Anjali and I were booked to play the Black Lodge at Reed College for their annual Renne Fayre festivities a few weekends ago. I had only been to Renne Fayre once, a decade ago. At the time a Reedie ex-girlfriend gave me a bunch of wristband scrap ends that were taped together to form a makeshift wristband that worked surprisingly well throughout my attendance at the event. I remember naked jello hillslides, a human chessboard, and a bug eating contest featuring either hideously large, or maggoty insects. I vaguely remember that there were musical performances, but I couldn’t tell you who was playing. I really had no idea what to expect of Renne Fayre in 2007.
It wasn’t until very near the date that we learned that we were sharing the bill with Bigg Jus and Myka Nyne. Since what we do is in no way related to underground hip-hop, I wasn’t sure how that bill matchup was going to work. I pictured a bunch of underground hip-hop heads fleeing at the first sound of “foreign” vocals. The more I thought about it the more I figured this slot would give me an excuse to play a lot of the hip-hop in my collection that I rarely get a chance to play, since my regular gigs are so focused on international music. The lodge was lit all in black light, with many white sheets giving off an eerie blue glow. The sound was fairly quiet as an MC rapped over low-key beats, to a room of bopping kids. Things were off-schedule by an hour, and when it was finally our time to play, Anjali played first.
Anjali played an amazing set of hard-hitting bhangra (on the future tip), British Asian Hip-hop and heaping dollops of Panjabi 2-Step. The crowd seemed to be remarkably receptive, yet I wondered how many people had no idea what was going on, and were hoping for something else. I definitely heard a group of kids discussing how they wanted to hear some Justin Timberlake.
I didn’t go on until after 2:30am. I started with a set of hip-hop-heavy bhangra mashups which got an ecstatic response, and then very excitedly, went into Nas’ “Made You Look.” Total dance floor damper. This is a song that has caused me to spontaneously leap from my seat and run great distances in order to dance in front of the speakers while it plays. Not this crowd apparently. But I had just seen a whole dance floor of kids bopping to far-from-energetic hip-hop!?! I play one more bhangra hip-hop mashup and then find myself lost with seconds to go and I grab frantically for Eric B and Rakim, dropping “I Know You Got Soul.” Total dance floor damper. Wow, I thought this was a hip-hop crowd and nobody wants to dance to Nas and Rakim!?! I take one more stab at something outside of my usual international stomping grounds and play XXXchange’s remix of Justin Timberlake’s “My Love” which I had just received in the mail. A few couples are grooving to it, that’s it. That was my token crowd-pleasing lowball, and there is nothing more embarrassing than an unsuccessful lowball. Eventually I find my footing and after some Zion to cleanse my palette, I start playing a crazy mix of Bhangra, Bollywood, Reggaeton, and Balkan Beats, and get a positive response, doing pretty much do as I please.
Even though I eventually felt good about what I was doing, and people were appreciating it, I was really thrown off by my how much I misjudged the crowd initially. Anjali had played a consistently aggressive and ahead of the curve (even if several years old) set, and got a great response. I tried to get a response with what I thought would be more familiar enticements, and relatively fell on my face. Only after the performance did I see a Renn Fayre schedule and see us billed as “Legendary Portland club DJs” playing “four hours of Bhangra, Middle-Eastern Hip Hop, and Asian Techstep.” Well, that would explain why Anjali’s very future forward set seemed to be right in line with what the crowd was expecting, since “Asian Techstep” described a lot of what she was playing. Meanwhile I, not knowing how I’ve been billed, or even that an attempt to describe my style was made in a guide to the Fayre, look like a dumbshit lowballing the crowd with familiar American hip-hop and R&B. The joke is that there are no doubt thousands of DJs that are forced to play hip-hop by their crowd’s insistence at their gigs, who would like to play something different, and I, who spend most of my time playing songs most gringos have never heard before, long to be able to drop some more familiar hip-hop every once and a while. I definitely picked the wrong place to do it this time. Fortunately Joti Singh was in town to keep us company and make the night a lot of fun.