UNOS And SPAZIO GRIOT | A Storm At EXP – Palazzo Delle Esposizioni In Rome

Unos’ kinetic and elliptical music arrives at Palazzo delle Esposizioni as part of "Rifrazioni", an exhibition by Spazio Griot. Soundscapes for dimly lit spaces and powerful sound systems that put community, roots, and Pinoy identities at the centre.

by S. Himasha Weerappulige - Published on 21/06/2023
Unos. Photo: Heleen Declercq. COURTESY Full Corlorz and the artist

Unos is a Belgian-Filipino DJ, whose fame cementified as she joined Darker Than Wax, a renowned Singaporean record label that explores the permeability of underground music in Asia and beyond. Of course, her talent precedes this event.  Her first musical crush was for the drums. A love that was never unrequited as she couldn’t afford drum classes, Unos sarcastically remarks. “During my childhood, I immersed myself in blogs and websites like Hype Machine and explored various peer-to-peer services, greedily absorbing music of different genres such as electro, house, ambient, dream pop, hip-hop, and punk” (…) The first concert I attended was Tokimonsta’s concert in Belgium, a talented Korean-American music producer. Seeing her effortlessly tame the stage with her first-generation APC40 had a great impact on me.”

Community and exchange of experiences are therefore undeniable dimensions of Unos’ musical practice. She cultivated her DJ skills during her uni summers, one vinyl at a time, with a local collective called Sonar Sound Club. “I cultivated my DJ skills through a constant process of exchange, trial, and attempts.” Her quest drives her DJing and musical production, constantly pushing her towards new musical territories. Looking at the past helps her discover the future of her sounds. This exploration led Unos to delve into the various branches of electronic music that emerged in Europe from the mid-80s to the late 90s. “The amount of exceptional music that emerged in Italy and Belgium between 1988 and 1994 is incredible. The sense of freedom and optimism present in the sounds of that era resonates with me and attracts me.”

Italo-house, Chicago house, the emergence of progressive house, hard house, trance, and techno are just some of the genres she has recently devoured. Her research reflects an insatiable desire to discover all the nuances and pluralities that sprout within a musical genre. The plurality in studying music also translates into the need to centre collectivity within her musical projects. In 2019, she made her debut with Tropical Diskoral, which permanently intertwines her musical research practice with a more personal and intimate quest—an exploration of her Pinoy roots.

Tropical Diskoral was released during politically saturated times and was a compilation initiated alongside her friends and colleagues Chris Fussner (Tropical Futures) and Jorge Wieneke (obese.dogma777 fka similarobjects). The collection was released a few days after Philippines’ Independence Day from Spain (1898), but it was also framed by a highly tense modern political scenario. Tense as a violin string. As depicted in Boiler Room’s documentary To Live & Die in Manila, from 2016 to 2018 alone, there were 20,000 deaths caused by local law enforcement.

In this intersection between past and future events, Tropical Diskoral becomes a political practice, gathering and weaving a sonic network among musicians belonging to the Filipino electronic music scene and Pinoy musicians from various diasporas. The compilation was collaboratively constructed and became a space of self-consciousness for various local and diasporic communities, united by their concern for the local political situation.

“Music can be a means of protest, social critique, and expression of identity and cry against oppression. Furthermore, it can provide refuge and inspiration during difficult times and help create a sense of community and belonging. Music can serve as a catalyst for change and can have a significant impact on society,” she said. In the case of Tropical Diskoral, the compilation itself becomes a political act by giving voice to artists who have experienced the consequences of a politically charged environment. It highlights their artistic expression, resilience, and celebrates Filipino identity. Tropical Diskoral has played a role in shaping the niche of the Filipino electronic music scene in recent years.”

From this initial space, several online radios, programs on Mixcloud, and numerous other compilations have emerged, replicating the compilation’s original model. Underneath a crust made of socio-political tensions and colonial skeletons, there is a magmatic and effervescent musical landscape that serves as a catalyst for various grassroots political movements, continuously pushing their boundaries and finding new sounds to express their dissent. After the first compilation, the Tropical Diskoral project took a pause to figure out how to discover new artists and move forward sustainably.

Community care is indeed an essential element of UNOS’ musical practice, and it is reflected in the title of her new EP, Boodle Fight which draws inspiration from the lively Filipino culinary tradition and its communal banquets, that does not aby by utensils nor rigid formalities, and is shared among friends and families. The concept behind this EP sprouted during her first tour in Asia and reconnects different fragments of her identity. The first track, “Angermanagement,” is inspired by the bouncy sounds of the ballroom culture and sings about the queer communities’ regenerative anger, where rage becomes a propulsive force for change. Unos’ energy is not only testified by her sounds and words but also by her artist name. In Pinoy, Unos means “strong wind” or “storm.” The EP slowly transitions to sweeter sounds and reminisces about past tropical summers, culminating in the final track, “Love Letters to Summer.

As for the artist’s future plans, Unos plans to expand the sonic waves ridden so far, produce music, and share her production and djing knowledge by curating a camp for aspiring producers and DJs. The programming for the upcoming tour is still in progress, so bookers, contact her ;).

For those who strive to see her now though, Unos will be performing live on the 21st of June, at SPAZIO GRIOT at EXP – Palazzo Delle Esposizioni in Rome.

Find out more about UNOS’ listening session in SPAZIO GRIOT’s RIFRAZIONI

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S. Himasha Weerappulige
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Opero nel cinema, tra casting, sviluppo, ricerca archiviale e programmazione nell’ambiente festival. Il mio background è però legale, e mi ha permesso di sviluppare un metodo di analisi decoloniale che mi porto appresso nell'audiovisivo e nelle arti. Curo diverse piattaforme diasporiche, e per GRIOT sono una contributor.