Welcome to The Luxury Gap, a suite of madcap cultural investigations about art, class, and economics written by the last punk rocker without a trust fund.
I was fucking around on Instagram when I saw a weird ad for something called Shrek Rave. “IT’S DUMB JUST COME HAVE FUN,” the tagline read. Surrounding Shrek’s bulbous gut were the phrases “cool is dead” and “who cares.” Suspiciously self-deprecating, I thought. After Googling for about 20 seconds, I got the gist of Shrek Rave: a touring dance party where, for about $35 plus tax, you can yuck it up in a dark room dressed like a gingerbread man with a shit-eating grin, presumably on ecstasy. The ad had the slight sheen of a thrown-together poster you’d find in a college dorm vestibule, mixed with the fermented burps of a thousand bouncers who look like Kevin James. I decided to investigate.
I wrangled four guest list spots for myself and a few comrades who were down for the mission from a fellow musician pal who worked at Baltimore Soundstage. Author and illustrator Kevin Sherry would document the madness, and musicians Dan Deacon and Al Schatz would be my extended eyes and ears on the ground. On an innocuous November evening, we all squeezed into Kevin’s car, pointing our wheels toward the Inner Harbor for the sold-out affair. Dan commented that the tickets were pricey. I thought, Well, to bump goblets with Shrek while a light show caresses your skin costs money, Jack.
As soon as we poured out of the car, Dan pulled a rubber Shrek mask over his face that made him look like Yoda on steroids. He topped it off with a pair of shades. I admired his effort as I stumbled behind in my Gilligan’s Island-style hat, teal water-resistant Hawaiian shirt, and khakis. We entered the fray with a mix of dread and anticipation, soon quelled by the realization that we were basically at a dimly lit Comic Con with expensive liquor.
In our group, Dan was the only one who fit in. The rest of us looked like narcs. Dan had on green glow-in-the-dark gloves, a shirt covered entirely with Shrek’s screaming face, a faux gold necklace that said ‘Fiona’ (in honor of Shrek’s life partner), and another necklace that was just Shrek’s face placidly smiling. He made a beeline for the sound guy, gloves flickering. Dan does this after a few minutes in any club — he can’t help it. Once at a sold-out Ween concert, Dan approached the booth in the middle of the band’s set and the sound guy yelled, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!”
The purpose of our mission was to see who was behind Shrek Rave. What kind of dough was it raking in? Was there anything to it aside from nostalgia bait for millennials yearning for a simpler time? Could there be a heart and soul to this meme-themed affair?
Dan revealed that the sound guy was just Googling images of Shrek and tossing them onto the screens that surrounded the dance floor. This seemed a bit DIY, considering the ticket price. But then a wasted woman ran by us in gray fuzzy mouse pajamas, glow stick in hand. My guess was that she wasn’t fretting over the ambiance. When people pay for a thing like this, money is an afterthought. It’s like a ballgame: you just wanna taste a mediocre hot dog while the wind blows through your hair.
One of the televisions I was standing by kept showing hundreds of little Shrek babies flooding into Shrek’s hovel on a loop. I later learned that this is an anxiety-laced night terror that flashes through Shrek’s head after Fiona makes it clear that she wants to have kids.
It made me wonder if the people here saw themselves as Shrek. Like the jolly green protagonist, you start full of piss and vinegar bouncing around the swamp, untethered to anything but the whims of youth, until the gravity of life drags you into the inevitable bog of other people’s bullshit. You stumble through the branches and mud, out-maneuvering beasts and tricksters, then while finally resting your bones — BAM! — Shrek babies! Was this my generation’s Big Sleep?
I spotted another person in a Gilligan’s Island-style hat, although his was orange with cat ears. He rested his stubbled chin on his fist while watching one of the Shrek films playing on a TV behind the bar. Maybe he’ll watch the whole thing and leave. Could one not just do this at a Chili’s?
