Soft Kill’s Post-Punk Roots Remain in the Underground

Soft Kill, photo by Joanna Stawnicka

Portland, Oregon-based post-punk band Soft Kill is currently on tour with Chameleons Vox. For the Denver date at The Bluebird Theater on Wednesday September 13 the bill include Denver’s own industrial punk band Echo Beds and beat-driven, post-punk shoegazers Voight. It is, frankly, a show that represents a respectable spectrum of a wave of bands that have come along over roughly the past decade that comprise what could loosely be considered a new incarnation of the kind of music that came in the wake of punk when many creative types realized they didn’t need to adhere to an established mode of musical expression. Industrial developed alongside punk with the advent of Throbbing Gristle, but both musical impulses were anti-establishment and made a lifestyle alternative to mainstream mundanity viable.

By the 1980s industrial, post-punk, death rock, dark synth music, noise and even punk were still relatively underground phenomena even as bands like U2 and Echo & The Bunnymen took post-punk into the mainstream, Fad Gadget influenced Depeche Mode who took avant-garde synth music and gave it pop accessibility and both Skinny Puppy and Ministry proved that challenging music could find more than a simply niche audience. When the alternative music explosion of the early 90s changed the face of popular music some of the aforementioned bands benefited while much of the rest became sequestered to the “Goth scene” or largely forgotten.

The so-called post-punk revival, including “dance punk,” of the mid-90s to the early 2000s brought atmospheric, moody music into the mainstream but began in scattered underground scenes around the country. Groups like !!! (Chk Chk Chk) in Sacramento, The Faint in Omaha and The Prids (initially in Missouri, then Nebraska and for around two decades now, Portland, Oregon) created some of the most compelling post-punk in the history of that music. As did New York-based bands such as Interpol, The Rapture, The Strokes and LCD Soundsystem. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them. All of those bands knew their musical roots in 70s and 80s post-punk, no wave, early darkwave and Krautrock but at that time many of their fans eschewed the term Goth and those so self-identified seemed to dismiss the post-punk revival bands as simply indie rock. The connection between post-punk, Goth, industrial, minimal synth and related music seemed lost.

That is until a generation of musicians, mostly born during the heyday of post-punk and industrial, rediscovered that music and embraced it as something vital that stirred the imagination. That there was an overlap with the noise scene that survived in the depths of the underground didn’t hurt. It was from there that Tobias Sinclair, one of the guitarists and singer in Soft Kill, emerged as a fledgling musician in the larger DIY music scene in New England. He had attended shows at the influential DIY space Fort Thunder in Providence, Rhode Island where, according to Sinclair, “Every other warehouse seemed to have someone with a P.A.” as well as places like Munch House and Dirt Palace.

Going to these unconventional spaces to experience music left an indelible mark on Sinclair.

“It was really inspirational without a doubt that people could just hold their own shows without all the bullshit of a bar,” says Sinclair.

At a memorable show that included now Denver based artist Mat Brinkman, Sinclair experienced the kind of creative expression that one rarely experiences anywhere else.

“With Forcefield he and seven other guys would knit these seven foot tall outfits and play oscillators,” recalls Sinclair. “That completely blew my mind compared to all the other conventional trappings. All that stuff is more important to me probably more than obvious influences on Soft Kill. hat was really inspirational for me because somebody that didn’t ever have lessons or what I perceived at that time as an inherent talent, I loved the lack of those limitations and I could kind of go nuts with it and teach myself to play an instrument based off of what felt and sounded cool rather than what was in a book.”

Around that time, Sinclair and his friends saw the 2001 Friends Forever documentary which shared some of the experiences of the Denver-based noise/performance art band that toured, or even played locally, in a van that often served as both transportation and impromptu stage. After catching Friends Forever at a venue in Western Massachusetts, Sinclair became friends with Friends Forever’s Josh Taylor. It was then that Sinclair and his band Night Wounds relocated to California and played numerous times at long-running DIY space The Smell in Los Angeles. By a strange quirk of fate, Taylor, who was involved in running Monkey Mania, a beloved DIY venue in Denver, moved to Los Angeles to help run The Smell and work at Amoeba Records at the same time Sinclair, who had worked at Amoeba, moved to Denver into Monkey Mania in 2006.

At that time Night Wounds was still an active band that toured the DIY music circuit that had been, and remains, so inspirational to Sinclair and it connected with like-minded noise rock bands like Chicago’s Coughs, Montreal’s AIDS Wolf and Vancouver, British Columbia’s Mutators. All of which were big names in the small realm of DIY noise rock. Also during that time, Sinclair was deep into a thirteen year struggle with drug abuse that ended in 2016. Although his experience with hard drugs took its toll on Sinclair in various ways, access to substances is what anchored him to cities like Denver and his now home of Portland, Oregon. “I wasn’t aspiring to go to a place to go be fucked but I definitely stayed longer because of that, if that makes sense.”

Sinclair admits that the drugs are part of the reason Soft Kill has taken a lot longer to blossom into the band it has striven to be, it also coincidentally pushed his timeline as a musician into developing the ideas and sounds for which Soft Kill is now known. But before Soft Kill, Sinclair had, alongside Night Wounds, been part of a Goth-y punk band called Blessure Graves.

Soft Kill
Soft Kill, photo by Joanna Stawnicka

“When I started Blessure Graves the big thing was the lo-fi garage rock revival,” says Sinclair. “And there was this very small niche out of that which was Goth music made with a similar fidelity. It felt like a quick, flash in the pan. What happened with us was when I started Soft Kill in 2010 we did one album and then my demons got the best of me and I started getting locked up and having to take a long time to stray away from music. When I got out, I started seeing that a bunch of people saw An Open Door as one of the top two or three records that had come out in recent years out of that type of music. That influenced me and people in the band now to put more energy into it in 2012. But by the time we really got momentum was 2014. By that point we realized that our first record had been celebrated as one of the integral releases in post-punk records of the past ten years—they said it was top tier. We thought whoa, that’s crazy, it must be because there aren’t other bands doing that.”

“We started going out and touring and we were blown away by how many bands there were. And from there onward, for the first time in forever I felt there was a large, legitimate scene with dots connected much more than they’d been in the past 15-20 years. There’s a lot of labels that cater to it. Some of the bands have become popular and it’s not been limited to just one style. Not all these bands sound like Joy Division.”

