Direct from the Philippines, Toy Armada has stormed dance floors worldwide and has helped redefine what “circuit music” truly is. Along with this remixing and DJ partner DJ GRIND, they have taken some of the biggest singles and divas around, and given an almost effortless refreshing to tracks from artists like Cher and Sia, reimagining them as dance floor stompers for 2020. As we began to emerge from our quarantine, many of us are anxious to hit the dance floors again when ready, and that includes Armada. Armada and I chatted about his interesting beginnings as a DJ, collaborating with DJ GRIND, and why he thinks being on that dance floor again will be that much sweeter when it happens.
Michael Cook: Right off the bat, how did you get into the world of DJ’ing?
Toy Armada: Back in 2003, a gay dance club named BED Manila opened. They already had two resident straight DJ’s playing for them, but I still went and had the audacity to ask them if they would let me play for one night! One hour into my set with Donna Summer and Debbie Gibson up next in my playlist, the crowd was going wild as they accepted my utterly rookie way of mixing from track to track. I was so nervous playing live for the first time. After my set, one of the club owners went up to me and asked if I would like to be one of their resident DJ’s and if so, I would get paid doing it! I was ecstatic to hear such good news! I guess I did something right that night to impress them! From then on, I came to be Toy Armada, the first openly gay DJ of the Philippines.
MC: For those that have never heard your sound, how would you describe it?
TA: I always lean towards soaring vocals, thundering drums and emotional chord progressions. As a young DJ, I was very much inspired by the likes of Tony Moran, Peter Rauhofer, Offer Nissim, Manny Lehman, Thunderpuss 2000, Victor Calderone etc, they were such masters of that type of sound! I guess this is why I love anthems so much!
MC: What is the sound like in the Philippines and how does it compare to the States?
TA: It is a mixture of EDM and Circuit. Because It is also normal for some gays here to go party in straight clubs! Some gay clubs here do EDM Friday nights and Circuit on Saturdays. We also don’t have big circuit parties here like there in the USA. We don’t get to experience the Circuit culture and hear the International Circuit DJ’s. I’m just glad that Circuit Music is being played here and is appreciated by the younger crowd.
MC: It’s hard to climb the ladder and become one of the premier DJ’s in the industry today; what do you think is the secret is to your success?
TA: I guess it would be the fact that I always see myself as a student. I never assume to know everything. Accepting constructive criticism to make things better and applying them in the future, striving to keep learning with every gig and every production I work on. I try to always be inspired as I keep it humble, yet fierce!
MC: What have been some of your career highlights thus far? Your work with DJ GRIND gave you a whole different kind of attention from fans as it exposed you to a whole new audience. What has that partnership been like?
TA: Stephen (DJ GRIND) is my brother- get tears of joy just mentioning his name. I’m very thankful to have someone like him believe in me. Who would’ve thought that a gay boy from a small country like the Philippines would be spinning at some of the biggest parties in the Circuit world. From White Party Bangkok to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and various major events in the USA. Before all that, he was the one who told me… “Toy you have to come here and see for yourself what your music can do!” Because of that, I’ve already told him that he’s stuck with me till the end-no matter what (laughs)! It’s also a big plus that we enjoy each other’s company. We’re usually oceans apart, but when we do get together, it is nothing but good times!
MC: How do you choose the projects you work on? Any favorite mixes of yours that stand out? Anything super fun coming that you can talk about?
TA: I don’t always pick what’s currently playing on the radio. It’s the tracks from past years that I gravitate to. Maybe because I am emotionally attached to the song or because I want an old track to be reworked with the sound I am currently drawn to. I also get inspired the moment I hear the acapella, my head starts to put the pieces together as I listen to it! A perfect example would be Cher’s “Song For The Lonely”. We all know it to be a certain way from the original radio edit when it released back in 2002. It was an anthem already, but what if it had bigger drums? Dramatic strings at the break and a mighty crescendo towards a massive chorus of synths! It usually starts that way in my mind.
MC: You have DJ’d at some of the biggest circuit events worldwide. What are those experiences like? How do you see that scene changing?
TA: It’s always an honor to be part of such events where thousands of people go to. Leading up to the event, that long wait before you go on stage is a thrilling combination of anxiety and excitement, especially when it’s your first time to be in that country, city or venue! But the moment I press PLAY and hear the clacking fans from the crowd, I live and start smiling. The scene will definitely have new changes put in place, I welcome this for everyone’s safety. I really think it will be quite some time before we get to experience live performances in person again. The online alternatives we have are a really fun way to connect with each other. We can use technology to find ways in adapting to this situation. But we all know deep inside that nothing can replace the feeling of hearing the music from multiple large speakers in a massive venue while hugging your friends. WE shall be ready when that day comes!
MC: As we emerge from this form of “suspended animation” we are in, what have you been working on creatively? How have you pushed through and stayed creative?
TA: I’ve been collating new sounds to add to my sonic arsenal! It’s mostly cinematic drums to give our tracks a new layer of colossal drama! And recently I stumbled upon Ariana Grande’s lyrics on “Breathin” and was like, this is probably how everyone is feeling with everything that’s been going in 2020! So I pitched the idea to Stephen and we came up with this remix!
MC: What’s next for Toy Armada?
TA: I’m seriously looking at making original music from now on. It’s a very exciting thought that will elevate things even further! Stephen and I will still continue to make remixes from our favorite pop icons of course, but I think this move will add a new layer of artistry to our sound! IT. IS. TIME!
To follow Toy Armada, check out his Instagram
Download Toy Armada and DJ GRIND’s remix of Ariana Grande’s “Breathin” here