The thirteenth anniversary of our ANDAZ Bhangra and Bollywood party is 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.
From the beginning Anjali and I knew we wanted to host a party that welcomed both Desis and non-Desis. Some time in 2001/2002 we went to an Indian student party at Portland State University hoping to hear some good Bhangra and Bollywood. I am pretty sure I was the only white guy there, and the DJ didn’t even play a single Indian song while I was there. I realized the party was all about the South Asian exclusive space, and not about the music. Since I wasn’t South Asian, and didn’t grow up with the music at all, I wanted outsiders to feel welcome at any party we threw, but I didn’t want us playing to just whiteys either. We wanted a party where people who knew the words and people who had never heard the music before could all dance together. Inclusiveness was the vibe and we vowed to never have a dress code, which was very popular for South Asian parties at the time. To us that was total bullshit.
While ANDAZ has never been explicitly a queer party, we had LGBTQ friends and supporters from the start and we never wanted to play host to a heteronormative environment. Back when we started Portland had no lesbian nights and one lesbian bar, the E Room, that all our lesbian friends complained about because they thought the music there was so lame. As a result we had a large lesbian crowd early on that eventually fractioned off as one lesbian club night after another started up around town in the aughts including the very popular Double Down which was always opposite our ANDAZ parties. (The massively popular queer party Blow Pony was also frequently opposite us, so our LGBTQ crowd shrunk over the years to only those who were diehard Bhangra and Bollywood fans.) Because homosexuality is so underground in India we often had recent immigrants being exposed to same-sex couples making out and grinding on the dance floor which is something they probably never saw at home. When we hear about how heteronormative Desi parties are in other cities, and how unwelcoming they are to LGBTQ folk, we are so happy that our party is nothing like that. We’ve always loved our LGBTQ fans and been so glad that they’ve been along with us for the ride.
From our first party at Lola’s Room we had such a diverse crowd of young and old, Desi and non, and people form all subcultures and backgrounds, from working class Panjabis to South Indian tech workers, from anarchists to young professionals. The irony is that of Portland’s three main subcultures, indie, hippy and Burner, we never drew but a trickle from any of them. We always had our own crowd made up of lots of very different unique individuals. At first lots of South Asians came to our party until they realized how infatuated we were with Bhangra and the majority of South Asians living in Portland do not care for Bhangra. Aside from the Panjabis the South Asians mostly came to hear Hindi film songs and we were so focused on Bhangra that I remember at one early party I could only account for about twenty minutes of Bollywood that we had played in a six-hour night. At the beginning of our party there was very little Bollywood that would work for a mixed audience that wasn’t already in love with the songs. In fact, since the studios didn’t provide club-ready Hindi songs, a whole industry of bedroom Bollywood remixers was active distributing remix CDs to Indian stores throughout the South Asian diaspora. We bought hundreds of these and we played what we could, but they were mostly really bad. It wasn’t for many years before the Hindi film industry started pumping out house, which is a huge part of Bollywood these days. Meanwhile the UK Bhangra scene kept releasing banger after banger, so we found it a challenge to balance the Bhangra and Bollywood while appealing to our diverse crowd and not compromising our taste and standards.