The larger scene that Sinclair had discovered included a constellation of bands and labels across the country and around the world. Imprints like The Flenser, Dais, Sacred Bones, Dark Entries and Beläten are just a few of the labels releasing the music. Bands such as Curse, Beastial Mouths, Troller, Some Ember, All Your Sisters, Burning, Youth Code, Pop. 1280, Echo Beds, Voight, Church Fire and numerous others have been touring and finding an audience eager for sounds and a culture that maintains a connection to its underground roots and experimental music that has yet to be completely co-opted and tamed by mainstream commercial interests.

2016 represented a landmark year for Soft Kill. Its arguably best album to date, Choke, was released on Profound Lore. Best, because it most fully realizes the band’s love of hypnotic beats, driving bass and rich, expressive, evocative tones. Sinclair had booked a Chameleons Vox tour in 2015, through simply contacting vocalist/bassist Mark Burgess. In 2016 Sinclair went on to book two other of the most influential bands for Soft Kill in Sad Lovers and Giants and Modern English, the latter performing its classic 1981 album Mesh & Lace in its entirety for the first time as the group had not toured on the record the first time around. He also booked Clan of Xymox for the third edition of the Out of the Shadows festival alongside Denver-based darkwave band Tollund Men, who released his favorite tape of recent years—Autoerotik.

“When we played Denver the first time at Leisure Gallery they played and we were like, ‘No way, this can’t be happening!’ I think they were really taken aback by how into their band we were. We showed up superfans. They played with us the next time we played there and I think they disintegrated after that.”

“I really like repetitious stuff in general but there’s this slow burn to that whole tape. It’s got hooks and it’s dirty as hell but I can put that on and crank it up and it’s the perfect background music for me. I dug the tones that he gets out of distorting everything to the maximum degree. It was a band I always loved but that particular tape I’m really glad they did that last and went out on that note. He showed he wasn’t beating a dead horse, that he had mastered the vision that he had so it makes sense that he moved on from there. I respect that because I know he could have taken many an opportunity that he didn’t. I love when people don’t give into that bullshit.”

Soft Kill
Soft Kill at Leisure Gallery, June 16, 2016, photo by Tom Murphy

Sinclair’s soft spot for Denver, born of his experience living in the Mile High City and experiencing Friends Forever in New England, extends to the underground metal and hardcore scene in Denver and he expresses an appreciation for acts like Blood Incantation and Civilized. In the near-ish future Soft Kill will also put out a split with Denver death grind heroes Primitive Man, whose Ethan McCarthy shares the history with Sinclair of having lived in and operated Monkey Mania, though not at the same time. But, as is the way with the informal, DIY there is no pressure to put out the split release to fit some record label release schedule. Sinclair met McCarthy and so many other musicians who have impacted him through the underground music route.

“Ultimately, this is how I met all these people and this is the world that we want to exist within and regardless that we sound nothing like Echo Beds, that’s a band we would go on tour with before whatever people think makes sense,” says Sinclair.

Best Shows in Denver 9/8 – 9/13, 2017

Too Many Zooz
Too Many Zooz, photo by Michael Weintrob

While Denver didn’t get hit with any of the hurricanes and storms that have devastated large swaths of America, the Caribbean, India and beyond, an unusual collection of wild fire smoke descended on the city making it look like leftovers of the final scene in Apocalypse Now, wrecking the days of any allergy sufferers. But now that the aftereffects are slowly clearing up you can take time off from sneezing and coughing and go see a worthwhile show this next week. Here are several worthwhile events for your consideration.

Who: Too Many Zooz w/Jayce 
When: Friday, 9.8, 8 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Too Many Zooz had already garnered a bit of a cult following with their “brass house” style refined playing in the subways of New York before being tapped to perform on Beyoncé’s 2016 album Lemonade. The self-described genre of the group stems from its combination of acoustic instruments (including trumpet, bari sax and drums) and an electronic compositional sensibility, the sort that underlies most modern hip-hop beatmaking and that of underground and beat-driven experimental electronic music. According to Too Many Zooz trumpet-player, Matt Doe, there are already people recording cover versions of the band’s songs, a testament to not just the songwriting but the music’s appeal to other musicians. See our interview with Matt Doe coming soon.

Who: Never Kenezzard w/Ora EP release and Ice Troll 
When: Friday, 9.8, 8 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap
Why: If a more experimental metal scene can be said to exist in Denver, this show is certainly proof. Ice Troll is like a heavy music orchestra lead by Don White who has been involved in some of the more interesting weirdo bands of recent years like Boy Howdy and The Kappa Cell. Never Kenezzard in another time might be considered stoner rock or doom but it’s really coming from a place of solid songwriting so while heavy it is so in the same sense one might say of Boris or, more recently, Power Trip. Ora includes former Skivies guitarist Zahari Tsigularov who was basically the Helios Creed in a band that channeled their inner Butthole Surfers and Mr. Bungle. Truly one of Denver’s greats and Ora, his new band, is releasing its debut EP at this show.

Who: Altas, Rowboat and Emerald Siam 
When: Friday, 9.8, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: One of those all Denver band line-ups that should happen more often. Altas is an instrumental hard rock band whose songs suggest visuals without providing them—instead you are engulfed in the group’s songs. Rowboat came out of Sam McNitt’s experiments with folk music but became more akin to a dark, haunted Wilco or Nick Drake in terms of subject matter and depth of McNitt’s personal insight. Emerald Siam is fronted by one of Denver’s true rock legends, Kurt Ottaway, who was once a member of Twice Wilted, Tarmints and The Overcasters. With Emerald Siam, Ottaway has brought together a group of musicians that has him channeling the dark muse that informed TW and Tarmints. A gifted storyteller, Ottaway’s songwriting has a literary quality similar to that of Steve Kilbey of The Church.

Who: RUMTUM album release w/Dirty Art Club, DJ Babyshoe and Nasty Nachos
When: Friday, 9.8, 9 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: John Hastings has been developing his electro-acoustic band RUMTUM for several years now but with the new record he has seemed to have really blended the elements together in ways that fully draw from the merits of organic and purely electronic sounds equally.

