Inside the large-scale party that was Neverland Manila
Minutes before they go up onstage for their much-anticipated set for Neverland Manila, Axel Christofer Hedfors (better known as Axwell) and Sebastian Ingrosso were hanging out backstage, fiddling with their phones. The DJ duo was one of the headliners for one of the biggest EDM shows in Manila this year. They were last in the country in January 2013, back when they were a trio known as Swedish House Mafia, along with Steve Angello.
“That was special because there was storm situation that night,” Axwell told Rappler. “I was just really happy that the show [happened]. And it was great to see so many smiling faces considering the situation. It was a great memory to be able to come here and play.”
Asked what else made their first Manila trip memorable, Axwell said God himself seemed to prepare a very special show for them. “We also watched a pretty spectacular lightning show. There were pretty massive rains and massive lightning.”
“We did manage to eat at [what we were told was] Asia’s biggest buffet [referring to Sofitel Philippine Plaza’s Spiral restaurant,” Ingrosso added. “That was pretty interesting.”
Their first Manila visit was part of the farewell tour of their old group. As Swedish House Mafia, they were one of the biggest names in EDM on the planet, selling out venues and getting to play in the biggest shows around the world. I asked how they coped with their near-nomadic lifestyle and how they stayed grounded despite the constant traveling.
“Sometimes we do get to go home,” Axwell said. “The fact that we get to go home to where we’ve always lived keeps us grounded. We didn’t create any lavish situations. Swedish people are very much grounded as they are.”
When every show is almost always the same thing – going up onstage and having thousands of pumped up, sweaty ravers bouncing and screaming along to the music they churn out – there is a tendency for things to start looking and feeling tedious. But Axwell said they keep things interesting by finding inspiration from everyday life.
“To be honest, by not performing every day and every night, you keep it fresh,” Axwell explained. “You take time off for a little bit, you think of new stuff, you get different ideas. If you were always on the road, then it’s a little bit harder to keep things fresh and interesting, because then you get stuck in this routine. It’s important to take some time off and be inspired by different kinds of music.”
The duo added that they get many of their ideas mid-show. “We get them onstage many times. We think, wow, wouldn’t it be cool if we did that. And we remember that, write it down and then do something with it.”
If you think superstar DJs live a fabulous, jetsetting lifestyle, you’re right. In 2012, Forbes listed Swedish House Mafia as the third biggest money-earners in EDM, pocketing $14 million a year, just behind Tiesto ($22 million) and Skrillex ($15 million). Axwell and Ingrosso don’t even bother modifying people’s perceptions of how they live as, according to them, most of it is true anyway. “To be honest with you, superstar DJs, they’re actually living the dream, for being musicians that don’t really play music live,” Ingrosso revealed. “There are no misconceptions, I think, to be honest (laughs). I mean, we don’t really drive around Ferraris and get around in private jets or helicopters to the studio, but some people might be doing that.”
“Maybe like 70% is right,” Axwell added diplomatically. “The extra 30% is probably misconceptions.”
With such buzzy headliners, Neverland Manila, held earlier this October, was set up for maximum impact.
The gates of Neverland Manila opened at 4 pm, but the first act, Stadium X, didn’t make an appearance until three hours later. Pulsing dance music played almost nonstop since, with acts like Bassjackers and Apster B2B D-Wayne providing the adrenaline kick that kept the kids partying all evening.
People were still making their way inside the SM Mall of Asia concert grounds when I got there at around 11:30pm. Tank tops seemed to be the OOTN (outfit of the night), for both girls and boys. And most were girls and boys. If you were 25 years old, you’d probably be on the older side of the crowd there.
Security was unusually tight; even ballpens were being seized at the gate. Re-entry was not allowed and everyone was subjected to a full patdown search. Inside, alcohol was served, but came at a steep price. People needed to buy tokens before making any purchase; one token was P150. A bottle of water cost one token. Beer and spirits cost way more.
A guy barfed in front of me, nearly missing my shoe. A skinny girl in a lime green bikini top and denim cutoffs jumped around in tune to the beat, her boyfriend (?) by her side, texting on his phone (he may have been checking Twitter or Instagram). Two guys behind me were waving glow sticks around, inches away from the face of two girls, who just stared impassively at the flickering lights.
At 15 minutes to midnight, Axwell and Ingrosso tok to the stage. The tide of people at the Gold section thicken, forcing their way closer to the stage. “We’re gonna get f****d up tonight!” a guy in a loose tank top, shorts and sneakers screamed.
As the bass thumped and the music swelled onstage, audiences trembled and quivered, almost as if they were convulsing. It wasn’t unlike seeing insects being stimulated by ultra low or high-frequency sounds. Axwell and Ingrosso had everyone tied to invisible strings; they were the puppet masters controlling the crowd’s every move.
The duo brought everyone to peaks of ecstasy and kept them there until the next bass drop, and even after the reverb was sustained and people just kept moving; it was impossible not to get caught up in the thrill.
Dreamchasers, or what the audience at Neverland was called, clearly loved the Swedish duo. When Axwell asked them to scream into a mic, the MOA grounds shuddered with thousands of excited voices. The DJ then incorporated the vocal track into “Can’t Hold Us Down.” Mesmerizing visuals played on loop on the giant screen, heightening the sensory experience. I’m not familiar with the Axwell^Ingrosso oeuvre, but I did recognize Daft Punk’s “One More Time,” which the duo sampled and used with “Who’s Gonna Save The World Tonight.”
Fireworks ended a sweat-soaked but satisfying set from the Swedes, but Neverland Manila was far from over. Still to come were other big names in EDM, including Afrojack (who was also in Manila last year), Ferry Corsten, Shermanology, and Sidney Samson, who was scheduled to go on at 5 a.m. The year’s biggest dance party ended at sunrise, with various comments on social media proclaiming it to be an unequivocal success. The prevailing sentiment was gratitude for a truly wild night of nonstop partying, but also of anticipation; this early, people are already looking forward to Neverland 2015. – Rappler.com