I finally heard the Cumbia album I’ve been needing to hear all these years

I was not raised with Latin music. In fact, I don’t know that I heard any music in Spanish growing up that wasn’t background music at a Mexican restaurant or Gerardo’s “Rico Suave.” That all changed when I was garage sale-ing in the mid ’90s and I came across Big Hits by Prado.

Big Hits by Prado


This was an album of stereo re-recordings of earlier Perez Prado hits, none of which I had ever heard before. At the time I was obsessed with forcing myself to listen to both sides of any album I came across, and even though I enjoyed the hits on the first side it was only when I flipped the album and heard his re-recording of “El Ruletero” that I became a huge fan. This led to buying any Latin record that I came across at garage sales. My next was a mono copy of Cosa Nuestra by Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe for fifty cents!



(My personal history of Latin music discoveries is covered in this interview I did with DJ Chilly of KEXP’s El Sonido Show. I also need to shout out Sonia who plied me with all sorts of Latin tapes to help further deepen and expand my knowledge of Latin music as I was first getting into it. And getting me a ticket to a sold-out Tito Puente show shortly before his death which is one of the highlights of my life.)

As I discovered new Latin music genres I retained my love for the punchy forcefulness of the 1950’s Mambo scene, certainly much more than a lot of “Salsa” (I know it’s all Son montuno.) I listened to which seemed much too dainty and polite, with little of the raw power that attracted me to Mambo.  This was in my pre-internet era, so my discoveries were limited to the records I could find and afford, and in Portland, Oregon there is very little Latin vinyl compared to say New York, where I started shopping in the aughts. As a result I was never really exposed to Cumbia aside from a few albums on Discos Fuentes I came across, and I honestly don’t think I was savvy enough at the time to realize that these records were Cumbia records. I remember being in a Mexican restaurant at one point in the early aughts (Shout-out to the sadly gone La Fonda!) and hearing some music I loved which they identified as “sonidero,” but I didn’t realize this was Cumbia, and when I went to Latin music stores in Spanish Harlem in NYC that were filled with thousands of  CDs all labeled “sonidero” I was too overwhelmed to buy anything.

I first started reading a lot about Cumbia when the ZZK party in Argentina and the associated record label started to get a lot of press in the hipster world. Anjali and I even managed to catch an early ZZK show in NYC where Chancha Via Circuito opened, in addition to several shows they eventually did in Portland. One thing I noticed right away is that despite the fact that I had been playing electronic Latin genres like Reggaeton, Rap en Español and Meren-house for seven years at that point, the hipsters in Portland were super excited about Digital Cumbia in a way I had never seen them be for any other modern genre in Spanish. In fact, I think that was part of it: the Cumbia that was being exported and devoured by white American hipsters had very little if any Spanish in it.  It was mostly instrumental, abstract, minimal, spacey and sloooooooooooow. (Pretty much all adjectives that are the opposite of what I am usually drawn to in music.) I bought all the records, I played some of them out, but they did not have the forward momentum of my beloved Reggaeton, and I didn’t understand why hipsters were so drawn to a beat that seemed far less propulsive to me. I remember how employees who worked at Holocene who hated our ATLAS Global Bass night would lose their shit at a ZZK show and I would just sort of scratch my head as to why that was.

I kept listening to the Cumbia Digital releases that would come out, followed the blogs, checked out the tracks online, played the occasional track, but it was never a big thing for me, despite how much other modern Latin electronic genres are, and when a night like Discos Discos started up at Holocene (Shout out to Michael Bruce!) that heavily emphasized Cumbia Digital I remained mystified as to why this modern Latin genre was adored by hipsters above all others. Over the years I slowly discovered more and more tracks in the genre I liked (always with a heavy Latin vibe), but it was never a dominant part of my sound, even though other Latin music was. (Tribal Guarachero did it for me way more upon initial exposure than Cumbia Digital, for example.)

At a certain point in the aughts compilations of traditional Colombian and Peruvian Cumbia started being released.  By this time my vinyl buying had seriously slowed down because once I hit 6,000 records I realized I already owned way more records than I had time for, and I would only buy very particular releases as a result. Whenever I would see a comp of old Cumbia I would think, “Well, you have so many hundreds of Latin records you haven’t even listened to yet, why don’t you dig through your own stacks before buying anything else?” I convinced myself I owned a lot of Cumbia vinyl, and it was only recently that I did an exhaustive tally and realized that although I have tons of Latin records, scant few of them are Cumbia releases.

Now I am somewhat cursed in that often I will listen to most of an artist’s work or most of a genre before I hear the album that I needed to hear all along, the one that really does it for me. This year Anjali purchased a double CD called The Original Sound of Cumbia: The History of Colombian Cumbia & Porro As Told By The Phonograph 1948-79.


At a certain point Anjali was playing it and it BLEW MY MIND. This collection was put together by Will Holland AKA Quantic who travelled all over Colombia to gather these sounds. (Ironically we have played with Quantic several times and I have had conversations with Mr. Holland before I ever heard this compilation. If I had heard this compilation first we would have had veeeery different conversations.) This was exactly the Cumbia I always needed to hear. If I had heard this collection first I would have fallen head over heels in love with Cumbia immediately, the same way I did with Mambo and Perez Prado. In fact, digging into the 55 tracks on this release I felt the same raw energy and vitality of those ’50s Mambo recordings in a way I had never felt with any other kind of Latin music since.  I became obsessed with this double CD and listened to it every chance I got. I then realized that the compilation had also been released as two limited edition TRIPLE VINYL collections. Well, I had to get my hands on those. Now I firmly believe in supporting local independent record stores, but every once in a while I convince myself I won’t be able to find something unless it is online, for example if it is a  limited edition vinyl release that is now three years old and long since sold-out. I found the second of the two vinyl collections online for a steal of a price and I purchased it right away. The first volume was available as well, but for more money and I decided to hold off. Within days the cheapest copy disappeared from the internets leaving only one copy I could find for nearly three times the price and way more than I could ever justify spending. I did the rounds of the local record stores buying traditional Cumbia collections left and right, but no sign of the first triple vinyl collection, now sold out everywhere. Special shout-out to Mississippi Records for stocking so much great stuff in this genre.

I kept listening to Disc 1 of the CD compilation and obsessing about being able to find it and play it on vinyl. This week I went once again to Mississippi Records and lo and behold used copies of both volume 1 and volume 2 on vinyl were in the new arrivals bins. Happy Birthday week to The Incredible Kid! I left volume 2 for some other lucky record buyer and counted my lucky stars that I was able to score volume 1 years after it had long since sold out and for a very reasonable  price. Thank you Mississippi Records! (And much love to Karen AKA DJ Cuica.) Now I may never love the super spacey, abstract, minimal, Spanish-less, denatured Cumbia that the hipsters swoon for, but I have discovered that I fucking LOVE Cumbia. Traditional Colombian Cumbia that is.

