Domini Primero's new groove
By Walter Ang
July-September issue 2007
Metro hiM Magazine
Looking for the newest dance club in Metro Manila can be quite a challenge. As it's tucked away in a street that's not too commercialized, it's easy to miss if you're driving fast. Carinderias, massage parlors and a car repair shop are the few landmarks that pepper an expanse of similar-looking warehouses and brick walls lining the sidewalks.
When you do find Warehouse 135, its understated glass and steel entrance feels, strangely enough, very appropriate to its surroundings. If it seems carefully planned, that's because it has been by managing director Domini Primero. "I was inspired by New York City's meat-packing district. This alley has character. I'd been eyeing this spot for the past three years."
His vision of mixing grit and glamour finally came alive earlier this year. Upon entering, a long foyer ends in a wall of dramatic black velvet curtains. They open to reveal a cavernous chic interior throbbing with energy. Inside are the de rigueur components of a happening dance club: a prominently situated DJ's booth, a dancing area, a central bar and a satellite bar. Deep orange lounge chairs soften the industrial concrete pillars and walls.
An architecture graduate from the University of Santo Tomas, Domini lays claim to creating the lay-out design of the club as well as being the main "idea man" behind its over-all concept. Warehouse 135 has been brewing in his mind since he came to fore with the creation of Big Fish, a dance event company that bought in big name international DJs and branded dance parties to Philippine shores.
It all began when this son of a lawyer father and homemaker mother started working as a fashion model. "I was able to attend parties and always had a great time. I knew I couldn't model forever, so I figured why not turn what I liked doing into a source of income?"
The turning point was in 1995 when he went to Crowbar dance club in Chicago where Carl Cox was spinning. "It was my first underground club experience. I wanted to bring it over to Manila but I knew it was too soon." The late 90s saw the heyday of small and under-the-radar dance bars like ABGs, Insomnia and Orange. "That was when warehouse parties started to become popular. People were ready for what I had in mind."
"Since 1999, I've done over 100 parties, big and small, all over the country," he shares. All of which revolved around a love of music. "I'm really passionate about music. I loved the local dance parties and the vibe it can bring." He eventually partnered with the late DJ Tuck Cheah to create Big Fish. "Tuck was the music man, he brought in foreign acts like Paul Van Dyk and Chicane. I was the PR and marketing guy and we imported international dance event brands like Hed Kandy & Ms. Moneypenny, Slinky, and Cream."
In its prime, Big Fish had the reputation of being the leading dance production outfit in Southeast Asia. "We would get seven-figure sponsorships just like that," he claims. Toward the mid-2000s though, attendance and support began to plateau. Sponsors began looking for the next new thing and his partner Tuck passed away in 2003 from an aneurysm.
This middle child of three wanted to quit while he was ahead. "I wanted to reinvent myself. I'd always wanted my own venue." With the help of investors such as entrepreneurs Mickey Romero, Louie Kaw and JP Bautista as well as Raffy Florencio of TechnoMarine and Robbie Carmona of Saga Productions, the dream came to fruition.
"Now I can foster a new breed of clubbers. I want to give them a taste of the true meaning of `underground.' That's why I wanted to situate the venue in an out-of-the-way area." The effort to get there will not be without its rewards. Warehouse 135 is also the residence of Domini's new dance events company, Driven Manila.
"We don't compromise our music. You'll never hear cheesy, bubblegum house here." True to form, the club's pre-opening private party included Global Underground's Lee Burridge, Anton Ramos, and DJ Patch playing tunes. During the grand opening, guests danced to the sounds of DJ Shunji Moriwaki and Elmer Dado.
"We use sound systems by Eastern Acoustic Works, winner of the "Best Sound System" and "Best Sound Product" awards at last year's Club World Awards," he says. DJs like Lisa Loud, Deep Dish and Andy Caldwell have already broken in the equipment barely half a year since the club's opening. To complete the clubbing experience the 600-sqm converted warehouse uses Martin lighting equipment and special effects, a brand used by such institutions as London's Royal Shakespeare Company and Ministry of Sound.
With the meticulous eye of a true Virgo, this 38-year old has plotted and traversed the map of his success. He points out, however, that he's not alone in this journey. "My wife Joanne and I have three kids: Rafael, Mayumi and Mulawin. This fulfillment of my dreams is as much for them as it is for me." His eyes gleaming with excitement, Domini announces his newest goal: "We want to usher in the rebirth of the underground dance scene."