For many Manileños who were in their 20s at the beginning of the new millennium, it was the soundtrack of their summers, and the background music to their late nights. It didn't matter if those late nights were at a literal house party at the invitation of a friend, or at one of the city’s then new popular hangouts, like Makati’s Wasabi, the Japanese restaurant that turned into a club before midnight.
We’re talking about The Chillout Project, the series of compilation albums that was all about easy listening. Party music you can have conversations over. People played it after their wedding receptions at the beach, to relax and unwind. It offered a break from the exhausting club music of the late 90s rave scene. “It also represented this kind of aspirational lifestyle of summer parties at the beach, and parties at some affluent friend's home,” says a fan. The collections featured lounge, downtempo and house music by various artists. It was curated—of course in those days, they just used the less pretentious word “compiled”—by National Bookstore scion Anton Ramos.
Anton at the time was already a name in the local music scene. He had opened the game-changing record retail brand Music One in 1997, which was around the time The Chillout Project began as a radio program over 99.5 RT. It all started with Anton just dropping CDs in the station for a show called Acid Jazz. “After a while, acid jazz became a bit dated and I heard a CD called Café del Mar while I was in the States, and I loved it,” he recalled to Philippine Star in 2002.
Anton immediately told the RT guys he would like to do a show that played that kind of easy listening fare he fell in love with. In no time, the show was on air, on a better time slot, and with an additional hour of airtime. Soon, he would “bottle” those hours in the form of an eponymous CD that fans of the radio show can access and take anywhere as they please. The debut “The Chillout Project” compilation was released October 23 twenty years ago. It featured 16 tracks that included music from Groove Armada, Thievery Corporation, and Mono, among others. It sold a whopping 10,000 copies when it came out. ”It was mind blowing for me,” Anton recalled in the same Star interview. “I couldn't believe 10,000 people actually listened to something I put together in my computer!”
The music in the compilations may not be of Anton’s own creation but each album was definitely personal. “I have to admit that I have no real talent except for having taste. What I have is an ear for music, especially for the genre I prefer,” he said in the Star. “I start by asking myself how I feel, and what is the general sentiment of my life at the moment, and then put something together in line with that. In my job, I come across a lot of material and I select the songs that do something for me. All the songs in my compilations have moved me one way or another, and there are no so-called ‘fillers.’”
Twenty years and eight compilation albums after, we wondered how Anton Ramos is doing? Does he look back at those days of deejaying at Wasabi, or those endless summer sessions at Boracay, with fondness? What does chilling out mean for the now 46 year old? So we shot him a message and caught up with Anton Ramos 2020. Guess what he was doing when we reminded him his first “Chillout Project” just turned two decades old.
ANCX: Twenty years after the first “Chillout Project” album came out, how does Anton Ramos chill out?
ANTON RAMOS: Spending quiet time with my twin girls is my favorite way to chill.
ANCX: Can you take us back to that time when the Chillout Project was at its peak? What was the world like then? What do you remember of it?
AR: Oh man to be 26 again, haha! Seriously I was emo before “emo” was even a thing. Music was everything and to me it was pure. It was my outlet. It could take you on a journey. Truth is, it still can.
ANCX: Do you feel a certain nostalgia for those days? What memory do you like going back to from that time?
AR: I was working at Music One then and I remember getting a weekly report of my album sales and I couldn’t believe people were buying this thing. It was beyond any expectations I had. I was so embarrassed to promote myself that I didn't even put my name on the CD. For me back then the music was supposed to speak for itself.
Around the same time I must have also had my first sunset session in Boracay which I did for MTV. That was pretty cool.
ANCX: How would you describe the Anton of that time?
AR: Maybe just like many young people in the world, I had these unnecessary expectations of myself and everything was just so serious. I had big dreams and big ideas and at the same time I was so driven to discover and collect new music, and eventually to share all these wonderful songs I’ve found.
ANCX: What have you been most busy with the past few years?
As my new outlet, I’ve been trying to learn about art and I’m putting in the effort to train myself similar to what I did with music. Work wise, I started new retail stores (Noteworthy, Art Bar and Kids Ink).
In music though, I stopped DJing in 2010. Didn’t listen to music again until 2017 when I was asked to pitch by the Moment Group to curate the music for Bank Bar Manila. That got me listening to music again and we were doing that until the start of lockdown.
ANCX: Has your preferences for music changed over the years? What do you listen to now?
Yes and no. I’ve always been a product of the ‘80s and the pride of my record collection are my records from that era. I was obsessed with finding everything that was played in Stargazer and Faces. In the 90s I was very much into acid jazz but that changed in 1997 when i first heard Cafe Del Mar 4.
At some point though a lot of the chill out music i was listening to had become too heavy and maybe even a bit sad. So I ended up playing more house music. In fact by the mid 2000s I was already doing gigs with Big Fish and playing at their parties. There was also a year or so that I worked as a resident of Embassy which was the big club of that time.
Anyway, like I said, I stopped in 2010 and all I could listen to in the car was AM radio.
I had set aside a record that I really liked (Downtown Party Network - Days Like These) which I used in my last ever live set (the Louis Vuitton opening in Greenbelt 4) and I also fell in love with the song “Fade Out Lines” by The Avener while watching TV one day and those two songs would eventually build the Bank Bar Manila playlist. That was mainly house with a disco vibe that connected to my love of 80s music.
Funny thing is, recently, I was asked by a friend who is working on opening a new resort in Palawan to put together a playlist for them. That’s going to be a new chillout project playlist that is just good vibes. No heaviness. I was working on that today when you messaged to tell me that it was 20 years ago today when my first CD came out.
ANCX: So 20 years after, do you still find joy in putting together a playlist in the age of algorithms?
I do miss the times back then when I’d spend countless hours in record stores. I loved that process and being able to share something new with others. People downloading music was part of the reason I stopped DJing. The treasure hunt for music was gone. But now I have really embraced things like Spotify for example. It's a different kind of treasure hunt. I recently restarted my Spotify page and lost all my followers because I was trying to reboot the algorithm. It got to a point when it was recommending Disney songs because of my kids choices so I had to restart.
[To Anton fans missing his compilations, the guy has put together a few new mixes during the lockdown. You can find them on https://www.mixcloud.com/AntonRamos_/ and he also has a Spotify page under AntonRamos_.]