(Not to diss on Peruvian, Mexican or any other form of Cumbia, just that so far the traditional Colombian Cumbia is what has set my heart aflame.)




Brand new mix of Tribal Guarachero and Tribal Prehispánico by The Incredible Kid

The global bass blogosphere can have a very short attention span, and many scenes receive a brief, scant bit of attention before being forgotten about, no matter how vibrant and thriving the scenes remain. When Vortex Music Magazine asked me to put together a mix for their Mixtape Monday series, I decided I wanted to focus on Tribal Guarachero and Tribal Prehispánico, despite the fact that after a flurry of attention centered around 3BALL MTY a few years back, most people outside of the scene went on to other things.

This mixtape was mixed live in the Batcave. Left raw and unmolested; all peaks and valleys intact.

Reading Questlove’s “Mo’ Meta Blues”

mo meta blues


I was looking forward to reading Questlove’s “Mo’ Meta Blues” memoir since I first heard about it.  I have been a huge Roots fan ever since I first caught them doing a joint-headliner show with Goodie Mob in the late ’90s.  I think  I’ve seen them nine times or something like that.  Up until about 20 months ago I worked for Powell’s Books.  I worked there for over 18 years.  During that entire time I never needed to use the library, because Powell’s allows their employees to check out books, so either I would buy a book outright with the employee discount, or I would simply check out a title if I didn’t feel as committed.  When “Mo Meta’ Blues” dropped I didn’t necessarily want to buy it, and since I no longer had the option of checking the book out through Powell’s, I realized it was time to once again become a library member.  The last time I had used the Multnomah County library system was around 20 years ago, and even that visit was an isolated one. I had to be issued a new card at that visit, because it had been so long since I had been to the library before then.  A whole new library card system had emerged in the meantime.  No doubt a result of going to college out of town,  and not using the library during my time off from school when I was in Portland.

Back when I used the library, there were CDs (And they still  had vinyl.  In fact, I was at the historic sale where they sold off 90% of their vinyl collection.), but not DVDs, and certainly no internet or e-readers.  The library is an entirely different beast these days than it was in the eighties, when I was last a frequent user.  I got my new library card and promptly put in my hold for a copy of “Mo’ Meta Blues.”  I then learned the hard way that putting a popular new title on hold in the library can be a process that requires a great deal of patience, as I did not receive notice from the library that the book was available for me until five months later.  It had been decades since I had been under a library deadline, so I really felt pressure to make sure I made reading the book a priority  in the twenty-one days I had available to me.  I didn’t have any problem getting into it, and since I have been sick, it has been fine to sit and spend hours making my way through the book, which I have done in just a few days.

I have admired Questlove as a musician, producer, writer and  music aficionado for a long time.  I would like to add “DJ,” to that list, but that is more in theory, as I have only seen him DJ twice, and neither time was inspirational.  The first time was at the now-closed Adidas original store in Portland where he was tag-teaming with Maseo from De La Soul all night.  I was waiting in line outside the store when their SUV pulled up.  It was like a rap music video; the doors of the SUV opened  and billows of marijuana smoke poured out onto the street as the two hiphop legends emerged.  Such was the force and volume of the smoke that I felt it wash over me, and lift me up with it, even dozens of feet away. Contact high for real. During their performance the DJs seemed pretty checked out, switching off frequently to take turns chain-smoking marijuana in the broom closet behind the DJ booth, which was pretty obvious to anyone in the area.  They really seemed to be playing it safe with the (pretty lame) crowd that had come to see them at Adidas Originals, starting with a bunch of predictable hiphop classics, and then ’80s hits.  I actually left before it was over since the selections were so predictable and unaffecting.  The second time I saw him DJ Questlove was playing soul and funk on serato at a Portland bar, but the sound system was so crappy; it sounded like tinny ear shred with no bass or life, so I had to leave before too long.  Anjali was with me both times, and I actually dragged her to see the Roots live once, but she was so bored (Anjali claims she was not bored at all, but merely tired, but I know around that time she begged us to leave a Common performance early.) she managed to fall asleep at the back of the Roseland Theater even while I was jumping around and loving the show near the front.

The sad thing is that I have missed the Roots the last couple opportunities I have had.  That never used to happen.  One of those times I realized that I wanted to go to the show after it was sold out.  I thought about trying to find a ticket on the sidewalk, but didn’t have it in me.  I later found out that a friend had a free extra ticket but never thought of me as someone that would be interested, so the ticket went unused. Sigh.

I think of Questlove as a man who is super thorough,  but his memoir feels less than thorough.  I feel like many things could have been talked about at much greater length and depth.  A lot seems skimmed over, barely touched on, or half mentioned in hindsight.  Even considering the standards set by the book, as the Roots career goes on, it seems like we are getting less and less of a look in.  I feel like several of their later albums are barely mentioned in passing, with no time spent detailing their creation.  For a band that toured so much, I barely get a sense of their life on the road, or even any particular shows.  Questlove mentions at one point towards the end of the book that he has been a DJ since he was 11-years-old, but it is like a last minute aside, not something that is explored in the book as he narrates his life.  Who knows how much was cut out, as I feel like the story of Questlove and the Roots could have used at least a couple hundred more pages. I feel like I have watched or read different interviews with Questlove where I have gotten more of a sense of him than after reading a 274 page book.

He talks some about the music he grew up with and what inspired him, but given that I am a DJ and music nerd, I could have used a lot more of it.

He doesn’t go into his recording or production techniques at all, so you will be very disappointed if you are looking for that sort of information.

One thing that is central to Questlove’s concept of the book is that it is not just a straightforward memoir, which is where the “Meta” comes in.  Richard Nichols, the Root’s comanager weighs in throughout the narrative, to undermine (or sometimes support) Questlove’s memories of particular periods in the band’s history.  I thought the narrative benefited from that, but more towards the end when “Rich” writes footnotes, and not in the beginning where there are confusing long passages in different fonts representing Questlove’s and Rich going back and forth. Then there are the pages that are allegedly messages between cowriter Ben Greenman and editor Ben Greenberg discussing the unique form that the memoir is taking.  I can see that it is really important to Questlove for the book to be something more than “just” a memoir, but I find that the “Meta” doesn’t really do anything for me, and actually detracts from the work over all.  I guess a book about the Roots that is pretentious, and reaches, and is somewhat less than successful, is appropriate.

I think I got a lot more out of this epic interview that Nardwuar did with Questlove.

Because of how much I like the Roots, and because of how much a sense of Questlove I have from his interviews and his writings, I was able to follow the narrative with interest, but if you didn’t already have a love and appreciation for Questlove I’m not sure how much you would get out of this book.  I’m glad I read it, but I wish it was much more substantial and thorough than it is.








