The Denver music scene, the dance scene in particular, is like Shrek. It has layers. There’s big guys, little guys, and everyone in between. That’s not so different from many other cities, in and of itself. But we have a special situation here. To keep going with the corny movie references: If you legalize it, they will come.
Anyone who doubts this has never been to Denver. Since the historic vote of November 6, 2012, and its implementation on January 1, 2014, the Mile High City has seen an unprecedented surge of hip young tokers lured in by the possibilities of legal weed. Despite the constant complaining of locals watching their state overrun by Chicagoans, Californians, and East Coasters (I’ve done a fair share of bitching myself), there have been some perks to constant influx. Mainly, that they’ve brought their musical skillsets with them.
The club scene, bar scene, and DIY scene in Denver have never been stronger than they are right now. New bands and DJs, new artists, new clubs, and new opportunities pop up constantly. Plus, we now have a strong enough backbone to push the cream to the top.
Wait, wait, wait. Pushing the cream to the top? That’s not underground, bro!
Are local DJs performing at Global Dance Festival underground? Even if they’re just in the opening slot at 4:00? I’d argue that the answer is yes, because here’s the thing about being underground: just because you pop your head up into the light for a few minutes doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned your roots. The scene is about progress, and for artists, that means new opportunities. I know we all love to cling to the notion of the great undiscovered, but in order to keep from becoming a burn-out, that artist better do everything he or she can to become the next big thing.
Anyone wanting to bring the term sell-out onto the table can go ahead and fuck right off. When a local artist gets some recognition, that typically translates into increased performance and networking opportunities for DJs and performers the next level down. A candle lit in the dark shines a light on how awesome the local’s party actually is. Not that it matters, but I saw Billie Joe Armstrong sporting a 924 Gilman sticker on his guitar the other day. On that note, let’s look at the leaders of the underground dance scene in Denver as we lunge towards the warmer months, when the cream tries to pop out into the light and create some better opportunities for those just stepping out of the basement.
Sub.Mission has been throwing Denver’s best parties since 2007. The collective are local legends in the dance scene, mostly because they knew dubstep before almost anyone else and have kept their roots in supporting local artists, venues, and their fans for a solid decade. I’ve been writing about music in Denver since 2010, and Sub.Mission was one of the first names that regularly crossed my desk. They’ve pushed artists like Cloud-D into leading local roles and have been throwing some killer parties at The Black Box. Look for things to heat up over the next few months.
Mile High Sound Movement
Also known for throwing legendary parties, MHSM leads Denver’s ‘west coast’ electronic movement. They work on some bigger events like Sonic Bloom and Arise Music Festival, but to really get a feel for the vibe they themselves create check out their club shows where they highlight DJs within their collective alongside great regional talent. I’m particularly partial to their artist Blucifer’s Ghost, who has a free EP up on Bandcamp right now. In fact, all of the collective’s artists have music at a name-your-price rate via this page, so get you some.
Recon DNB crew
Recon DNB showcases some badass drum and bass and jungle from the region and beyond. They throw live events and host multiple internet radio shows. Current artists include GM Maggie Despise, Goreteks, and many others.
The Black Box
The Black Box is the city’s newest dance spot, opening last year. It’s got a cool setup- a separate thereat room, and main club/bar area. Sub.Mission handles most of the shows and operations, although outside promoters run events here as well. The club is 18+ and has really turned into a hotspot for the local dance scene. You can party here, network here, perform here, and basically get as involved in the community as you wish, all under one roof. It’s evolved as a result of Sub.Mission’s continued growth and success in the scene.
The South of Colfax Nightlife District is a collection of dance clubs and venues including Vinyl, The Church, Bar Standard, Milk, City Hall, and The Living Room. No matter what night of the week, you can count on a party at one or more of these clubs. They’re all tied in to each other, and all located in one area along Broadway and Lincoln St. The scene has embraced these clubs because they’re consistent. They bring in good DJs, have the best recurring theme nights in town, and let the party roll freely as long as it doesn’t get too out of hand.
Beta is Denver’s preeminent dance destination. Weekly recurring events, international stars, and local hotshots can be found here just about every single night. The vibe is built for dance music, and the party scene in Denver has really embraced this place. It’s certainly not glued to the underground – that DJ you saw at Red Rocks last summer is probably headlining Beta on their winter tour – but they do showcase local talent and a lot of Denver’s most well-known DJs spun in front of big crowds for the first time here.
Summertime is ripe for warehouse parties in Denver. I bolted down the street along with thousands of others trying to escape the spotlight of a police helicopter the last time I went to one, but stories like that are few and far between. You’ll have to put a little effort into figuring out the exact details, but following Denver’s legendary warehouse promoters Whirling Dervish is a great place to start.
Here’s five of the city’s best DJs. Many are affiliated with the collectives listed above and appear regularly at the clubs listed above (ain’t it nice how it all ties in.)
Heavy Chicago-influenced house.
Late Night Radio
Funk, soul, and dance – that’s what you get with Late Night Radio. They tour their blended EDM style around Colorado and the country, repping the underground scene in Denver that brought them up.
Long-running stars in the scene in Denver.
House DJ in Denver spinning since 2002. Also the founder of the label 5280 Music.
Vibe Street is an anomaly in the dance scene here. He brings in elements of styles like jam and hip hop, and mixes it with dance/glitch for a style perfect for the world’s stoner capital.
Denver has a lot to offer dance fans, including more talented DJs than would be possible to list here. The point is that by looking a little deeper than the big festivals, you’ll discover the beat that really drives Denver’s dance scene. The next time you’re checking out a new DJ in the opening slot, give their Facebook page like – odds are they’ll guide to towards a whole world of partying you didn’t even realize existed. This is as true in Denver as anywhere in the world.