As a DJ, Anjali has always been more about presenting her unique taste while I have been more willing to acquiesce to the will of the crowd. Especially since I am an outsider to Desi music I have always been more accommodating to the desires of our Desi crowd out of an eagerness to please and not wanting to be some white guy who thinks he knows better. Truthfully there are many big Desi hits we have never played because we think they are atrocious, but we have leaned more in certain directions because of the mania of the audience, even if it is not particularly our thing. Within the first year we had alienated a large chunk of Portland’s South Asian community either because we didn’t play enough Bollywood, or because we (shockingly!) had a mixed crowd and not the exclusively-South Asian space that so many Desis seem to crave in America. Several parties that were attended by hundreds of people only counted a few of our Indian friends in attendance. Anjali would happily keep playing sets of UK Bhangra bangers, but I actively sought out Bollywood songs to play in a desperate attempt to woo back some of our South Asian audience. As popular and energetic as our parties were, it didn’t feel right to not try to please the Desis who might come through the door who didn’t share our passion for Bhangra. As a result I started pushing more and more Bollywood in my sets and begging Anjali to do the same and eventually over the years we brought the party at the Fez to the point where it would be half-Desi. In fact the nights at the Fez, while never two exactly the same, frequently had a similar arc. The party would begin at 9 pm and people would slowly trickle in. By 10 or 10:30 the dance floor would begin to bubble, and by 11 or 11:30 the party would be raging. We would never play Bhangra in the beginning of the night and would always want to hold off on unleashing the dhols for as long as possible to maximize the impact. In fact Anjali would play Asian Underground acts like Asian Dub Foundation in the beginning of the night. The party would start white and end brown. By the end of the night it would be a Desi sing-a-long, no matter how white the party was earlier in the night. We had a large Tibetan and Nepali crowd that would often arrive late since we always stayed open and kept the dance floor going until 3 am, a real rarity in Portland at the time when most clubs closed by 2 am. Even before Portland banned smoking in clubs in January of 2009, we banned smoking from the dance floor and limited smoking to the second floor lounge at the Fez. This sadly stopped a lot of our Tibetan and Nepali crowd from showing up, many of whom liked to fill up the couches on the dance floor stage and chainsmoke throughout the night before we instituted the ban.
There was always a lot of diversity in the South Asian crowd that came to ANDAZ. In addition to the Tibetans and Nepalis there were Indo-Fijians and Indo-Trinidadians, Afghanis, Pakistanis and people from Sri Lanka, students and tech workers straight from India, and the children of Indian immigrants. The Indians who came to our parties hailed from as far north as Jammu and as far south as Kerala. Since Bollywood is the only music that reaches all corners of the South Asian diaspora it is no wonder that our South Asian attendees were less than thrilled with our focus on Bhangra. One Indo-Fijian told me they called our party the ding-a-ling-a-ling party referring to the constant sound of the tumbi in our sets.
Despite Portand’s reputation as being America’s whitest city the non-Desis who came to ANDAZ were not all white. We had Black and Latino fans, Arabs and all sorts of Asians as well as Native Americans. It was a delight for us to be able to unite all these people in joy on the dance floor. Perhaps it was this diversity that had an FBI agent come to the club once allegedly looking for a Lebanese terrorist.
One thing that set ANDAZ apart was that we almost entirely avoided themes and guest artists, two things that are the bread and butter of many other parties. When ANDAZ fell on Halloween night in 2003 we started up our much-imitated tradition of throwing a Bollywood Horror Halloween party every year. Most Americans didn’t know about the history of horror movies in Bollywood and had no idea about the tradition we were celebrating. For 13 years our Bollywood Horror parties are the only theme nights we ever throw at ANDAZ. While many other club nights feature a raft of DJs and guests every party, we wanted to keep ANDAZ devoted to the residents: Anjali and The Incredible Kid. In seven-and-a-half-years at the Fez we had only the following musical guests: Tigerstyle, DJ Rekha, Delhi 2 Dublin, Joti and Bongo of the Duniya Dance and Drum Company, E3 and DJ Aanshul. (In 2005 ANDAZ fell on New Year’s Eve and we had the Indian magician Shreeyah Palshikar open up the show.) Being so isolated in Portland from the South Asian music industry we didn’t have the budget or the population to draw from to support the biggest artists in the industry, and we were so confident in our own DJing based on seeing many other Desi DJs in North America and India that we knew nobody could do our party better than us. We turned down and disappointed many performers, but in the end we stuck to our guns and our party has lasted 13 years, something that most parties with many guest artists and DJs have never achieved.