I got in what I thought was a line to order my drink. After standing behind a couple dressed like they were going to a steakhouse, I’m directed by a concerned fella, who might have been a security guard, to just step up to the bar like a normal person. I bought a pint of something called “Donkey Juice”: an overpriced and rather efficient little drink consisting of coconut rum, cranberry juice, and a splash of blue Curacao. The Princess Fiona-attired bartender was pleasant, yet did not seem like someone who suffered any fools.
In general, there weren’t many Shrek-orations, if you will — just some minimal green decor left over from the last St. Patrick’s Day bash. Three guys were dressed like the fabled Three Blind Mice. They wore all white: white ears, white shades, white canes, and white collared shirts with cut-off sleeves. They looked a bit like Clockwork Orange meets Weekend at Bernie’s. They were excited about some dude in a fuzzy neon lumberjack hat. Suddenly Dan was behind me and pointed at the lumberjack bloke. “THAT’S LIKE THE HEAD DUDE! YOU SHOULD GO TALK TO HIM!” I took a swig of Donkey Juice and ventured into the abyss.
I tried getting the Lumberjack’s attention but was cut off by one of the more aggressive mice-men with patchy facial hair who smelled like peppermint Schnapps. Dan grinned and handed me one of those pre-made green Jello shots delivered from the third moon of Jupiter. These things tasted like French-kissing Gumby’s grandparents and had about as much alcohol as an O’Doul’s.
The Lumberjack was in high demand. I heard people saying stuff like, “HEY IT’S SHREK-MAN,” or “YO SHREK!” This was funny because to me he just looked like a dude on his way to pick up a burrito bowl from Chipotle.
He was struggling to evade the mouse-bro. When he finally broke free, I said hello as gracefully as I could to someone who’d been doling out small talk to wastoids all night and was probably not looking forward to more hogwash from some jerk in a Chumbawamba hat. An excited woman in some type of fairy outfit explained that his name was Ka5sh and he is the master of ceremonies — Shrek, if you will. He was kind enough to entertain my stuttering attempt at a quickie interview. “LOTS OF FOLKS DRESSED LIKE MICE TONIGHT,” I said over pummeling jungle beats. Ka5sh entertained my queries to the best of his abilities. I couldn’t hear him. Another mob of drunkards spotted him. He nervously chatted with them like someone being cornered by a crazy ex at a funeral.
A guy dressed up like a ninja held out a tray with a giant gingerbread cookie while I attempted to get Ka5sh’s contact info. I took the ninja up on what I thought was an offer of a delicious treat, when, to my surprise, he yelled, “NO MAN!” The ninja stomped away frustrated, muttering something like “fuckin’ moron.” Hard to understand the laws of the land here amidst the Shrek movie sound bites mixed with Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For a Hero” blasting from the stage.
Ka5sh was broadsided by an overly boisterous Lord Farquaad, who kept screaming “HEY SHREK!” within inches of his ear. I would have shown him the people’s elbow by now, I thought, while washing the taste of green sludge out of my mouth with a swig from my water bottle.
A few days later, Ka5sh spoke to me in a hoarse voice by phone from New York, where he was preparing for another green bacchanal. “Shrek Rave fans don’t know that I exist. They think I’m Shrek and they’ve been calling me ‘Shrek’ at every show,” he says. “But it’s okay, ’cause I never wanted this to be about me. It’s about Shrek Rave. This is the universe I’ve created and I’ve become Shrek. It’s not a bad thing.”
Ka5sh, whose real name is Jordan Craig, is an artist and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. His Spotify page yields a deep back catalog of emo hip-hop releases with titles like: “I’m Depressed,” “I Give Up,” and “Same Old Story.” Seems pretty dark for a dude selling out viral costume parties all over the country. Ka5sh came up with the idea for a Shrek-themed party in 2020. He hosted the first one in L.A. in March 2022 — more than 20 years after the animated movie debuted in 2001 — and it sold out. Since then, Shrek Rave has been popping up in 1,000-capacity venues in cities all over North America and the U.K. Its popularity has even led to the creation of a sister production, the SpongeBob Squarepants-themed Bikini Bottom Rave, which is currently touring the U.S. Doing some drunk back-of-the-napkin math, these irony-steeped soirees ain’t too shabby a payday, especially for a guy who just rolls into town with a crew of one. Does all that green make him happy?
