Really, I was not trying to get my face smashed in by the cops.
I was scheduled to perform at the Junk to Funk Recycled Fashion Show with Anjali Saturday, November 17th, 2007. She managed to double-book herself with a Diwali party in a private community in Beaverton earlier in the night. I had to set her up at her gig, and then head to the Wonder Ballroom to set up for the Fashion Show. Anjali was going to be met on the other end of her gig by her sister, who would take her to the Wonder to play after me. I knew I wanted help setting up at the Wonder, and I was highly fortunate that I was able to secure the able services of the Nick, who was willing to spend the evening helping my ass out. Thank you, Nick. Now I love me my Desi khanna, and I was crestfallen that I had to leave Anjali at her gig without diving into the spread that was offered. Instead I drove home to get the gear for the Junk to Funk gig and pick up the Nick.
We managed to find parking a half block from the Wonder, which made me -wonder- if people weren’t already leaving the fashion show. There was quite a mob out on the sidewalk (not moving out of the way for poor fools lugging DJ equipment), and people were walking away from the venue. I have DJed at the end of enough events to know that if the focus of the event is not the DJing, there will often be very few people left when the DJ finally goes on. I was told the turnout at the event was expected to be 1000, but I didn’t have any expectation that 1000 people would still be in the venue when I went on. Nick and I made our way to the backstage, where I soon realized that because the Golden Greats were set up on stage to perform before me, there was no place for me to set up until after they cleared the stage, which meant dead air between the band and my performance: not a hopeful sign for maintaining crowd density for the start of my performance. Tito and Sachin were in the house, and they told me that the place had been packed earlier. At this point I estimated that about 200 people were left, which meant that at least 3/4 of them had already left. Fortunately I DJ enough that I had no expectations for this gig, and knowing what I know from much experience playing at the tail end of non-DJ events, I knew I would be lucky if anyone was going to stick around to dance to my set. I wasn’t very motivated or inspired, so if everyone left in droves before I hit the stage, it wasn’t going to break my heart. It might mean that I would have to work harder, since the smaller the dance floor, the more the DJ has to work to keep it.
Playing after a band is always a crap shoot as well. As a general rule, bands like to take a long time to set up, a long time to sound check, and they will usually play over their scheduled time, and force the DJ to cut their set short. They will often talk shit about the DJs, or the very concept of a DJ, from the stage. There is also the matter of them sucking ass. You never know how bad a band will be, or how good they will be – at clearing the crowd. Then there is the matter of taste. The crowd that likes the band enough to see their entire set, may be the same crowd that will hate what I am going to do as a DJ. As I said, crap shoot.
As it was, I enjoyed the Golden Greats, who I had never heard of before. They played long mostly-instrumental (give or take a vocoder) mutant funk songs, greatly enlivened by a trumpet and a saxophone. The horns gave the music a Balkan feel at points. There was also a cool optical theremin set up in a very eye-catching strobe light box. I was glad they were a party band, since sometimes I get booked to play after somber folk and what not. At least the people who stayed around would be up for a party. Even though the Golden Greats started late, they actually finished on time, well before I thought they were going to leave the stage. Surprises all around. What a gentlemanly band. Unfortunately after they finished, really loud metal music started playing over the sound system while the band cleared the stage, and the Nick helped me set up in the hole they left. The kind of metal music blaring over the speakrs is the kind used to clear a gig after the band is done. Not a good way to keep the crowd around to stay for the DJ. In fact, probably the best way to CLEAR the crowd before the DJ goes on, other than to just play extreme noise. Eventually I am set up, and after forgetting to send King Fader (working the sound board) a signal for a while, I am good to go, playing a long batucada percussion jam to start things off. Unfortunately the 100? or so people left in the room are standing around and watching me, apparently not inspired by the percussion onslaught to get down. I move into bhangra, reggaeton, MIA (she gets her own genre), filmi, more bhangra, more reggaeton, Arabic hip-hop, Balkan beats, and a final bhangra track. People dance, they hoot approvingly at points, and despite the gradual thinning of the crowd, I feel pretty good about my performance.
