Artist and producer Manila Killa’s new album Dusk opens with the lyric, “We shouldn’t be here. Everything has led to this moment….” It’s a telling introduction for a body of work that seems to truly embody the artist’s full journey. Dusk is all at once danceable and electrifying, yet introspective, featuring an eclectic range of collaborators, including Lights, Trace, MADI, Panama, Kwesi, EVAN GIIA, Gioli & Assia, Night Tales and fknsyd.
Manila Killa’s cross-continental musical upbringing started in high school in The Philippines, where he fused self-taught Ableton lessons with his deep love for dance music. In 2014, he launched his house duo Hotel Garuda and co-founded his own independent record label Moving Castle, signing acts such as AObeats, Slow Magic, Khamsin, and more.
After dropping his widely acclaimed debut solo EP 1993 in 2019, Manila Killa kept the heat on, with official remixes for CHVRCHES, The Knocks, Tegan and Sara, and performances at Firefly, Ultra Miami, Electric Zoo, 88rising’s Head in the Clouds, and more.
We connected with Manila Killa to talk about the new album, why he makes music, his biggest influences, how he’s pushed his boundaries, and more. Stream Dusk here and check out Manila Killa’s truly epic SET below. Want more SETS? Head over to SPIN TV to keep up with all the latest and greatest DJ’s/producers pushing the boundaries of electronic music.
SPIN SETS Presents: Starya
Video Credit: 88rising / Head in the Clouds / Goldenvoice
“Dusk is my debut album, the apex of the sound I’ve been crafting over the years. I spent a lot of time during quarantine reflecting on what I wanted out of creating a full-length album. I reached a realization that I wanted it to be a project that touched on all aspects of my inspirations and influences through dance music. The subjects and emotions I touched on consisted of heartbreak, yearning and resolve; all things I considered throughout the creative process. I took a dance-music-driven approach to the production, reaching back to my roots and channeling the feelings I got when I first started listening to dance music. This album is something I’ve worked towards my entire life and I hope that people can resonate with the ideas and energy I’ve put into it.”
SPIN: Who is Manila Killa and what do you stand for?
Manila Killa: Manila Killa is the embodiment of what has influenced me musically and culturally throughout my life. I come from a background of a family that has traveled and moved to several places around the world growing up to now settling in Southern California where I work as a full-time touring musician. I stand for evoking emotions and feelings, whether that be positive or negative that people may have not tapped into through my art.
Tell us about your sound – where does your style originate from and what have been your biggest visual, social, and sonic influences?
My style originates from one thing – emotion. I’ve always felt that I resonate with pieces of culture that evoke heavy feelings of love, loss and everything in between and I’ve always felt that those aspects are present in my art, whether it was intentional or not. My biggest visual, social, and sonic influences come from films, music albums and traveling. I’ve always loved immersing myself in movies, paying close attention to how the music and visual style influences the story trying to be told. Movies like Interstellar, Drive, Howl’s Moving Castle and Lost in Translation hold a special place in my heart and are always in my mind when it comes to creating my own story through music. I hold musical artists like Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, and Fred again.. in high regard in how they’ve influenced my sound palette – the mix of electronic and organic sounds is something I’ve always gravitated towards and something I try to achieve in my own sound. Traveling has always inspired me, being given the chance to see how other cultures interact and the style of architecture and nature around the globe always made me feel more connected to the world.
Was there a definitive turning point to your success? When did you realize the magnitude of your impact within the industry/community?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific turning point in my career where I felt that I was deemed “successful,” but the year of 2015 was life changing. Some of my music started to get signed to labels that I’ve always looked up to and I was signed to an agency where I started to get booked to play shows. The momentum was there and many people were talking about my music and I started to meet some of my idols. It was at that point when I realized that “wow, maybe music can be an actual thing I pursue seriously in life.” I never felt like I had that big of an impact within the music community until recently, when fans and friends started to talk about how I’ve influenced and inspired other people not only just to make music but to keep their head up during dark times in life. Especially now when the world seems like it’s flipped on its head, hearing that my music has gotten people through difficult times is all I can really ask for as an artist who’s always wanted to share how music has helped me. That’s the most important thing to me and the biggest reason why I make music – just as my favorite artists have helped me through hard times, I would like to do the same for others.
