When in Manila, one might get a misinformed notion that no cool music event ever happens on our shores. That beyond the occasional Philippine leg tour of some big-name singer, we don’t have anything that’s ours. Unbeknownst to many, an almost underground music festival was born in 2011 and stirred much hype and intrigue. When the said event returned this year, it has officially cemented the Philippines into the must-see-music-festivals catalog of the world.
The entire island of Puerto Galera was filled with artists, musicians, hipsters and hippies who flocked to its shores for the weekend that was the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival 2012. The Festival gathered top local and international bands, music groups, DJs, as well as esteemed visual artists, for three days of reveling in free-spirited existence and enjoyment. The Festival is just on its 2nd year, but it has quickly become the premiere summer party event of Manila’s privileged set and the jetsetting youth from all over the world.
Set at the foot of Mt. Malasimbo, Puerto Galera, the festival featured a huge stage set at the middle of a valley and facing a wide natural amphitheater that cascaded up a hill. At dusk, the sun would die down, and a thousand people, at the least, would start filling the steps of the amphitheater and parking themselves on the ground by the stage. The concerts had begun.
The first night saw big acts such as DJ unit Kyoto Jazz Massive from Japan, and Grammy-nominated American duo Deoro. Their contrasting sounds illustrated the pace that the Festival had started. The alternating soothing and then electrifying; jazz and then dubstep, acts, teased the festivalgoers, taking them up into exciting highs but never bringing the excitement to a climax. Not just yet.
The concerts lasted for almost 12 hours on each night, and even the greatest of party animals retreated every now and then to the line of food stalls, tables and chairs at the base of the mountain, behind the stage, to grab a bite. The food was affordable too: two ticket stubs costing P50 each (cash was not accepted for food and drinks) filled the body enough to jump back into the crowd.
Wandering about, one could also go to the Mangyan Village, where several other artists performed at the same time as the main stage shows. The Village, a replica of actual tribal settlements still found in the mountains of Puerto Galera, served to provide a close-to-authentic feel of living with the indigenous peoples. Acts like The Futureboogie DJs from the UK did a set at the Village, with the mostly foreign crowd partying alongside native Mangyan implements and wares.
Elsewhere on the wide festival grounds, groups wanting to break away from the crowd perched on the wooden benches at the landing path on top of the hill. Here, an open bonfire had been set aflame every night, right in the middle of a depressed circular stone formation marked by a wooden post from which a carabao skull and sets of horns hung. Possibly a diorama of Mangyan tribal practice, this is the installation art of acclaimed artist Billy Bonnevie, one of the 18 visual artists who graced the Festival with their creations this year. From the bonfire area, one could also see the creations of artists Agnes Arellano (a haunting white plaster sculpture of a woman giving birth, submerged in a circular pool of pebbles) and Niccolo Jose (a giant figure that could very much be called, ‘The Wicker Man’, sitting at the foot of a tree). Further along the path, one could also see Dondi Katigbak’s steel horse greeting people as they entered the festival grounds. The artists’ creations, found all over the venue, give as much credence to the Malasimbo Festival’s artistic sensibilities as the musical acts.
Back at the stagefront, it was the 2nd night of the Festival and Sarah Meier was hosting. It was a more chill night, with the lineup consisting mostly of bands. The crowd happily watched, drinking and meeting strangers while sprawled on the amphitheater steps. Eccentric bands the Radioactive Sago Project, and Junior Kilat, whose lyrics could have easily alienated the largely foreign audience, succeeded in making them move along to the catchy melodies. Just as no one would have guessed that the young crowd would actually like Latin soul tunes, that’s precisely what headlining act, New York’s King of Latin Soul, Joe Bataan, proved wrong after he busted out his Latin-R&B mixes to a very receptive crowd.
In the short hours that filled the expanse between the concerts ending and beginning again, the Festival made sure to offer more ways for the festivalgoers to get busy, such as the myriad of free workshops led by the visual artists present in the grounds. There were also shuttles that brought festival-goers down to Muelle port, where taxi boats whisked us off to another party feature of the festival: the floating bar. And while there are a number of other so-called floating bars in the archipelago, they usually are nothing but just a few steps off the shore. Floating, yes, but mindlessly so and never fun. Kristal’s Liki Tiki, the Malasimbo floating bar, on the other hand, was a two-tiered party boat that gallantly floated far into the deep tropical waters. The headlining DJs of the Festival were there, namely Australia’s Heavy Boogie, Germany’s Badkiss, the UK’s Futureboogie DJs, and our own Angelo Mendez and Liquid A. They laid down the beats for a more intimate, but just-as-wild, party for the young and pretty ones. When the skies turned orange, it was time to head back to the main grounds where night 3 of the Festival had begun.
For its 3rd and final night, the Festival boasted a lineup of popular local and international DJs, other electronic groups and the popular band Up Dharma Down. In contrast to the relaxed vibe present the previous night, tonight, a clubbing vibe dominated. Everyone was around the stage, dancing as if they were in a club, only the valley was tenfold better and not at all pretentious. Muddy as the hills became after sudden rains, the alcohol stations on both sides of the amphitheater, well-stocked by sponsor Asia Brewery, had been flocked by people literally from dusk until dawn. The roughness of it all added to the festival’s true appeal: an honest, unapologetically raw approach to music, art, and especially the self, as evidenced by the cocktail of Manila Beers, Tanduay Ices, and Mardi Gras Schnapps shots that pooled inside the body, alongside a cornucopia of other substances, which all heightened the senses and made every impulse undeniable.
Which is why halfway through the 3rd night, as the headliner, DJ Kentaro of Technic DMC World Championship fame, climbed the stage, the crowd gathered even more closely, all ready to just let go. Nobody dared stay up on the amphitheaters. And just as soon as the rain started to once again pour, the DJ dropped his hand and struck his first beat.
The result was euphoric: bodies fueled by alcohol and much else automatically rocked and gyrated against the frigid rain. As the DJ masterfully scratched the records, contagious dubstepped beats commanded the bodies to dance despite their normal selves. The hypnotic hard thumping and the heavy rain hammered against our bodies, but everyone was too busy dancing to care. Forget teasing: the DJ scratched and rocked the turntables non-stop. And, quickly after pounding the record to one last definitive beat, he raised both arms triumphantly, and a collective climax washed over the roaring crowd.
The cheers reverberated around the valley to other great DJs that night. But soon enough, the Malasimbo Festival regrettably wound down to a close. It became clear that beyond good causes, really, the Festival celebrated being young and living life. It takes one sweep of the eye across the expanse of party ground zero, seeing the lambent bodies swaying carefree against each other, against the reggae and hiphop beats, to know what free-spirited living is about. Every night, as the concerts wrapped up at just a little shy of dawn, people moved to the after-parties, to their tents in the in-venue campgrounds, or to their newly-found romances’ places back in town, with no regard for resting. It had been a non-stop party; one that tore down the seam that usually divided the days. It seemed as though that within those three nights, we were detached from time and all conventions, and, as much as we could blame the heavy swirling smoke in the air, or the steady stream of alcohol in our blood, it didn’t matter; because whatever it is, Malasimbo turned the hedonists on in all of us. And we haven’t turned back since.
To view more event photos, and links to event recordings, check out the offical Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival page
Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival 2012: Asia’s soon-to-be hottest music event returns