The Portland Mercury lets us talk up our New Year’s Party

The first public party that Anjali and I threw was a New Year’s Eve party in Portland in 2000 at a space called the Medicine Hat.  It was a sold-out, raucous, crazy time that featured nudity and lots of people getting kicked out for illicit activity.  This year’s party at the Bossanova Ballroom marks our 13th anniversary as dance floor instigators. Thanks for so many years of amazing support, Portland.  Our last two New Year’s parties at the Bossanova have been the biggest parties we have ever thrown, and we are aiming even higher this year.


The Secret Untold Story of ATLAS


Nine and a half years ago I had no idea I would be sitting here writing my goodbye to a dance party I cofounded, hosted, and DJed that had the longest run in the history of a club named Holocene. (EDIT: Eventually Gaycation and Snap! beat this record.)  I shared a few words on the Holocene blog in honor of the final edition of the party (March 9th, 2013), but I felt that this moment deserved a more thorough treatment in The Incredible Blog.  ATLAS was DJs Anjali, E3 and myself, with our fourth member behind the scenes, Tracy Harrison of Polygon Press. None of them have been consulted on any of what follows, so keep in mind that I am really only speaking for myself and sharing my own recollections of how things went down.

The Secret Untold Story of ATLAS

Back in the Fall of 2003. Anjali and I had been DJing our ANDAZ Bhangra and Bollywood night for a year, and DJ E3 had been recently DJing a 2-Step night called Bassism and an African funk and house night called Deeper Roots.  All three of these nights happened at an early incarnation of the Fez Ballroom.  We featured E3 as a guest DJ at ANDAZ once; he was one of only two guests we had in the first five years of that party. We realized that the three of us were up for joining together for a broader international electronic dance music night. The thing was we wanted to keep it cutting-edge and electronic, and not play into “world music” stereotypes that were in the air around that time. We wanted to play the dirty stuff, the edgy stuff, the experimental yet danceable stuff. We wanted to focus on music being created and consumed by local communities across the globe, and not just stuff made by Western producers with a sample or two over a house beat, which seemed to comprise the sets of DJs who claimed they played international music around the time we started the party. (I remember a DJ gave me his “Latin” demo.  It was all instrumental electronic music with an occasional conga or piano sample.  He wondered why a local Cuban restaurant had not hired him to DJ after hearing his demo.)  I had been playing things like reggaeton and merenhouse for years, and was eager to combine those sounds with my interest in Arabic music along with all the Indian stuff Anjali and I were rinsing.  Since my earliest days of DJing in Portland clubs, I always wanted to host a night where people from many different backgrounds could all come out to dance, and hear some of their music in the soundtrack.

We decided to approach Berbati’s and Holocene as potential club homes to host our new night.  We ended up going with Holocene, even though our friend Chantelle Hylton was booking Berbati’s at the time, because Holocene was the fresh new club in town, and Berbati’s was well past it’s hot, fresh and new phase.  When we met with Holocene I had never even been in the club before. From what I had been told about Holocene I imagined they only wanted to feature house and techno, and I thought they wouldn’t be into what we wanted to do. I was wrong, and at the end of our first meeting we had all agreed to us starting a new weekly Sunday night party, which I imagined would soon fizzle out. In fact, I grudgingly assented to this plan as I had to work my day job until 11pm on Sundays and would only be able to attend the last hours of each party.  I thought we had agreed to a fool’s errand. We were getting up to leave from the meeting when Anjali asked, “What about Saturday nights? Well, as it turned out, Saturday nights were available to local acts, since so many touring bands choose to play Portland on weekdays. A few minutes later we then agreed to a twice-monthly Saturday night international electronic dance party.  Such a turnaround, and in only a few minutes, and only because Anjali asked a question.  I can only imagine what would have happened to ATLAS if it did come into life as a weekly Sunday party.  I highly doubt I would be eulogizing it after it had lasted for more than nine years.

We knew what we wanted to play, but we had trouble deciding how to market it. (Notice I’ve been using awkward phrases like “international electronic dance music.”  We hated the term “world music” which we wanted to distance ourselves from because of the latte yuppie stereotypes, but we (maybe more Anjali and I) also hated the word “global” and every other DJ’s solution to what to call a blend of music like reggaeton, bhangra, Arabic and French Hip-Hop, Funk Carioca, Kuduro, Balkan Beats, etc. seemed equally awful to us. Looking at our first flyers I see that the tagline E3 came up with was “non-stop international flavor.” Then E3 coined “international heat,” and then many years later we grudgingly went with “global bass,” since that term was gaining acceptance in the scene.  In our last years we ended up borrowing from our ally on the East coast, Joro-Boro, and we assimilated his “post-national bass” tagline. (Which he graciously bequeathed to us when we asked after it.)  When we sat around struggling for a name that would encompass the night it was Tracy who came up with “ATLAS.”

The first ATLAS was November 1st, 2003.  It was the day after a Friday Halloween, and the club was dead. Probably less than a hundred people. We really didn’t know what to expect two weeks later, but there were 400 people there, so after a false start, the party was off and roaring. We got an early pick of the week in the Portland Mercury (Which dates to before their earliest archives on their website, and I don’t plan on going through my press boxes to try to find it any time soon. I think it talked about how ATLAS was where the sexy people were or something.), and we were somewhat of a buzzed about party pretty early on.

Anjali and I left for a couple months in India in the beginning of 2004 and we missed the 6th, 7th and 8th ATLAS parties. We have no idea what happened on those nights. I mean, we know who DJed, and who the guests were, but we were not there, and there is no recorded evidence. Back when the party was young and twice a month, we were open to skipping out and featuring guest DJs if something major was happening, but we became quite committed to performing at every ATLAS after the first year.

In that first year the night often went until 3am, and the schedule was that we would each play an uninterrupted two hour set, rotating the order every month.  After the first year it became clear that twice a month was simply more than Portland could support.  Anjali and I were already DJing ANDAZ every month, so with two ATLAS parties a month, that meant we were trying to convince people to come out three times a month on Saturday nights. While every party was in the triple digits, it became clear that ATLAS would need to be only once a month in order for it to be as packed as a raging dance party should be.  We decided at that time that the two-hour DJ slots weren’t working, and we needed to rotate the DJs more often. We all had very different sounds and approaches to DJing, and we decided to rotate hour-long sets, to give everyone a new taste more frequently, which is the format the party stuck to for the last eight years.

Compared to ANDAZ, ATLAS received very little attention in the press. While ANDAZ was written up again and again, the ATLAS format apparently didn’t grab the local media in the same way. While ATLAS would sometimes get a little recommended notice from a local paper, there were only two in depth articles ever written about the party. (Actually three, but the Oregonian article written by Luciana Lopez reviewing our first night with Joro-Boro is not archived online.) One in the Willamette Week written  in November of 2006 in honor of our three-year anniversary, and one written for the Bend Bulletin, when the ATLAS crew visited Bend, Oregon in February of 2007.  In the next six years the party would only get cursory attention around the time of our anniversaries, such as when the Portland Mercury wrote, “”Pretty much as long as there has been Holocene, there has been Atlas, the finest booty-shaking, passport-stamping global dance party our fine city has to offer.”