Who: Silver Face, Mount Orchid and Anna Smith 
When: Friday, 9.8, 9 p.m.
Where: The Curtis Club
Why: It was probably inevitable that live music would be coming back more visibly to The Curtis Club. And this night, psychedelic prog band Silver Face will perform and prove that you can be both of those genres of music without being pretentions or jamming endlessly to the entertainment only of the people on stage. Also on the bill is Anna Smith of Ancient Elk fame. Her solo acoustic music is tender and gentle yet intense and riveting. Is it psych folk? Avant-bluegrass, if such a designation doesn’t stretch the boundaries of good sense to name? Yes, both and more.

Who: Kid Astronaut 
When: Saturday, 9.9, 10:30 a.m.
Where: Denver Public Library – Cherry Creek Branch
Why: Jon Shockness was once in the great hip-hop group Air Dubai. His multifaceted talent, though, always meant he would want to different kinds of music and he is able to with his Kid Astronaut project. Naturally Shockness’ vocal talent is on display but also his imagination and his ability to take on mindsets and ideas to embody an experience with each song. See him in the morning at the Cherry Creek Branch of Denver Public Library for free! Bring the family because kids should get to see good music instead of the stuff pumped into them from TV and elsewhere.

Who: Cocordion w/EVP, Hair Club and Coo Coo Bad Brains 
When: Saturday, 9.9, 8 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Cocordion from Colorado Springs is supposedly lo-fi bedroom recording stuff. If it is, it has more in common with the likes of Vetiver and Microphones. EVP somehow combines death rock sensibilities, industrial electroclash sounds and the airing of social ills and personal demons through Amanda Baker’s vocals seem both celebratory and darkly cathartic. In another era Coo Coo Bad Brains (now possibly called simply Cuckoo) would have fit right in on either the K or Siltbreeze imprints. Its lo-fi soundscaping and gentle melodies really embody the kind of modern era malaise brought on diminished expectations for the future and the need to ease the pain with something creative. And other music journalist projections on the intentions of musicians.

Who: Life’s Torment, Doperunner (release of P.C. Bonfire), Chemically Crippled and Berated
When: Saturday, 9.9, 9 p.m.
Where: Bar Bar
Why: There aren’t that many grind shows in Denver these days. It is, though, sort of a niche music. And for this show one of the stars of local grind, and international grindcore for that matter, Doperunner is releasing its cheekily titled new album P.C. Bonfire. You don’t get many chances to see the band these days and you have to appreciate the fact that a self-conscious album title acknowledging the phenomenon of how people who pretty much agree with each other politically can still find ways to police each other over relative trifles. And if you don’t like the messaging, at least the tape is probably twenty minutes long of inspired fury tops.

Who: eHpH, Pieces, Jxnny Teknikvi 
When: Saturday, 9.9, 8 p.m.
Where: Streets of London
Why: Saying this is an industrial show might be misleading because eHpH, while coming out of that sort of realm of music and EBM, really is a band that has songs and not just production experiments and an excuse to rock out like a glam metal band on guitar over electronic beats. eHpH’s soundscaping is darkly soothing even when the band brings in the gritty elements. Pieces is reminiscent of the sample heavy compositions of pre-Too Dark Park Skinny Puppy but more lo-fi, at least on the recordings.

Who: X and Skating Polly 
When: Saturday, 9.9, 8 p.m.
Where: Summit Music Hall
Why: X is too famous to have to recommend but rarely have the worlds of poetry and punk rock come together so fruitfully. Formed in the late 70s in Los Angeles, the title of their debut album, X became one of the most popular punk bands of the era because it had the passion and personal darkness one would want from punk but also an accessible tunefulness that transcended genre. Skating Polly as the opening band seems perfect because that band is punk by virtue of really inventing their own musical style based on their idiosyncratic method of learning to play together growing up in Oklahoma. Easy comparisons might be made with Babes in Toyland’s feral punk rock but Skating Polly doesn’t bear facile comparison to other bands.

Who: Exodus w/Axeslasher and Legion of Death 
When: Saturday, 9.9, 7 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Exodus was one of the pioneering bands of Bay Area thrash in the early 80s. Its landmark 1985 album Bonded By Blood is a classic of metal in general but also essentially a blueprint for a lot of heavy music that has come along since.

Who: Territorio Liberado: A Benefit for Denver Metro Sanctuary Coalition featuring: Roka Hueka, Los Mocochetes, Altas, Cheap Perfume, Wild Lives, Roots Rice and Beans, Church Fire, Mirror Fears 
When: Sunday, 9.10, 3 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: This is a benefit show for Denver Metro refugees. Until the world can get to some Star Trek-esque realm of rich multiculturalism and bring about the end of poverty and war and all the things that make life needlessly difficult, this will continue to be an issue that governments and non-governmental groups will have to keep addressing. On the bill are some of the best Denver bands from across a wide spectrum of genres.

Who: Jay Som w/Stef Chura,Soccer Mommy and American Grandma
When: Sunday, 9.10, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Fox Theatre
Why: Melina Duterte’s band Jay Som seems to sit somewhere between dream pop and a lounge-y C86-era indie pop. Her songs have a twinge of soft jazz and surf rock but that dynamic gives the weight of her lyrics a way to hit without crushing. Like she’s made space for herself and her potential listeners to take in the emotions and thoughts that Duterte has somehow found a way to articulate so vividly. It’s beyond relationship issues and personal demons illustrated by unfortunate experiences, Duterte’s nuanced treatment of subjects elevates what could just be nice, well-crafted pop songs. But don’t worry, it’s not all downtempo, the self-effacing humor with which Duterte and the band present themselves is endearing in a way that is reminiscent of the best of the 90s indie pop bands whose similarly sincere songs about life’s complicated moments seem incredibly poignant and serious. Currently touring in support of the 2017 album Everybody Works.

Who: Screwtape, Stay Wild, Upstanding Citizen and guests 
When: Tuesday, 9.12, 7 p.m.
Where: 7th Circle Music Collective
Why: On a very short list of the best punk bands from Denver or anywhere right now must include Screwtape. It’s tempting to lump them in with some subgenre of punk like hardcore but the band doesn’t limit itself that way. When Screwtape opened for Choking Victim in November 2016, for some people, the Denver band stole the show with its raw energy and ability to inject its songs with non-didactic political content.