What was the process of creating Dusk and how did you come to the title name?
I knew I wanted to make an album after coming off my EP tour in 2019 but didn’t really know where to start. It was around February 2020, right before the pandemic began, when I took a trip to Joshua Tree, a desert area in California, that solidified the concept. Because I was at home for so long after that, I had the chance to take some time to figure out exactly what I really wanted to do with my music moving forward. I wanted to create a body of work that sounded like you were alone in the desert, contemplating your own life and reflecting on the good and bad. I wanted to give people a chance to realize that it’s okay to not feel okay, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you take the time to look hard enough. Prior to this time period, I was making music with the intention of how people would perceive it, but I decided against that for my album because I wanted to be as honest as possible. The title “Dusk” comes from the idea that life is all about transitions. Everything is always changing, whether you want to or not, and it’s up to you on how you’ll deal with those changes. It helped that the Joshua Tree area has the most beautiful sunsets ever – that’s when it struck me that I should call the album ‘Dusk.’
What are you most excited about for this upcoming tour?
After not being able to tour or play shows for two years, the most exciting thing about this tour is the fact that I get to play my music for people face-to-face. It’s the driving force behind everything I do – to experience something that’s come from my heart, hand delivered to those willing to come to a show of mine. The energy I feel while playing a show and connecting with the people around me is something I can’t describe, nor can be topped.
How does your album Dusk embody your growth as an artist?
Throughout the last few years I’ve felt a great amount of growth in my maturity and perspective as an artist and person. It was this transitional period that gave me enough confidence to ditch the idea that I need to be making music that would be perceived as “good” or “acceptable” by other producers and listeners. It’s the beginning of a new era in my artistry, where I tap into the feelings that gave me excitement within the dance music scene in the first place – which revolves around the sound of house music. The album isn’t necessarily a “house” music album (there’s some Drum n Bass in there as well) but the core sound is heavily influenced by the style and the emotions evoked in that classic 4 on the floor dance beat. It’s funny because although this can be seen as growth, all I really did was look back into the past and think about what sparked inspiration in me when I was younger.
What festivals are you hoping to perform at in the future?
This list is ever growing but a few that I would love to perform at are Outsidelands in San Francisco, Coachella, ARC in Chicago, Lollapalooza, and Splendour In the Grass in Australia. My favorite sets are usually at festivals where I’m given a chance to let people (who wouldn’t have necessarily listened to me in the past) into my world.
In what ways have you pushed yourself beyond existing self-imposed limitations?
I spoke briefly about letting go of other people’s expectations when it came to working on this album and I think that was the biggest push I’ve given myself. Throughout my entire life I’ve always felt like I was living according to other people’s expectations, whether it be my family, educators, figures of authority, etc. I feel that when I had that moment of clarity that I’m the one in charge of my own life, my approach in making music changed. I’m making music solely for myself, with the goal of letting it out in the world and hoping someone out there resonates with the message I’ve sent.
What’s next for Manila Killa?
Despite the fact that I just put out my debut album and have now embarked on the tour, I’m always working on the next thing. I’m going to continue pushing in the musical direction I have with Dusk, as I feel that I’ve finally come “home” with the style of music I make. Luckily I already have a few more tunes under my belt that I’m confident and excited about. A majority of the album was rooted in collaborations between me and singer/songwriters, so I’ve begun exploring collaborating with producers more.
What do you wish for the future of electronic music? In what ways would you like to see it evolve?
Honestly, when I was younger and listening to electronic music, it seemed like no one around me really understood it. People actually made fun of the music I was into and my wish as an adolescent was for people to understand why electronic music is such a beautiful and healing sound. And now I feel like people finally get it, so I do think my wish came true. The scene is in such a great place right now, where a lot of producers are taking risks and pushing the boundaries of what could be done with electronic music.
Any last words for the SPIN universe?
Yeah – the set I’ve put together for this feature is one of the best sets I’ve ever played in my life and is an embodiment of my goal with my art – to touch people’s lives. You can literally see that in the video and I’m so so excited that we were able to capture such beautiful moments.
All photos: John Liwag