Obese Gravity

Some people are so active in a scene that it’s impossible to say exactly what they do because they do so much. Manila’s Jorge Wieneke, usually known as obese.dogma777, is one such person. He’s a producer, community advocate, organizer, and more. His music is high quality, progressive, and expansive across styles. He brings together similar artists on compilations, events, and VR spaces. He runs a production studio, works with major labels, heads a boyband, and operates a venue. Anybody outside the Philippines looking for a starting point in the island nation often gravitates toward him, as do locals trying to experiment with new styles and find like-minded weirdos to bond with.

Wieneke DJing at Ugly Duck. Photo by Mike Steyels.

In his previous incarnation as Similarobjects, Wieneke reliably pumped out high-quality music across a variety of genres, many of them overlooked in the Philippines. He cofounded BuwanBuwan Collective, which brought together experimental dance music and electronic producers from across the country on compilations and events. He gave talks on budotsβ€”the homegrown electronic dance music from Davao, a city on an island far south from “Imperial Manila”β€”trying to create a more serious discussion about a style often reviled or consumed ironically by the Manila’s more cosmopolitan residents. And he produced under a number of aliases, each limited to a different style.

About three years ago Wieneke started to falter and fell out of the public eye. Tensions at home with his family boiled over, so he had to leave home and strike out on his own; he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had to seek professional help; and the weight of expectations associated with his former creative identity became suffocating. He took a step back to reevaluate his priorities and figure himself out.

Even during seclusion, Wieneke was making waves. In mid-2019 helped launch the virtual reality rave Club Matryoshka. It was a way for him to avoid being in public spaces but still find connection and community: “I often feel strange or alien here in the Philippines, but there’s no explanation needed in virtual reality, they just get me.” When the pandemic hit, millions around the world gravitated to these virtual raves and Matryoshka grew exponentially, culminating with a CTM festival event in early 2021. But the scale became too difficult to keep up with and it’s on hold for now. The fact that the world has opened up again played a role in that, but he still sees value in these spaces. “I love real-life clubbing, dancing next to people. But I also love dancing next to robots and rabbits to the most obscure music you’d never hear outside of your own studio.”

Now that Wieneke has fully found his footing, he’s again becoming a center of gravity in Manila, this time taking a more financially sustainable approach. “Things were heavy for a couple of years, but I think I’m more stable in my life now,” he says of his comeback with somewhat typical understatement. He’s opened a rooftop bar and is about to open a club below it, he’s corralled major label funding for some of his music, has been touring around Asia, and sought out professional help for his mental health.

Wieneke recently launched the Kindred production house, which opened its doors to artists from around the country during the pandemic to create his team when most people were trying to get out of the city and live on beaches like El Union. Kindred has expanded into a boy band and they dropped their first single this month.

Wieneke has also cofounded a food and beverage company called Quay Concepts. Together they’ve opened Ugly Duck, a posh rooftop bar in Poblacion, Manila’s main nightlife district. It’s an upscale spot with classy barware, top-shelf mixology, and accessible music programming. But he still pushes the boundaries there. “I’m trying to be more adventurous. I don’t want to alienate people but I do want to elevate things a bit. So our music is in the middle,” he says. They occasionally step outside of the box entirely, however, throwing the occasional weird, one-off nights featuring hyperpop, gabber, hardstyle, and deconstructed club. “The usual crowd will question it at first, but then see everyone else vibing to it, then they get into it. We definitely still have people that walk out too,” he laughs. And they recently hosted Bad Decisions, one of the city’s most successful parties, who threw what was only their second event since the pandemic started.

In general, the Poblacion scene has gotten more conservative with top 40, house, and disco as the main options available. Three hard lockdowns, expansive restrictions, and 18 months of curfew through local businesses into a tailspin. It opened up the opportunity for entities to swoop in and purchase much of the property. “These new spaces aren’t operating with the general interest of the community. People in Poblacion are calling it an invasion,” Wieneke laments. Many of the area’s beloved spots closed permanently, replaced with more commercial venues. And the neighborhood’s average drink and meal have practically doubled in cost. “They kind of gentrified Poblacion. We kind of lost our say.”

Ugly Duck is capitalizing on the higher prices, and their drinks are comparably priced. But Wieneke and his partners are taking that money and reinvesting it into the scene, building a two-story club called Apotheka below the bar that’s set to open this month. It will feature secret rooms, a powerful sound system, a sound-responsive light installation on the ceiling, and projection-mapping covered walls.

Many of the progressive venues across the city closed during the pandemic, and the people running them basically retired, leaving a vacuum. “That was one of my motivations for opening Ugly Duck and Apotheka. People were coming to me and clamoring for new spaces,” Wieneke says. “It was a big risk, and I was really anxious, but I wanted to give back to the community. I want to bring back some of the autonomy we’ve lost.” It’s a long and personal road that he’s taken, but he’s circling back, more stable than ever, set to make an even bigger impact than ever before.

Image by Digitaldamage001.