Almost slept in and missed Andaz this Saturday. After our return trip to New York ended up being a 25-hour odyssey, with only a few hours of sleep on one of three flights, we spent several days in a groggy fog. We decided to take a nap Saturday afternoon, without setting an alarm, and barely made it to Andaz in advance of paying guests. I think at least one individual was treated to my sound check. I started out with old Bollywood funk and rock’n’roll numbers and then Anjali took over for her first Bhangramuffin-leaning set. When I took over again I notched it up with some fast-paced bhangra (including one of the J-Skillz produced tracks off the “Special Edition” of the last Gippy Grewal album) before moving into electro-bhangra classic “Desi Rock” and “Akhiyan Udeek Diyan” off the Jinx album. It was a largely gora crowd at this point, and people seemed into it. I decided if I didn’t have that many Hindi-speakers to please I could get away with some of the newer Bollywood-house numbers I am into that aren’t necessarily big hits, or familiar to people who only know the biggest Bollywood songs, which judging from the requests, seems to be most of our Hindi-speaking audience in Portland. Because our non-desi crowd at Andaz is primarily into the dhol beats, the newer Bollywood-house stuff usually doesn’t go over so well with the goreh, but I think I managed to pull it off, after playing one of the four versions of “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” off the movie soundtrack of the same name. (I knew I was going to play the hell out of that track during the night, since it has my vote for next song to be fucking massive forever.) I felt pretty good about my set, which is a rarity these days.
Anjali must have figured the faster tempo was working because she began her set very uncharacteristically with several house numbers including an RDB number and the 2k6 Dance Mix of “Dil Nai Lagda.” She was well into an all-Panjabi set when I went in the booth to check on her. She was very frustrated by all the aggressive requests for Hindi songs. One individual who I had the pleasure of dealing with later was in her face three separate times during her set. Since I had spent a lot of time before the gig absorbing the dozen most absolute-fresh-off-the-presses soundtracks that had just arrived in New York, I was eager to see what songs had been requested. I was hoping they would be for something new and exciting. Nope. –Borrrrring. Either oldy-moldy cheezy pop bhangra, the same-old, same-old Hindi songs, or newish songs that are absolutely abominable like “Dhoom Again.” Ugggh. Someone always requests that absolutely heinous song, which admittedly has a fun beginning, and an effectively histrionic chorus, but has anyone listened to the absolutely god-awful English verses on that song? (I did a google search typing in “Dhoom Again sucks” and found a lyric site with dozens of comments on the song calling the lyrics the most brilliant ever composed, etc. Aarrggggh. Right after the atrocious lyrics themselves. Mind-boggling.) I like some songs on Pritam’s (mostly ripped-off) soundtracks, but even the original “Dhoom Machale” was so cheezy it took me half a year before I could bring myself to play it. –I get all the soundtracks when they come out, but I will often not play things for awhile unless I am really impressed by them, or curious how they will go over (see my floor-clearing antics with “Assalaam Vaalekum” later in the evening). Most of the Portland Hindi-speaking crowd that make requests at our night is so behind the times, that I never even got a request for the original “Dhoom” in that six months, but a year after it came out, and ever since, it has always remained in demand. When I first started playing it I would cut it before the cheezy English lyrics, only to have desis in my face complaining that I cut it early. Whooops. Now I will gladly play it to get away from having to play the horrendous new version. I have only broken down and played it once at Andaz and I was so ashamed I hid the whole time I did it. Often if I play something that felt embarrassing while I did it, I will re-listen to the song at home to see if it is as bad as it seemed. Often it will be a great song that got a poor crowd response, and re-listening to it will only confirm how great it is, and I’ll just blame it on the crowd. When I replayed “Dhoom Again” at home I was even more mortified than I had been at the time, and the song seemed a thousand times more awful. Terribly popular, however.
The problem with terrible Hindi songs with cheezy English lyrics is that desi Bollywood lovers will think the songs are awesome and not realize how horribly horribly cheezy the songs sound to just about anyone else. If desi Bollywood lovers were the majority at our parties, it would hardly matter, but they are only a minority faction most of the time. Now some times I will play cheezy cheezy shit for my own amusement, like later on in the night when I played the “Eye of the Tiger”-remake “Ankiya Teriya Ve” from the Kaal soundtrack and Anjali wanted me fired on the spot. (Hey, I didn’t lose the whole dance floor! –Leave that to the latest Himesh starring vehicle.)
When Hindi-speakers start getting aggresive about their requests, it only emboldens Anjali to play even more Bhangra. She did eventually drop “Where’s the Party Tonight” and “Say Na, Say Na” among others, but for some people it was very possibly too little, too late. When I take over from Anjali I usually feel like I have to immediately start pleasing the Hindi-speakers, to try to compensate for Anjali’s invariably Bhangra-heavy sets –despite the fact that I have lots of my own Bhangra selections that I would love to play, that aren’t among the tracks that Anjali tends to play, like all the Bhangra from the Punjab I’ve been exploring lately. Somehow I found myself opening my next set with Bhangra anyway. Another J-Skillz produced Gippy Grewal track, A.S. Kang’s “Aish Karo” (which Anjali plays so much I tend to avoid it, but after it sounded so good at Basement Bhangra last week, and I got a request, I was inspired to play it) and Jazzy B and Shinda’s “Oh Na Kuri Labdi.”