The event had started at 8:30pm, I went on after 11pm, and by midnight the organizer was saying she wanted to shut the event down because she was paying the staff overtime, and there weren’t that many people left. Meanwhile Anjali’s sister had been texting me from the Diwali party, saying they were running late. The party did not want to let Anjali go, and were begging her to play longer and longer, even though they knew she had another party to get to across town. When I realized that the Junk to Funk gig was being shut down, I had Nick let Anjali know to stay put, since there was no sense in her racing across town to watch me pack up our equipment, especially when she had an eager dance floor begging for more. Around 12:30am I am informed that I am playing one more track, which ends up being the awesome “Battle Boliyan” from Tru-Skool’s Raw As Folk album. About a minute from the end of the song, the security staff in front of the stage starts waving their flashlights at me. “Hey, there’s only a minute left in the track, and people are grooving to it,” I think. I try improvised sign language to let them know the track is almost over. They are still waving their flashlights emphatically. While the track is still playing, I walk around the DJ setup to the front of the stage to tell them verbally how little time is left in the track. They shout, “the cops are here, turn it down.”
I rush over to the DJ setup, shut the sound off, and yell, “the pigs are shutting us down” from the stage. As I hear the words echoing around the room I realize that while I am picturing the police hundreds of feet from me, down a flight of stairs, and out on the sidewalk, I am not wearing my glasses, and there is every possibility that there are cops -in the room with me- that I cannot see. The security tells me to turn the music down, not off, so I turn the sound up a little for the final seconds of the Tru-Skool song. I am on stage packing up my equipment when I am confronted by a very stern looking Black cop with a shaved head. I realize very quickly that he is PISSED.
I wish I could remember his exact words in the exact order he spoke them, but I will approximate as best I can. He began something like: “I don’t need some asshole calling me names. I am not an asshole, but if you want to call me names, I can make this very difficult. When I got the noise complaint my first thought was that they shouldn’t have moved next to a club, but if you want to call me names, I can shut this place down. ” I am very apologetic from the moment I realize there is a PISSED cop on stage with me,who is VERY unhappy that I used the word “pigs.” I am well-aware of the power (legal and otherwise) held by cops in this country, and I had no interest in being fucked with by someone that can pretty much do whatever they want with me, whatever the law says. (Speaking of the law, did you know that you can be held by the police for 72 hours for no reason whatsoever? Perfectly legal.) Since I had all my DJ music and equipment with me, I was very conscious of how much I wanted all of it to come home with me safely, and not spend time in an evidence locker. When I used the word “pigs,” it was without any conscious thought (duh), and I was not trying to be some super rebel, and stick if to the man, and spend the night in jail, I was just spontaneously mouthing off from the stage (which I tend to do when I am shut down). This cop was not pleased, and he was not taking “I’m sorry,” for an answer. After my initial apologies were met with a not-diminished-in-the-slightest level of anger and threats, The Nick was feeling helpful, and tried to intervene, but I held him back, and continued to be as respectful and contrite as possible to the cop, so that this situation could deescalate as quickly as possible. I have no interest in getting into it with the Portland Police. At all. Last I heard the Portland Police were third in the nation for civilian shootings per capita. They are also first in the nation to train with federal agents for paramilitary purposes. According to the Portland Tribune, the Portland Police use force every 2.2 hours. Believe you me, I was not looking to become another statistic. The cop stayed on message, which was basically: you pissed me off, I didn’t come here looking for trouble, I can make your life very difficult, and most importantly, I am still very angry. He left without any softening of his presence, despite my apologies. Serious dude. The Nick felt that from his dealings with cops, this one was actually a very reasonable police officer.
He definitely wasn’t taking any shit, I’ll tell you that.
The Nick and I packed up. King Fader recommended the use of the term “fuzz” from the stage, instead of “pigs,” and the Nick and I drove home to unwind. At this point I learn that Nick had done a perambulation of the catwalk to cheers during my set, but I was too focused on my DJing to even notice it at the time. He also managed to avail himself of much free alcohol in the green room, as a good Nick should. Anjali was originally scheduled to perform at the Diwali party until 11pm. She didn’t get home until after 2:30am. Her dancers demanded hours more from her, such was their desire to dance and never stop. We all compared notes about our evenings (while we enjoyed the catered food from the Lentil Garden that Anjali was kind enough to bring back for us from the party), and after much merriment, the Nick made his way home (I hope you made it, Nick), and a well-deserved rest was had by all.
PS The moral of the story is to not use the term “pigs” when dealing with the police. Also, as a DJ in Portland, you might want to carefully consider who is within earshot if you want to play the song “Rosemary’s Swine” by local hip-hop group Sidewayz Speech.
PSS If you are unfortunate enough to have to deal with a cop who isn’t that reasonable contact Portand Copwatch.
PSSS Apparently the term “pig” in reference to a police officer goes back to at least 1811, not the 1960’s as is commonly believed.