Rave was — and to some extent remains — an unfamiliar ground to me, and that’s because my participation in activities involving one has always been at a minimal. I first encountered the term in college, circa 1999, when Malate could practically be named Street Party District. My curiosity (and outgoing friends) led me to the “in” clubs and “it” crowds, but my inner homebody found no reason to stay.
Fast forward to 2012: EDM artist Zedd came out with Spectrum and Find You, two mainstream ear worms that had a “feat. Matthew Koma” appended to their titles. Later on I’d see the same name featured in dance tracks I would play on repeat. It turns out the man is a singer, songwriter, producer — and a DJ to boot — who gives soulful acoustic performances.
Matthew Koma served as a Northern Star when it came to negotiating my way through the loud and variegated world of electronic dance music, leading me to more interesting artists and soundscapes that made me want to linger. His songs, whether he sang, wrote or produced them, made clubbing at first a tolerable and eventually an exciting experience. It became similar to watching a concert — there’s the music to look forward to.
“I think it’s always been a huge genre. Commercially it’s become viable, especially in America in the context of radio, because it’s evolved into something that is song-driven, and the production has become super interesting as well,” offered Matthew when asked why EDM has flourished over the past half-decade.
As to whether or not the genre gets the respect along with the attention it deserves (EDM is often associated with mindless beats), Matthew said, “It’s always hard to talk about music or art in relation to respect. They all deserve respect. It’s people pouring their hearts into whatever it is they do, whether it’s painting or making music.”
Speaking of heart, his own creative process is a sort of romance — at least that’s how I’d like to interpret it. I’ve always wanted to know if singer-songwriters are ever jealous of their songs and for Matthew, the answer is no. “You fall in love with every song during the process of creating it. It’s not until a week or three years later that you realize your relationship with it, whether you love it eternally or you hate it eternally, or you’re indifferent,” he explained. “So I never feel very precious about it. They all kind of have lives of their own. It’s a ‘what will be will be’ sort of mentality. Let some songs go and fly with other people, and let some be yours.”
Matthew has worked with a diverse group of artists and if there’s one thing he learned from them, it’s openness. “The coolest thing I’ve seen in artists who have the most integrity, the most sense of self, is that they’re always students. They’re always open to challenging what they do or know, and it’s not in a way that makes them inauthentic but in a way that allows them to grow,” he shared. “That’s a cool thing to remember, that it’s okay to try different things, and that it’s okay to succeed in some of them and not succeed in some of them.”
Needless to say, 29-year-old musician has been in the industry for quite a while, but he only decided to release his own record early next year. “It kind of decides itself when it’s ready and when it’s done. A record is a snapshot of time. When there’s a body of message to deliver, you’ll know when you have to put that out and move on to the next chapter,” he said, adding that his presence in the scene is a blessing and a curse. “I have a lot of songs out that people have this perception of who I am and what I do,” he continued. “‘Does it live up to that? Does it feel like a continuation of that? Is it separated enough?’ There are so many things that go through people’s minds before even hearing the album. You have to take the extra step of having to overcome that.”
He gave a taste of the new album and reminded us how it felt to get high on music and dance when he returned to Manila on May 27 to spin at the Chaos Nightclub, City of Dreams. It was almost 2 a.m. and while I still had the stamina of a 20-year-old, I was anxious to see him perform. When I was no longer conscious of waiting, he came. There were no introductions, no dramatic darkness, no long, tormenting silence. Next thing I knew, Find You was playing and I — we — lost it.
That collective dizziness once the DJ drops that song — here you are among strangers, for a brief moment speaking the same language, surrendering to the same force — nothing beats that. From thereon he labored as if desperate to please (or was it to possess?) his audience. If we didn’t know the song, he made us like it.
He brought the house down, and did so with neither the fancy light works nor the mind-blowing graphics — the impressive productions Matthew spoke of — which define current EDM parties. Hours before his show, I asked him out of fun what “DJ” stands for and he retorted rather quickly, “Designated Jazzmaster.” That night, he might have shown me what he meant.