It’s 4:30 in the morning. I’m slimy with sweat, and I recognize no one in this dark, low-ceilinged warehouse basement. My eyes burn from artificial smoke. The floor is sticky from beer. And I am entirely too old for this shit. But I’m wearing comfortable shoes and I am living for the beat!
Thanks in part to so much good, legal pot and in part to our newfound identity as Silicon Mountain, Denver tops all those listicles of trendy cities, but, really, this is not a story about all that. This is the story of Denver’s resistance to trendy. I call this story the Techno Manifesto—and it all centers around dark, sweaty dance parties.
It’s the story of a small group of dedicated and passionate DJs, promoters and patrons who are fighting to keep a fledgling post-Ghost-Ship-tragedy DIY, after hours, electronic music dance party community together. It’s about how to keep people like me satisfied in a city that has never really understood the non-snowboarding, non-mountain climbing, non-biking culture of late night freaks and our need to get down (though outdoor types are welcome if they stay cool).
These fighters for the right to house party are doing justice to their techno roots by nourishing a community of dedicated ravers—mostly in their late twenties and early thirties. They are hosting affordable, inclusive and somewhat secret dance parties curated by both world-famous and local DJs and producers. The current scene is primarily sustained by three promoters and two underground warehouses, who work together to ensure maximum dance party and minimal drama.
Deep Club, a label and tribe of five midwest born DJs, have been actively hosting after hours events since 2013. They prioritize the U.S. roots of electronic music and “showcase a rarer aesthetic of music currently missing from the local club circuit.” Their sets challenge audiences with chewy and difficult rhythms that pay homage to the urban African-American and GLBTQ roots of electronic music. While the team also has a new residency at Bar Standard for us non-nocturnal folks, they reign as DIY after-hours royalty because of their commitment to artist control and the freedom these events offer them to showcase the best local talent alongside up-and-coming legends (Black Madonna, 2015) and current legends (Mike Huckabee, 2017).
Nocturnal, also operating since 2013, is more dedicated to European techno. While Deep Club hosts monthly events, Nocturnal puts on four to six parties per year. Nocturnal also recently moved into the mainstream club scene via their residency at Black Box in Denver, but their heart still beats strongest in the after-hour events. According to its founder, the best parties are the ones you have to work for: Originally, Nocturnal party goers who RSVPed to events received a phone call offering an address after 3 p.m. on the day of the event. At that address, ravers would find a person on the corner or in a car who acted as another layer of security and who, if the asker passed the test, would offer up the address of the party. It’s all a bit less cloak and dagger now, but the beats are still as ferocious as always.
Sorted didn’t emerge until 2015 but one of the two founders—let’s call her V—is, by her own account, a rave lifer. As an angstful teenage outcast in Pueblo who was more interested in house music than horses, raving became her religion. Today, she floats between the world of tech and techno in order to bridge electronic dance communities within Colorado. Sorted events sync fans of house, techno, drum and bass, jungle and dubstep by focusing on the experimental, weird and wonderful elements of each genre. Like her comrades, V insists (in the best possible way) that Sorted’s after hours events are challenging and that the music that’s spun there isn’t really accessible before midnight.
Deep Club, Nocturnal, and Sorted act as allies, to each other and in the fight to bring the electronic music dance party into the twenty-first century. All three burn passionate when it comes to increasing the number of female DJs and producers in the community and into rotation at their events. Deep Club regularly reaches out to the LGBTQ community and keeps their sets firmly grounded in the socio-cultural history and motivations of techno and house’s ethnic roots. Nocturnal is working on a guest “raver waiver” that defines consent and that protects guests from inappropriate advances. Sorted is strategizing educational opportunities, especially for women interested in becoming producers or promoters.
As if all this wasn’t enough to make me want to stay up way past my bedtime and support these events, the larger truth is this: No one is making any money. No, really. I checked. Every penny of the $10-$20 cover goes back into DJ pay, sound equipment, venue sustainability and/or event promotion. The underground, after hours, electronic dance party in Denver is a labor of love, labor pains and all.
The struggle is real. Denver is no Detroit, New York, or Chicago. House and Techno didn’t start here and have never found a secure home here. And with its growing affluence and shrinking warehouse space, Denver is becoming actively hostile to DJ fueled after-hours grand dance parties. All the more reason to find your way to one of these parties while you still can. Get there. Get down. Freaks welcome.