Anjali and I have gotten plenty of credit for bringing bhangra and Bollywood to the dance floors of Portland, but all the firsts established by ATLAS have never really been acknowledged or noted.  DJ E3 advertised Dubstep on our first flyer back in November of 2003 and Anjali and I had to ask each other, “What is that?  Sounds cool.” The breakthrough songs that introduced reggaeton to a broader audience were N.O.R.E’s “Oye Mi Canto” which didn’t come out until October of 2004 and Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” which didn’t come out until November of that year. I had been DJing reggaeton since I discovered it in Central America in 1999, but ATLAS was the first club night featuring this sound in Portland. Same was true for Funk Carioca, Balkan Beats, Kuduro, Dembow, Tribal Guarachero, Cumbia Digital, and on and on, a constant flowering of new genres all around the world. E3 was up on the latest developments in North Africa and the Middle-East and was introducing sounds like Arabic Rap, Rai’n’B and Reggada among many other genres, to happily dancing Portlanders and visitors. It was frustrating to see parties come around many years later claiming to introduce sounds we had been playing for years. Truly there is no memory in clubland.

We were very fortunate to be able to present guest performers such as Joro-BoroMaga BoState of BengalToy Selectah,  DJ Marcelinho da Lua, Chief BoimaManeesh the Twister & Ferhan Qureshi (Dhamaal Sound System), Nomadic Noize AKA DJ EliazarTurbo TablaSoul Salaam, Mista Chatman, DJ TomasDr. Israel, ERS-One/DJ Magneto, John Friend, J BoogieSujinhoDJ RekhaPoirier & Zuzuka Poderosa at ATLAS.  We actually had guests very rarely, largely focusing on the three resident DJs for almost every party. This was very much in contrast to so many parties running at the same time as ATLAS that seemingly couldn’t have enough DJs on the lineup, with so many names on the flyers I imagined every DJ got to play for twenty minutes max. In the first year we featured local artists such as Alter Echo, S-Dub, Zanne, Rafa, Othertempo and Mr. MuMu, but eventually we limited guests to travelling artists from outside Portland except for appearances by currently Portland-based CHAACH!!! and Massacooramaan in the last years of the party.  Its not that we were trying to cock block other Portland DJs who were into international sounds, but I always hoped that those DJs would go and start their own nights and develop their own scenes. (We wanted other places to be able to go dance!) The three resident ATLAS DJs only got about twenty hours each a year to share their sounds, and we were honestly quite attached to that time. We all knew just how much global bass music was coming out from every corner of the world, and that we were only presenting our  selection. Our selection defined ATLAS, but we knew there was potential for many other global bass nights in Portland to showcase their own flavor.  The funny thing was that when global bass started to become a thing, different nights started up, and I think there were as many as five happening in one week in Portland a few years ago. Every one of those parties started long after ATLAS, and yet all of them are now dead.

ATLAS was a an experimental party. We were always pushing it. Trying to get away with a little more musical extremity than we had any right to. A lot of times the bigger the crowd meant the more incentive we felt to really go out on a limb and see just how far out of their comfort zones we could push people. Not that we didn’t play our share of crowd pleasers, but the primary impulse of the party was to move forward and challenge, not to give people what they already knew.  ATLAS was always a mix of people who were down with the sound (or at least some of the sound), and randoms coming through the Holocene door who had no idea what was in store for them. There are probably still shell-shocked people stumbling the streets to this day wondering what the hell happened to them.

One identity problem ATLAS had over the years was that because of how associated Anjali and I are with the sound of bhangra, ATLAS was sometimes referred to as a bhangra party, even though that was only a portion of what we played.  Oftentimes people would assume we were playing bhangra no matter what genre or genres we were actually playing. I remember getting off stage once in the early days, and a friend said that he was hoping to hear some reggaeton for the first time. I had to shake my head as I had just played a number of reggaeton tracks.  Once a woman asked me if we could project the genres on a screen as we played them so people could know what they were listening to.  (Adding genre labels to a lot of our tracks would be quite difficult, as they often include many from many different cultures.)  I developed such a complex about the party’s reputation that I would often forcibly restrict myself from playing more than a few Desi tracks a set, because I resisted people’s urge to pigeonhole the party into something far narrower than what it was.

We definitely noticed shifts in what worked for the ATLAS crowd over time. Bhangra was a huge sound early on. I can remember when reggaeton was hot, then Funk Carioca, then Balkan Beats. I remember when Digital Cumbia started making waves, and the cumbia requests started coming in. In the first years of the party there would be lots of dancing to 2-step and drum’n’bass tracks, sometimes whole sets, and now it seems like that sound largely confuses the majority of our current crowd.

I was devoted to ATLAS for more than nine years of my life. We never compromised. We did what we wanted. What we wanted was to play our take on the hottest-shit international dance music coming out around the world for Portland dancers. Thank you so much to Holocene for letting us honor that vision for more than nine years. Thank you to Tracy Harrison of Polygon Press for so many years of amazing design work, and all her other contributions to the night. Thanks to Anjali and E3 for being such consistently inspirational DJ partners.  (Make sure to follow E3 and Tracy’s 7″ dub label ZamZam Sounds and watch out for original productions coming from him in the future.) Thank you to all the dancers who came from near and far and made ATLAS what it was. Without you crowding the dance floor for nine plus years we would have nothing to celebrate or mourn. Anjali and I have something new coming in May, but there will ever only be one ATLAS.

ATLAS is dead!  Long live ATLAS!


Oh, and the ending of the party motivated me to create my first ATLAS-style mix in many years.  Enjoy:

Global Bass for Your Face! by The Incredible Kid on Mixcloud


Anjali & The Kid at 2011 Sasquatch! Music Festival

Last year was the first year that Anjali and I had been asked to DJ NW music festivals outside of Portland or Vancouver, BC.  First we DJed the Photosynthesis Festival in Randle, WA, and then the Beloved Festival in Tidewater, Oregon.  Both were great experiences, and real highlights of a pretty miserable Summer for us.  After playing for Portlanders for ten years we had started to feel like a lot of people were bored and done with us, and it was easy to feel boring and over, until we played for people who had never seen us before, and their fresh interest and enthusiasm were reinvigorating.

