Last night was the one-year anniversary our Andaz party moving from Fez Ballroom to Rotture. When we were DJing our final night at the Fez, all the staff there, who really wished us success at our new home, were very vocal in assuring us that our crowd was so dedicated that they were absolutely going to follow us, and we didn’t have to worry about re-establishing our night at a new club.
Things turned out to be very different than their assurances.
Our first nights at Rotture were cursed to occur on some of the only severely hot nights in a very mild Summer, and we only saw a tiny fraction of our old crowd at the Fez turn out to dance. After seven-and-a-half-years where we consistently played to 300-400 people every month, all of a sudden we were playing to tiny (but highly-enthusiastic) dance floors of less than a hundred people. The Desis who would come out would swear that we could never establish a successful Desi night on the East side of the river, as “Indians don’t cross the river.” (All Indians except themselves, I would guess.) Anjali always comments on how popular Nicolas Restaurant is with Desis, located only two blocks from Rotture, so she knew that was a lie. However, there is no denying that Rotture is in a relatively desolate industrial setting, compared to Fez’s location downtown, just off W. Burnside St., and that could be daunting to a recent immigrant to Portland, especially one more familiar with the West suburbs.
What we realized from these early parties, was that we weren’t simply tranferring our long-lived and much-loved dance party to a new home, but establishing a completely new party. Our closest friends went to great lengths to come out and wish us well at our new home, even ones that almost never come out to dance parties, and we had some of our old Fez crowd make the transition, but the overall turnouts at the parties felt like a completely new crowd. And it was a crowd that seemed to really be feeling hip-hop bhangra, and really not feeling filmi house. Now this is ironic, as when we first started throwing dedicated Desi dance parties nine years ago, Anjali and I were quite happy playing full evenings of bhangra music, with just a few sprinklings of Bollywood numbers, but we quickly learned that if we wanted broad Desi support for the party we would have to start playing more Bollywood. A lot more. This was tough at the turn of the millennium, as we have always had a very mixed crowd, and there was very little Bollywood music at the time that appealed to non-Desi dancers. There was a (mostly awful) massive bootleg bedroom Bollywood remix industry at the time, because even Desis wanted to hear their music remixed. Slowly the Bollywood music industry caught on, and more and more soundtracks began being released with remixes included, and the productions of the original Bollywood songs got more and more in line with the expectations of a Western dancefloor as well, such that now when I play for goreh I will often play more Bollywood than bhangra, and the opposite used to be true.
Back in our early Fez days Anjali was quite happy to continue playing mostly bhangra at Andaz, no matter how much non-Panjabi Desis wanted to hear filmi, but I was determined to reach out to them, and began researching danceable filmi in earnest. Now the secret of Desis is that many will claim to only love the classics, and hate how awful the industry is these days, and then be singing along the loudest to the most recent songs from the Bollywood hit machine. What this means is that the classics will always have their place, but you better be up on the latest hits (or their sometimes-dated notion of the latest hits) if you want to DJ for a Desi crowd. So I started buying piles of crap Bollywood soundtracks, and crap Bollywood mixes, hunting for those elusive tracks that would work for our mixed dance floor. What at first started out as a mission soon became a passion, and after weaning myself away from an aversion to cheeze, I actually started really liking a lot of contemporary filmi. Not all of it, and not even all the hits (A lot of massive Bollywood hits have never been played at our night because they are awful. Yes, awful. And if you think the Bollywood songs we do play are cheezy,you should hear the stuff we sift through and leave at home.), but enough that I became more and more excited about playing filmi over the years, and would often arrive at Andaz more eager to play current filmi than bhangra. This worked fine when there were large contingents of filmi-loving Desis in the house, and not so well when they decided not to show. Well, you might say, I am a gori/gora and I come to your night, and I actually love filmi best. Yes, I know there are some of you out there, but what makes filmi really work at our night is large crowds of people fluent (enough) in Hindi, and immersed in Bollywood –singing, dancing, and pantomiming along, which I don’t see goreh filmi lovers doing too much of.
When we moved Andaz to Rotture I was committed to maintaining the old format of a mix of bhangra and filmi, with a sprinkling of South Indian and urban Asian flavors, but our new dancers were mostly underwhelmed by my attempts to play filmi, especially later in the night. Part of this is that the majority of our goreh crowd loves bhangra, and can get with faux-bhangra Bollywood numbers more-or-less, but they are not into the house sound that dominates so much filmi dance music these days. At our early Rotture parties I would often go on after midnight, play some filmi-house, and watch the majority of the often early-arriving goreh dancers clear the club.
Which is another new aspect of our Rotture Andaz experience, early admission specials. When we threw our eight-year anniversary of Andaz at Rotture last Summer, we realized we needed to do something drastic, to really convince people to make the journey to our new home, so we made admission free until 10pm. 50-some people showed up early, and we realized that this was a tactic to stick with, especially after we did the same thing in August and 100-150 people took advantage of the deal. From then on we made admission three dollars before 10pm, and we consistently get up to 100 people before 10pm. And these are not people who show up to lounge, they often go straight for the dance floor without so much as grabbing a drink. This changes the dynamic of the night considerably. At the Fez we never had early admission specials, and we would play lounge music for quite some time at the beginning of the night, and only unleash the dhols when a sizable crowd had shown up and were eager to dance. Now we are playing total bangers in the first hour to a packed dance floor.
At the Fez things often wouldn’t get really rolling until 11pm, so sometimes people would show up close to 9pm, sit around for an hour or so and then leave. I never knew if these people came back later in the evening, or if they left our party thinking it was dead and no one ever showed up. At Rotture we can have the opposite problem, which is that so many people show up early, sometimes things start dying down earlier than they should, just because people have already been dancing hard for so many hours. Fortunately we are getting a bigger and bigger late night crowd at Rotture, and that is one development that I am personally very happy about. More people staying late is good.
What’s also good is that despite dire predictions to the contrary, more and more Desis are making the trek across the river to see just how good things can be on the East side. And I am personally happy that there are some South Indians among them, because I love being able to play more South Indian film music to an appreciative crowd. Whether you are Desi or farangi, new attendee or someone who has been coming for nearly nine years, thank you for going so buck crazy and making Rotture such a fun place to play each month. You are proudly carrying on the tradition that is Andaz at our new home.
In two months we will be celebrating the nine-year anniversary of our Andaz party. I am personally very excited to be celebrating such a milestone. I was very focused on gettting to our five-year anniversary, and now every one after that is just gravy, but this has a special resonance, as we have shown our ability to get kicked to the curb, and come back stronger and fiercer than ever. The Fez will probably always hold a special place in the hearts of some of our fans, but Andaz is alive and well and it is at Rotture.