I arrived at Shrek Rave promptly, at the listed start time of 8 pm, because I thought it would be good rave etiquette. I’ve never been to a rave before, but I have seen the movie Shrek, as well as some of the 2001 fantasy film’s various sequels and spinoffs. While I enjoy silly Scottish accents as much as the next fellow and a good deconstructionist fairy tale more than most, my Shrek knowledge is best described as middling. But I can say confidently that 8 pm was way too early to get to a Shrek rave.
Initially there were just a couple of Shreks—and a smattering of the public domain fairytale characters that constitute the wider Shrek cinematic universe—on the dance floor. But the flow of Shreks increased steadily as the night wore on. I counted two, then four, then suddenly there were a dozen Shreks all around me. Some of the Shreks sported professional-looking bald caps and lime green body paint, some simply went with a Shrek headband and general Shrek vibes.
Shrek Rave was also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a pretty genderqueer gathering. I noticed an even distribution of both Shrek’s wife Fiona (a sort of were-ogre herself) and gender-swapped Shreks (the ginger wigs were a clue as to which was which).
As Judith Butler once wrote, “gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original,” and there is no better example of this than a bunch of Zillennials transmogrifying Mike Myers' occasionally problematic antics into a vibrant drag show.
Shrek Rave is an event not limited to Portland, and bay area DJ and producer DJ Mochi tours to different cities to play some of its various nights. Onstage she pumped out a dubstep cover of “Welcome to the Black Parade,” while half a dozen memetic clips of Shrek and/or his silly friends played behind her on a loop. In one, he jogs through a forest filled with fluorescent tube lights. In another, Shrek hallucinates while rhythmically chomping down on some kind of bog onion. Pinocchio breakdanced. A donkey—lit from within by satanic fire—glared balefully upon the writhing dance floor. Then we were back to Shrek again, trotting through his endless woodland purgatory. These same clips played in an unchanging loop, creating a hypnotic backdrop for different kinds of Shreks to bump and grind to.
Periodically DJ Mochi barked callouts to the massed Shreks, and they responded as one. “Who’s at a rave for the first time?” she called. About half the crowd responded with cheers. “Who here would fuck Shrek?” she demanded. The roar was cacophonous.
As green painted bodies blasted at each other endorphins on the dance floor—to a sped-up version of Carly Rae Jepsen's “Call Me Maybe"—more elaborate costumes started to emerge: a digital gingerbread man leering through the pixels of an animated LED face mask, a guy with glowing gloves robot dancing in the corner. Three witches in iconic pointy hats and slinky black dresses sipped $8 well drinks out of plastic cups, bobbing to a trancy remix of Imogen Heap's “Holding Out for a Hero” cover. A puckish figure in cat ears and a striped cardigan started to slam dance, and a small crowd formed around them.
At a certain point, I had to admit I could not confidently tell if every costume at the Shrek Rave was part of the Shrek universe. There were plenty that weren't—Wolverine and the Joker weren’t in Shrek, I’m confident about that. But the gulf between the two conceptual extremes of “Shrek” and “Not Shrek” widened as the night went on. There were a lot of people dressed up as cops, were there cops in Shrek? Were there nuns in Shrek? What about sexy nuns? How many Shrek characters wore fishnets? Because there were a lot of people wearing those.
All of those questions fell away as the Shrek frenzy reached a howling crescendo. Banger after early aughts banger pumped out of Mochi's furiously spinning decks. Smash Mouth’s “All Star” and “I’m a Believer” cover both feature prominently in Shrek lore, and the DJ knew this. There was even a guy in the crowd dressed as Smash Mouth lead singer Steve Harwell (may he rest in peace). Mochi teased the first iconic bars of “All Star,” but that was a fake out, and from those simple chords “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus emerged. When “All Star” finally dropped, I assume it was what Woodstock must have been like—if Smash Mouth had played the national anthem there and everyone had been cool with that.
Then, almost like a fever breaking, the vibes shifted. The party began its downslope, with the number of Shreks waning rather than waxing. Two new DJs took the stage, one dressed as Cookie Monster, the other wearing a shirt that just said “Horny” on it. I decided to bid goodbye to my new Shrek Rave friends and slip out the back, as “Do You Know the Muffin Man” transitioned seamlessly into Cher’s “Believe.” Out front a few Shreks smoked cigarettes and talked Shrek shop, while a pulsing techno baseline thumped into the night.
I shared an otherwise empty bus from downtown with a masked figure dressed as a cartoon moth. “Were you at the Shrek rave?” I asked. The alarm in their eyes suggested to me that they were not.
That’s the thing with spending an entire night at a Shrek Rave: At a certain point, it becomes hard to conceptualize a state of reality that isn’t thrashing Shreks and pulsing EDM, just as it must be difficult to imagine the world of a Shrek Rave from without. Now is the inevitable comedown, a bridge between the worlds of “Shrek” and “Not Shrek,” and I welcome it. I probably won't be attending another Shrek rave in the near future, but to those who would mock or disparage my fellow dancehall ogres, I say: “Hey now.”
Shrek Rave will return to Portland—and soon. Follow the Shrek Rave wave.