Our first festival this year was the Sasquatch! Festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington.   I had not been to the Gorge Amphitheatre since the Summer of 1994 when my friend Jeremy Pinkham and I went to see Stereolab play at Lollapalooza.  (We also saw them the night before in Seattle; I followed Stereolab quite a bit in the ’90s, and if you have only heard their recorded material, then you probably have no idea of what a fierce improv electronic noise act they could be on the road when they were feeling it.)  Despite this being the ten-year anniversary of Sasquatch!, Anjali and I had never been before and weren’t sure quite what to expect.  We were initially booked to open up the dance tent (Banana Shack) Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, with the thought that Anjali would offer some dance lessons, and we would be able to manage the transition from comedy acts during the day, to electronic dance acts at night.  Adam Zacks, festival organizer,  had attended Portland poster maven Mike King and costume designer & stylist to the stars Julia Bartholomew’s wedding the prior year, which we DJed, and after seeing us perform, with Anjali giving some bhangra lessons to the wedding guests during our DJing, he apparently thought we would be a good choice to open the dance tent.  Then at the last minute, we were offered an additional three-and-a-half hour set on Friday opposite the Foo Fighters.  Some people online were already talking a bunch of smack about us because we had been booked three times, when no other artist had been booked more than once.  Being booked a fourth time, for a three-and-a-half-hour set at that, only riled them up all the more.  Apparently people felt that our being booked multiple times was standing in the way of their favorite band getting booked.  All the people saying horrible things about us clearly knew nothing about us and had never heard us, but the nastiness and resentment was unpleasant to witness.  To top it all off, Anjali and I were the only performers at the festival who had never written a song, produced a song, performed on a song, remixed a song, released a record, etc.  We just try to share great music with our dancers and suddenly here we were, the resident DJs of the Banana Shack for Sasquatch’s ten-year anniversary.

Because of all the online hatred, I wasn’t sure what kind of unpleasantness we would experience once we got to the festival.  Would people yell at us, throw things at us, assault us?  Would ignorant people think we were playing “Osama Bin Laden” music or some other such nonsense?  (People often think we are playing Arabic/Middle-Eastern music when we are actually playing Indian music.  We play Middle-Eastern music as well, but a lot of people can’t tell the difference.)

We were fortunate that our friend Jori Zan was willing to drive us up, and that Erika and Jasmine of Bridgetown Revue were going to be able to make the festival, and dance onstage during some of our sets.

We were excited to be offered the long DJ slot on the opening night, because as much as we love Panjabi music, we are often pigeonholed as not doing anything else, and Friday night gave us time to stretch out.  We knew for the daily forty-five minute slots that Anjali was expected to give Panjabi dance lessons, and it wouldn’t make any sense, and would only confuse people, if we starting switching it up twenty minutes into our set.  Since so many people at the festival would have never seen us before, Friday night gave us a chance to leave a completely unique first impression on whoever would show up to the Banana Shack.

It was great to have both the Portland Mercury and Oregon Music News give us positive press before the festival, to counter all the online hatred.  It felt like a nice hometown send-off on our way to Washington.  The Mercury even recommended us over the Foo Fighters and called us “local heroes.”  When we arrived at the festival things were very disorganized.  No one working the perimeter who we talked to seemed to know anything.  All the first people we talked to were the very lowest workers in the hierarchy, didn’t have correct information, and often spoke very little English.  It was funny, because the smaller-scale festivals that we have DJed seemed way more organized, and we thought such a giant operation as Sasquatch, celebrating its tenth anniversary no less, would be far more together.  We had the experience of being sent from one place to another, only to go back to the first place because they didn’t give us what we needed.  We were camping in the “artist” area, where we never met or saw any other artists.

We finally set up our tents, got situated, and headed to the Banana Shack for our lengthy set opposite the Foo Fighters.  It was a long hike, many hundreds of yards, loaded down with our music, and a hike that was to be repeated many times, in both directions, throughout the festival.  The Banana Shack was a giant tent that fit around a thousand people, with massive sound and lighting systems installed, and it sounded better to me than any other festival stage I listened to all weekend.  We arrived well before our set and there were already hundreds of people sitting waiting in the tent.  I was already stunned, because I had bought into the online hate that no one was coming to see us.  The people that worked the Shack including Jess and Dan were super sweet, and everyone was a real joy to work with all weekend.    When I went out onstage to start setting up DJ equipment well before our start time, a cheer erupted from the crowd which utterly shocked me.  Who did they think I was?  A superstar or something?  By the time our start time came closer the tent was at capacity with all sorts of kids pressed up against the stage barricade like they were about to see their favorite rock stars or something.  Hip-hop classics were being played over the soundsystem before the start of our set.  They played Nas “Made You  Look,” and I was like, “Shoot, I was thinking about playing that.”  That is just the sort of thing I don’t normally play that I was looking forward to dropping in my set.  Well, the DJ certainly has to step it up a level from the pre-show music, so so much for my playing Nas.

When they played Biz Markie’s  “Just a Friend” the whole massive crowd was loudly singing along.  I got very worried.  I love Biz Markie as much as the next true-schooler, but I was afraid that if the crowd was so jazzed to hear hip-hop classics that they would hate the “foreign” shit I was about to drop on them.  I hoped they weren’t going to crucify me, and I went out on stage. I started out with one of my favorites:  Zion I’s “Geek to the Beat,” since I wanted to reach out to the hip-hop loving crowd, while also signalling my desire to bust out some traditional percussion.  I then brought in the heavy dhols, and was happy to hear a roar of excitement erupt from the crowd.  “Cool, they might just be up for this.” Anjali and I pretty much wing it every time we go out on stage.  Sometimes we will have an idea of the first song we are going to play, sometimes not.  All I remember is that in addition to bhangra I was mixing in some Funk Carioca and some hip-hop, including my Beastie Boys tribute, since they put on the best show when I went to Lollapalooza in the Gorge in 1994.  I tried to break up the bhangra sets, just because I figured this crowd probably couldn’t take three-and-a-half hours of bhangra.  I was very wary of playing any Latin music, including favorite genres of mine such as reggaeton and merengue urbano, sensing that the crowd wouldn’t be that appreciative, but I found myself mixing in Funk Carioca, which I don’t play that much of these days, sensing it might go over, and the cheers of approval when I brought in those tracks made me wonder how familiar some of the crowd might be with that music.  I was very aware of not playing any Major Lazer, as they were closing out the festival in the Banana Shack, and I didn’t want to commit a festival faux pas by playing their music before their appearance.  Major Lazer were the only act playing Sasquatch! whose music I have ever played out in my DJ sets.  It is a testament to how much they have their finger on the pulse of what makes the kids dance these days that  I had to keep myself from playing them.

Despite many post-show writeups to the contrary, other than one song, we weren’t playing Bollywood House.   I only played one Bollywood (and not House-y) song all night, “Chinka Dhika,” (the Hindi cover of the Telugu “Ringa Ringa”).  Anjali did play Bollywood House track “Fully Faltu,” which was the only Bollywood House song we played all weekend.  She introduced the song by asking the crowd if they wanted to “hear any Bollywood,” to which hundreds of people  screamed, “YEAH!”    Other than a few Bollywood samples, we only played three Bollywood songs in the more than eight hours we DJed at the festival over four days.  Yet, so many festival writeups I have read claim we played Bollywood all weekend.  In fact, Anjali began her first set Friday night with a lot of tracks featuring dancehall vocalists over heavy European club beats, but you won’t find any references to that in reviews of our performance.

