Pass the Mic

Ketten Serious

This karaoke isn’t hokey

By Anne Adams May 20, 2010

“I’m gonna try my best, but I didn’t realize it was Grammy night,” quips the man taking over the karaoke mic at the Woods in Sellwood. It’s an understandable reaction for an average joe testing his talents after a string of stellar performances.

The first time you visit a Baby Ketten Karaoke night, you might think you’re walking in on the night’s magic moment: that rare convergence of a great singer, an unexpected song, and the perfect mood in the room. “Wow,” you say. “I’m just in time. This has to be the highlight.” But when singer and song change over—it happens again. And again. After an onslaught of unique material and memorable performances, you begin to wonder: Is this really karaoke? Everyone seems so good.

Baby Ketten is not karaoke as you’ve known it, it’s karaoke as you’ve dreamed it. Wish for an obscure song? They’ve got it. Want something pitch-shifted into your range? Just say so. “We’ve even got a vocoder and an auto-tuner,” says Ketten KJ John Brophy, “for those special ‘Cher’ moments.”

It’s not surprising that these “by singers, for singers” features have attracted some of the local vocal elite. Pop into a Baby Ketten event, and you never know who might take the mic, as evidenced by this clip of Ritchie Young, lead singer of Loch Lomond, sporting beach shorts and covering Midnight Oil:

Baby Ketten’s star-friendly allure is no accident. Brophy, who has recently earned extra singing stripes as a frequent guest of Portland Cello Project , began spinning karaoke in 1997 after having avidly sung it since age 17 (“I got a fake ID just to sing,” he confesses). As his love of the medium expanded, so did his frustration. “I became disheartened with the absence of certain genres and bands that I grew up listening to. Every time I opened a songbook, I found myself hoping the songs I loved would magically appear, even though I knew they never would. Eventually, I had to make it happen.”

As a result, Ketten hoists a hefty songbook, which spans the gamut from late-breaking catalog rarities like Bat For Lashes and Passion Pit; to bona fide indie inspirations such as Bjork, Radiohead, and the Pixies; to influential songsmiths like Lee Hazelwood and Lou Reed. This week, Baby Ketten’s website introduces a song-search function, allowing you to remotely check the availability of your favorite song—ostensibly so you can practice up to “Grammy standards” in privacy, before bringing it to the BKK stage.

It’s finally time to say goodbye to karaoke disappointments and books full of moldy oldies. Baby Ketten is here to set your songbird free.

Baby Ketten hosts weekly events at various Portland venues. Visit the website for more details, or view an up-to-date schedule here. And keep practicing!

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