Words by Josyn Palma

Friday night (Sept. 15) bore witness to the largest rave in the year: ROAD TO ULTRA 2017. It was Ultra’s third rave party in Manila on their fifteenth anniversary, and it certainly lived up to the hype. This year, Ultra brought in ZEDD for his fifth show in Manila – and as he pointed out with a cheeky grin, his third in MOA Arena – and Hardwell’s second time. It was Payday Friday throughout the metro and the city didn’t let partygoers forget it – but instead of dampening spirits it just looked like everyone was extra determined to set the night on fire. Due to a surprise double typhoon on Monday and Tuesday, the concert venue was moved from the Mall of Asia Concert Grounds and into Mall of Asia Arena. While the sudden move surely caused some difficulties for the production team, it didn’t look like it inside– the stages were set, the lights in place, the pyrotechnics and firecrackers all ready to go as if it was meant to be indoors all along.

The event started with an easy bang at 5:30PM. You could hear the bass pumping from outside and it was a signal that Deuce, an internationally respected DJ who was the first Filipina to represent the country during Zouk Out Prelude, had taken the stage. Not much people had arrived yet; many of those already at the venue looked young, which was unsurprising considering many day jobs aren’t out until 6PM.

Deuce was succeeded by local favorite and former URBN and RELIK resident Marc Marasigan, who took the stage at 6:30PM. Both got the crowd ready, pumping out dance beats enough to get the party started but kept the energy on simmer while waiting for the acts to follow.

The night progressed harder and faster, with each supporting act’s beats and mixes getting heavier and heavier, as if getting the crowd’s bodies ready for the amount of bass that was going to go through them and shake them to the core. Walking around the arena, it was clear that everyone was there to dance the night away: lots of costumes, lots of bikini tops for the girls, and all in comfortable shoes and shorts. Some notable attendees: three fairy Powerpuff girls, a delegation from Malaysia, a delegation from Canada, and three delegations from Taiwan, and the lady dressed like this was a 1990s rave who towered gracefully over everyone with her cropped lavender hair. Manila’s ravers were out Friday night, and they were there to party.

Road to Ultra Philippines 2017 | Photo by Emmie Villegas

Dutch DJ Sam Feldt was first in line of the international support acts and got the crowd ready with his lineup of deep house and tropical house. Taking the stage at 7:20PM, the arena pulsed and grooved with Feldt as the neon blue and pink lights lit up the walls, filled with imagery of beaches and the summer. The crowd started filling up at this point, at around 7:40PM – those who had left the office early finally started arriving and, after battling it out with Metro Manila’s infamous traffic, everyone was down to forget the outside world and have a great time. Feldt’s mix moved through excellent beat progression, ramping up the energy from a softer deep house and finishing with “Fade Away”.

Up next was Canadian Dark Techno queen Rezz at 8:45PM, who hit the crowd with her bass-lidded tracks, pushing the crowd away from the house beats and deep into dubstep and underground techno territory.

Playing a mix of original tracks and mixes, she paid homage to BASSNECTAR, deadmau5, Zeds Dead, and Linkin Park amidst a dizzying backdrop of red and white lights, spirals, checkers, and geometrics that dropped in time with the spinners covering her eyes.

In the midst of the heavy bass, hard drops, and gritty riffs, a dance battle broke out by the stage. Rezz ended her set with a Zeds Dead remix of “Bright Eyes” by Blue Foundation – a quiet way to end the evening compared to the rest of her set.

Road to Ultra Philippines 2017 | Photo by Emmie Villegas

A pause, a break – a time for the now sizeable crowd to catch their breaths. Getter was up next right before the headliners and the Ultra management took the opportunity to thank everyone for coming out. Our pleasure, Ultra; thanks for the chance to rave.

Road to Ultra Philippines 2017 | Photo by Emmie Villegas

Some selfies and Philippine flag-waving later, at 10:20PM, Californian DJ Getter took the stage and set up the crowd for an hour-long set of bass house, dubstep, and trap.

