Gino and Karl: The duo behind Mandaue Nights

Born in the nightlife of Cebu, Mandaue Nights is a story of two ecstatic musicians who managed to bring the Cebuano tongue to the world of synth/experimental pop music.

It all started when rock-and-roller and music producer Gino Rosales met filmmaker and singer-songwriter Karl Lucente at one of Cebu’s go-to open mic cafes in 2014.

“So I met Sir Karl in one of the bars, I think it was Handuraw, and we talked about music and he heard about my band in Manila. Then, we got in touch like a few years after because sir Karl knew I was into 80s-sounding music and he had this idea,” said Gino.

Before this, Karl was in a band called Honey Drop and Hey, It’s Your Birthday, while Gino was chief bassist in a local band called Shuffled.

“We did this one-time thing collaboration because he had ideas. He sent me a demo and then we worked on it, and that was the start of Mandaue Nights,” Gino added.

In 2017, the duo released their debut single together entitled “You & I," a hit that brought Cebu to the synth-pop stage.

“People loved that new wave sound. They were intrigued by the 80s music with Bisaya lyrics and wanted more,” said Gino.

It wasn’t long until the two needed their own band name, and so the pair immediately listed down some band names to represent them.

At first, they planned to go with Cebu Nights but felt that it wasn’t “catchy” enough. Eventually, Karl made the decision to change Cebu to Mandaue, since he was living in Barangay Mabolo, Cebu City.

(Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said Barangay Mabolo is in Mandaue City. This has been corrected.)

“When we formed the band, we had an idea what the band should sound like, and I think it just aligned to what sound we wanted,” said Karl.

In their 2018 EP Love City, the band cemented their name in synthwave history with songs like “First Kiss” and their collaboration with Sepia Times, “Take Me."

In 2019, the duo collaborated with singer-songwriter and actor James Reid for a song that the latter called “Mandaue Nights.” Soon after that, the duo performed in multiple gigs that took on to the stages in Manila.

Still, both Gino and Karl insist they can't claim to be a synthwave pop band.

“It started out as synthwave or synthpop or new wave 80s sound but we wanted to explore that. It was like we put meaning to Mandaue Nights, like we wanted the vibe to be you driving in the highways of Mandaue and you listening to these songs—that was our vision when we started in 2017,” said Gino.

According to them, the sound that they had developed through the years had “evolved” into something more experimental in nature.

“I think experimental for me is some sort of peak sin musicality,” said Karl.

“You're trying to make a different sound from what you're used to, and also it’s like breaking barriers. We wanted to make ourselves feel some unease. Like walking in different territories, it's exciting,” he added.

It wasn’t long until the two released more experimental sounds in their 2020 EP Man on the Moon.

“We were having a hard time sleeping because of the pandemic but we thought: how about we make an EP for people who wanted to sleep so we did this experimental thing,” Gino said.

The 5-song EP includes songs like "Sleep Paralysis" and "Dear Night Owls," which show the musical prowess and resourcefulness of Mandaue Nights.

The band went on to work on new songs during the year like a piano-version of "First Kiss" which they made in collaboration with Cebuana artist Deane Yase, and even went on to release a Christmas song, "Padayon Ang Pasko."

In July 2021, the band released their latest single “What’s It Gonna Be," which is now available on Spotify and Apple Music.

While the duo has been busy releasing their own singles as of late, the two said that the pandemic had greatly impeded the music industry, in Cebu and beyond.

“We have plans to still make music and eventually release an album but we don't see an end-goal yet. Everything is unpredictable and because of the pandemic, we are unsure,” said Karl.

“I think, me and sir Karl, when we started this band, one of our goals was to produce and make music for other artists,” Gino added.

Before the release of “What’s It Gonna Be," Mandaue Nights co-produced Cebuano band Alice Who’s debut single, “Touch.”

Moving forward, the duo said that they plan to produce more music with other fellow artists and hope that this becomes their ticket to helping Cebu music reach grander scenes.

Check out their music here:

'You & I'

"You & I" was Mandaue Night’s first single which brought the synth-pop duo to the limelight.

“I wrote it with my friend Kevin in 2016,” said Karl.

According to the singer-songwriter, he had already imagined the love song with an 80s pop sound in the beginning, and when he heard Gino’s band release the same 80s vibe, he immediately contacted the latter for a collaboration.

Kato siya dali ra nako na grasp iyang gusto nga sound and vibe nga gusto niya. I was exploring 80s sounds,” said Gino.

(For this song, it was really easy for me to grasp the sound and vibe he wanted. I was exploring 80s sounds)

Gino explained that he didn’t know at the time that it had Bisaya lyrics, and according to him, it was his first time listening to it merged with synth-pop, which made him very excited.

Listen to "You & I" here:

'First Kiss'

"First Kiss" is a Cebuano favorite and currently has over 230,000 plays on Spotify.

According to the band, the song was first produced without any lyrics and was created while they were producing a different song.

“We kinda got carried away and immediately worked on it,” said Gino.

Seeing potential in the track, the band sought the help of fellow singer-songwriter Jerika Teodoriko in writing the lyrics that would complete the song.

“This was the first time I let someone write lyrics for us since this was a new experience for us,” emphasized Karl.

Listen to "First Kiss" here:

'Love City'

This 6-song EP was produced in 2018, and according to band, “was deliberately made light and easy to listen to."

Besides "You & I" and "First Kiss," the EP also included two collaboration songs like "Super Sonic Love," made with local band Eskina Jones, and "Take Me," a favorite collaboration with alt-pop duo Sepia Times.

It also featured two romantic singles like "Turn Back Time" and "Love City" which both have more than 19,000 plays on Spotify.

Check out the EP here:

'Man on the Moon'

Moving towards experimental sounds, Man on the Moon was the duo’s pandemic passion project in early 2020.

Love City is more light and easy to listen to while Man on the Moon is just on the opposite side, though it can still help you relax,” said Karl

During this time, the duo had to collaborate from inside their homes as quarantine protocols restricted movement for everyone.

“It was a pandemic remembrance because we wrote everything for that EP in just two weeks, including the recording,” said Gino.

According to the duo, the EP was intentionally made to help them sleep as they were experiencing rough nights during the pandemic.

”The output on that, we were really happy about it. We really didn't think people would listen to it. We just made it for us to go to sleep,” Gino added.

Listen to the EP here:

'Mandaue Nights'

Coming out as their most played song in Spotify, this single was their collaboration with James Reid.

“We were lucky and honored to collab with him,” said Karl.

Before meeting with Reid, the duo had already prepared the melody and a few of the lyrics. According to Karl, the song later expanded during the production process.

“Regarding the title, James gave it that title because he liked it,” Karl added.

Listen to "Mandaue Nights" here:

'What’s It Gonna Be'

"What’s It Gonna Be" is their latest song, which was released in early July.

In this track, the band expresses how difficult it is to be in love with someone who sees you only as a friend, or as the two put it, “Unsa man gyud tang duha?” (What are we both really?!)

Listen to "What’s It Gonna Be" here: