Atlas rages / still trying to get out of my rut


If you happened to miss it, let me just start by saying that Atlas was off the hook. After celebrating three years at Holocene we took a month off and came back with our largest night ever. More than 500 people paid, with the club at capacity for hours, and a line out the door. I had a dance floor during my first set, and since that was the first set of the night, ending shortly after 10pm, that is pretty significant. Both rooms of the club were open and there was a packed dance floor in each room simultaneously all night.

The OPB Art Beat episode featuring Anjali and I was re-broadcast last week and they highlighted our Saturday show at Holocene. I haven’t watched more than an hour or two a year of television since 1995. I had never owned a television personally until last year, when the dearly-missed Hyon Son Won left town and told us to raid her apartment for anything she left behind. We grabbed her TV and VCR, just because, yet they are still sitting unplugged in our laundry room on top the dryer many months later. TV simply doesn’t enter into my life at all, unless I want to watch Colbert excerpts on youtube. (Dave Chappelle and Ali G DVDs are another notable exception.) Because of this, when we are featured on televison, I am amazed to discover how many people do watch television, and happen to catch our fifteen minutes. I have no idea just how many people television reaches, until they are recognizing me on the street. Apparently people were arriving at Holocene all night telling Jacob our hard-working doorman that they were there because they had seen Anjali and I on OPB. At the end of the night he requested, “Can you guys not be on TV for awhile?”

Our super-high attendance at Atlas was the result of a confluence of benevolent events. We had taken a month off. The month prior was our three year anniversary, which was featured in an article in the Willamette Week. There was the Art Beat episode. We got the pick of the week in the Mercury. Holocene was kind enough to run a prominent 1/4 page ad in the Mercury. And we had our guest Maga Bo. I had hoped these factors would combine to create a good party, but they created a GREAT party.

I started the night out with a set designed to feature all sorts of stuff that was either brand new to me, or that I never play out. Kept to my plan pretty well. Anjali thought it was one of my best sets in forever and that I should have taped it. Needless to say I was far more critical of my performance than she. I’m ust glad I got to drop some Garifuna beats. (Los Juveniles de Garifuna, where are you?) E3 was up next with a wicked set that touched on a number of continents, with some nice Middle-Eastern and Balkan segments, among others. During his set the crowd swelled to capacity and the night just rolled on from there. Anjali was up next.

One of the brilliant things about Anjali’s DJing is that she will often push things way beyond what people want or even expect. (Even I am often surprised at the direction she takes things.) When she started her set off with hardcore Panjabi Hip-hop and grime I knew she was going for broke. She very easily could have pulled off a bhangra set. The crowd was ready to lap it up, but she wanted to do something very different. She started off with “Boyz In Da Hood” featuring Deep Da 1 and Kamla Punjabi. Man did that sound good. The whole club was vibrating along with the track. She stayed with the hip-hop and grime feel for awhile. By the time she got around to dropping tracks like “Ranjha” by Himmat Singh the crowd was HYPED, jumping up and down during the bhangra breakdowns. After her set she told me, “I felt I just wanted to play Gypsy music.” That she did, with the later portion of her set featuring Balkan tracks and the new Ojos de Brujo amongst other surprises.

Maga Bo then proceeded to get on his laptop and wow the crowd with a very dense collage of reggaeton, dancehall, hiphop, Funk Carioca and more. Nothing was a straight song, but a fusing of different rhythms and vocals. It was so dense and shifting, and except for some Missy vocals, and the song “Zingy” by Ak’sent and Beenie Man I don’t think I recognized anything from his entire set. He used the reggaeton beat a lot, but he wasn’t playing reggaeton songs, just using the rhythmic platform as a base. There was a touch of Funk Carioca rhythms, but once again, not straight songs. He only played an hour and a half, but during his mix time felt endless. In a good way. So good that I forgot I was going to have to go on after him. I rarely get out of my DJ headspace at a party, but I certainly did on Saturday. I had to refocus my energy on getting back on stage after enjoying talking and dancing with friends while listening to the other DJs.

I’ve been wallowing in my DJ depression for a while now. I think I forget the few times were I feel OK about my DJing (assuming these times actually exist) and so my depression feels like one long interrupted bout of dissatisfaction, stretching back for years. I try to snap out of it. I certainly don’t have any problem finding music that excites me and that I’m eager to share. Its the part about feeling good about my performance while I”m onstage and afterwards that is so hard for me. Even when I receive a lot of praise.

I felt the need to play another set at least partially dedicated to James Brown. The opening to “Make It Funky” is just too perfect at intimating what I have in store for people:

(Bobby asks:) What you gonna play now?

(James Brown says:) Bobby, I dont know but whats it ever I play Its got to be funky!

(Bobby says:) yeah

I started out with one of the wonderful JB-jacking tracks off the new Specialist and Tru-Skool. I then went into some hard bhangra. I knew there were desis in the room that had been waiting a long time to hear some Indian music and so I wanted to give them some of the hard stuff before deciding what to do next. I was torn between different people’s desires on the dance floor. People I know want to hear Hindi songs. People I know want to hear Panjabi songs. People who want an around-the-world mix, who would appreciate something other than bhangra. People who don’t know what they want, they just want to dance. It’s so hard for me when I want to please more than one person and I know that in so doing I will not entirely please anyone, especially myself. What I want to hear is probably not what anyone wants to hear. I’ve been aching to play what the wonderful Murray Cizon calls “merengue on crack” in my sets for a long time now, but rarely get around to it. Whiteys don’t always do too well with hard Latin rhythms. I say “dance and have fun” but a lot of goreh clear the floor because they feel they don’t know how to dance “the right way” to a Latin beat. To make matters worse, the few Latin dancers in a crowd usually want to hear salsa, and not the more straightforward merengue beat. Much less a “merengue on crack” beat that is so fast and unrelenting all they can do is hope to keep up, much less show off some fancy footwork. So as much as I had lightning merengue on my mind (La Banda Chula!!), that is not what I ended up doing. Because of the television feature I knew there were people at the club eager to hear more bhangra. When my first Panjabi tracks were greated with a renewed dance floor I figured I could probably go that route until the end of my set. But I didn’t want to. The supernaturally-informed world music afficianado, Jacques, had flown in for the gig, and I always try to rise to the challenge of playing something especially envigorating for him. After a blistering opening salvo of dhol-bangers I made a radical left turn (surprised?) for some hard techno kuduro (It being a new discovery for me). Then the fabulous (fabulous!) new “XR2” by M.I.A. Not sure where to then. The time passed very quickly and before I knew it, it was 2:45am and I still had a dance floor. Hmmmm. Time for a classic . . .

For the second time in recent months at Holocene the sound system shut down during my last set. Maybe it’s trying to tell me something. At first only one CD player died, rudely interrupting the classic “Tera Yaar Bolda” by Surjit Bindrakhia. To make matters worse the only thing I had lined up on my various media playing devices was “Frikitona” by Plan B, which was hardly an appropriate follow-up. Some time in the next song or so the sound system shut down again entirely. It came back in time for me to end the night with some ’50s James Brown ballads. All in all a crazy, epic night. I’m still not feeling great about my DJing but I am very excited about my next gig. Anjali and I are off to Vancouver, BC to play the opening night of the Vancouver International Bhangra Competition with the Beats Without Borders crew. There are more Panjabis in Vancouver than anywhere else in North America, so I’m twitching to drop some of the hard stuff for the community. Brrrraaaaaaahhh! Whenever I’m down I just need some bhangra to get pumped.


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