If you thought Prince was a short, speechless freak who’s been losing popularity for years, a visit to a fan party may help change your mind—at least on the popularity issue.
by David Farley
Prince doesn’t talk much. But he once moved his mouth enough to mumble that “fan” is short for “fanatic.” Nor does he celebrate his June 7 birthday. Instead, he holds a weeklong “Celebration” the first week of June in his hometown, Minneapolis, where his “fans” get a tour of Paisley Park (his legendary $10 million studio complex), and attend Prince and Prince-related artists’ concerts. Just don’t mention the “B-word” (Birthday! hahaha, we said it.) or, as the one-time unpronounceable symbol once told reporters, “you’ll be thrown in the moat.”
With all this contradictory ambivalence, it’s a wonder this fading star has any fans, sorry, fanatics, at all.
Enter the Prince fan party. Radio and MTV stopped playing his music a decade ago. Many of his aged fans have finally become alienated by a series of, let’s just say, odd occurrences: the name change to a symbol, scrawling “Slave” on his cheek to protest record company “enslavement” of artists, and, most recently, his critically acclaimed recent album The Rainbow Children, which loudly extols the tenets of the Jehovah’s Witness faith. But among superstars, Prince has always had a large flock of faithfuls. Since the ‘90s, his loyal fan base gathers in clubs to create celebrations of the enigmatic musical genius. Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Amsterdam, Ghent (Belgium), Paris, Saint Etienne (France) and London are just a few of the cities that host these semi-regular love fests.
The Bay Area is different—not because there are no Prince-themed bashes. But because there are three different autonomous groups who organize these parties in the Bay Area.
Charles Hurbert is the most recent DJ to throw his hat into the competitive Bay Area Prince party arena. He’s been doing “Extra Classic”—a DJ show that revolves around the Purple One’s music—since November. “Prince’s music just struck me all of a sudden about two years ago,” says Hurbert. “I used to make fun of it. Now I’m a hardcore fan. Some people have religious experiences, I have this.”
And by the look of Curve in San Francisco on Saturday night—the site of the last Extra Classic affair—there are many who feel the same, especially females.
There are approximately two males here tonight. The rest of the club is filled with two-dozen, scantily clad ladies. The style of dress, not surprisingly, has a decidedly ‘80s look: big hoop earrings, frizzy hair, glossy lipstick, lace. Pendants of the unpronounceable symbol Prince once changed his name to dangle from people’s necks.
“Woo-oo-oo,” screams a girl at the bar, mimicking Prince’s trademark squeal. Her friends on the dance floor respond in unison, “Woo-oo-oo!” Suddenly the beginning howl of “Get Off” starts, and the girl at the bar, sprints onto the dance floor, abandoning the drink she’s just ordered. A dozen others join her.
One of them is Bobby, a lanky, charismatic figure who’s heating up the parquet. By the second chorus of the song, a circle has formed around him. His long limbs are flailing in every direction, sometimes just missing other dancers. At one point, he starts juggling objects while cutting a rug. This is entertainment.
Besides being an outrageous dancer, Bobby is the brains behind the Dream Factory, the Bay Area’s most popular Prince fan party. According to Hurbert, the Dream Factory parties are the best in the country. And he may be right. Hundreds of people turn up dressed in their best Princely clothes. A handful of partiers, in fact, look like Prince at various stages of his incarnation. There’s Purple Rain Prince. There’s late-’70s Prince. There’s Graffiti Bridge Prince (long hair and a goatee).
One recent Dream Factory party was held on a boat trip around the bay. Marred by rain (and therefore, lack of attendance), it was still, according to Extra Classic’s Hurbert, “da bomb.”
Willie Adams is another Dream Factory regular, though like Hurbert he runs a Prince fan party. The Willie Adams Experience has been on the circuit since 1992, first in Los Angeles and now in the Bay Area. He held a party at Berkeley’s Shattuck Down Low two nights before Hurbert’s Extra Classic.
“We have the largest fan base in the world here,” said Adams, working the turntable. “The Bay Area just has a great music history that goes back to Sly Stone. We really embrace artists—especially when it comes to funk.”
If the people we spoke to are any indication, Adams is right.
“We’re not here for a booty call or a quick fuck fix,” proclaims Teal from Oakland who is flanked by two friends. “We’re here for Prince. When we come to these parties, we’re not looking for Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now. We’re here strictly to enjoy the music.” The women debate Prince’s new album. Everyone seems to agree that the music is his best in years. They just don’t like the religious stuff.
Meanwhile, while prompting a woman who goes by the name “Apollonia” to explain the appeal of Prince, she screamed, “Prince makes my body rock!”
Others have less enlightening answers. “I think the music is very infectious,” said Hurbert. “Whatever music or genre you’re into, you can identify with some aspect of his music. It’s always crossed boundaries. The rap people, the rock people, the dance people, they all get down to Prince.”
Adams added, “Because his music is a combination of spiritual and sexual, a lot of people are turned on by it.”
Taking a breather from the dance floor, Shannon Smith—a Prince party regular—put it simply, “I’ve always loved Prince because he has consistently told me to be myself. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, straight or gay. Just be yourself.”
Whatever the reason, Prince parties certainly have an important function for fans of the diminutive Minneapolis native. “The one thing we all have in common,” said Teal, “is that we love Prince.”
Her friend Christina added, “When I found the Willie Adams Experience and the Dream Factory, I found a whole group of people just like me.”
Back at Curve, Willie Adams shows up around 11 p.m. to spin for an hour. Charles Hurbert takes a breather from the turntables and finds his way to the dance floor. Adams is trying to unite the three different organizations that put on these parties. “I want to take this party on the road,” he says, rattling off cities like Los Angeles and Sacramento. “My mission as a DJ is to bring this music to the people. Then they can decide if they like it.” Just then he puts on a song from Prince’s new album and the dance floor fills.