It has been quite a long time since I failed as spectacularly as I did at the Fez Ballroom at the June Andaz. It was a hot, hot, hot day for Portland: 100 degrees Farenheit. The heat was even more startling, given that the nights have been around 50 degrees lately. The number of people at our club nights is usually inversely proportional to how hot it is that day. When I checked the forecast last week, and saw how hot Saturday was going to be, I knew we would be having a really lightly-attended night. Really light. A little less than 250 people through the door makes it our quitest Andaz night in many years, although given how hot it was, we were lucky that anyone was there at all. We were also fortunate to have Joti Singh, founder of the Duniya Dance Company, up from San Francisco, to grace our night out with a bhangra dance lesson.
Before she began the lesson I had started the night out playing a bunch of Telugu soundtracks. My love affair with Tollywood music has continued unabated since I finally got serious about my interest after four years, and started buying just about every Tollywood soundtrack I could get my hands on in the last six months. It has been one of the most inspiring sources of new sounds for me in 2008, and one of my big challenges these days is to figure out how to incorporate more of this music into my sets.
It wasn’t my first set that was a spectacular failure, nor my second set, which I think was generally well-received. In fact, at points during my second set there was such a dense group of people literally jumping up and down near the DJ booth, that I had to grab on to the rocking DJ table to stabilize it in a succesful attempt to keep the music from skipping. I forced “Pappu Can’t Dance” (Remix) into my set, because even if no one knows it yet, I have been obsessed with both versions of the song lately. Major cheeze pop infatuation going on there. I hardly played any bhangra. The few Panjabi songs I did play I felt like I had to forcibly crowbar into my set, and while Anjali appreciated them, I’m not sure who else did. Except for my friends Deep and Cheema, I didn’t get any Panjabi requests all night.
No matter how hot it was, and no matter how much the Fez felt like the inside of an aquarium, Anjali kept the floor filled with dancers until 2am when we switched off for the final time. In the days before Andaz, I found myself reflecting on gigs in the past when Anjali had established such a tight rapport with the crowd that I felt helpless to do anything other than clear the floor once I went on after her. In my reflecting I felt like that was a distant past, that didn’t appply to where I am at as a DJ today. It was like remembering an ancient version of myself, that I have since overcome.
Anjali’s last song was “Khai Ke Paan Banaras Wala,” so I knew I was going to need to start off with an older classic that everyone knew. Lately I’ve been listening to the 6-CD Bhangra Grove compilation, which has a CD of filmi bhangra, and rediscovering lots of old songs I had forgotten about. I had resurrected “Kudiyaan Shehar Diyan” from Arjun Pandit for Filmistan recently, and that went over so well, that I decided to take the same tack at Andaz. As a general rule, Anjali and I never play Daler Mehndi at Andaz, no matter how many requests we might get. When Rang de Basanti was huge, I did play the title song several times, simply in response to the tide of requests, but that is the exception to the rule. However, based on the ecstatic response that “Kudiyaan Shehar Diyan” received at Filmistan, I decided to see if lightning would strike twice. However, I didn’t cue up “Kudiyaan Shehar Diyan,” but another Daler Mehndi song directly preceding it on the CD, “Na Na Na Na Na Re.” Maybe if I had successfully cued up the song I intended to things would have gone different. Who can say?
“Na Na Na Na Na Re” is a hyper-fast spazz fest, and Anjali had already warned me during my earlier set that people were so hot and tired that I better lower the BPMs, since people weren’t going to be able to keep up. In the opening seconds of the song I didn’t even have to look up to feel the energy sucked out of the entire room. I knew that I just made up everyone’s minds that now was the moment to leave for home. Apparently in addition to being an awful song choice, Anjali came in the booth to let me know that the recording sounded horrible. She thought it sounded so distorted that it was as if I was playing a noise rock song or something. As I watched 100 some dancers heading for the exit while my first song played I realized I had to salvage the situation immediately in a major way if I was to be playing to anyone other than myself for my final set. I decided to play another Amitabh classic, “Rang Barse,”hoping against hope, that I could dissuade some of the fleeing patrons from their current course of action. Never mind that it is a Holi song. Never mind that we are months past that celebration. I was just trying to lure some people back with a classic. No dice, although Anjali did say that people were singing along on their way out the door, so I guess that is my consolation prize.
Having cleared nearly everyone in the club except for Cheema and Deep, I played their respective requests, Diljit’s “Sharaab” and Surinder Shinda’s “Put Jattan De,” and then without much thought, put on the Safri Boys “Pao Bhangra,” before leaving to move the car, which was parked far from the club. This was at 2:25am, and I figured that the four dancers left in the club wouldn’t have a problem with my shutting things down a half hour early. I had sympathy for the Fez staff, and didn’t want to keep them late, if most of the dancers had gone home. Anjali and I had not had any food since lunch, so she was eating her dinner at 2:30am at a table outside the DJ booth when I left her to go move the car. I find out from her later that the four remaining dancers flipped her shit for shutting down at 2:30am instead of 3:00am, and she didn’t appreciate my abandoning her to deal with unhappy dancers when I had simply left and not even announced, “last song” or anything. Oops. I couldn’t imagine the few people left would have any problem with a 2:30am closing time, after such a long, hot night. I was wrong. They weren’t quitters, unlike me, so I will give them that. Just don’t abuse Anjali having her first meal in twelve hours, when its my fault the music stopped.
See you next month.