“I have not been depressed for the past few months,” Ka5sh says. “How can you be sad when you’re making so many people happy?” Ka5sh gave me a bit of his back story while I gently fought off my cat, who always wants to knead my lap like pizza dough. “I moved to L.A. from North Carolina with the idea of wanting a better life. I used to be in a rap group called Weirdo. We were trying to do Death Grips in Fayetteville, N.C.,” he says with a laugh. “There was nothing I could do there. I was working as an appliance salesman. I did the whole fly-out with $300 thing. It was the first time I’d ever been on a plane, and [laughs] now I’m Shrek Rave guy! I literally just got my passport ’cause we’re booking European dates.”
Can’t say I’m not a tad jealous of all this — having myself put out seven albums with nothing to show for it but a few free T-shirts and stickers from cool radio stations. As I felt that other green monster creeping up on me, I’m told how L.A. didn’t just roll out the red carpet for Ka5sh. Before hitting the Jolly Green Jackpot, Ka5sh tried organizing other shindigs, but nothing seemed to click.
[Ka5sh] sees Shrek Rave like Earth Crisis saw vegan hardcore kids in the early Nineties. “A lot of these people didn’t have a place to go and now they have one.”
“None of them were popping off,” he admits. “I would pack out the room but never completely sold it out until Shrek Rave. That’s the one where I was like, ‘oh shit’ [laughs].” His voice breaks up momentarily. I think he’s got me on speaker phone, but I don’t say anything. He sounded like he was laying back in bed talking to a nightstand. His voice was worn, likely from having to shout over weapons-grade bass tones all night for months on end.
When you see footage of other Shrek Raves, things are pretty consistent. There’s always a gaggle of drunk people who look like they wouldn’t talk to you at Whole Foods if their lives depended on it. Half of them wear proper costumes and the other half look like they’re stopping off at the local microbrewery after a colonoscopy. A fun bunch. It always looks on brand, though. There is an unspoken understanding that one should not try too hard, but please be a loud, annoying dick by all means.
How does Ka5sh relay this vision to different clubs? “I tell the venues that it’s like jazz,” he replied. “We improv it, ya know? And it comes together!” As someone who has organized many events, this sounds horrifying. I asked Ka5sh how he convinces local DJs to Shrek-ify their sets.
“I know it sounds crazy, but when I contact the DJs, I ask, Do you get it? For the most part, I have been a stickler about playing more Shrek songs,” he says. “If they don’t do it, the crowd gets antsy and angry. You could be like, here’s Smash Mouth 12 times in a row and they’ll be like, hell yeah!”
What about DJs who go against the grain? “If they don’t do what I want, they just don’t become part of the Shrek Rave cinematic universe, and they’re not welcome back,” he says. I ask what his family thinks. “My grandparents kind of get it,” he says. “My grandpa is really online. He even knows who Lil Nas X is.”
Is there any long-term trajectory for Shrek Rave? “My goal is to partner with DreamWorks and make this thing sexy and huge — maybe even throw a festival, ya know? Swamp Fest! The novelty party game is booming! I’ve been talking to this guy Matt Bennett. He does this thing called iParty. He used to be on a Nickelodeon show called Victorious with Ariana Grande. He throws a party that’s playing Nickelodeon and Disney songs and he’s killing it! You think Shrek Rave is doing good? He’s doubling Shrek Rave. Three sold-out shows in London-type shit. It’s crazy!”
Does Ka5sh worry about DreamWorks showing up with lawyers? “As long as we stay a fan-centered event, which we are, we’re gonna be good,” he insists. “It’s a celebration of Shrek more than anything.”
