You were hoping I was going to fuck things up at Atlas and you were going to be able to read a long juicy post, didn’t you?
As I was posting in my blog in the hours before leaving to perform at Holocene I could feel myself bringing on the jinx as I wrote my final words questioning whether I was going to be able to maintain my streak, or commence a performing downturn. Fortunately the results of the jinx were mostly comic and not horrific.
I spent several days before Atlas trying to cram as much music as possible; trying to learn as many new exciting songs as I could in an attempt to play a set that would be totally fresh for me. I listened to piles of Telegu soundtracks, new reggaeton releases, I caught up on the career of Magic Juan, and I went through many of my Balkan compilations. When preparing for a gig there are a number of strategies to entertain. I often have piles and piles of music sitting around that I haven’t gotten around to absorbing properly, many albums that I have never even listened to once. I have albums I have given a cursory listen, and maybe I even took some notes, but in order to feel comfortable playing it out I need a more thorough review. There are many albums that I have been taking to gigs for years, but they rarely get played, because it has been far too long since I refreshed my memory about why I started bringing them in the first place. I am often most obsessed with listening to the music that I have never played before, because I am tormented by the idea that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of great songs in my collection that I could be using for dance floor devastation, except that I haven’t ripped off the plastic and discovered them yet. Often scanning through as many un-listened to albums as possible will occupy so much of my time that I will arrive to the gig with lots of new (or at least new to me) albums freshly annotated, but once I am on stage, I am more likely to play something I am familiar with, than something I only half-remember from a few hours before. I will often end up wishing that I had spent more time re-learning albums that I already know are brilliant, that I don’t play as often as I should, rather than searching through endless haystacks for some hypothetical needles that I optimistically hope to find.
I was exhausted Saturday night and Anjali and I decided to take a nap. Unfortunateley I felt like I was just drifting off when the alarm went off, and caught at the worst possible point between waking and sleep, I could neither fall asleep or wake up, and simply laid in bed groggy and miserable until Anjali brought me some chai. We barely made it to the club in time to help set up as E3 began playing his first songs. He missed last month’s Atlas due to Atlas occurring on the same day as his child’s due date. This month he played a long two hour opening set so he could get back to his wife and their newborn. He started off playing some great old atmospheric (Middle Eastern and North African?) vinyl recordings before moving into some dubstep around the time that a crew arrived to dance before 9:30pm. At one point it wasn’t even 10pm yet and E3 was banging out the slamminest uptempo set of Funk Carioca and a Baltimore Club-styled remix of MIA’s Paper Planes. Anjali and I were in the Green Room and it sounded so slamming that we assumed the place was already raging. No, just E3, who needed to do what he needed to do, even if the dancers (who were dancing tango at a halftime pulse) weren’t ready for it yet. Once he moved on to Sangtogold’s “Creator” and material about 40bpms slower (French hip-hop and such), the dance floor quickly filled up.
When I was on stage getting ready to take over from E3 around 10:50pm, I was feeling unsure about myself and definitely not in the zone. As I crouched down to examine my record crate I heard a riiiip as I split the seam in the crotch of my pants, and watched my boxer-swaddled jewels drop down between my legs. Oh boy. Here I was in a three piece suit, trying to look presentable as a performer, and now my crotch is blown out moments before I am to begin DJing. Well, I guess I would have something to write about in my blog. There was no covering in front of the DJ table, so I was completely on display, on stage in the back room four feet above the crowd. I figured people could probably look right up into my crotch hole. I thought about going over to the mic and flaunting my mishap rather than trying to hide it, but I decided against beginning my set that way. Instead I focused on making sure that I would do everything I could to play new songs I was excited about, and not dip into the more familiar stuff I often fall back on. E3 was playing something break-y in the 130 bpm range, and while I had plenty of stuff in that range to play, I wanted to slow things way down for my start, which is a contrary position that I have adopted often at Atlas lately for my first song. Shortly after bringing it waaay down for a reggaeton opener, and playing a few more in that vein, I then, for who knows what perverse reason, decided to go from 90-some bpm reggaeton to 180 bpm meren-ton. What? And then, as if that wasn’t perverse enough, I feel like I then did another back and forth, returning again to some 90 bpm reggaeton and then back again to lightspeed merengue. I often feel that I DJ like a mechanical bull and I am doing everything I can to buck people off the ride from one song to the next. This is ironic, because as Anjali and I watched the crowd dance to E3’s set they seemed like hesitant newbies, who really weren’t up on the Atlas trip. Oh well. That hardly stopped me. I did manage to play mostly all-new songs for me, which was challenging, and often made me feel like I was off my game. My only concession to the crowd was playing “Mauja Hi Mauja” and “Dard-E-Disco” for the filmi-loving Desis in attendance. (I stuck in “Nach Le Soniye” from Dus Kahaniyaan as well at some point, either at the end of my first or second set.)
It seemed that with my coat covering my back, and the pants cloth in front laying closed, that perhaps the crowd wasn’t aware of my ripped-open crotch-seam. Despite this, I kept toying with the idea of approaching the mic throughout my set and relaying my busted-out-crotch story. Since people often tell me how serious I look, and since I was dressed imperiously in a three-piece suit, I figured I could really surprise the crowd, get a laugh, and maybe some sympathy (for my wildly-careening set) by relaying my mishap. Before playing the last songs of my set and turning things over to Anjali I decided to give my comedy routine shot. As I am attempting to address the crowd from the microphone I realize that people aren’t getting it so I announce what happened twice. My blown-out crotch is actually pretty well hidden by my suit coat and so I attempt to tug at my crotch to somehow separate the pants cloth and show demonstratively what I am trying to share with the crowd. No dice. Not from the front, anyway. It was still too well-hidden. I would have had to pull up my suit coat, turn around, spread my legs and bend over to truly show off my split crotch. Well, I only wanted to surprise the crowd (what DJ shows off their wardrobe malfunction?) and possibly get a little sympathy for a very off-kilter set, not present my hindquarters to the crowd. Anjali yells over that no one can hear me. Great. I am talking unintelligebly into a too-quiet microphone and tugging at my crotch in front of a room full of (now stopped and waiting) dancers. I did finally get a few cheers when I explained that my mishap put me in a mood to fuck with people, and as is my wont, I thanked the crowd for letting me fuck with them. Who knows if anyone actually heard a word I said. Anjali kept insisting that there was a woman in the front directly below me who was probably the only person in attendance that got it.
