Somewhere in Portland, there's an aggressive Old Town bro unaware he helped bring together two of the most influential electronic music promoters in the city. It was 2009, at a show at the Crown Room by Chicago juke master Gant-Man.
"It was kind of a disaster," says Ben Fuller, who helped promote the gig. "It was packed in there, but a lot of people didnât get the music.â
"Gant-Man let a record run out because this dude was in his face like, 'Put on some rap!'" says Lincoln Heath. "I told him, 'This guy came all the way from Chicago to play his music! Heâs royalty!ââ
âWhen Lincoln and I fully bonded is when we almost had to throw this dude out of the club,â Fuller says.
This week marks the fourth anniversary of Bubblin', Fuller and Heath's recurring dance night, and if anything has changed in the interim, it's been Portland's receptiveness to the forward-thinking styles—bass, house, dubstep, techno, garage—that they bring to town every month. The anniversary will be celebrated in kind, albeit with a heavy pall cast over it: DJ Rashad, the 35-year-old footwork pioneer set to spin at the anniversary party, died suddenly April 26. For many promoters, the loss of a legendary headliner means a lot of refunds. But while Fuller and Heath join the worldwide dance community in mourning, their show will go on. Even without Rashad, the lineup dazzles, with sets from Baltimore club pioneer DJ Technics, dark club duo Nguzunguzu, and DJ Spinn, a member of Rashad's Teklife crew.
"Everyone's sets will be a celebration of life," Fuller says, "which is really what dance music is all about."
The unyielding anniversary speaks not only to how embedded Fuller and Heath are within the electronic scene in Portland and beyond, but also to the duo's 30 combined years of experience DJ'ing and promoting. Proselytizing for electronic music in Portland wasn't always easy, though.
"For the first two years, Bubblin' was an expensive hobby," Heath says. The low turnouts in the night's early days came as a bit of a shock to Fuller, who came up in the '90s rave scene in St. Louis, throwing parties that would draw up to 3,000 people. Given its initial location at the now-shuttered Crown Room, Bubblin's first audiences were mostly Old Town runoff and bachelorette parties. "We'd have to get the crowd going with some sure-shot stuff, and then we could trick them," Heath says. "Once we've earned their trust, we get to slip in a U.K. funky record or some techno and see how it goes.â
Without even being aware of it, Portland has allowed Bubblin' to shape its nightlife into a more sophisticated beast. Now, audiences are more willing to indulge genres previously too foreign for their ears. While Bubblin' may lack the free-for-all nature of the raves of Heath and Fuller's youth, it has the diversity of music and, more importantly, the weird, positive vibes of rave culture.
The duo says they noticed a shift in the crowd's reception when Bubblin' relocated into another now-defunct Old Town club, Groove Suite. "When we moved there, that's when things really started to take off," Fuller says. "When we had Todd Edwards, that was the biggest night they'd probably ever had." The house producer and vocalist asked for a microphone midset and began singing his vocal part from Daft Punk's "Face to Face." "He told us afterwards that it was the first time he'd ever done that live," Heath says. It was a completely organic decision, Fuller says: "He said he just felt so much love from Portland and he wanted to give back."
There's a laundry list of venues, promoters and producers that Fuller and Heath attribute their success to, including Dropping Gems, Ryan Organ, Evan Hancock and the staffs at Groove Suite and Crown Room. But if they had more of Edwards' forthrightness, they'd admit the truth: They've felt Portland's love, too, and given us one of the country's best and most diverse nights in return.
"We have been irrationally tenacious about doing these events with sometimes only 10 or 15 people showing up," Heath says. "We've just been that hard headed and said, 'We love this music and we love throwing these parties and people need to hear this music.ââ
SEE IT: Bubblin's Four-Year Anniversary is at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., on Friday, May 9. 9 pm. $10 before 10 pm, $15 after. 21+.