I have played to 500+ people on many occasions, but Friday night was easily the largest crowd I had ever been in front of.  Bodies stretched out far into the horizon.  Everyone having it.  Kids pressed up against the rail.  Most of the time the Fog Machine was so intense, that along with the manic lights, I could mostly only see the first couple rows of people.  Unfortunately the fog machine gave me a nasal drip, so I kept wiping my nose the entire time I was on stage, which you can clearly see in one of the youtube videos that has been uploaded of our performance.  (Which is titled DJ Anjali, even though I am the only one DJing in the video.).

The crowd was so incredibly hyped, possibly beyond that of any crowd that I have ever played for before, that cheers would arise spontaneously whenever there was any sort of breakdown, or lull, or buildup in a song.  Loud, loud, thunderous cheering.  Over and over.  I wasn’t sure how much people were going to be open to bhangra, but whenever I brought in a dhol roll, or a tumbi lick, that same thunderous cheering would return.  I really wanted to force some SOUTH Indian beats on the crowd, which I knew would be pushing them really far, but playing that music was the most personally exciting direction for me, and I managed to squeeze in a Tamil, a Telugu, and a Hindi Telugu Cover, without clearing the tent, so mission accomplished.  Halfway through our set the production staff were so blown away by how many kids were packing in to the tent to see us that they asked us if we would be willing to add some last-minute late-night sets to the three additional early everning sets we were already scheduled to play.  Of course we said yes, and relayed the news to the dancing throngs who cheered appreciatively.  At one point in my second set I was mixing global house beats, and people seemed to be responding so well to the house set that I realized I could probably play house quite successfuly for the rest of my set, but that just wouldn’t be me, so I had to switch it up, and bring in some more bhangra and political hip-hop.  I dropped dead prez’s “Hip-Hop” at one point, and during the  repeating phrase of “hip-hop” in the chorus I slowly brought down the volume, and there was a magical moment where the crowd began to hear themselves and I felt the thrill of  their self-realization, as the crowd registered how much they were all chanting along with the song.  A perfect, unscripted moment.  Anjali played the last set of the evening, and she brought in some grime, some desi dubstep, bassline, and Asian R&B,  among many other sounds, in a desi-focused, but still highly diverse set.  The crowd responded well to the dubstep, but to my eyes it seems like they got off the most when she brought in a house beat. Towards the end of her set Anjali decided to bring in some context for the crowd, playing “Mundian To Bach Ke” and Truth Hurts’ “Addictive,” choices that both really surprised me.

Erika and Jasmine arrived from Portland in time to perform a captivating sword dance and more during Anjali’s second set.

There was talk of our set being extended past 12:30am, since there were still so many people in the tent dancing, but the head of production couldn’t be reached by radio, so we shut down at the scheduled time only to be faced with a mob of kids pressed up front chanting, “One more song!”   Absolutely riotous reception.  Crazy beyond my wildest dreams.    Anjali was at the barricade greeting fans, and we both ended up signing a young fan’s Blazers jersey before we were back at our campsite.  (My handwriting was even shakier and more appalling than my typical chicken scratch, so my apologies if I ruined your jersey, Malcolm.)   My typical response is to hug the background while Anjali soaks up all the love, but I felt like, why not, I was onstage and they loved me too, so why shouldn’t I join in and soak up some adulation.  I gave a couple high fives, and as we turned to go, I heard someone shout behind me to come back, and when I did, I was told, “Not you.”  Even at such an ecstatically well-received gig my second banana status remains unchanged.  I told Erika and Jasmine about my desire to wear a yellow “Second Banana” T-shirt, and they said they would make me one. Crafty and creative ladies.

We were really concerned about how the first night was going to go, because if our first set wasn’t received well, then we would still have to perform the next three days and walk around the festival hanging our heads in shame, potentially mocked by thousands of pissed-off punters.  As it was, people were so friendly and complimentary throughout the weekend, consistently surprised that we wandered around with the masses, because apparently most performers hide out backstage for the duration of their stay.

It was cool to be at the festival Friday, because as we quickly learned first thing Saturday morning, the security apparatus of the festival was barely operating Friday night, enabling us to walk around everywhere behind the scenes, encountering only one casual security guard in the mainstage area after having wandered everywhere else unmolested.  He was totally cool with us hanging out after discovering that we were artists, but by the next day no one was allowed into the highly-restricted mainstage backstage area without a separate mainstage wristband above and beyond the allegedly all-access wristbands we already wore.

We were so lucky to be performing every day because that meant we got a chance to get friendly with the really great staff, and get a sense of the festival as a whole, rather than just a single day.  Mercifully the music ended before 1am each night and didn’t start up again until around noon, which seemed quite humane compared to other festivals where ear plugs offer no defense, as dubstep rattles the ground your tent is staked to  at 4am, 6am, 8am,10am, etc.  Still, there was enough noise of people celebrating and drunken wanderers that I spent several hours awake in the tent each night, as well as getting up far earlier than I would normally, because of the early bright desert sun.  Our “artist” camping area was fairly quiet, and all weekend I kept hearing what a zoo general camping was, and in the hours just after the festival music ended I would hear what sounded like the roaring cheers of thousands in the distance, a distance I assumed was the general camping area, and I wondered if there were spontaneous performances over there, or some other happenings that encouraged such excitement.

The catering for the artists was really top-notch, and I looked forward to the buffet-style meals for lunch and dinner each day.  I am a vegetarian who occasionally eats seafood, and in addition to plentiful vegan and vegetarian options, there was really well-prepared salmon served at many meals, which is quite a testament to the quality of the catering, as I have DJed many weddings with awfully cooked salmon.  There was usually at least one, if not several, very spicy dishes at the meals which really impressed me.  I love spicy food, and some of these dishes even had a kick for me, so congratulations to the cooks.  I had only recently been introduced to Molly Moon’s Ice Cream in Seattle by my sister, and there was a  free truck set up for artists in the backstage area.  In one day I managed to make my way through most of the menu, which is good, because my desire for ice cream, and my siting of the truck never matched up again for the rest of the weekend.  There was also a truck with Ben and Jerry’s offerings and that truck and Molly Moon’s switched places every day. It says a lot about my fresh excitement for Molly Moon’s that hardcore Ben and Jerry’s addict that I am, I was always disappointed when it wasn’t the Molly Moon’s truck within arm’s reach.

There was also a dollar-a-minute massage tent, which I took advantage of several times, as my neck and shoulders were incredibly sore from long walks lugging heavy, akward DJ bags, and sleeping on the ground every night.