TIME’s Ecstatic, Theatrical Live Show Brings Transcendence Through Sound

TIME, photo by Ian Clontz Historia Photography

TIME from Gainesville, Florida, is currently on tour bringing its otherworldly synthesizer-based compositions to many corners of America. Its 2016 self-titled album is reminiscent of Alice Coltrane’s devotional albums and Peaking Lights. It has the saturated tones and atmospheres that have made so many analog synth projects of recent years tap into a sense of nostalgia for a time when, as Americans, we had the time and leisure to let our minds explore inner space or find solace in letting the imagination exercise its capacities in creative activity we often feel pressured to set aside in favor of non-meaningful work to merely survive. TIME’s music reminds us, if perhaps indirectly, that we must consider what we would want to do with our lives if we weren’t yokes to the machinery of late capitalism. Maybe it’s that the music has some roots in South Asian spiritual practices as hinted at below. Think something like Dead Can Dance, Sky Cries Mary and Tangerine Dream and you have something of the vibe.

The live shows will include a sense of theater beyond the rich atmospheres and emotional catharsis of the music so don’t miss out if you get the opportunity to witness TIME for yourself. We caught up with TIME during their transit through the southwest via email and learned a bit about their foundation, their connection to the DIY music world and what exactly is Mirror Vision, the art project that lent its name to the band’s tour in early 2017.

Queen City: Where did you grow up? What kind of music did you have access to when you were younger?

Madhava Collins: I grew up in the Canary Islands and South Wales. I would say that when I moved to the US 12 years ago my musical library broadened and became more sophisticated. I grew up on a lot of timeless classics. My mom would play old soul and Motown records as well as Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer [and such] then there’s the whole Spanish and Spanish speaking South American music: Salsa, merengue. Growing up Catholic, there would be several festivals of the saints in our town and the whole village would come out and celebrate and there would be live music all night long. And of course, also, disco!

Michael Collins: I grew up in Gainesville, discovered punk rock through a Minor Threat mixtape my brother made me and stumbled upon the tail end of the golden era of the Gainesville punk scene in the late nineties. Seriously formative in my understanding of DIY culture and the community necessary to support it.

Had either of you played in bands prior to TIME? What kind of music? What made you want to do something different?

Madhava: I’ve been fascinated with playing music since I was a child. One of the best things they taught me at school was how to sight read music. During my college years in Salem, MA I played blues harmonica and later chromatic harmonica in jazz band. I was in one of my music teacher’s bands for a little while. Then I dropped everything and became obsessed with devotional music from India. I started playing harmonium and an Indian drum called mrdanga. Up until 2 years ago I would play other people’s music and never felt inspired to write lyrics or compose songs. Then, while driving one day, I started hearing in my head a random arrangement of a traditional vaisnava song from my spiritual practice that is a prayer of protection to the lion incarnation of Vishnu. I began recording melodies, lines and drum beats on my phone recorder with my voice while stopped in traffic and it later became “Nrsimha Pranam,” which is on our album. That moment was like a flood door opening and since then I have probably recorded around 30 songs in the same way, two of them which will be in an upcoming album we are planning for 2018.

Michael: I had a high school band called Dasi which then became Prince Rama of Ayodhya and eventually just Prince Rama. We released about five albums together and toured almost constantly. It started as a “psych-folk” project and shifted towards tribal/noise/synthpop as our tastes evolved. Working with them was truly amazing but in many ways I had to set off on my own to discover my own voice.

TIME, photo by Ian Clontz Historia Photography

What inspired the formation of TIME?

Madhava: Michael and I had been dating for a year or so when I started composing and he set me up with some software so I could begin laying everything down. He was super impressed . I think he was surprised too because I don’t think he knew I had that in me, and neither did I to be honest. That’s when we formed the band.

Michael: I had been performing solo for a few years under my own name, put that on the back burner to perform traditional kirtan on the streets of New York with a bunch of Hare Krishnas and then Madhava came along with an amazing collection of songs that inspired me to dust off the old synthesizers and get back in the game.

How did you get started playing live in Gainesville with the kind of music you make?

Madhava: Our first show was at a bike collective in Gainesville and we played with Ghost Fields. One of the audience members was pretty much the go to booker for DIY, experimental, awesome music in Gainesville. He brings amazing people here like Boy Harsher and Curse. Some known and many unknown but incredible people. He started booking us for his shows and gave us a good start.

Were you aware that there were other bands making new, all synth/electronic music that wasn’t part of the whole dance music world (EDM and such)? Were there other bands in Gainesville or nearby making the kind of music you wanted to before you started TIME? 

Michael: Contemporary EDM I’ve avoided like the plague. My exposure to electronic music was initially through electroacoustic composers creating insane tape and synth based compositions under the auspices of forward thinking institutions (Pierre Schaeffer, Steve Reich, Terry Riley) and also the world of noise and harsh electronics that was so prevalent in the mid to late 2000’s (Teeth Mountain, Sewn Leather, DJ Dog Dick, etc.).  I eventually discovered Bobby Orlando and Italo disco and my life was never the same.


TIME’s Madhava Collins, photo by Mary Silas

When did you become aware of like-minded artists around the country? Particularly in the DIY music world. Though I suppose Michael’s experience with Gainesville punk and Prince Rama didn’t hurt.

Madhava: This is our 3rd DIY tour and actually it was just a year ago that we set out on our first tour, which was 3 months long and took us pretty much everywhere, including Canada. There were only a handful of U.S. states where we didn’t have shows. Back then I was more naive about DIY touring. When I met Michael he had mentioned that he was going on tour for a few weeks with a friend and I pictured them in a huge tour bus with a crew. I had no idea DIY touring was a thing, but now I handle pretty much all the booking and get excited when I discover new amazing artists and folks from cool local scenes.

Michael: As a punk rock youth I was involved in Gainesville DIY spots and saw so many amazing bands pass through, it was only natural that I eventually sought to do the same.

Your self-titled, 2016 album reminds me tiny bits of Alice Coltrane circa Turiya Sings, early Dead Can Dance but with synths rather than guitar and analog synth science fiction soundtracks if the 80s. What inspired the combination of sounds and ideas for that album?

