Manila Killa Is Everyone’s Favorite Third Culture Kid
Originally published on STATUS Magazine, May 2018.
Armed with orchestral schooling, an international upbringing, and the faculty of Ableton at his fingertips, MANILA KILLA is rising up to challenge the frontiers of producing.
Adaptation is Chris Gavino’s specialty. The 24-year old electronic producer and Moving Castle Collective founder, affectionately known as Manila Killa, spent his early life packing up houses and hopping on the next flight out. He was born in Washington, D.C. and subsequently divided his youth between the States, Indonesia, and Manila. “I was lucky enough to grow up around the world and meet a lot of different people, and one of the few things I found myself doing as a way of bonding with new friends was sharing music. Being a third culture kid was kind of my way of expanding my musical horizon.” He adds, “My close friends were the ones who introduced me to a lot of the electronic music responsible for getting me interested in the scene—MSTRKRFT, Ed Banger, The Hood Internet, Unicorn Kid, etc.” His moniker pays tribute to the city where he was first exposed to the genre that would later on provide him with the fuel to pursue music full-time.
“I think Avicii and Hans Zimmer are two totally different artists, but both successfully evoke a similar intense emotion, their music just presented in different ways.”
However, soaking up the culture of the West didn’t exclude him from being confined to Asian conventions. Coming from a Filipino family, he picked up the cello and learned to bow its strings for quite some time. The lessons broadened his appreciation for music that stood on opposite sides of the horizon. “I think Avicii and Hans Zimmer are two totally different artists, but both successfully evoke a similar intense emotion, their music just presented in different ways,” he says.
It wasn’t until his return to the Philippines during his teenage years that he decided to take his final curtsy as a member of the orchestra and become a self-taught Ableton nerd. “I remember taking up a graphic arts course to replace that orchestra class, as well as joining a band with my friends and playing on the basketball team,” he recalls, “but at the time, I wasn’t quitting orchestra to pursue another form of music—I just wasn’t interested. It was later that year during our school’s Battle of the Bands that I found out regular people like me could make whole songs straight from their home computer. This fascinated me, and that’s when I was hooked.”
Let’s start off with some quick fire questions: Favorite city (aside from Manila) to play in?
It’s a tie between New York and Los Angeles!
Any pre-show traditions?
For some reason I never really got into any pre-show traditions. I’m always just angsty to get on stage already!
As an Asian artist thriving in a Western-dominant industry, you have unique insight into both Eastern and Western music. What would you say are the main differences between the two in terms of their creation and the crowds?
In recent times, a lot of popular and trend-setting music have been coming out of the Western world; there were/are so many artists constantly innovating and pushing the culture to the next level that it’s difficult to create a lasting bond to a particular “trend” of music. In the Eastern world, the trends come late, but when they come, the attachment between the fans and the artist who created it is typically stronger and longer. For example, K-pop fandoms in Korea are totally next level. But that definitely doesn’t mean I don’t think the crowds in the US aren’t enthusiastic—some of my craziest shows have come out of places like the Bay, DC, or New York.
How did growing up in different parts of the world influence the music you make?
I didn’t know this at the time but moving houses a lot, being in the middle of bustling cities, and changing schools every few years gave me a broad spectrum of the music I listened to and the sum of that became part of the inspiration I still use to produce today.
Did you ever find classical music constraining or are its rules that you adhere to exercise your creativity better?
I don’t like feeling constrained when it comes to creativity. For example, I enjoyed art classes when we were let loose to do whatever we pleased, but I never really enjoyed orchestra lessons because I never got to play the music I wanted. And at the time, I was really into music that was on the radio, and they rarely had anything to do with the classical music I was studying. Now I wish I paid a little more attention in class because a lot of classical training could still be applied today.
Apart from learning the basics of music theory, do you think learning the cello and playing in the orchestra helped with how you create music today?
Well, I think understanding the basics of music theory was most of what helped me when it came to having the foundation you’d need when producing on a laptop. But understanding structures of songs, the mere concept of a downbeat, and the different time signatures came in handy when I began learning how to DJ—it was almost an instant click.