Mixing trap with an art backdrop reminiscent of Bevis and Butthead and Happy Tree Friends, Getter got the crowd ready and dancing with no less than three dance circles in various areas of the arena. The crowd was now filling the VIP standing to capacity, the ravers were up and ready, and clearly, everyone was having a great time.

A slight pause and a buzz of palpable excitement filled the arena as 11:40PM came around and Getter stepped down. The crowd surged to the front, eagerly awaiting the first of the headlining acts: internationally-acclaimed, Grammy-winning German DJ and musician, Zedd. It’s a testament to his talent and his likeability that Zedd has been to the Philippines no less than five times and yet people will still come out to dance and party with him.

The start came slowly, like a tenuous build-up for a night you know you won’t forget, virtual petals bursting with color into flowers for each note, building slowly and slowly until it becomes a recognizable beat: the beginnings of Beautiful Now. And suddenly the drop, a jump, and a frenzy of dancing and jumping bodies, and ecstatic screaming. For his third time in the Mall of Asia Arena, Zedd asked the stoked crowd: “is this going to be the craziest crowd tonight?” The crowd roared back a resounding “yes”.

If anyone has listened to Zedd’s Ultra 2017 Miami mix, some of the tracks would be recognizable though tweaked for the audience. It’s a great gesture: enough to experience Miami without sacrificing originality. And if you’ve ever been to a Zedd show you know his shows are a complete experience: confetti, fireworks, fire, a light show, and visual stunners to put you right in the mood to party.

Zedd performed a mix of his own singles – all crowd favorites – instrumentals such as “Stache” and the bridge of “Addicted to A Memory”, songs produced with friends, and samples of old favorites. Zedd was met with cheers and whoops of delight after remixes of “Starving” by Hailee Steinfeld, a crowd sing-along to his remix of “Rude” by MAGIC, “Break Free” by Ariana Grande, “Cold Water” by Major Lazer, “One More Time” by Daft Punk, “Thriller” and “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson, Icona Pop’s “I Love It”, “We Will Rock U”, and “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, and Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be”. And he certainly captured the rising mood with a mix of “On the Way Up” by Fat Joe and Remy Ma, impressed the crowd with his remix of “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” by Skrillex, “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, and captured the mood of the night with his mix of Black Eyed Peas’ “Time of My Life”.

Zedd has played in the Philippines five times but it was no surprise to hear everyone sing along to favorites like “Find You”, “I Want You to Know”, “Spectrum”, “Candyman”, and his recent single “Get Down”. Pausing once in a while, you could almost hear the crowd over the ear-shattering volume during “Stay”, “Stay the Night”, and especially his breakout single, chart-topper, and club staple, “Clarity”. You could see how much this meant to him, what with his smile lighting up the room when he heard and felt the love of the crowd singing themselves hoarse. Memorable moments: hearing the crowd sing “Stay the Night” and “Clarity” above the speakers all the way up front, the rainbow laser lights during his mix of Daft Punk’s “One More Time” that brought everyone back to the 2000s, and seeing Zedd’s logo superimposed over the Philippine flag.

“Manila, I came here for you”, he said. Iit’s okay Zedd, come back as many times you want because we’ll always welcome you here, too.  Zedd ended with “Spectrum” and bursts of smoke and confetti, and hopefully confident enough to come back for his own solo show next year. #Zedd2018, let’s go.

After Zedd ended and left everyone in a euphoric state, the tension was palpable as people rushed out to get a drink or two before heading back inside to see Hardwell. The last set of the night, those that were left inside rushed forward to get as close as possible to the man himself.

Dutch DJ Hardwell, named Best DJ of the Year in 2013 and 2014 and who helped popularize the style known as hard style, is definitely not one to miss during festivals. His sets, heavy on the bass, drops, and made for jumping, conjure up feelings and images of massive rave afterparties and rave festivals – Hardwell and Ultra are a match made in heaven. Adding to this anticipation was the fact that Hardwell hadn’t been back to the Philippines since 2013 and his last Road to Ultra guesting last year was cancelled due to a storm. It left his fans starving for more. Like a girl had on her flag: “Eat Sleep HARDWELL Repeat”, people came for Hardwell and they weren’t disappointed.