Madhava: That same summer I started composing I was working as a yoga teacher at summer camp and I asked Michael for some good relaxation music for my classes. Not only did I get that from him, but also amazing synth music: John Maus, Martin Dupont, Emeralds, Zeno and Oaklander and Inner City just to name a few. I got super into it!
Michael: John Maus, Popol Vuh, Bobby O, Robbie Basho—artists seeking transcendence through the medium of sound.

Your current tour is the Infinity Tour. What is this Mirror Vision thing that gave name to your tour earlier this year?

Madhava: That’s our collaboration with our friend and Florida artist Jay Rosen. Michael and I were living at a show space where Jay had his exhibit last year and we were so impressed. It was the most incredible thing in the whole show. Everyone flocked to try on his head pieces. When you wear them it totally transforms your reality. You can see out, depending on the light, but you also see multiple reflections of yourself inside from different angles and sometimes you can even see behind you. It’s like being a kaleidoscope.

One day Michael asked Jay if we could tour with the pieces, so we took them on the road for our Mirror Vision Tour earlier this year. When we got back from tour we said “Now we want a whole stage!” And he built it in less than 3 months. My personal connection with Mirror Vision is that it serves as a visual representation of an important concept explained in the Bhagavatam, one of the main texts of our spiritual practice, that this material plane is a distorted reflection of the spiritual plane.

TIME’s Michael Collins, photo by Ian Clontz, Historia Photography


There seems to be a real moment right now, or has been going on for a few years, where synthesizer music, darkwave/industrial and post-punk music is enjoying a real renaissance and this time more interconnected than before. Do you feel this is the case? If so, how has this benefited you? Are there other bands you’d recommend to anyone out of all that and why?

Madhava: It’s hard for me to say whether synthesizer, darkwave/industrial and post-punk music are at a renaissance right now because it’s music that I am super into and I feel like we attract or surround ourselves with people on the same wavelength. I have talked to folk who have no clue about this music at all, and I doubt they would say it’s currently prolific. One of my old pals from college, upon hearing our album, said “What is this? I’ve never heard anything like it! I can’t make sense of it!” Mind you, this is a person who plays bagpipes and is into contra dancing or something like that. At the top of my list of current artists right now is Drab Majesty. Not only is their music incredible in and of itself, but they have an interesting aesthetic and performative vibe which is a direction that we are also exploring.

Review: Downtown Boys at Larimer Lounge, 8/20/17


Downtown Boys at Larimer Lounge
Downtown Boys at Larimer Lounge, photo by Tom Murphy

Several people got to see Downtown Boys in Denver at the Summit Music Hall opening for Prophets of Rage for that Rock Against the TPP kickoff concert on July 23, 2016. Lucky them. The Providence, Rhode Island band made its return to Denver on August 19, 2017 at Larimer Lounge in the wake of the release of its latest album, Cost of Living. The title suggests layered meanings with considerations of a living wage in a world dominated by late stage capitalism, but also the cost of living in the world we live in both externally and internally, the emotional and psychological cost of having to make your way in a civilization that seems hostile to not just creativity but any modes of being not tied directly to a narrowly conceived profit motive–and the impacts of such on every aspect of your life. But Downtown Boys also weave narratives of how to resist that erosion of humanity without being a downer. On the bill that night were Denver bands Bleak Plaza and Surf Mom as well as Los Angeles-based No Wave psychedelic, Latin funk band Sister Mantos.

Bleak Plaza
Bleak Plaza at Larimer Lounge, photo by Tom Murphy

It’s rare that a band can live up to even a fraction of its hype. Even if you saw live footage on YouTube or elsewhere. Even if you saw the interview Downtown Boys did for Democracy Now in February 2016, it simply didn’t prepare you for the actual experience of what Rolling Stone’s David Grossman in 2015 declared “America’s Most Exciting Punk Band.”

From the beginning, Victoria Ruiz was the kind of front person who commands attention. Between songs engaging with the crowd in mini-treatises on the condition of the world today in a way that felt like a great friend you hadn’t seen in a long time might talk to you in a very real, poetic moment. The songs, blistering post-punk with an exhilarating dynamism that I’ve only before seen when witnessing The Gang of Four in 2005 on its reunion tour, Fugazi in 2001, The Gossip in 2006, Ponytail in 2008 and Refused in 2012. That kind of punk that sweeps you up not only in the music but in what the music is about, what it represents at that time when a lot of music feels phony and devoid of anything but entertainment value.

Sister Mantos
Sister Mantos at Larimer Lounge, photo by Tom Murphy

When Ruiz spoke, every time it felt like she was cutting right to what’s ailing the world from the racism, sexism, homophobia, all other misplaced phobias, inequality, the perils of manufactured boredom and violence. Among other subjects too varied and eloquently spoken to recreate hours after the fact. Downtown Boys fused the excitement of a punk band not limited by the tropes of the genre, willing to use dynamics and sounds that you know won’t be quaint years from now. By the end of the show, Downtown Boys struck me as the perfect band at the right time with the most on point message presented in the most exciting and riveting fashion imaginable. One has to think this show must have been what it was like to see Public Enemy circa Fear of a Black Planet but addressing a wider and different set of issues but in a more challenging time in American history making Downtown Boys not only one of the most exciting bands in the land but also one of the most important.

Surf Mom
Surf Mom at Larimer Lounge, photo by Tom Murphy
Downtown Boys
Downtown Boys at Larimer Lounge, photo by Tom Murphy

Best Shows in Denver 9/1/17 – 9/6/17


Rubedo at Treefort Music Festival 2013, photo by Tom Murphy

As summer is winding down hopefully two weeks of rampant allergens winds down in time for many people to catch some of the best shows happening in Denver and its environs. Perhaps even Labor Day at Red Rocks with Foreigner (interview with Queen City Sounds and Art published soon), Cheap Trick and the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience show. Maybe not. Either way, here areten worthy of consideration.

Who: Chaperone and Radere split tape release 
When: Friday, 9.1, 7:30 p.m.
Where: ATLAS Theater, CU Boulder
Why: It’s a release show from Always Human Tapes, which issues some of the most interesting electronic and electroacoustic music going on anywhere. It’s also in the black box ATLAS Theater in the basement of one of the buildings on the CU Boulder campus with an immersive video environment and a high definition sound system. It’s also free so take a chance on seeing ambient/soundscape artists Chaperone and Radere in pretty much the perfect environment to experience that music.

