Manila Killa Talks Tour Rehearsal and Soaking Up International Inspiration

At  HARMAN’s Experience Center, Chris Gavino—better known as his stage name Manila Killa—and his lighting designer, Anthony Napolitano, rehearse for their upcoming tour. In a dark sound stage, the glow off a drop-down projection screen that displays Napolitano’s digital lighting renderings provides the only light in the room. Gavino cues a smooth melody and the two proceed to meticulously break down the show’s arrangement. As preparation continues, the renderings brighten, further illuminating the sound stage and symbolizing Gavino’s musical journey and success.

Earlier in his life, Gavino thought a career in music wasn’t realistic. Before his newly released album 1993and major festival billings, the producer took an unlikely path to the stage and recording studio. He was born in the United States, but raised around the world, as his father worked for the U.S. government to provide aid for third world countries. Frequently adapting to new surroundings and meeting new people, Gavino’s life experiences in places such as the Philippines and Indonesia emerged as fundamental components to his musical interests and creative inspiration.

“I was kind of a sponge in the sense that every time I moved to a new school, which happened every two years, I had a new set of friends who had different tastes in music. So, at the end of the day music was a huge melting pot for me,” Gavino says.

Along with influence from his peers, Gavino credited listening to the radio and the rise of the Internet for discovering a love for pop music and underground EDM, respectively. These interests quickly manifested into a new hobby, as he taught himself how to use Ableton and started producing remixes. Over the years, Gavino’s projects gained traction and he began performing consistently. Ultimately, with support from his friends and an encounter with one of EDM’s most successful DJs and producers, Gavino transformed his hobby into a career.

“I personally didn’t really see music as a viable career, but apparently a lot of other people did,” Gavino says with a laugh. “It was mostly my friends who were encouraging me. Skrillex took interest in one of my friends and I got sucked into that circle. . . . We weren’t too close, but Skrillex definitely introduced me to a lot of people who I still talk to. Indirectly, he helped my career that way.” 

Fast forward from 2014—when Gavino decided to pursue music full-time—to now, the producer has earned tens of millions of streams online and performed at Firefly, Hangout Fest, HARD Summer and other prominent festivals. As his career progresses, he faces his next challenge: producing his first cross-country tour that features his original music while creating an ideal experience for his audience.

“I was doing a lot of DJing the past few years, which is solely based on choosing songs and going off the flow of the crowd. But for this tour it’s a little different,” Gavino explains. “I just released my first body of work, so now I’m trying to curate an experience that’s made up of mostly my own music and my own tastes. On this tour, I’m involved in literally every single detail—from what’s being played on the screens, to how I’m playing music and what the stage is going to look like.”

Throughout their preparation in HARMAN’s Experience Center, Gavino and Napolitano left no stone unturned. They discussed the size of the stage, deployment of lights—including an array of Martin MAC Quantum Wash moving heads, Atomic 3000 LED strobes and VDO Sceptron linear fixtures—spacing between each light and everything in between. As Gavino’s tunes pumped through the JBL speakers, he acknowledged the benefit of practicing in an ideal rehearsal space.

“The equipment is everything we would need for the tour,” Gavino says. “The JBL PRX speakers are incredible. The quality is amazing and it’s almost like having my own headphones. That’s been very helpful in curating and working on my set. The JBL 308P MkII studio monitors are really sick too,” he says in regards to his first and only pair of studio monitors. 

Gavino is now in the midst of his tour, continuing his unlikely musical journey and illuminating possibilities along the way. Click here for tour dates.

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