The size was on a scale that i had not yet seen and the production value was top quality. Except for the lines again!!!

The rain was pouring for much of the night, but this didn’t slow anyone down. Giuseppe’s closing set was awesome as always – if you don’t know who this guy is check out the video below. He has more talent in his little finger than most in the electronic music world.

Unfortunately this was when Big Fish were at the peak of their powers. There was no EMF the following year. It was cancelled a few weeks out from the planned event. This was a turning point for Big Fish that I have not seen them recover from. There were some arena events for big artist tours, but nothing driven by that Big Fish brand for a long time.

I hope that this hiatus proves to be just a temporary move. Big Fish offered something that Manila just didn’t have anywhere else. All other music festivals or bigger parties serve up vomit worthy commercial rubbish. This may more fitting for the local tastes, but it is by no means unique. You can find a large scale party where you can sing a long to clarity anywhere. Ok, so this track is now old and out of fashion, but it sticks out as one of the biggest pieces of commercial garbage I have ever heard in the EDM world.

The Best Alternative for Trance Lovers

If you have made it this far through this post then I can only assume that you are a trance fan. If this is you check out the Trance till Dawn parties. This is the best local club night in Manila by a mile. You will not find VIP areas, or a table covered dance floor here. Only good music, and an up for it crowd that frequently pumps until well after the sun has come up on a Sunday morning. They rarely get internationals, but when they do it is fucking awesome. Arctic Moon at Time Bar in front of maybe 100-200 people was an experience you wouldn’t get anywhere else. Fucking Amazing!

I hope that these guys take over the mantle from Big Fish and move into larger scale events. They will kick some serious ass. Without the Big Fish reputation they may not be able to pull enough of the mainstream crowd to fund such an event. If they ever do though i will be backing them all the way!

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