I just could not get that excited about preparing for this month’s Andaz. And that scares me. It scares me to think that my parties or my DJing could ever become routine. I’ve seen it happen to other DJs who realize how easy it is to please people and coast through gigs. I don’t want that to ever happen, so it concerned me that I was content to idle my time away at home rather than absorb myself in preparation.
Sure, I listened to plenty of bhangra and Bollywood music in the weeks leading up to Andaz, but that is absolutely typical. Yes, I spent hours researching the latest Bollywood soundtrack releases online as well. In this process, I learned to my dismay, that itunes does not have a comprehensive selection of new filmi soundtracks. In fact, I wasn’t able to find a single legal mp3 site with a comprehensive selection of current Bollywood soundtrack releases. Seeing as how I would just as soon never play mp3s, why do I care? Even though I only use mp3s when absolutely necessary, I sometimes cannot source something any other way, and sometimes a Bollywood soundtrack will be released in the days right before Andaz, and there will be no way to order it and have it shipped in time for my performance.
What about buying it locally? Yeah right. India 4 U is the only Portland store that consistently carries new filmi soundtracks. They get some amount of new filmi releases, but often they don’t get particular soundtracks until weeks or months after I want them, and rarely finding myself in SE Portland, I often miss the good soundtracks that do come in, because the few copies that arrive will sell the same day. All the Indian stores in the West suburbs have long since stopped carrying filmi CDs. The exception is Apna Bazaar, and they will occasionally get in a few CDs (and I mean just a few), but they are hardly a source to be relied upon. The stores up in Vancouver, Washington will have some bootlegs of relatively recent bhangra releases, but they don’t have any sort of contemporary filmi selection. Certainly not the latest releases. So, yeah, buying filmi locally is hardly a reliable option. I know this from many years of wasted trips all throughout the greater Portland metro area futilely searching for recent releases to play at rapidly approaching gigs.
Because in the past itunes has had several soundtracks I needed immediately, I got the impression I could rely on them for all my last-minute filmi needs, but sadly I found that they didn’t carry any of the new soundtracks I was looking for. It seems that they have the products of certain labels, and not others. I also couldn’t find these soundtracks on any other legal mp3 sites. Of course I know that as much as I place importance on having the latest-latest, the truth is that I won’t get requests for anything that recent. I was obsessing about not having the new Pritam Race soundtrack that just came out, but the movie itself will not even come out until late March (soundtracks come out in advance of Bollywood movies to generate interest, in case you didn’t know), so its not like people have seen it and want to relive the songs on the dance floor. In the same way, there is little need for me to be so obsessed with the bhangra releases from the last few weeks. I have tons and tons of new bhangra CDs to listen to from recent trips to NYC and Seattle, but knowing that the Panjabi attendees at Andaz are only going to request Jazzy B, Lehmber, and possibly Diljit, I don’t feel a lot of pressure to burrow into the mountains of recent bhangra CDs, because the ones I’m most interested in, or have received the most attention, I’ve already absorbed, at least superficially.
In the hours before the gig I tried to muster some enthusiasm for listening to a bunch of new music, but let me say it again, I know what people are going to want to hear: the Hindi-speakers are going to want to hear stuff like “Dard-E-Disco,” “Bhool Bulaiyaa,” “Soni De Nakhre” etc., if not older songs like “Kaja Re” and “It’s the Time to Disco,” and the Panjabis are going to want to hear Jazzy B and Lehmber. Its hard to get excited about pushing myself to discover all sorts of obscure songs at the last minute, when I know what people will be in my face requesting all night. As it turned out, the most recent request of the night was “Soni De Nakhre” a song that came out more than eight months ago. So much for my imagining that people would be hoping I could play something from the brand new Race soundtrack.
Having said all this, at one point during the February Andaz a Panjabi man did ask Anjali why we weren’t playing “new” songs. I found this amusing, because most of my selections were either the latest bhangra songs or the latest filmi songs. This is the tricky thing about playing “new” music for people. They don’t want new music they have never heard, they want “new” music that they recognize as being new, because they have already heard it. So when I am playing the latest songs, many people don’t know them yet, and so they are simultaneously wishing we would play the “new” songs, which means the less-new songs that they are already familiar with. At one point in the night Anjali felt like I was playing too much filmi, and then she corrected herself, and said too much filmi that people don’t know yet. Funny, that on the one hand I am apparently not playing “new” songs, and on the other I am playing songs that are too new.
Diljit is currently one of the biggest Panjabi singers from India. I brought and played his new Chocolate CD, and shortly after playing it, I got a Diljit request for “Daka”, which, honestly, not paying that much attention to Diljit song titles, I assumed was from his new album, but no, it was actually from his last CD. Which is fine, nothing wrong with requesting an older song, often times the new album by an artist is not as good as his last one, I just found it funny that I went to the trouble to order Diljit’s new CD from Canada in time for Andaz, only to have requests for last year’s release. Even though “Daka” is a very slow bhangra song typical in pace of most Panjabi requests, and not at all appropriate to the pace that I was currently playing, I may have humored the requesters, except that I had just played Diljit, it was the end of my set, and really pushy, aggressive people are not the ones I enjoy pleasing.
