We just celebrated the thirteenth anniversary of our ANDAZ Bhangra and Bollywood party on Saturday, July 25th, 2015 at the Analog Theater. Part one of the history of ANDAZ is here, part two is here, and part three is here and part four is here.
After seven-and-a-half-years ANDAZ had to find a new home since the upper management at the Fez Ballroom decided to go all top 40 on Saturday nights and fire all of their resident DJs in April of 2010. In March, the month before our final party at the Fez we featured Delhi 2 Dublin for the first time. They put on a fabulous performance and to show you how unaware we were of our future fate, we used the following image for the backside of the flyer.
Little did we know the “every last Saturday” was only going to be true for one more month. Fortunately our direct manager gave us two-weeks notice when he found out, and we were actually able to throw a goodbye party. The farewell night was packed with more than 420 people through the door and all the staff, who had no desire to see us go, kept telling us how much our crowd loved us, how devoted they were to us, and how they would definitely be following us to our new venue. We could only hope.
At the time our other party, the Global Bass night called ATLAS was every month at Holocene. We needed to find another cool club to host ANDAZ. There weren’t many options that seemed hopeful to us. Because of its Moroccan-themed ballroom and its huge wooden dance floor I always felt the Fez was ideal for the night. We ended up reaching out to Conrad Loebl who was booking at the inner East side industrial club called Rotture. We were fans of DJ Beyonda’s I’ve Got a Hole in My Soul party that happened one Thursday a month at Rotture, but I was not convinced the club had the right vibe for ANDAZ. While we loved grungy, divey places and had no problem with a punk rock aesthetic, we knew that not all of our crowd agreed with us. We knew there was a portion of our crowd that would prefer a “nicer” venue and we knew from our Blackbird days that a lot of South Asians wanted something slick and Las Vegas-y, not punky and divey. I was convinced we couldn’t host ANDAZ at Rotture, but that we should start a new party called Junglee (Hindi meaning uncultured, wild) that would better suit the room. However, when we first met Conrad at Stumptown to discuss hosting a party at Rotture he was clear that he and the owner Mike Wolfson wanted to host ANDAZ at Rotture. As much as I thought the room was too rough for our party, we didn’t have any other options we were happy with, so we signed up to host our first ANDAZ party at Rotture three weeks after our final party at the Fez. Conrad designed a poster and we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. We were charging an $8 cover at the Fez Ballroom and we even lowered the cover to $7 at Rotture to compensate for a venue that was a lot rougher around the edges. (We also brought in our own hand soap to stock the bathrooms as they were usually out, and we weren’t going to accept that level of slovenliness, even if the bathrooms had holes in the floor.)
Our first night we only had 56 people paid. That was devastating. We had never ever had an ANDAZ like that. In all the years of the party we always had hundreds of people and were shocked at the unprecedented low turnout. (To make matters worse we played a one-off party at the Woods that month and had more than a hundred paid, nearly double what we did at our new home venue.) We were used to working with hundreds of dancers in a venue, where you can take chances and appeal to different segments of the crowd at different points and now we had to work harder than we ever had to keep the small crowd dancing. At the Fez the DJ booth was buried in a corner, and people frequently had no idea who was DJing at any moment. Now we were on a stage clearly visible from all parts of the venue and we were much more on display. At the Fez I would frequently play things as an experiment to see what would happen. With hundreds of people on the dance floor there was much more room for error, and much more momentum keeping people on the dance floor. Now I was having to own and believe in every track because I was playing it from a raised stage with much of the crowd watching me to see what I was doing, a far cry from my sheltered and obscured corner at the Fez. (Anjali claims she was the one who insisted we play on the stage at Rotture. Other DJs like Beyonda played on the floor of the venue.)
We tried again in June and only 72 people paid that time. We were flummoxed. What about the more than 400 people who had been to our last party at the Fez just two months before? What about our regulars who had been coming for years? What about the fact that everyone was so convinced our crowd would follow us to our new venue? We played our best to keep the small group of dancers on the floor and gave it our all. The few Indians who attended told us that “Indians never come to the East side” (despite their own presence proving this truism false). Of course such a statement ignored all the Indo-Fijians who live in North Portland, and other South Asian populations throughout the East side of Portland. (Because South Asians living in East Portland are so much fewer than the large populations living in the West suburbs of the Portland metro area I am aware of at least two social groups that were created with the title “East Side South Asians” in an effort at solidarity and bonding.) What this statement (and alleged truism) referred to is that for many South Asians in the relatively prosperous West suburbs the East side was considered a no-go zone of poverty and Black people. Sadly, anti-Blackness is a part of South Asian culture just like in America and when we told South Asians we lived in North Portland we would be asked, “Where the Black people live?” (Just last year a mob of Indians assaulted a group of Africans in Delhi.) It didn’t help that Rotture was in an industrial area that seemed “sketchy” to some people not familiar with the area. At the Fez many people discovered us because there was so much foot traffic downtown, and when people saw a line around the block for our night they would get in line having no idea what was in store for them. Around Rotture there was NO foot traffic. We were no longer going to have random people showing up to our night, we were going to have to convince each person to come to the destination beforehand.