At this point a very agitated man arrives at the booth explaining that it has been an hour since his wife made some requests and that we still had not played them. I had never laid eyes on this man before, and had no idea that he had been in Anjali’s face so many times during her set. I explained to him that on the request board it says “No Promises!” He didn’t seem to get it, so I showed the board to him and pointed out the “No Promises” emblazoned across the top of the board. He still didn’t get it. Now unfortunately, people like this individual seem to think that my job is getting involved in lengthy discussions about their desires while I am trying to DJ. No, sorry, my job is to DJ a great dance party, which may or may not have anything to do with playing something you personally want to hear. The man then brings his wife over to the booth, with what aim I have no idea, but it is hard to hear anyone over the monitors and so eventually I just had to give up, and returned to picking out my next song.
The joke about the request board is that it wouldn’t even exist if it were up to Anjali. I insist on having one, because I am open-minded enough to believe that I might learn about a good song I don’t already know. 90% or more of requests are entirely predictable, but once in a while I will learn about a cool old song, or a newer song with which I am not yet familiar. Rare, but it happens. The funny thing is that when people approach us with the most lame, predictable requests, they seem to think that we are ignorant of the songs/artists/soundtracks, because only ignorance could excuse our not playing these songs. Um, actually we are far too painfully aware of these songs and actively avoid them at our night. Sorry for the harsh reality. There is some stuff we just don’t touch with a ten-foot pole, or only really late at night when everyone is drunk and we are feeling charitable. The exception is private parties where for a thousand bucks you can pretty much hear what you want. As financially-struggling artists, Anjali and I have entertained the notion of charging $20 to $100 for requests, but I don’t see why our crowd should be punished by people with more money than taste.
I was eventually feeling magnanimous enough to play the “Chunnari Chunnari” (which IS a great song) request, especially since Johnny Mozzerella and Irina were in the house. I don’t know if the complaining couple lasted long enough to hear it, or if they just left in an angry huff. Hindi-speakers at our night have to be patient. Patience is rewarded, pushiness just results in more Panjabi music, especially if you get in Anjali’s face. Later in the night I even played the new “Main Hoon Don” by request, which never seems to go off when I play it, despite the requests, and sure enough it didn’t seem to go over too well. Maybe all the requesters were gone by the time I played it. I squeezed in the more techno version of “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” in my middle set, only to get a request for the version I had played earlier. At least it is a song we can all agree on. As for the three songs on the soundtrack that aren’t some version of “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” . . . When Anjali and I saw Jhoom Barabar Jhoom in NYC and “Ticket to Hollywood” was playing, she was revulsed, while I predicted it would be a big hit. When Anjali cringes at a new Hindi song, that is a pretty good indicator that it will be a huge hit, see “Just Chill” and “My Dil goes Mmm.” Sure enough “Ticket to Hollywood” is currently in the top ten for Hindi radio stations in India.
I succumb too easily to factionalism at Andaz. I am far too aware of whether a song is in Hindi or Panjabi, and whether it will appeal to a primarily gora or desi audience. I played “Dhoom Machale” and “Main Hoon Don” for the desis, and Kais’ ” Mundeya De Dil Hilgaye” and Manak-E’s “Billy Jean”-jacking “Dhoor” for the goreh, and didn’t feel good about any of it. I am very conscious when I am playing a Jazzy B or Dil-jit song, exactly who I am playing it for. If I only played what I wanted to hear I don’t think many desis would be very happy, since I would play a lot of Bollywood and Bhangra songs that either nobody cares about, nobody knows, or everybody hates. For instance, one of my favorite Anand Raj Anand tracks is “Nassa Nassa” off the Kaal soundtrack. I love this song (except for the far-too-common-in-filmi-these-days lame English rap), and just found the following online review written by a desi: “If I have to describe this song in one word it will be TORTURE. It makes me wonder what the makers had in their mind while composing this track, it a mix of bhangra, bollywood tune and overdose of English lyrics. Unlike Tauba Tauba this experiment flops. Vocals from the singers are equally bad. Don’t want to experience 5.07 minutes of torture again. Skip!” “TORTURE” would probably describe many desis’ response to a set comprised entirely of Indian songs I love.
So eventually it is my turn to play the last set of the evening. I play a version of “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” because it was my mission to get everyone else to have that song stuck in their head as well. After that I feel like, “Fuck everyone, I’m going to play all new Bollywood songs I want to hear, and clear everyone, and I don’t care.” I put on “Assalaam Vaalekum” from the new Himesh Reshammiya-starring Aap Kaa Surroor. Anjali comes into the booth and tells me that every desi just cleared the dance floor. I called that one. The soundtrack is HUGE in India right now, but not on my dance floor. At least not that track, which is my current favorite. Having done what I said I wanted to do, I now felt contrite and wanted to get the desis back. I played “Salaam-e-Ishq” and sure enough some come back to dance. Thanks for that, because even when I continued to play filmi favorites from the last five years no one bothers to stick around. What sucks is that a group of Tibetans and Nepalis were in the house until I dropped the Himesh track, and I would have been happy to have catered to them, were they to have stuck around.
I’m bound to be disappointed when I put so much effort keeping up with the latest-latest when most people want to hear the comfortable and familiar. Thank you to everyone who came out and danced, and especially to Caleb and JC for the Voodoo Donuts!