Avicii in Manila: Believe the hype

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - It’s 11:59pm on a weekday evening. Do you know where your kids are? 

If it was last Wednesday night, May 15, chances are they were at the SM Mall of Asia Arena, bumping bodies with thousands of other kids and kids-at-heart. Looking over this pulsing, sweaty mass of humanity was a scrawny Swedish kid, all of 23 years old. His name is Tim Bergling, but most people know him by another name — Avicii. 

One of the world’s most popular DJs, Avicii was initially set to perform in Manila early last April. The show was rescheduled reportedly because of health reasons. Doctors recommended he go on complete bed rest so he could make a full recovery. He kept his appointment this time and Pinoys came in droves to see and hear what the man had to offer. 

When the usher opened the door leading inside the cavernous MOA Arena at a few minutes past midnight, I felt an intense, almost palpable “whoosh” caused by a mix of pumping beats emanating from the giant speakers and roar of the crowd. Arresting images flashed on the main screen, which dwarfed the man standing in front, facing the crowd.

Watch this fan video of 'Levels,' posted on YouTube by onchie41:

Everyone else had their arms up at him, throwing their fists in the air. At the slightly elevated position where I stood, it was almost like witnessing a religious ceremony. The arena was the church, the audience were the parishioners, and the “priest” was delivering his “sermon,” set to a mix of face-melting, ear-shattering soundtrack. 

Even for partygoers and club regulars who may be used to this sort of thing, it was quite a scene to take in. It was Republiq on a Saturday night, times 100. For electronic dance music newbies who were either dragged into or nonchalantly stumbled upon Avicii’s first ever show in Manila, however, it was quite a memorable headtrip.

I imagine it would be like someone who has never heard of rock music suddenly thrust into a Led Zeppelin show. And make no mistake about it, when it comes to the current pantheon of EDM superstars, Avicii has been hailed as being right up there with the best of them. Influential industry publication DJ magazine ranked him No. 3 of the World’s Top 100 DJs in 2012.

What separates these larger-than-life personalities from regular DJs? How does one go beyond merely pressing a few buttons on a turntable to becoming a powerful puppet-master able to manipulate people’s actions, thoughts, even emotions? For sure it would require an enormous amount of skill, an innate sense of figuring out what people want to hear at any given time, and perhaps a fair amount of confidence and personality, all of which Avicii possesses in buckets.

FREEDOM! Avicii deftly maneuvered music to push his fans to ecstasy. Photo by PJ Cana

FREEDOM! Avicii deftly maneuvered music to push his fans to ecstasy.

Photo by PJ Cana

The babyfaced DJ deftly maneuvered the sounds to bring audiences to the brink of ecstasy, pull back a bit and push everyone over the edge. It was difficult not to get caught up in the frenzy of sensations, even for someone like me who likes live music to come out from real people playing actual instruments like guitars and drums.

At that moment, the music was loud, it was insistent, and it was as real as anything I have ever heard. 

Avicii played a combination of his own music as well as remixes of other songs, including mainstream hits like Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and fellow compatriots Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child.” The loudest and craziest applause however was reserved for his monster hits “Silhouettes” and “Levels,” which he played towards the end of his nearly two-hour long set. 

It was past 2am when we filed out of the Arena, but many in the audience were already making plans to extend the evening at the after-party at Republiq. Meanwhile, my ears were still ringing and my heart was still thumping.

Here's the concert video pf 'Don't You Worry Child,' posted on YouTube by onchie41:

More than simply playing an EDM show, Avicii delivered a sublime musical experience for his legion of Pinoy fans. I learned then that, sometimes, it’s useless to intellectualize music, especially dance music.

It’s not worth getting into arguments or trying to find profound meaning in something whose most fundamental intent is simply to create joy.

When the music plays, it’s okay to just give in, put your hands in the air, and dance. - Rappler.com

Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Lifestyle Asia magazine and is a live music geek. Email him at pjcana@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @pauljohncana