Who: 09.01 Fiat Luxx (Intimat, Eko House), Ryan Scannura (Deep Club) and Mike Carungi (Nocturnal) 
When: Friday, 9.1, 9 p.m.
Where: The Black Box (Denver)
Why: Electronic music collective Nocturnal presents this showcase of some of the most interesting deep house/dubtechno/techno artists in town. Ryan Scannura is one of the founders of the Deep Club collective, which, along with Nocturnal, Sorted and other groups helped to give underground electronic music a real foothold. If you like electronic dance music but find the whole EDM thing a little played out (or you were never into that to begin with), this may be a good place to start exploring the rich and broad electronic scene in Denver at a venue with a Function One. There is another show at Black Box this night that’s also worthwhile (RUN DMT, Calivin Hobbes, Rave Booty etc.) so make sure to get into the right room or just take a chance.

Who: Abrams w/Glacial Tomb, NightWraith, Kenaima 
When: Friday, 9.1, 9 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Even if you’re not really a fan of metal, all of these bands write good songs beyond genre considerations. At the same time, none more heavy. Ten years ago maybe Abrams, Glacial Tomb and Nightwraith would have been lumped into stoner rock or sludge or simply doom, like too many things are now. And it all would have fit but this bill displays the diversity within heavy music because Abrams, despite being doomy and heavy has real energy and nuance like the band remembered that great songs often aren’t just about being crushing and devastating. Kenaima is more overtly a post-hardcore band. Glacial Tomb is deathgrind with flecks of melody. NightWraith wouldn’t sound out of place in a Gothenburg melodic black metal playlist.

Who: Earthless w/Cloud Catcher and Chieftain 
When: Saturday, 9.2, 8 p.m.
Where: Marquis Theater
Why: Earthless is an instrumental hard psych band from San Diego but they were doing that before it became something that felt ubiquitous for a while. Like a bunch of the stoner rock guys discovered acid and post-Lemmy Hawkwind and the 13th Floor Elevators and that Black Sabbath wasn’t the end all be all of heavy and trippy music. Drumming for Earthless is Mario Rubalcaba who once played or plays in Clikatat Ikatowi, Pinback, Hot Snakes, OFF!, Rocket From the Crypt and The Black Heart Procession. Cloud Catcher from Denver somehow makes bluesy rock and roll blended with metal’s harder edges seem dangerous but fun and singer/guitarist Rory Rummings really sells it with his seemingly indefatigable energy.

Who: The Soul Rebels featuring Big Freedia w/The Reminders, Sur Ellz and Venus Cruz
When: Saturday, 9.2, 9 p.m.
Where: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
Why: Big Freedia more than helped to popularize the hip-hop genre known as bounce—and Big Freedia’s variety oft referred to as sissy bounce. Beyond embodying a genre, Freedia contributed to the world of music by taking bounce and crossing it over into the realm of experimental electronic music and a kind of hyperkinetic dub that is a mind bending live music experience. Collaborating with fellow New Orleans band The Soul Rebels on this tour just means the sound palette between both sets of artists will be greatly expanded. Also on hand are worthy locals in the realm of hip-hop The Reminders, Sur Ellz and Venus Cruz who embody genres of hip-hop of their own. A lot of personality for one show.

Who: Courage My Love w/The Hollow and Viretta 
When: Saturday, 9.2, 9 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: If you go, do know not to expect the sort of pop punk band of six years ago when Courage My Love first started making waves in North America. It might be safe to say that the band ditched what offered less possibilities for artistic growth in favor of the kind of pop music that would allow for Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn to more fully utilize their classical music training background. The new album, 2017’s Synesthesia, may alienate many of the band’s older fans expecting the punk band but to the Arn-Horn sisters’ credit, the songwriting is more interesting and explores more emotional expression than their earlier work.

Who: Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman 
When: Sunday, 9.3, 7:30 p.m. show
Where: Hudson Gardens
Why: Last year, the version of Yes including Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood with Jon Davison on vocals performed Drama and sections of Tales From Topographic Oceans at the Paramount. This year, you can see the version of Yes with the inimitable Jon Anderson, the band’s original lead singer, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. All impressive musicians in their own right, they’ll be able to play from Yes’s respectable back catalog of some of the most imaginative rock music of the 70s and 80s. The set list for the tour so far is heavy on the 70s.

Who: La Luz w/Bad Licks and Rubedo 
When: Sunday, 9.3, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: La Luz started in 2012 when it seemed that there was a glut of surf and garage rock (or a combination of the two) bands. The then Seattle-based band distinguished itself from other groups mining similar sounds and influences by having songs that transported you to a better place where your dreams and aspirations seem attainable. With album titles like It’s Alive (20130 and Weirdo Shrine (2015), La Luz was signaling to like-minded types their own willingness to make pop music for people who are at least somewhat outside society’s mainstream. So that Denver’s psychedelic band Bad Licks and the prog-pop-psych luminaries Rubedo are on the bill opening the show seems just about perfect.

Who: Weedeater w/Telekinetic Yeti, The Atomic Bitchwax and Tricoma 
When: Monday, 9.4, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: The sheer amount of sound at this show might be slightly too big for a place like the Hi-Dive. But if Primitive Man can play there, so can sludge lords Weedeater whose giant, crushing riffing is like a slow moving tidal wave. The Atomic Bitchwax sounds like it took more than a few cues from Fu Manchu and Monster Magnet (2/3 of the band currently plays with the latter) but if that tuneful stoner rock is your thing you should definitely check out The Atomic Bitchwax. This should probably be in a bigger room so consider yourself lucky you get to see it at a relatively cozy venue.

Who: The Octopus Project w/Eyebeams and Curta 
When: Wednesday, 9.6, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Austin’s The Octopus Project has been bringing its brilliant electro-indie pop compositions to stages around the country since 1999. The band’s almost orchestral sound employs 8-bit sounds, vintage synths and motorik beats. You’re never sure what you’re going to get with each tour but The Octopus Project manages to be a refreshing experience every time. Opening is indie pop band Eyebeams from Denver featuring the songwriting of Suzi Allegra who some may know from Quantum Creep but also earlier projects like Fingers of the Sun and The Pseudo Dates. One of the best bass players in town, Allegra is also a gifted songwriter whose insightful lyrics make thoughtful observations about life and the world around us.