“But the main similarity in both shows are that they serve a purpose to evoke an emotion within you. I’ve felt the same kind of moving emotion in both a totally electronic piece and a totally orchestral piece.”
Based on your experiences, what would you say are the differences and similarities when it comes to performing classical and electronic music?
Well the most obvious difference is in the way the music is presented to you. With classical music there’s usually the actual instruments being played, a conductor, etc. With electronic music, it’s usually a sweaty club or venue and one guy on stage pushing buttons (and now, occasionally, playing real instruments too!). But the main similarity in both shows are that they serve a purpose to evoke an emotion within you. I’ve felt the same kind of moving emotion in both a totally electronic piece and a totally orchestral piece.
You graduated university as a dean’s lister in 2016 all the while keeping up with your music career as a solo artist and with Hotel Garuda. What’s your secret to keeping your head screwed on tight in the midst of the chaos?
I never saw myself doing all this balancing when I was older but hey, here we are. The secret is keeping my circle tight and strong. The people I surround myself with are the people that encourage me to do better in all aspects of life, and it’s that support system that really helps me keep pushing.
As someone with a lot on their plate, how does your mindset differ when creating a Manila Killa and Hotel Garuda track?
Manila Killa is my “experimental” outlet. It’s sort of the raw reflection of my emotions. Hotel Garuda is a partnership with my friend Candleweather—that’s sort of where I take what I’ve learned from my Manila Killa project and apply it to the collaboration aspect of Hotel Garuda.
Going down that innovative path with Manila Killa, are there any genres or even methods in music-making that you want to explore soon?
I was in Los Angeles at my friend Imad Royal’s house for a session as Hotel Garuda, and we got to play around with some of the analog synthesizers he and a few other producers had in the studio. That was my first time touching analog synths properly and I had the most fun experimenting making weird sounds and stuff. That’s definitely an avenue I want to explore down the road. Oh, and funnily enough, I’d love to incorporate real strings or even an orchestra in one of my songs.
One of your latest releases is with your good friend and fellow Moving Castle Collective member AObeats. Speaking as a founder, how has the idea of a ‘collective’ challenge record labels over the years?
The thing is, thanks to the internet, you don’t necessarily need a big label backing you anymore. As long as you can connect with the people, you have an equal shot at accomplishing what you want. If we can gather resources, we can make it happen. And we’ve been able to release music on our own, throw shows, and create merchandise for our brand. We’ve been able to pick and choose what we wanted to represent as both a label and a collective, so we were never limited or put in a box.
You debuted the collective’s festival, Moving Castle World, earlier this year. How did the idea of launching MCW come to mind?
In 2014 we threw our first shows in LA and New York, and from there on a lot of us “began” our musical journey. We were finishing school, some of us were moving to LA, and a lot of us were beginning to shape our sound. Moving Castle World was a reunion of old friends and the introduction of new ones. We hope to keep the flame burning, and are excited for what the future holds.
“I’m still struggling to find what my definition of the word “successful” is. I’ve been able to play some dream venues and festivals, released a lot of music, but I still feel that I haven’t given back enough to the music culture.”
We just entered the second quarter of 2018 and you’ve already done so much, from MCW to playing Ultra to touring and releasing new music. By your definition, what would make 2018 a successful year?
I’m still struggling to find what my definition of the word “successful” is. I’ve been able to play some dream venues and festivals, released a lot of music, but I still feel that I haven’t given back enough to the music culture. But 2018 would be a successful year if by the end of it, I looked back and was proud of what I did.
Any artists you’d love to collaborate with in the near future?
This list always grows. But as of late, I’ve really been into some of the bitbird (San Holo’s record label) artists like Taska Black and Dreoleo. I’d love to work with Joji and Rich Brian from 88rising too, and Lorde. One day… maybe.
Will we see you again in Manila soon?
Hopefully soon! I love coming back to perform especially because I get to see my old friends and meet so many new ones. The energy is always high and I’ll always crave sisig, so yeah, hopefully soon.
Written by Sophie Caraan
Photographed by Steven Truong