Our parties were always popular, but our popularity shot through the roof when we were featured on OPB’s Oregon Art Beat in January of 2006. Our friend Nimmi Singh worked for OPB at the time and convinced producer Mike Midlo that they needed to cover us, and once the segment ran we were dealing with lines around the block all night. Our party typically drew 300-400 Portlanders and now we were drawing in the upper 500s. When we first began DJing at the Fez the legal capacity of the top two floors combined was 449. Shortly after we started at the Fez there was the White Snake concert fire in Rhode Island and as a result the fire marshall came through the Fez and permanently reduced the capacity of the top two floors to 349. As much as we value safety this was a bummer as it meant that when the night had “sold out” it actually still felt as if there was room for more people. Since Anjali and I have our roots in the house party scene, we love the energetic vibe you can only get from a super-crammed space, but that was never to be at the Fez after that point. Since capacity was only 349, and we would have nearly 600 people through the doors, clearly a lot of people were doing a lot of waiting in line. Despite hitting the upper 590s several times, we never did cross the 600 paid threshold at the Fez. We didn’t cross that threshold until we started throwing New Year’s Eve parties at the much larger Bossanova Ballroom.
Despite the always-popular nature of our night, the Fez had trouble developing other popular Saturday nights. Meanwhile the same person who owned the Fez owned many other businesses on the same block including Aura on the first floor. Aura was Portland’s most popular douchebag hangout on weekends for many years. While the Fez only had one consistently popular Saturday night, Aura always had a long line and the drink menus at Aura were twice as expensive as at the Fez. We always had good relations with our direct managers at the Fez, first with Blaine Peters and then with Michael Ackerman who took over after his departure, but our good relations never extended any farther up the power structure and we never had a relationship with the owner. In April of 2010 we got a two-week notice and were told that April’s ANDAZ party at the Fez was to be our last one, as they were going to open the stairway from Aura to the Fez on Saturday nights and advertise it as three floors of Aura playing top 40 to a lowest common denominator crowd. They fired all the Saturday night DJs to make this a reality, but we were the only ones who had a highly-successful party that had been running for seven and a half years. Ironically new editions of the travel guides Best Places Portland and the Moon Handbook Portland were published within a few months of our departure both hyping our ANDAZ party as the place to go to dance in Portland. Funny that what multiple travel guides recognized as a Portland institution went totally unnoticed by the owner of the club who was more interested in putting double-price drink menus in at the Fez.
To this day the thing that Anjali and I hear the most from people we meet is, “I used to see you at the Fez.” Even though the party has continued rocking for five more years, many people for whatever reason stopped seeing us when we left the Fez. Many people tell us they still miss the Fez and that the vibe there was the best. Shortly after we left the club an upper manager ordered a hideous makeover after attending a club in LA. The once Moroccan themed club was covered in white fabric and plasma view screens were inserted thoughout the space. Anjali and I attended a few events there and realized that there was no returning (Within a year we were invited to bring the party back to the Fez. An offer which we refused, having learned not to trust the organization.). The vibe of the club had been so mutilated by the makeover that it never would have worked for our party anymore, even if we were willing to return.
While some people still pine for the days of the Fez there were a number of downsides to the club that people either don’t remember or were unaware of. The club was never willing to pay for a sound person for our night so I would gamely try to adjust sliders and knobs all night trying to get something that sounded acceptable even though I had no idea what I was doing. The wonderful Shira Otchis would sometimes come in and try to help us get the sound dialed in at the beginning of the night, and whenever a sound person was there for a special event I would try to pick their brain about how I should adjust things for our night, but it was mostly me fumbling unhappily in the dark. When Aura opened the organization that owned both Aura and the Fez decided to strip the Fez of all the moving disco lights to put them up at Aura. For many years we only had a few static stage lights and no moving lights of any kind at the Fez. The AC would frequently break on hot summer nights making the club feel like the inside of an aquarium more than anything else. The vinyl situation was never workable as the DJ booth wasn’t isolated at all, so whenever we tried to play records there was massive rumble that sounded horrible. This necessitated us playing nothing but CDs at the club.
The Fez was a truly special era in the life of our party, but we were shoved out the door and we knew we weren’t going to stop hosting ANDAZ parties, so we moved on. Our next home: Rotture.
END OF PART TWO
Part one of the history of ANDAZ is here, part three is here and part four is here.