And finally, why are so many dudes dressed like the Three Blind Mice? He laughs. “Lots of bros do Three Blind Mice, ’cause most of them only have like two friends, so it works out.”
Back at the club, I wandered around looking for one of the fellas, who all seemed to have been swallowed up by the gray blob of Dollar General glitter and Axe Body Spray. Dan suddenly appeared, handing me yet another putrid green Jello shot. I didn’t even think twice. He apparently knew the bartender, which is always good. On the TV above the bar, I saw the original Instagram ad that lured me into this mess. It somehow looked even more pixelated. Something seemed more familiar about the image this time around. Then it dawned on me! Dan was literally wearing the same outfit as Shrek in the ad. I noted this and Dan replied, “DID YOU JUST FUCKING REALIZE THAT!?”
Dan went to monumental effort to make this outfit, all while raising a new baby and writing countless film scores, so we laughed our asses off, exhaled as one does after a great meal, and then said nothing. Then, a rather aggressive woman-fairy crashed into us Night at the Roxbury-style. She backed away, then smirked, dancing up to me and Dan in a way that felt half-mocking, half-Children of the Corn. She glided away toward the stage, where someone was shouting inaudibly over “All Star.” Dan commented into my ear, “This sucks.”
After another woman yelled “LET’S GO SHREK RAVE!” so close to me that I could feel her perfume burning my eyes, I decided to move to the other side of the room. I saw a nervous kid who looked like he came out on the wrong side of a bet. He stood bored, pulling at his gaudy anime shirt while hovering around a cardboard Shrek in front of a photo booth. He seemed pensive. Maybe he was peaking on something.
Dan pointed to a disturbingly normal-looking couple and yelled. “You should DEFINITELY talk to them.” One was wearing a blue polo shirt and the other was in a denim ensemble that looked like something you’d wear crabbing in the West Egg. They pawed at each other like the idealized selves in a flashback you have before vaporizing at the end of a Lifetime Original. This was the first excessive display of public affection I witnessed thus far.
I channeled my inner Ryan Seacrest and said, “hey, I’m doing a story for SPIN!” They looked a bit startled as I interrupted their smooch. They had no idea what SPIN was. I could’ve just as well said I was the interim entertainment editor for Plumbers Monthly Magazine out in East Dundalk and gotten the same level of awe.
The music was too bassy. It almost felt like a punishment to attempt any verbal interaction, but I managed to wrestle words from my jaw. I tried being folksy, but I think I just came off like a weird creep. I shouted, “I SAW AN AD FOR THIS ON INSTAGRAM AND WAS LIKE WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS, AND IT MADE ME THINK: WHAT IS IT ABOUT MY INSTAGRAM ACTIVITIES THAT MADE THE INTERNET THINK I WAS AN IDEAL PERSON FOR THIS TYPE OF EVENT YA KNOW HA HA?!” Dead stares.
I dug deep for my next question. “So, where are you guys from?” The blue polo-shirt guy looked me up and down. A bit irritated, he shouted, “where am I FROM!?” I thought, Oh boy, here we go, thanks a lot, Dan. He seemed baffled, then looked over at his denim queen and then back at me before saying, in a voice that sounded the way a person would talk if they were half-Han Solo, half-John Hughes villain, “FROM BALTIMORE!”
I continued in reporter mode. “SO, HOW DID YOU FOLKS FIND OUT ABOUT SHREK RAVE?” The timbre of Blue Polo’s voice suddenly shifted to a much more affable tone as the DJ played a sped-up version of “Love” by Keyshia Cole to a sea of donkey heads and she-ogres. He laughed while pointing his thumb at his partner: “A buddy of hers got tickets and said JUST SHOW UP so we SHOWED UP!” The two bid me good evening and continued bopping to the jams while looking around the room like one witnessing an unexpected space shuttle launch every 20 seconds, endlessly surprised.