After working hard for years to incorporate Bollywood into my ANDAZ sets it went from something I tried to do to please Filmi-loving South Asians, to something I actually enjoyed playing. At the Fez I was used to getting rapturous responses of Desis singing along to the Filmi songs I played, and now at our early Rotture parties we had a much whiter crowd that loved the Bhangra Hiphop, but wasn’t feeling the Filmi house at all. I missed the Bollywood sing-a-longs, and if I started playing Filmi house at a certain point in the night it usually cleared Rotture. I’m glad this situation was short-lived as it was very depressing for me now that I was a devoted researcher of new Filmi songs.
Even though we had began ANDAZ in July of 2002 at Lola’s Room we always celebrated our anniversaries at the Fez in November since that was when we started throwing parties at that venue. Now that we were no longer at the Fez we decided to celebrate our anniversaries in July when the party first started. This meant we were going to hype the shit out of our July party at Rotture as the 8-year anniversary of ANDAZ, and hope to God we could convince people to come back to the party.
For our eighth anniversary we decided to do something we had never done before: an early admission special. In the past we always charged a full cover at ANDAZ from the second doors opened at 9 pm. Sometimes this would mean that inexperienced people would show up at 9 pm, wait around for an hour or so and then leave. We always wondered if they came back when the party started raging after 11 pm, or if they mistakenly assumed we hosted empty parties. We decided to make the 8-year anniversary free for the first hour and lo and behold people started showing up. We had 40 or 50 people in the first hour and another 156 paid, so while we weren’t coming close to reaching our old numbers, we had at least got the ball rolling in terms of getting more people to attend ANDAZ at our new venue. We tried free early admission the next month as well and after 100-150 people got in for free, our door person Dave Mosier convinced us we needed to start charging these people some money, so we started charging three dollars for the first hour at ANDAZ.
The devastatingly-low turnout of our first two parties at Rotture was now a thing of the past, but the early admission special created some new challenges. At the Fez we would not play Bhangra for an hour and a half or more, and play loungier stuff in the beginning of the night, but now we had people showing up right at 9 pm looking to dance. People would pay their cover and head straight for the dance floor, not even making a stop at the bar. All of a sudden we were playing hype dance music to what might be a full dance floor by 9:15 pm, an entirely new arc of activity for the party. We also had to get used to an earlier closing time. While our parties at the Fez always went until 3 am, we now had to end the party by 2:30 am at the latest.
Because we were worked into the Rotture schedule so last minute our party floated from one Saturday (or Friday) to the next for the first few months we were there. Because Branx/Rotture hosted the massive Blow Pony queer party every fourth Saturday there was never any chance of ANDAZ going back to that schedule. Instead the party moved to every first Saturday while we were at Rotture. This too created new challenges. For many years we hosted our ATLAS party ever second Saturday at Holocene and ANDAZ every last Saturday at the Fez. This gave us at least two weeks between every party, and that rhythm kept both parties packed all that time. Now we had two parties two weekends in a row, and then two to three weekends off. It was absolutely not ideal to throw two different parties two weekends in a row every month, but there was no flexibility at either club to provide any other option due to well-established and highly successful parties at both venues, so we made the best of it, knowing that both of our parties were suffering at least a little from being right next to each other. Since ANDAZ was no longer on last Saturdays, it also meant that our Bollywood Horror Halloween parties were now going to be happening at a different venue than our ANDAZ parties. Those parties moved to the Someday Lounge during the time that ANDAZ was at Rotture.
Some regulars from the Fez eventually started making appearances at Rotture, but essentially ANDAZ created a whole new crowd at Rotture. People started coming there who had never seen us before, and Rotture was their introduction to the party. They fell in love with ANDAZ at our new venue, and didn’t share the nostalgic pining for the Fez that some of our old regulars had. It was interesting, because there were people who literally came to ANDAZ every month at the Fez who never once came to Rotture. Did they not know about our new home, or were they interested in preserving their memories of the Fez? We will never know. To this day, more than five years later, we meet people all the time who say, “I used to see you at the Fez,” but for whatever reason never followed our career after that point, despite all the amazing parties we have thrown in the meantime.
Despite nay-saying opinions about Indians never crossing the Willamette River, we did eventually draw a Desi crowd to Rotture, and thankfully went back to hosting very mixed parties after a whiter-than-usual first several months. We knew how popular the Lebanese Nicholas Restaurant was with Desis from the West side, and that was only a few blocks away, so we knew it was only a matter of time. Eventually I was able to go back to playing lots of Bollywood to ecstatic crowds, and we developed our crowd beyond the initial attendees who were mostly only interested in Hiphop-style Bhangra. At the Fez the central stage was reserved for dancers, while our DJ booth was in the corner. Now we DJed from the back of Rotture’s stage, and all the extroverted dancers would take the stage in front of us at the peak of the night. This added such a different energy than we ever had at the Fez as we were sharing the stage with our dancers and feeding off their energy. This led to some crazy parties with some unreal energy. We knew that even if some of our crowd hadn’t moved on from the Fez, ANDAZ was alive and well with a new venue and a largely new crowd. We continued to have very few guests at ANDAZ, but we did have Black Mahal with Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti on dhol, return sets from Delhi 2 Dublin and DJ Rekha (both hosted downstairs in the bigger sister venue of Rotture: Branx). We also hosted some of our favorite dancers in the Seattle-based Bollywood Dance Project troupe for our nine-year anniversary along with our friend Adam McCollom as guest dholi. The dancers of Bridgetown Revue joined us on that night and several others as well, something very different for us, as we had never hosted bellydancers before at ANDAZ.