Marya Errin Jones of Ebony & Ermine And Ensemble Art as a Springboard for New Ideas

Mariner Variations
Mariner Variations at Titwrench 2012, photo by Tom Murphy

Ebony & Ermine from Albuquerque, New Mexico performs tonight at Titwrench fest 9, going on stage 8 p.m. at The Mercury Café. The duo represents the collaboration between Ebony Isis Booth and Marya Errin Jones. Booth, a former Denverite, is a renowned slam poet and once member of the all female Wu-Tang cover band Lady Wu-Tang. Jones runs the performance space Tannex in Albuquerque but may be known to previous attendees of Titwrench for her turns as Mariner Variations as well as her contributions to the performance art collective Milch De La Máquina. Jones also organizes the Albuquerque ‘Zine Fest and Booth puts on the annual Burque Noir event. I recently had a chance to ask Jones some questions about her background and inspirations.

Tom Murphy: How did you discover and become involved in a kind of underground and experimental music and art world in Albuquerque ? Was there an experience or group of friends that brought you into it et. al.?

Marya Jones: I have been an experimental theatre artist for more than a decade, and a musician since a child. I was trained in physical theatre, and have, with few exceptions, devised most of my own performances. As far as experimental music is concerned, I started working with Milch de la Machina (created by Marisa Demarco and Monica Demarco) several years ago, which lead me to making experimental, electronic music. I also run a performance space in Albuquerque called The Tannex. For four years I have produced music events and other performances that exist outside the bounds of conventional performing arts.

Were there people (individuals or groups) that mentored you as a musician/artist in ABQ? Who were they and how important were they to your development, what did it help you to realize about your own creative work, if so? If not, what sorts of things did you do to foster your own creative vision and work?

I’m inspired in some way be everything that I see. As much as I enjoy watching local artists and groups, what fosters my creative vision and work is my own inner life – my dreams, and memories of the past.

You’ve performed at Titwrench before as part of Milch De La Maquina and as Mariner Variations. What inspired Mariner Variations, a clear nod, in part anyway, to seafaring adventures and sea shanties for someone living in a place fairly far from the ocean and large bodies of water? What about that sort of thing do you think held such a fascination for you?

The Mariner Variations was born from my love affair with the writer and adventurer Robert Louis Stevenson, whom I consider a mentor and distant friend, as strange as that may sound. I don’t think it’s unusual at all to be in love with water and the sea. I wasn’t born in the desert – I can here. I grew up in Georgia and Florida, lived in California and New England. And, lived in the womb for 9 months! Who doesn’t carry the ocean in their soul?

Milch De La Maquina is always a highlight of Titwrench. What do you think an art project like that is aimed at affecting for both the people involved in creating it/performing in it and the people who get to experience it that aren’t directly involved even if they are involved in the experience of the performance? What do you hope people get out of it? What do you get out of doing that past the time of the performance as they don’t seem to be designed to be repeated or captured for posterity in a way that would ever translate well to anyone that isn’t there?

This will be my first Milch experiment. After attending the first Titwrench, and seeing the dress piece I was thrilled by the idea of creating sound and art – which is something I’d wanted to work on for a while. At that time, I was dipping my toes in the waters of experimental sound, primary via the voice. After building speakers and creating a piece with pedals, I started building my own performative sound projects.

I don’t know that the purpose of all art is that it exist forever. We plan, we rehearse, we practice, we experiment, but Milch de la Machina performances are born very much out of how we are feeling in the month, at the time, in the hour. I think it’s power to create that way. It opens up new avenues for creation. I honestly don’t think in terms of what someone will get out of a performance. I think about giving my all to a performance, being present, and creating space for those who witness the work to daydream. What I “get out of it,” is the experience of working in ensemble and using the experience as a springboard for new ideas.

Best Shows in Denver 8/25 – 8/31


EVP performs 8.26 at Hooked on Colfax, photo by Tom Murphy

If, like many of us, you aren’t super flush with money and couldn’t sell enough blood plasma this past year to afford half the ticket price of the Depeche Mode show tonight at Pepsi Center, you have plenty of options should the live music experience be what you’re seeking. Not just the Titwrench festival at the Mercury Café starting tonight August 25, continuing tomorrow, August 26, but plenty of others including the following.

Who: Itchy-O and SPELLS 
When: Saturday, 8.26, 9 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Itchy-O, the cult/sprawling experimental band/spectacle including over thirty members, has toured America, played in Tasmania and is arguably the most well-known weirdo band from Denver. Now the group is finally releasing its sophomore record, From the Overflowing, the follow up to 2014’s Burn the Navigator. Both albums have a home at Jello Biafra’s long-running indie label Alternative Tentacles but you can buy one in person this night and experience Itchy-O’s ever evolving live show. You can also catch openers, SPELLS, fronted by comedian Ben Roy who, with any luck, will do and say something memorably ridiculous.

Who: Sliver, Television Generation, Quantum Creep and Stasis of Seasons 
When: Saturday, 8.26, 9 p.m.
Where: Moe’s Original Bar B Que
Why: Sliver and Television generation play together often but that’s no bad thing because both groups have managed to basically reinvent grunge for the Rocky Mountain West. 20 years ago, maybe you would roll your eyes at such a throwback impulse in sound. But both bands are energetic and seem to be coming from a sincere and pure place that bypasses notions of misguided nostalgia. TG even worked with grunge scene engineer par excellence Jack Endino on its 2015 Digital Static EP. Quantum Creep is a noise pop band that is comprised of veteran members of Denver area indie rock and indie pop bands. Rather than just basically retreading prior efforts, the members of Quantum Creep challenged themselves to focus not just on solid songwriting but in expanding what indie rock can and should sound like. Also, kudos for the nerdly science reference, people!