On the surface, Shrek Rave felt like low-hanging irony for the masses who don’t have time to figure out where all the cool basement shows are (really, though: does anyone have the ample time it takes to be cool when you are trying to just be a human in the 21st Century?). One of the talent buyers at Baltimore Soundstage said to my shock that roughly 25% of the people who bought tickets were not in attendance that night. That’s like buying a hardcover copy of Prince Harry’s Spare and then chucking it into the sea! If people were willing to lose $30 that easily, why wouldn’t they even consider spending it on more transgressive entertainment that is twice as rewarding and a third of the price?
I know I’m bitter, because I wish some of the enthusiasm for Shrek Rave was channeled into the underground scene where phenomenal artists make ends meet by dog-walking and serving food to shit-heads. It felt like a spiteful kick in the crotch from a bourgeoisie who view artists as meandering deadbeats. They’d rather hand over cash to people offering Cracker Barrel-like experiences with low stakes that go down easy, though I did see one guy there who I’d run into at noise shows, so maybe we just need to make shittier posters.
Ka5sh made no bones about people’s reverence for this thing when we spoke. He said with total sincerity, “After every show, people tell me this is the best night of my life!” He sees Shrek Rave like Earth Crisis saw vegan hardcore kids in the early ’90s: “A lot of these people didn’t have a place to go and now they have one.”
I looked at the crowd and thought to myself, you think this shit is crazy?! I could show you something way fucking crazier than this. I thought of Greenville, N.C., in 2007 where I played the Spazz — a shambles of a house built for a small family that somehow became local showrunner Jeff Blinder’s venue of choice for showcasing up-and-coming acts. I played my first touring show there with Teeth Mountain and the Death Set for about seven people and a dog. I rapped. It was probably awful, but I was in love with it all.
I remembered how Johnny from the Death Set hung onto a ceiling fan that somehow didn’t fall and catch on fire. When neighbors rolled into the house, I thought they would be against this strange madness, but they just grabbed the mic from whoever was performing and attempted their best Ghostface Killah cypher. There were weird transparent bugs all over the place when I went to sleep and I could have cared less. I probably made a cumulative $80 in all the times I played there, but to be on the edge like that — to think, “I’m a nobody from Utica, N.Y., and I got to watch diamonds form in the earth’s mantle while a nation snoozed to ‘Hey There Delilah'” — was worth it.
In the midst of the shit-storm that is now, who can fault anyone for just wanting an excuse to pop on some puke-green face paint and make out with a goblin? Perhaps I need to get off my high donkey. Though aside from the shared love of Shrek, there seemed to be a void. Maybe I wasn’t fucked up enough. Dan handed me another disgusting Jello shot and our buddy Al looked at us and said, like Norm from Cheers, “Can we leave now?”
A sweaty Kevin Sherry emerged fresh from the PG-13 mosh pit with his stencil pad and markers. He cranked out some pretty damn good stuff in this dark place. I already felt I failed as a reporter. I was too passive. I should probably go back to dishwashing. Kev, on the other hand, looked like Tom Cruise in Maverick after he broke the sound barrier — tired yet satiated in having completed an absurd task. By that point, though, we’d all seen too much. The joke had run its course and now we were numb and ready to get the fuck out of this weird shit.
Before leaving, we stepped outside to the patio, where smokers in fairy costumes seem suspiciously friendly. I wondered if they were undercover cops. We headed over to the one cocktail table to collect ourselves in the cool air of the night, only to find it covered in actual vomit. A dude who looked like Hurley from Lost stood by casually smoking a clove, unperturbed by any of this.
It was time to head back to our respective swamps. On the ride back I laughed, saying, “between Dan’s Jello shots and the free admission, we’ve cost Ka5sh about $200 in Shrek Rave profits.” Kevin glibly replied, “I wish we could get the money instead.” The car burst into laughter. It’s one of those moments you want to return to.
Kevin Sherry is a children’s book author and illustrator based in Baltimore.