Last night Atlas was slammed. More than 500 people throughout the night and people were complaining about the heat inside the club so much you would think it was July. We DJed from the front room but once the club filled up they opened the back room and cranked the volume for an overflow dance floor. One of the owners told me there were 150 people dancing in the back room, the most that had ever danced back there while the party was raging at capacity in the front room.
Having felt relatively good about some of my recent performances I sensed it might be my turn to take a dive. When it came time for my first set I didn’t want to go on. Anjali was playing before me and I kept asking her if she wanted to play “one more song” while I looked through my music. As it was we had arrived to the club late, so when Anjali took over from E3 we were already off schedule. When I was heading to the stage a woman asked if Anjali was going back on, obviously concerned that it looked like I was going on next. When I assured her that Anjali would be playing again she was very relieved saying, “We just love Anjali so much.” Which is all fine and good, but not the kind of pep talk a DJ who is not Anjali needs when they are heading to the stage. Fortunately I am nothing if not inured to expressions of fawning adulation for Anjali after introducing her to DJing and being her partner for nearly seven years. Hell, she’s my favorite DJ and I’ve seen her perform more than anyone on earth.
Typical daily encounter: Anjali and I are out in public. Someone comes up to her. “Are you Anjali? Oh my god, I love you so much. I am such a follower. I love you. I come out to see you all the time. I love your DJing. I am such a fan.” This will go on for quite a while. At some point Anjali will say, “This is my partner, The Incredible Kid, we DJ together.” There will either be an awkward silent pause while the person looks blankly at me, and then returns to praising Anjali effusively, or they don’t even pause to look my way and with eyes steadily focused on Anjali, will continue praising her. I should probably just get a T-shirt that says “Second Banana.”
So I didn’t want to go on, but I did. Some times I just have a bad feeling. In my first set I played a lot of new stuff for me. My first song was a Turkish reggaeton song. (I’m now starting to doubt that. If it wasn’t my first, it was somewhere in there.) I didn’t play a single Panjabi song of any kind in my set and I only played one Bollywood song from the new “I See You” soundtrack. As always I could have played reggaeton all night, and was planning on it, but instead I only managed to play two songs in my first set. I played some Arabic hip-hop songs only to achieve one of my most embarrassing moments of the night. The songs were not quite the same tempo (8 bpm off). They were both new songs for me which I had never played out so I was doing things on the fly. Typical. I didn’t want to adjust the pitch of the tracks so I figured I’d do a quick transition at the end of the first track. Nervously I started the second track too early and created an unecessary and jarring few seconds of transitional overlap. I know it’s bad when out of the corner of my eye I can see dancers stop in their tracks and then attempt to start dancing anew to the new rhythm. I played several kuduro songs which seem highly danceable to me but DJ Blackmarks commented on how “broken” the rhythms were and I wondered if my new interest is a little too abstract for Portland dancers. E3 started setting up on stage and I could tell that he didn’t realize that we were technically off schedule. I didn’t care. I was more than willing to cut my set short on both ends and get off the stage as quickly as possible. As E3 was on stage getting ready during the final songs of my first set a crew of his cheerleaders started screaming for him from the front row. “E3! E3!” Now, I had a similar cheering squad last month, so I can hardly complain about my man getting some shine. However, having someone interrupt my ascent to the stage to tell me how much they wanted to dance to Anjali at the beginning of my set, coupled with people screaming for E3 towards the end of my set certainly had me feeling like I was Head of the Class of the Unwanted 2007.
The club was so full when I exited the stage -both front room and back- that Anjali suggested a trip to the Green Room to chill out. While we were back there we kept hearing people scream and scream and scream throughout E3’s set. I thought the Beatles were in the house. Anjali had told me earlier in the day that she was planning a set in honor of Vaisakhi. Sure enough, even though she played a lot of 2-step, some hip-hop, and bhangra, it was an all-Panjabi set. Lots of 2-step, but lots of different selections from her similarly-themed set last month. One thing that was really nice was how pumped the bass was at the club this month. I was standing in the doorway between the two dance rooms and I was caught in a wind tunnel of bass blowing from both directions. Awesome. Anjali was of course killing it, and I still didn’t want to play. While some of the crowd was loving the 2-step beats, the dance floor would get hectic when the dhol beats dropped. Since I had the last shift of the night I knew I would be clearing the club as I played, sooner or later. Sooner as it were.
Wasn’t sure what to do. Couldn’t bring myself to look up at all during my entire set. A lot of DJs have been coming to Atlas lately, and it makes one feel under the microscope, as it were. It doesn’t help that most of our music is only available on CD and not playing vinyl is quite a negative mark against us as far as a lot of DJs (whose music is all available on vinyl) are concerned. I started off with a song from New Flesh that seemed to have the whole dance floor paused in wariness. I found myself playing songs I had played to death more than a year ago like Sean Paul’s “Legalize It” and the Elephant Man-assisted, bilingual remix of Pitbull’s “Shake.” Anjali thought the songs went off, but I am never happy playing old familiar songs when there are hundreds of brand new ones I would rather be featuring. There is a slogan-y placard for sale at Powell’s I noticed today that says: The sign of god is that we may be led where we did not plan to go. I guess God wanted me to play Sean Paul and Pitbull and not all the new reggaeton I’ve been enraptured with. At one point I had mere seconds to find my next song and out of desperation I grabbed the “Bhagam Bhag” soundtrack. The Bollywood chutney soca-ish “Signal” comes on and I feel vast waves of people leave the club. I play some metallic Funk Carioca and I manage my second most-embarrassing moment of the night. I eyeball the record grooves and think I have some time to find my next song. As I am going through my music I hear the song end. “Uh. . . I thought there were minutes left in that track?!?” I have nothing lined up and as I feel the whole club pause and wait I realize that the next song on the album is a banger and I have little choice other than to wait for the next track to start. After all, the space between songs can only be a second or two . . . right? Five of the longest seconds on earth pass as the club waits and wonders and when another guitar riff starts I feel like everyone thinks I’m replaying a song or something awful and I can only grin and bear it as I wonder how many local DJs are watching me make a fool of myself. I play the Turbo remix of MIA’s “XR2” and feel like nobody gets it or appreciates it. Anjali figures it didn’t sound so hot since it is only available as an MP3. Official release, please?
I felt mortified and off my game for the bulk of my set, playing the soundtrack to hundreds of people leaving the club. I played some more kuduro and just thought, “Ya know, this is too much for people right now.” Eventually I was playing bhangra and Bollywood for the desi crowd that had stayed until the end. I played six songs in a row where I thought each was the last, but people kept staying and dancing and singing along so I played last track after last track after last track. Eventually around 3:00am I ended it. Still plenty of people dancing and singing. A satisfying ending to a personally-frustrating evening. I’m glad I at least know enough to successfully play filmi classics to a desi crowd. There were even quite a few non-desis who stayed until the end, which is a beautiful thing.
Thank you to everyone at Holocene for such a great night. Thank you to Austin Sellers for the new flyer design. Thank you to Miko for collecting so many email addresses from the crowd. Thank you to Anjali and E3 for doing your thing, and thanks to everyone who came out and made Holocene so darn sweltering all night. Here’s hoping I’m more on my game next month, and better able to focus on all the new stuff I’m so excited about.