Eventually Conrad Loebl left the club and the owner Mike Wolfson became our primary contact. He took a real interest in the night and wanted us to start decorating the venue, something we had never done before. Unlike some parties that have large decorating crews and do elaborate one-night redesigns of their venues, we liked showing up and playing our spaces just as they were, just like a band show. For us the emphasis was always on the music and we are a two-person crew, so our ability and interest in transforming spaces is highly limited. Mike convinced us this was what we needed to do to go from solid numbers at ANDAZ to lines around the block. He even went to Indian grocery stores in the West suburbs to buy decorations and Indian snacks to have on the tables. Anjali and I did some shopping of our own, and along with a trunk of saris we started showing up to the club hours early and decorating. We never had an owner take such a hands-on interest in our night before, and it felt really validating after having made the Fez money for years and yet never meeting the owner of that club. Unfortunately the decorating seemed to have little effect on the numbers, so eventually the decorating dropped to just lining the club’s long exposed brick wall with saris before the start of each ANDAZ.
One of the biggest annoyances about our nights at Rotture also happened to be one of the reasons we felt happy about moving to Rotture in the first place. Our friends Monkeytek, Ryan Organ and Jon A.D. threw the dubstep night Various downstairs at Branx every first Saturday. They always brought in the powerful HAS soundsystem to get as much bass out of their sets as possible. When we first started ANDAZ at Rotture, Branx was a little shoe box space underneath the back half of Rotture. What this meant is that if you were hanging out at the back of Rotture far from the dance floor you could hear the bass from Various coming up through the floor. We could live with that. In fact we were happy to be upstairs from one of the few forward-looking and thinking parties in Portland. However, the Branx space was eventually expanded to include all of the space underneath Rotture, and the stage at Branx was moved directly underneath the stage at Rotture. To fill up the space Various started bringing in more and more bass, eventually bringing in sixteen double 18″ subwoofers every month, way, way more than what he had upstairs at Rotture. These downstairs subs would rattle our stage, and sometimes sound louder to us DJing on stage upstairs than our own monitors. It started to sound like Bollywood vocals on top of dubstep bass. We had no right to complain, as they were there first, and they were one of the reasons we felt good about moving our party to Rotture. We don’t know if our crowd noticed it as much as we did, but is was certainly distracting for us. The new expanded Branx space was not a good fit for Various and eventually they hosted their final night, bringing in eighteen double 18″ subwoofers for the occasion. It was a ridiculous night of downstairs dubstep bass versus upstairs Desi beats. After Various came to an end we learned that having a dubstep night below us was preferable to other alternatives including techno and metal. Dubstep might have added amorphous bass to our sets, but techno would pound along trainwrecking with the rhythms we were playing upstairs. Metal nights would growl through the floor and sound particularly inappropriate when Anjali was conducting early dance lessons at our night.
It was the loud music downstairs that was the single most unsatisfying element of hosting ANDAZ at Rotture. One of the reasons we decided not to stay at Lola’s Room was because of the louder music upstairs at the Crystal Ballroom that was capable of drowning out our night. It was just as bad or worse at Rotture. We had other complaints about Rotture as well. The soundsystem was merely adequate and lacking the powerful bass we adore. No money was ever put into the place so it only went downhill. Even minor repairs would never happen, so the same holes in the bathroom floor were there all the years we were at the club. The owner was upfront with us and let us know he was going to sell and wasn’t going to be sinking money into the place. The club would get unbearably hot and sweaty in the summers, there was no hint of any AC, and there was only one fan for a 400-person space. We really missed the foot traffic downtown that brought lots of new fans to the Fez every month. Despite the inner Eastside industrial area getting hipper during our time at Rotture, there were never any people on the street in front of the club, so we were limited to the people we could convince to come to the club in advance. While we established solid attendance numbers at Rotture, we never reached the same heights we had at the Fez, and felt pretty confident that if we moved the party back downtown we could boost those numbers again.
One night in April of 2013 we were hanging out with our friend Allison Carter who was leaving the Crystal Ballroom after having worked in the booking department there forever. We went to see the soul singer Lee Fields with her at the Star Theater as part of the Soul’d Out Music Festival. That night she introduced us to Frank Faillace who owned the Star Theater, Dante’s and seemingly half the strip clubs in Portland. Anjali asked if he would be interested in hosting our party at the Star, a gorgeous venue we had always admired. He said yes, and we began making plans to move the night. ANDAZ thrived at Rotture for more than three years, but beginning with our 11th anniversary in July of 2013 we were going to be hosting ANDAZ at the Star Theater.
END OF PART THREE