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Sai, otherwise known as Versailles, is a journalist specialising in cultural reporting. Her work has appeared on Vice, Munchies, CNN, Huck, among others.
She is also the author and curator of Cultural Learnings, a newsletter and a weekly radio show.
As a resident DJ on Manila Community Radio, Versailles presents eclectic selections across dance and club music, organic sounds, film soundtracks — anything worth a conversation. She has also appeared on Refuge Worldwide, 1020 Radio, Stamp The Wax, and more.
I had a chat with her about herself and the project she’s working on now.
Hello, how are you doing? Tell me about yourself.
I’m doing alright, thanks! My name is Sai. I’m a multimedia journalist based in Manila, Philippines, but I’m also a DJ under the alias Versailles. I curate an editorial platform called Cultural Learnings which currently exists as a newsletter and a weekly show on Manila Community Radio. I play eclectic selections of club music, organic sounds, film soundtracks, and whatever else I find interesting.
Share more about the underground scene in Manila.
The underground scene here is pretty diverse and more leftfield than what most people would first assume, especially electronic music. I believe this has something to do with the Philippines being an archipelago, which acts as a passageway for various cultural influences to pass through — for better or for worse. Like, on one side of the spectrum, colonialism affected our country in the worst possible way by making Filipinos believe they were inferior compared to more developed countries. But on the other side of that are Filipinos who want to uplift their own people, which’s evident in the underground scene where the community accepts many music genres. The lack of spaces focusing on underground music is the real challenge now, especially in Manila, where luxury clubs dominate, and the pandemic forced many beloved underground institutions to close.
How are you guys coping with the situation over there?
I can only speak for myself! People cope in different ways. I know many friends who feel paralysed by the pandemic, and that’s okay. For me, staying home allowed me the space to pursue projects in the backburner and explore hobbies I’ve wanted to learn. I only learned how to DJ last year after more than a decade of wanting to do it! Then Manila Community Radio was set up last July, which felt serendipitous. I think radio helped me cope with this strange time because I found a sense of community that I only found in clubs, which are obviously closed right now. Discovering new music and putting my show together also gives me something to look forward to every week. Having that routine is nice.
You are a journalist yourself. What drives you to find stories?
What drives me to find the stories I write about stems from a frustration with how some publications treat their “culture” section as a glorified press release or an aggregation of “lifestyle” listicles. Too little meaningfully engage with real communities or talk about the issues facing our culture. I guess that’s the gap I try to bridge.
As a creative individual, what do you think unites us in Southeast Asia?
I think that uniting factor is the desire to learn something new about where we are from. Southeast Asia is quite fragmented compared to, let’s say, the European Union. Lifestyles and customs vary quite a bit. For example, I believe the Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia where Catholicism is the major religion. Levels of socioeconomic development also affect a population’s access to – sometimes even availability of — platforms for creative expression. But this difference doesn’t have to be antagonistic. The multiculturalism in Southeast Asia is incredible but, in my opinion, quite understated among people who live in the region. It’s an opportunity to enhance each other’s creative practices – hopefully soon when we can all travel again!
Describe your favourite kind of sound and elements in electronic music.
I had one friend tell me that the music I play makes them “want to do bad things” – haha! I find myself leaning towards very percussive and high-energy electronic music, like acid or breaks, or something deep, progressive, and hypnotic. I also enjoy atmospheric and ambient music, especially when I’m mixing, because I can really play it out and take my time bringing a track in.
What’s your plan for 2021? Any projects that you have been working on?
My journalism was basically on hiatus last year because I couldn’t meet or interview subjects like I normally would when I’m on assignment. So hopefully, I’ll be doing more of that this year, while developing more concepts for Cultural Learnings. I want to continue putting out mixes on different platforms too. DJing this past year was such a steep learning curve and I just want to keep that momentum going.
Thank you and it’s really nice to know you!