Having had such a phenomenal response on our opening night it remained to be seen if we could pull the feat off again on Saturday,  this time in the early evening. We now also had an additional forty-five minute late-night set between Sleigh Bells and Bassnectar on Saturday.  Miraculously, even after having played three-and-a-half hours the night before, the tent completely filled up and overspilled again for our first early shift.  People were loving it.  Amazing.  I forced Anjali to DJ one song, but she really didn’t want to have to DJ, as we were contractually obligated to provide Panjabi folk dance lessons at the early sets, and she didn’t want to have to teach dance lessons and DJ both in a mere forty-five minutes.  The lesson was very well-received, the crowd incredibly loving and demonstrative, and we chalked up another success.  The crowd was so raging, and so nuts, and so jumping up and down, that I cockily thought that the Glitch Mob going up next would have a hard time following us.  Yeah, right.  I had immediately noticed Edit earlier in the day in the backstage tent, greased pompadour and black leather jacket, looking very L.A. and very not-Sasquatch.  He oozed attitude, and I didn’t end up interacting with him until after their set.  The Glitch Mob had a very polished presentation, and they knew exactly what they were doing, slowly building the crowd’s energy with their glitchy beats and live drumming until they had everyone in a frenzy.  As much as I thought Anjali and I had packed them in, far more people showed up for the Glitch Mob, and clustered in dense mobs all around the rolled-up side flaps of the tent, and clogged up the area behind the tent in far thicker numbers than even we had managed.  Their stunning piece-de-resistance was bringing out a drop-dead-gorgeous lingerie-bedecked aerialist for their final song.  Anjali and I both thought she was Desi, bindi and everything, but she said she was half-Chinese and half-Irish.  Apparently she was ill; I noticed her spend the whole day sleeping in the backstage tent before their performance.  She was supposed to go on twice during their set, but could only manage the one song.  You couldn’t tell her condition from her performance; again and again she climbed dozens of feet to the top of her silk aerial ribbons, wrapped herself  into knots, and then fell rapidly to the ground, unraveling from her ribbons, and stopping short of the stage, splayed into the splits or other startling poses.  How do you top an aerialist?  I was blown away.  After the show Edit was so completely sweet and unassuming, that I realized that people who seemingly have tons of attitude can be completely chill and down-to-earth.  Apparently everything that could have gone wrong technically with their set did, and their entire lighting set up refused to turn on.  Despite their concerns they totally came through and blew away the throngs.

Sleigh Bells were up next, and their album is one of the few “rock” releases I have bought in more than a decade, so I was curious to see their show.   They seemed very reticent to go on, and it seemed like they might be stressed out to go on after a very well-received Glitch Mob.  Their set start time was very delayed, there was lots of tension backstage, and people were running around with frantic expressions.  Apparently their lighting setup wasn’t working either, but the Banana Shack came equipped with such a massive lighting system that the production staff just wanted them to get out there and do their thing.   Despite their seeming reluctance to go on, the crowd went nuts.  Their combination of guitar noise and pounding hip-hop beats was my personal favorite sound of all the non-DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid artists playing all weekend that I heard.  More than any other artists I kept hearing people bring them up in conversation about how much they slayed during their appearance at the festival.  I was sidestage for most of their set, so I didn’t really “see” their performance, but I heard it, and those heavy, heavy beats shot through with guitar noise sounded great.

Anjali went on after Sleigh Bells, but there was no announcement, the stage turnover took awhile, and by the time she was playing, there was only twenty minutes or so before Bassnectar was to begin performing over at the Bigfoot Stage, where there were already thousands of people pressed in awating the start of his set.  We had announced our last-minute-addition late-night set from the stage during our early slot, but that was the only publicity that our later appearance received.  I was bummed when there were only around 600 (according to Jess) people to see Anjali, but given that there was so little notice given, I should be thrilled that our lightest crowd of the weekend was still so large, especially as I saw many artists that had far, far less people present to see their only appearances at Sasquatch.  Erika and Jasmine of the Bridgetown Revue performed with Anjali, and she took a left-turn from our other appearances playing Israeli and Balkan sounds for her dancers.  Since there were no dead spaces in the late-night schedules for Sunday and Monday, that was to be our last late-night performance of the festival, which was for the best, as playing unannounced sets left a little something to be desired.  I wandered over to Bassnectar’s set, but no matter how many people were packed in to seem him, I was bored and left before long.  He played a Nirvana and a Zeppelin remix, and I was hoping for far more interesting sounds.  He was actually playing more drum’n’bass than dubstep during the part of his set that I witnessed, which surprised me.  Anjali and I had been dropping some drum’n’bass in our Friday night set, and I thought the kids would have all moved on to newer sounds, but we weren’t alone in favoring those sounds apparently.  On our way back to camp I even heard a Britney remix.  Reallly? (Edit: Turns out this was a Dev and the Cataracs remix, but at the time I thought it was Britney.)  And people were so excited for his set.

Sunday morning we said goodbye to Erica and Jasmine, and Erica’s daughter Cody, who was our delightful companion,  and our posse got a lot smaller and less family-like.  Even though I was sleeping a little better on the ground each night, I was still getting far less sleep than I needed, and I was steadily getting more and more bedraggled.  Despite hours spent lying on the backstage couches each day, I couldn’t sleep, as there was far too much noise at the festival, and I have never had much luck tuning out music in order to sleep.  The Banana Shack staff was happy to have us go on early, so we played for about forty minutes before our scheduled start time, giving us a rare opportunity to play for a smaller group of dancers wandering through the area, and a chance to sharpen up on stage before the throngs would arrive.  Sunday’s appearance was particularly packed, and many people said our fourth appearance was the best of the lot.  It was even more special, because Mike King, Julia Bartholomew and Connie Wohn who all played a role in our Sasquatch booking were backstage to witness the epicness. (Thanks for the photos, Connie!)

Several of our friends who aren’t even fans of our music were highly complimentary of our performance, and how much we got the crowd going.  DJ Aanshul from Seattle was in attendance, and it was a surprise for both of us, as he wasn’t even initially aware of our appearance at Sasquatch! when he decided to go for the day.  It was great to catch up and hear some inside news on the Seattle Desi scene.  Seems like there are some serious scores to be settled, and I got a little hyped up about wanting to get in on the payback.  Booyah!  Aanshul was highly complimentary, and that meant a lot, as he is a one of the most technically-skilled DJs in the Desi scene.  We were actually the first people to bring Aanshul to Portland, to play at our first Bollywood Horror Halloween costume party back in 2003.

MSTRKRFT packed them in.  Thousands and thousands of kids losing it in all directions.  I was bored, but such is life.

