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That Elephant Party creates safe spaces within Manila’s nightlife scene

By Kara Angan Published Mar 24, 2023 5:00 am

Metro Manila’s electronic music scene has mostly been relegated to clubs and house gigs. But what comes with a smaller scene is a tight-knit community with the determination to disrupt and disturb the mainstream.

Within this community is That Elephant Party, a “dance party” made by and for queer Filipinos.

Their Instagram page immediately shows how they set themselves apart: there are drag performers, audience members dressed and made up to the nines, and colorful, eccentric posters. Founded almost half a decade ago, the party has grown into a bustling community of, and for, a marginalized group in our society—redefining what an “underground” scene could be.

Rooted in lived experiences

“‘Underground’ is like a dirty word for some people—even for us—and it’s probably because people don’t know what it means. Underground is not an aesthetic, or a certain kind of music, or a group of people who look ‘cool.’ It’s not a catchphrase you use to create a vibe; it’s not a name you can call your latest remix just because you think it is,” shares That Elephant Party co-founder and performer Shahani Gania, better known as SUPERSTARLET XXX. 

“Underground is a movement—it exists because there is dissent, dissatisfaction with the status quo. The movement is real.”

That Elephant Party, or Elephant for short, marries this movement with the electronic music scene. “We needed an environment where we are not tokenized or made to feel like we are others, a place that plays the music we want to hear.”

That Elephant Party creates safe spaces within Manila’s nightlife scene

Gania adds, “Elephant is not just a party but an advocacy to create spaces that will uplift and protect the ones who are most vulnerable from discrimination, harm, bullying and abuse. On top of that list (are) our transgender and queer Filipino brothers and sisters.” This is an example of how the country’s music scene reflects its society: Elephant is shaped by the organizers’ lived experiences as part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“LGBTQIA+ folks are still second-rate citizens in our own country. Until we have better laws to protect members of our community—until we are all truly equal—our true culture as Filipino queer people will never be portrayed properly in the mainstream. Facets of our queerness are still edited out, blurred, or muted.”

Having grown so much may have a positive impact on our community, but since we are only a tight-knit collective, there are things that would escalate beyond what we can control.

Elephant started as a gathering of friends. The community has since grown exponentially, especially as more LGBTQIA+ Filipinos continue to look for safe spaces to express themselves.

“We needed an environment where we are not tokenized,” Elephant co-founder Shahani Gania said.

“(The community) was easier to manage before, considering we had a home, XX:XX, at our disposal,” Elephant DJ Hideki Ito shares. In a previous interview between Elephant and Purveyr, Gania shared that “when they (Anna and Eric Ong, co-founders of XX:XX) described the place to us, a place for techno music to thrive, a place for a community to get together, it gave us an idea of what we wanted our party to be.”

Electronic club XX:XX closed down in 2020 due to the pandemic. Since then, Elephant has been hopping all over the Metro stage for their iconic party nights. Last December, they moved to Dirty Kitchen in Quezon City for their “KKKeme Lang Bhie: Kabadingan Kontra Korapsyon” night. They held their first party of the year last January in Makati with “Clown Convention 2023,” which featured eclectic techno sets and an audience dressed up as various clowns.

Navigating safe spaces post-pandemic

The return to on-site events presented growing pains that the collective learned to adjust to. Ito explains that a core aspect of the Elephant experience is being able to build personal connections between attendees, and this proved difficult with social distancing and other safety guidelines in place. “Then the sound system, the lights, the crowd control, the mode of payment, there are a lot of factors to consider that prompted us to seek growth within ourselves and how we deal with other people.

“Having grown so much may have a positive impact on our community, but since we are only a tight-knit collective, there are things that would escalate beyond what we can control.”

Earlier this year, Elephant released a statement emphasizing their commitment to safe spaces, and that they will be pausing their “regular programming for now” to realign how they can manage the growth of their community as well as maintain a safe and inclusive environment for everyone involved. It’s a bold move that only drives home how much they take their advocacy seriously, especially within the nightlife scene.

Paul Jatayna, co-founder and production designer of Elephant, says, “This is something we want to reanalyze for future events. The best possible solution we can come up with is to call the help of the entire community, meaning the Elephant attendees, to also help us maintain our space safe where we can all enjoy and thrive.”

Regardless of the new challenges presented, the spirit of Elephant continues. DJ Alexa Dignos says, “Ever since (Elephant) came back, I noticed that we look for the intimate moments that we used to have before. The difference now is there are more new younger batches attending our party, which is a good thing ‘cause we're able to provide a space for more queer people.”

Safe spaces—a place or environment where people can feel confident in expressing themselves, without any fear of discrimination or harassment—are an integral part of any gender-related advocacy. In fact, the law that covers all forms of gender-based sexual harassment committed in public spaces, institutions, the workplace, and online spaces is titled the “Safe Spaces Act.”

The fight for equality and acceptance that Elephant champions is far from over, and the group shows no signs of stopping. Elephant is a resistance, and the organizers place this at the core of their mission. Ito describes the party as penetrative, in the way that “it questions and challenges norms that don’t accurately represent the people of today.”

“As we keep growing, we will make sure to keep the intimacy stronger, but we can’t do this without everyone partaking in the movement. We plead to everyone to extend the corners of our safe space within their own communities. Practicing what we learn from each other and applying it outside of our parties is the only way we can achieve the progress that we all aspire to.

“By the time we reach that, expect That Elephant Party to be at your nearby local spot.”

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Updates on That Elephant Party’s upcoming events can be found on their Instagram.