DJ Gregarious And The Socio-politics of Dancing.
From the files of roving correspondent Jay Horton...
On the occasion of the eighth anniversary of Shut Up & Dance, we asked Jay Horton to post his (for all intensive purposes) never-before-read 2005 NW Paper paean to the peculiar majesty of DJ Gregarious and Portland's most popular club night.
So, Friday night. You want to go dancing. Well, ok, not you, but the girl does. The girls do. It's the weekend, you've watched beer commercials, dancing's just sort of expected. Except, well, you've tried all this before. And, apparently, you have to go somewhere to dance. With the cosmos and the attitude and the boom boom boom. And it's never like tv.
It's Portland. Corporate meatmarkets spinning third marriages to tumescent bass and Home Depot aesthetics. Poly-rhythmic boutiques of truculent dj's and ineffable styling and the carefree atmosphere of a magazine shoot just ruined. Vibrantly bi garage-discothèques colonized by suburbanites with all the subtlety of Cortez. Reggae honky-tonks listing date-rape on the specials board. Barracuda's. The Voodoo Lounge. You just want a dance club where people actually, y'know, dance. And shut up about it.
The Fez Ballroom is so pretty and lush and lovingly-shaped that you'd imagine the owners don't really appreciate its reputation as hidden treasure of the northwest. From an unassuming doorway on an unappealing block within the quadrant decent guidebooks have named the gay hustler district, a line forms late every Friday night. A powerfully bizarre line.
Adenoidal goths somehow twenty-one. Leggy heiresses of the sort supposed to abandon Stumptown clad in their electroclash finest. Be-pierced lesbians trying hard not to follow the stares. Fratboys betraying the same befuddlement as when you ask your puppy for the keys. Gorgeous scenesters purposelessly kept to their cell phones. Pleathered elders trading cloves. Bachelorette parties tantrically giggling. Aging punks snapping at onlookers. There's always a cab full of tourists leaving Jake's around this time, and their faces are always pressed against the glass, dazedly questioning their driver.
What the fuck is that?
Rarely, do they leave the cab. Fair enough. It's Portland, and there's probably a drizzle. Inside, as a wonderful gal checks ID and counts your money, there's a stairwell and, then, a second floor, where Filipino punks, fauxhawks and tuxedo jackets astray, try to console a more-than-voluptuous Bettie Page as gaggles of factory-damaged debs push through the madding crowd and you're swept along to the main level. Which looks like Casablanca set-designed by Bobby Trendy. Which looks like Scheherazade's Architectural Digest spread. Which looks like, in the worst dreams of Islam, what Baghdad could be. Given the money.
And then the music hits you. Physically. Like a full beer thrown at the stomach. 'Back In Black' by AC/DC. You haven't heard that song from club speakers in decades. Come to think of it, that song came out about the time those kids there, all eyeliner and cheekbones and frosted tips, were born. And just why do they know the lyrics so well? The music seamlessly shifts to The Kaiser Chiefs' 'I Predict a Riot', and you're not as embarrassed you don't know the words. Even if it sounds a bit better. And makes you want to pogo with that miniskirted wiccan who's just regretfully lost her vodka to the towering potted palm.
The magic's not just in the music, as Talk Talk's 'It's My Life' fills the dancefloor, though DJ Gregarious has meticulously crafted an giddily eclectic mix that runs ragged through the past thirty years of music like God's jukebox set to random select – and, like God's playlist, the choices can only be somewhat understood afterwards.
Shift to Le Tigre's 'Deceptacon'. It's not the club, as beautiful as the club may be. Floor-spanning ottomans. Thickly-lighted Arabian nightmares. A massive ballroom obsessively stylized for homey grandeur and old-movie decadence. Shift to The Records' 'Starry Eyes'. It is, I guess, the people, but that's a backasswards causality. Much of the same crowd was there at Lola's for the reverse-engineered yuppie rococo design and music that rarely ventured from the (old) new wave. The Cure's 'A Forest' or an odd re-mix of such overtakes the speakers, the projectionist cuts to found footage of elderly Orientals and toggles the video to the beat – scratching, in his own way – and, for no real reason, people cheer.
DJ Gregarious (Greg Cline to the government and virtually nobody else) started Shut Up And Dance at Lola's five years ago and, upon, ahem, creative differences with management, moved down the street New Year's of 2004. At that point, we all sorta imagined the club did make a difference – Lola's was beautiful, in its own bouncy-floored fashion – yet the night's continued without a break, larger every week. Four hundred vastly different souls now flood The Fez. And, again, the question remains … I mean, what the fuck?
Flock of Seagulls – 'Modern Love is Automatic.' Pulp – 'Common People'. Nick Cave – 'Red Right Hand'. This article should come with a mixtape.
Gregarious is an odd sort. At a time when DJ's meant beat-obsessed savants or wedding-party no-hopers, he suddenly appeared on the Portland stage (dressed to the nines in mod finery at a time when black jeans were considered formal clubwear 'round Portland) and began to string together modern rock, cheese metal, obscure post-punk, Europop and most every genre or idiom you've ever air-drummed. Without matching rhythms or moods, he spun a daisychain of forgotten hits and beloved album tracks with a thematic arrogance so utterly personal it became, through virtue of an impeccable taste and the all-encompassing cultural deliria of our generation, utterly universal.
Because the musical samplings are so odd. Because Gregarious is so odd, approachable but distant, eager to play requests but more than happy to empty a dancefloor too happy with that last Madonna song, everyone feels their own unique connection to the night. The punked lesbian couples may honestly think it's a queer event whatever the actual demographics. Card-carrying hipsters say they come for the Wire B-Sides but tap their feet to Outkast like the rest of us. I'm sure the squarejohn Tigard couples believe they've crashed an 80's party, and I'm sure they remember listening to Franz Ferdinand and Interpol back in 1982.
Because it is everything to everyone – and, more importantly, everything to everyone who pride themselves on hating everything – Shut Up And Dance continues to pull that neatest trick. It's eternally comfortable and unassailably cool. Greg's on the mic, now, which rarely happens, and demands a slow dance. To Cyndi Lauper's 'Time After Time'. An awkward moment. This never happens, and there's so much evening left.
They all dance, still. Some with tongues so firmly up their cheeks they're licking eyeballs, but they dance. All at different speeds.
10 p.m. every FRIDAY, Fez Ballroom, 316 SW 11th St., $5. 21+.
This week the Sugarlumpz (members of the Sugarlumps, the High Violets, and long-lamented Birdy Num Num) to perform a brief set.
Shut Up and DanceSpace
Note from the music cave: Everything has been off-schedule lately. We'll get back on the regular after MFNW. We apologize for the temporary lameness.