So why do I try to please people who are often obnoxious, irritatingly insistent, and belligerent, instead of the kindly people dancing and having a good time? The squeaky wheel gets greased. Not always, but often as a DJ, you just want the assholes in your face to leave you alone for awhile. Of course you play one request, and then the same people are back in your face again, treating you like their personal jukebox. I hate to break it to you, irritating requesters, but often what you want is not going to work for the majority of the crowd. Panjabis mainly request slow, slow, slow bhangra tracks that are just too sluggish for non-Panjabi dancers. Hindi-speakers commonly want abysmally-cheezy songs with horrendous Hinglish lyrics, that if I play them, will have the non-Hindi speakers in the crowd asking, “Why the fuck is he playing this shit?” If I play some sick-ass “Desi beats” as they are known in the UK, many of the Portland-residing Desis, Panjabi-speakers and Hindi-speakers alike, respond, “What the fuck is this? Where’s my Jazzy B/song from the latest Sharukh-starrer?” They may be called “Desi” beats, but it is often the Portland goras who respond the best to the 2-step and drum’n’bass beats.
Well, what about the people who don’t speak Hindi or Panjabi? Non-Desis rarely get in my face except to request “Mundian to Bach Ke,” a big filmi song from the last five years with a singable English chorus, or something that I have played before with a very obvious hip-hop sample. Or they will want me to go back to playing “Indian” music (meaning bhangra as opposed to filmi) as was the case with a gori larki at the last Andaz, who wanted me to go back to playing “traditional” music. She wrote a very sweet note to me after I had begun a filmi-house set, asking that I please return to playing “traditional” music. Traditional? Like Dr. Dre? Contemporary bhangra like we play at Andaz is very much a product of computers, synthesizers, software, sequencers, drum machines, turntables, and yes, some Panjabi folk instruments, or often samples of Panjabi folk intstruments. It is a music that has roots that are hundreds of years old, but the current manifestation is very much a modern technological creation, and not simply “traditional” music. We could play ethnographic folk recordings of rural bhangra at Andaz, and it would hardly be what people expect to hear from us when they are on the dance floor. Much contemporary filmi has a very electronic sound, but it would be foolishness to think that current bhangra is any less electronic or modern. Anjali sees the irony of a gori larki hoping to change the music, intently writing a note, while right behind her, throngs of Desis take to the stage to delight in filmi techno. Some of the goras may dislike the fimi, thinking that bhangra is more “Indian,” while unbeknownst to them, many Desis at the party complain that we play bhangra because it is not real “Indian” music like filmi. I have watched some groups of Hindi-speakers in attendance make fun of the bhangra; to them a backwards regional music.
Of course not all Hindi-speakers despise bhangra, and not all Panjabis clear the floor when filmi comes on. Fortunately there are all sorts of Desis that like to dance to bhangra at our party, and fortunately not all Panjabis run to the DJ booth to request Jazzy B the second a filmi song if played. I am not complaining about the majority of the wonderful people who attend our parties, I am only complaining about the narrow-minded people in attendance who harass me at the DJ booth, who can’t understand that I am attempting to please hundreds of people from all sorts of backgrounds, languages, cultures, and expectations, and not just their annoying ass.
I like the people who don’t get in my face. I like the people I never see at the booth far more than the people that come to make a request. The people that come to the booth 99 times out of a 100, are requesting a super-obvious song, that Anjali and I have either already played, are planning on playing, or had no intention of playing, and were actively avoiding it. Requesters often assume we don’t know what we are doing, and we don’t know what they want to hear, but believe me, we do. Both know what we are doing, and know what different factions of the crowd want to hear. There are very, very few surprises on a request sheet.
Regular readers of The Incredible Blog are no doubt thoroughly bored by this familiar rehashed litany of complaints, repeated ad nauseum in my Andaz posts, all complaints I’ve whined about a million times. What was utterly unique about February’s Andaz, and not something that is a source of complaint at all, is that I played a solid half hour of Telegu soundtrack songs during my first set. I have never played a South Indian set at Andaz before. Normally I would play a bunch of downtempo Bollywood songs, some new, some vintage, but I really wanted to put my new Tollywood discoveries to use. And they worked. The wild flights of percussion actually had people dancing from the beginning of the night. In fact, when I played my first bhangra song it brought things down, seeming so slow and lumbering by comparison, and with a poorly-handled abrupt transition to Panjabi music, I managed to momentarily lose the dance floor. Of course “losing” a dance floor so early in the night, when there normally wouldn’t even be a dance floor, is hardly a noteworthy entry in my history of clearing dance floors.
I’ve always been open to the idea of incorporating more South Indian popular music into the Andaz party, so don’t be surprised if you hear more of my Telegu discoveries in the future. And who knows, maybe I’ll find some Tamil stuff to be excited about as well, unlike some of the really cheezy pop stuff I’ve tried to wade through in the past.
Oh, and I had to watch a few minutes of a Matrix sequel on youtube, in order to see what a woman was trying to tell me at the end of the night. She was thanking Anjali and I for our service to the community and comparing the gathering of the tribes feeling of our party to the Matrix dance scenes set in Zion. She felt like our party was a place where everyone, no matter who they were, from whatever walk of life, could come dance and be themselves. While I appreciate her positivity and compliments, at the center of the maelstrom, I often feel like Andaz is less like a gathering of the tribes, and more like a conflagration of warring factions.
Fortunately, no one wars with each other, just with the DJ.
Thank you to everyone who came out to dance. It was great seeing so many friends. If you wondered what in the hell I was doing during my time in the DJ booth, know now that I was trying to please everybody, and admittedly, myself as well. It can get messy sometimes. When I feel pulled in so many directions, it would not surprise me at all that everyone has their own opinions as to what direction I didn’t go far enough in, and what direction I never should have gone down at all.