I then started up “Good Morning (Devi Mix)” one of my new transcendentally-ridiculous Telegu discoveries, and am surprised at what felt like a completely flat, if not unhappy, response from the crowd that hardly seems to change as the song plays out, except for the few delirious seconds of percussion riot that is the climax of the track, where there was some hooting from the crowd, so at least some people got it. I then leave the stage and sheepishly make my way through a room that probably has no idea why I was on the mic tugging at my crotch.
I soon realize that the club is packed. PACKED. Stuffed to the brim; an effort in patience to try to move between rooms. Anjali tells me there was a line down the block and a half hour wait to get in. Great. Thanks to all of you who came out to dance.
Anjali started off with some reggaeton and the Pitbull anthem, and eventually was blowing up the club with Panjabi garage, drum’n’bass, and hardcore bhangra with a Khaled song and a Cornershop obscurity thrown in the mix. Our plan was to switch off after roughly an hour. I was then going to play another hour, and Anjali would play the rest of the night. I knew the crowd was not going to know this, and I assumed that many people would be none too happy to see me retake the stage, and would not realize that they would get another chance to see Anjali. I stood by the stage and debated what to do. Both rooms were going off, with not only two separate packed dance floors all grooving to Anjali’s set, but also dancers on both the front room and back room stages. Even though it was time to switch off I remained to the side of the stage watching the dancers and wondering when I should approach to take over. It was a typical moment where it would have been easy for me to just let Anjali keep playing and not break off what she had established with the audience.Stages filled with dancers, Anjali in a groove, and I’m wondering what good can be achieved by me forcing her off the stage and performing my scheduled slot. I decided not to be a defeatist, so I let Anjali play a little longer, and then I got on stage to start my set.
In these situations I can either try to match her vibe as closely as possible, bhangra for bhangra, Asian garage for Asian garage; play something complementary but different, or as I often choose to do: play something completely different. In this case I ended up starting out with MIA’s “Ten Dollar” and then Myriam Faris (Arabic trance pop that I have been listening to and enjoying a great deal lately). I wanted to get around to playing some Balkan music since that was not a base I touched in my first set, and that is where I went next, and stayed for quite a few songs, ending that phase with “Romano Hip-hop” by Gypsy.cz. Sometimes I see people jumping up and down and I realize how much certain quarters of the crowd appreciate the Balkan sound, but despite how long I worked that vibe, I didn’t necessarily get that sense of ecstatic appreciation this time.
One thing that is tough to determine from the back stage is how certain songs are being received by the entire crowd, since there is an entire room of dancers that are out of view of the DJ stage. There were times during Anjali’s set when I was standing where I had a view at both dance floors, and I would hear her switch a song out early, because it wasn’t working too well in the back room, but I could tell from my vantage point that the front room was loving it. Often the front room (and stage) were far more packed with riotous dancers than the back room, but all the DJ can go by to judge the crowd reaction is the back room, which can be very misleading. Then again, there were hundreds less people in the club when I finished my set at 1:30am than there were when I went on after 12:30pm, so maybe the lack of interest in my selections I sensed in the back room was shared by the entire crowd. I also played some reggaeton, more Don Omar, Johnny Prez, and Magic Juan, threw in an Akala DNB remix, and Swami’s “Ching,”. At one point there were a cluster of people grinding onstage to DAM. I’m not sure what the Palestinian hip-hoppers would think about that.
This was the first Atlas in history where I didn’t play a single bhangra song in either of my sets. True, I played a Swami DNB song with Panjabi vocals, and I played a Bollywood number sung by a Panjabi singer, but neither remotely qualify as bhangra. It seemed to me like the height of the night was when Anjali finally started dropping some bhangra half way through her set, so maybe I shot myself in the foot by trying to do something different. Its not that I am any less a passionate fan and promter of bhangra music these days, it is just that not a lot has been coming out lately that has excited me very much, and that is saying something, as I have been buying dozens and dozens of new bhangra releases lately. Since the 2006 release of the Repazent album by Specialist and Tru-Skool I don’t think anything has come out even close to that quality, which is ironic, because when Repazent first came out, I thought it was a merely a retread of the best moments of their Word Is Born album. I’m still listening to tons of bhangra music, but after being underwhelmed by a lot of recent major releases: Sukshinder Shinda, Dr. Zeus, Aman Hayer, I am dipping into things from the past that I have so far overlooked or neglected. You can believe that as I discover more hot shit, you will definitely be hearing Panjabi music back in my Atlas selections.
After I did a good job of massively thinning the crowd, Anjali went on with some Bollywood oldies, a chutney soca set, some Sean Paul songs, and then a long bhangra set followed by some Khaled and Rachid Taha. The Desis were running the dance floor (and the stage) and no one wanted to leave, even after Anjali stopped playing at 3am. It was a really magical atmosphere: whenever there was a lull in the music during Anjali’s set the crowd yelled and screamed and egged each other on for more yelling and screaming. I was fortunate enough to be able to take it all in, sitting on a couch and watching, with my legs pressed tightly together.