Road to Ultra Philippines 2017 | Photo by Emmie Villegas

Hardwell treated Manila fans to a similar mix as his Ultra Miami 2017 set, again, though tweaked a little more for the local audience. Hardwell also headlined for the said festival this year and it was a great way to experience a little bit of Ultra while Manila builds up to having the full Ultra experience as they do in Japan, China, and of course, Miami.

The last set of the night at 1:30AM, Hardwell opened with a classic: HARDWELL IS IN THE HOUSE 2017, and you would not miss his entrance. “Manila are you f*cking ready?” he challenged, to which the crowd roared ‘YES – we’ve been ready since literally last year!’

In contrast to Zedd, Hardwell didn’t bother with a build-up. He opted to greet the crowd in full force and set the crowd into a mad frenzy of jumping and dancing. Every beat and every drop was greeted with a roar of approval, the crowd communicating just how much they missed him last year and welcoming him back to Manila. While Hardwell doesn’t communicate much between his sets, he made clear what he wanted to see: “EVERYBODY F*CKING JUMP!”

With a repertoire littered with both vocal tracks and pure instrumentals, Hardwell makes up for the lack of lyrics with hard-hitting beats that are reminiscent of both good old hip-hop put through the digital grinder. In his interview with BillboardPH, Hardwell noted that one thing that was interesting about dance music is that there’s no need for lyrics – you can sing the beat. And that is exactly what the crowd did: dance and sang to the beats, moving, grinding, and jumping – singing with and without words.

But when he played tracks that had words? What little voice was left of the crowd after Zedd’s set was surely lost as Hardwell cued up remixes of Coldplay and Major Lazer, mashups of “Put ‘Em Up” vs “Gasolina”, a remix of “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran, remix of “Mad World” by Quintino, mashups and mixes of “Scared to Be Lonely” – a track which produced a particularly memorable moment wherein the crowd’s voice and collective euphoria rise above the speakers as if asking Hardwell the same question and answering it for him. For “Jump”, Hardwell challenged everyone: “JUMP, MAKE THE GROUND SHAKE!” and sure enough everyone surged into the air as one body, jumping as one and enough that if an actual earthquake happened it would probably have gone unnoticed.

Road to Ultra Philippines 2017 | Photo by Emmie Villegas

Hardwell matched the heavy beats with equally heavy visuals: an overload of kaleidoscopic patterns, animated figures, bright lights in red, orange, and purple. By the time “Badam” rolled around followed by a mashup of “All I Wanna Do is Win” vs “Here Once Again” vs “We Wanna Party”, it was clear that everyone had won that night. It was thrilling to see the smile that graced Hardwell’s face when hands went up for “All I Wanna Do is Win”.

Right as the night reached a crescendo to its inevitable end, Hardwell, bathed in purple lights against a backdrop of Japanese and Chinese neon signs reminiscent of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district, took the top of the stage and took the mic. Thanking everyone for coming out and staying to watch, he unwrapped the Philippine flag and waved it as his latest single “Creatures of the Night” came on. Encouraging everyone to sing along, the crowd gave all that was left to singing, no one caring less if their falsettos reduced lines unintelligible.  

As the last drop hit and the bass receded, everyone slowly rose back into the real world as the lights came on, feeling as if the night passed in a blue-and-purple-washed haze. But everyone walked out with exhausted grins, mentally reliving the feeling of the bass pulsing through their throats and in their bones, all set and already looking forward to the next party. Hardwell stated it was great to see the electronic music scene in Asia growing, and we can only hope this means that we’ll be seeing him, Zedd, and other big names in electronic music again soon enough, hopefully in another installation of Road to Ultra.

 

Road to Ultra Philippines 2017 was presented by Ovation Productions.

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