Who: Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble w/Heather Trost and Pattern Language 
When: Saturday, 8.26, 8 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Laetitia Sadier was once the charismatic frontwoman of Stereolab, a band that combined Krautrock, avant-garde electronic music, bossa nova, punk and pop for an otherworldly listening experience with every record. Since that group split up nearly a decade ago, Sadier has forged her own music path with songs creatively worthy of Stereolab but more a reflection of her nuanced, further exploration of a cross-cultural blend of sounds and thoughtful commentary on life and the modern political landscape. Heather Trost, whom some may know for being in A Hawk and a Hacksaw, perfectly compliments Sadier’s own blend of diverse influences. The what one might call electronica exotica of Boulder, Colorado’s Pattern Language, as one can find on the 2017 EP Total Squaresville, is a great introduction to the whole evening.

Who: Kevin Morby and Shannon Lay
When: Saturday, 8.26, 9 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Before ever joining experimental folk band Woods on bass in 2009, Kevin Morby was writing his own music from a very young age. After leaving Woods in 2013 to forge his own way, Morby has proven himself to be a gifted crafter of introspective pop songs with a rare full use of low end in his compositions. Currently on tour in support of 2017’s City Music, Morby is finally writing and performing with the confidence that comes from not making music in the shadow of his previous musical projects.

Who: Speakeasy Series: EVP and Nighttimeschoolbus
When: Saturday, 8.26, 6-9 p.m.
Where: Hooked On Colfax
Why: Nighttimeschoolbus is not too well known in Denver, much less elsewhere, but if quality of music is ever an indicator of success in that realm it should be. However, the duo comprised of Robin Walker and Toby Hendricks has few widely available recordings. They play few shows and don’t seem to have a shred of the careerist ambitions that bands trying to “make it” in any way seem to need to go beyond being asked by friends to play small shows. Walker, one of Colorado’s most talented musicians and vocalists, released solo albums in the past and with her indie pop band Cougarpants. Hendricks has several releases under his solo hip-hop moniker Otem Rellik. And together it’s an amalgamation of that underground hip-hop beatmaking and Walker’s avant-garde pop sensibilities. Also on this bill is EVP, another duo, but in this case, the band has elements of industrial music, witch house and post-punk. Amanda Baker’s vocals are reminiscent of Gitane Demone and the music has an 80s death rock vibe informed by a modern dance music production sensibillity.

Who: Reggae on the Rocks featuring Sublime With Rome, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Fishbone, Inner Circle, Landon McNamara and Judge Roughneck
When: Sunday, 8.27, 2 p.m.
Where: Red Rocks
Why: In an annual tradition going back several years, Reggae on the Rocks will get started early Sunday afternoon. Whether the musical form is your thing, or whether or not all of these bands appeal to you, there’s not likely to be another chance to see punk/reggae legends Fishbone, much less a worthy band they influenced like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones on the same bill. Maybe some people will even figure out that Inner Circle has excellent songs beyond “Bad Boys.” The band, after all, has roots in the earliest days of reggae and had a whole career before 1986 when its most famous song was released. Local reggae powerhouse Judge Roughneck is also on the bill. While much local reggae is deservedly the butt of scorn and disdain, Judge Roughneck has garnered respect for its own music which never seems like a misguided appropriation.

Who: Bleached w/Springtime Carnivores and The Corner Girls 
When: Sunday, 8.27, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Jennifer and Jessica Clavin were once members of the great art punk band Mika Miko. When they formed Bleached in the wake of the dissolution of the latter, they embraced a kind of songwriting style that reflected the myth of Southern California—bright and easy melodies—while never trying to pretend there isn’t a darker side to California or a more gritty aspect of everyday living. The group’s latest album, 2016’s Welcome the Worms, is a heavy album that manages not to weigh you down. Denver’s The Corner Girls also take a sort of punk and surf rock aesthetic and make it a vehicle for commenting on serious issues in a way that doesn’t sugarcoat anything but also doesn’t unproductively wallow in despair.

Who: Silver Face w/Mugen Hoso and Palo Santo
When: Monday, 8.28, 9 p.m.
Where: Silver Spur Saloon
Why: Tokyo’s Mugen Hoso could be a punk band or a rockabilly band but in fine Japanese tradition, distinct categories don’t matter and the art statement of kind of cutting loose in a culture that frowns on such emotive gestures is plenty rebellious on its own. Silver Face, the Denver psychedelic rock band, is also on the bill. By not trying to be a psych band in the same mold as so many bands have in the last 10 years when more people discovered that music by listening to the Black Angels and realizing that The Brian Jonestown Massacre is a great band and not just a living caricature of a band in the excellent 2004 documentary Dig!, Silver Face is writing valid songs with real roots in an earlier era of rock and roll.

Who: The Cutthroat Drifters (final show) w/The Patient Zeros and To Be Astronauts
When: Wednesday, 8.30, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Since around 2003 way too many bands have mined the “classic rock” sound and attitude. Like Civil War recreation societies for rock and roll. The results have been mixed. The guys in Cutthroat Drifters, though, never seemed to forget that it’s not enough to play music inspired by that era of great songwriting or to just live an irresponsible lifestyle. These Drifters wrote many a worthy rock and roll song of their own and the live show was surprisingly forceful with a talented vocalist and frontman in Nicolas Kjolhede who danced with an unaffected yet theatrical flair as his equally skilled bandmates provided the context for that performance to work. After nearly a decade of rocking and sweating on multiple Denver stages, this is their last show. We hardly knew ye, Drifters.

Who: Wovenhand with Emma Ruth Rundle and Jaye Jayle
When: Thursday, 8.31, 8 p.m.
Where: The Marquis Theater
Why: Wovenhand has evolved into a more noisy, haunted, post-punk band from its more Gothic Americana beginnings a decade and a half ago. Live, the band’s music is a journey through harrowing emotional landscapes guided by singer David Eugene Edwards’ dark vision aiming toward spiritual catharsis. Sharing the bill are Emma Ruth Rundle and Jaye Jayle. The two songwriters had a collaborative album earlier this year but separately, Rundle has a ghostly purity at the heart of her dark, moody songs that evokes Julee Cruise while sounding more like Marissa Nadler. As a member of Red Sparrowes with roots in folk music, Rundle masterfully navigates a broad and deep vista of emotional expression. Evan Patterson, Jay Jayle, is no stranger to heavy music himself as a member of Young Widows and Breather Resist, and his burnished blues folk is the stuff of Jodorowsky soundtracks.