By Monday I was so drained and useless, and really worried about being able to do it all again for yet another day.  I was very aware that every other artist at the festival had to come out and do their thing and wow the crowd only once.  We were going to have to do it for a fifth time.  It was clear that many people were returning to see us day after day, so I was trying to repeat as few songs as possible, and really keep it fresh.  Anjali was getting sorer and sorer each day, and for several days she would tell me before our performance that she was only going to dance to one or two songs, and then she would be out there giving it her all for nearly our entire performance slot.  She seemed so wasted Monday that she was very convincing when she told me she was only going to do one song tops.  I went on an hour early, and played for a tiny group of dancers, even losing some when I went on a pet South Indian film song spree, but the tent slowly filled up by the time our scheduled start time arrived.  I was hoping that our fifth and final appearance would be the most rammed of the entire weekend, just to cap everything off, but the tent was only mostly, not entirely, full, and there weren’t the masses swirling around the edges of the tent either.  Still, we had a full house for our fifth appearance at the festival, and what better riposte to all the haters who said we weren’t even going to manage to get people to see us even once.  People were stoked, loud, bouncey, and demonstrative, and I therapeutically engaged them in a mass shout-along screaming “Fuck the haters!” to exorcise the bitter online frothings I had witnessed.  It was a love fest, and a beautiful end to our performance schedule.  People knew Anjali’s routines to such an extent that they were holding up five fingers in advance of her talking about the five rivers flowing through the Punjab. We heard from many people who came to see us all five times, and that felt, really, really good, especially when they said we kept it fresh and they didn’t get bored.

Bonobo was on next, and he was incredibly sweet and complimentary.  I told him that I had read at the time about his playing “Mundian To Bach Ke” in his sets back before it hit the mainstream, and he agreed that he had, but admitted that he didn’t really keep up with Desi beats.  He left a great personal impression, but because of limited catering dinner hours we decamped to the food tent, and Skrillex was on when we got back to the Banana Shack.  I was not even aware of having heard a Skrillex song before, but the thousands of kids going insane to his set were screaming along to the words, and seemed to know every vocal sample in his songs backwards and forwards.  He worked and worked and worked the crowd, and I wondered if there would be any energy left for when Major Lazer went on.  Hanging out with Major Lazer backstage: sounds like it would be epic, right?  Pretty mellow, although it was a little surreal to be using a urinal next to Skerrit Boy in the backstage bathroom trailer, especially as I had foreseen that happening earlier in the day.  Major Lazer took over after Skrillex.  Having seen them before, I felt pretty confident that I wasn’t going to be surprised by anything in their set.  They had a new, far less Amazonian and leonine female dancer than the prior one we had seen.  Their new female dancer was very young and incredibly thick.    Most of her moves seemed to involve floor poses, which only the first few rows could see, unless the crowd were watching the video screens.  We stayed for their whole set, despite a five-hour drive back to Portland ahead of us that night.  I really liked the “new song” they teased us with at the end.   Jori took the first driving shift, and before long we realized we were all far too wiped to drive, so we pulled over and slept for hours on the side of the road.  Anjali is terrified of my driving, and so she and Jori took turns chugging caffeinated beverages and driving while I slept in the backseat. We made it back to Portland around 6:30am Tuesday morning.

Well, we were completely wiped and exhausted, but we did it.  Almost eight hours of performances over five appearances in four days.  No one else at the festival even came close.  We made tons of new fans and soaked up so much love and enthusiasm.  We gained three-hundred some fans on our newly-created facebook page within 24 hours of the end of the festival, and were the beaming recipients of dozens of complimentary messages.  We received waves and waves of praise that made every bit of adulation we had received in the decade prior seem to pale in comparison.  Was this the peak of a long career, or the stepping-stone to a new and brighter future?  Well, the booking requests and interview requests have been coming in.  We will be playing No.Fest, Photosynthesis, Beloved, Decibel, Musicfest NW and are lining up gigs in Vancouver and Bellingham, so things are looking pretty good.  Thanks to everyone for all the love and support.



One year at Rotture

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.


The Rebirth of ANDAZ at Rotture

For those who haven’t heard the news, ANDAZ moved from the Fez Ballroom after seven and a half years, and is now at Rotture on the East Side.  We will be celebrating our eight-year anniversary on Saturday, July 17th, 2010.  At the Fez we celebrated our anniversaries in November, since that was the month that we moved Andaz to the Fez, but actually the party started in July 2002 at Lola’s Room, so now that we are no longer at the Fez, it doesn’t make sense to use the November dating system.  Now our ANDAZ anniversaries will be in July, the month we first threw our dedicated desi party.

Because Rotture already has a full schedule of monthly parties, the regular timing of ANDAZ is going to change.  Starting in August 2010 the party will be held on the FIRST Saturday of every month.  Flip-flop your party planning, because we don’t want you to miss out on any of the fun.

Thanks for eight years of support, Portland!


The end of Andaz at Fez Ballroom

The only constant is change.  After seven and a half years of packed dance parties it is time to say goodbye to Fez Ballroom.  Not something Anjali or I ever wanted to happen, but the club will be changing its format on all its Saturday nights.  We were the longest-running night in the club’s history.  The popular Shut Up and Dance night on Friday nights actually moved to Fez Ballroom from Lola’s Room after we had already been playing at Fez for a year.  During that year we were the only consistently successful night at the Fez, and the manager Blaine Peters would tell us that we brought in the money at the end of the month that kept the club afloat.  Not that one can expect any loyalty in the world of clubland.

While it might make sense to assume that the popularity of our night had waned, that is hardly the case.  We are still fortunate to have a large and avid fan base who have packed the Fez the last Saturday of every month.  Our crowd has never been a crowd of heavy drinkers; our fans come out to dance.  Unfortunately clubs are in the business of selling alcohol, and the bottom line is that other dance nights in town sell two to twenty times as much alcohol as ours does.  But even if the night was packed with binge drinkers all night long, we are still only one Saturday a month.    We have a very unique sound and we are fortunate to have as much support as we do in Portland, but we have learned to focus our energy on one bhangra and Bollywood dance party a month, to keep the party packed and exciting.  The management of the complex that houses Fez Ballroom wants a consistent format that can pack the club with expensive drinkers every Saturday of the month.  That is not our format.

Our “format” is playing what we love, sharing the most exciting music we find with happy dancers, and doing it month after month, year after year.  Saturday, April 24, 2010 will be our last night at Fez Ballroom, but who knows what the future will bring?  We will not stop loving music, and we will always attempt to find opportunities to share our discoveries with the people of Portland.

Thank you to Blaine Peters who first booked us at the Fez Ballroom.  Thank you to Michael Ackerman for being a wonderful manager these last many years after Blaine moved on.  Thank you to Heather, KC, Dan, Hillary, Mike, Steve, Tibin, John, Amanda, Sarah, Jen, and everyone else I am not remembering now, or whose name I never did a good enough job of cementing in my head.   All your help in making our night a success over the years is greatly appreciated.

Thank you to all the dancers who made for such memorable parties.  We never could have done it without you.



CORRECTION:  A bartender at the Fez begs to differ with my opinion that we don’t have a drinking crowd.  I base my judgement on the fact that the bar is sometimes empty, and the dance floor is always full, but he tells me we do have a crowd that drinks, and we do good bar numbers.  He can’t understand why the mgt. is phasing us out since our night is “kicking ass.”  Oh well.