Best Shows in Denver and Beyond 11/7/19 – 11/13/19

Frankie Cosmos
Frankie Cosmos performs at Bluebird Theater on November 7, photo by Jackie Lee Young

Thursday | November 7

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Stephen Steinbrink circa October 2009, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Frankie Cosmos w/Stephen Steinbrink and Ashley Koett
When: Thursday, 11.7, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: The latest Frankie Cosmos album is called Close It Quietly (out on Sub Pop) which is a title reflecting the tender, sensitive and utterly sincere quality of Greta Kline’s songwriting and psychologically insightful lyrics. Stephen Steinbrink’s golden voice and talent for inventive soundscapes in his pop songs has been brewing for more than a decade while he toured regularly in the DIY world. His 2018 album Utopia Teased is a pinnacle of his recorded output with a diverse array of moods and textures.

What: Juan MacLean DJ set w/boyhollow and Retrofette (DJ set)
When: Thursday, 11.7, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Ophelia’s Electric Soap Box

What: HXXS (KC), Luxury Hearse, Kid Mask, Blood Wolf (NM)
When: Thursday, 11.7, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Tennyson’s Tap

Friday | November 8

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Kyle Emerson, photo by Rett Rogers

What: Houndmouth w/Kyle Emerson
When: Friday, 11.8, 8 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Kyle Emerson’s new album Only Coming Down is a thoughtful collection of songs written while the songwriter was splitting his time between his adopted home of Denver and Los Angeles. Emerson is from norther Ohio but moved to Denver in his late teens/early 20s where he fell in with an up and coming psychedelic pop band Plum which made waves before moving to the City of Angels and, as is often the cliché, broke up shortly thereafter. Since then Emerson moved back to the Mile High City where he established himself as a solo artist with the release of his sophisticated and introspective, folk inflected pop album Dorothy Alice. For this set of shows he’s opening for bluesy indie rock band Houndmouth from Indiana.

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FILTH circa 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Ultra Metal 2 Night 1
When: Friday, 11.8, 5 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: Since Denver Noise Fest isn’t happening this year, Johnathan Cash of Sunk Cost is picking up that slack again with the biggest noise festival in Colorado across two nights at Rhinoceropolis bringing together a wide range of artists from Colorado and well beyond. Go expecting the broad spectrum of noise from the presumed harsh noise, to prepared environment soundscaping, ambient, beat-driven industrial drone, noisy post-punk, glitch, weirdo techno, post-metal, organic sound composition, sound collage, field recording processing and more. Honestly, greater diversity here in purely sonic terms than any other festival in Colorado since the last Ultra Metal. See the schedule below.

5pm – doors open
5:40pm – J. Westerman
6pm – Blarney Mumble
6:20pm – Harms
6:40pm – Kid Mask
7pm – Dragging
7:20pm – Voight
7:40pm – Pat Hopewell
8pm – Genital Stigmata
8:20pm – Culled
8:40pm – John Ingram
9pm – Sounding
9:20pm – Ritual Chair
9:40pm – Developer
10pm – Kiran Arora
10:20pm – Xome
10:40pm – Conscious Summary
11pm – Baby Daddy
11:20pm – PCRV
11:40pm – Scathing
12am – VX Bliss
12:20am – GNO
12:40am – FILTH
1am – H Lite x Techno Allah
1:20am – Clutch Plague
1:40am – J. Hamilton Isaacs

What: Clan of Xymox w/The Bellweather Syndicate and The Siren Project
When: Friday, 11.8, 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater
Why: Clan of Xymox is a Dutch post-punk band that influenced a generation of second wave Goth bands with its imaginative and bracing sounds and imagery. Adam Wingard featured Xymox tracks in his 2014 action thriller The Guest.

What: Codename: Carter w/SPELLS and Zephyr
When: Friday, 11.8, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive

What: The Roots
When: Friday, 11.8, 8 p.m.
Where: The Fillmore Auditorium

Saturday | November 9

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Pedestrian Deposit circa 2012, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Ultra Metal 2 Night 2
When: Saturday, 11.9, 5 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: See above regarding Ultra Metal. Schedule for night 2 below.

5pm – doors open
5:40pm – ilind
6pm – French Kettle Station
6:20pm – Goo Age
6:40pm – Earth Control Pill
7pm – Pet Sounds
7:20pm – Rush Falknor
7:40pm – Illicit Relationship
8pm – Sunk Cost
8:20pm – A Fail Association
8:40pm – Primordial Wound
9pm – T.E.F.
9:20pm – Sects
9:40pm – Jackson Pratt
10pm – Sissisters
10:20pm – Blind Date
10:40pm – Circuit Wound
11pm – Ancient, INC.
11:20pm – Tralphaz
11:40pm – Pedestrian Deposit
12am – Dromez
12:20am – Purism
12:40am – Blank Hellscape
1am – Total Mom
1:20am – Many Blessings
1:40am – Page 27

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Necropanther, photo courtesy the artists

What: Necropanther w/Methane, Incarnit, Draghoria
When: Saturday, 11.9, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Death/thrash metal band Necropanther from Denver is celebrating the release of its latest album The Doomed City although it has those great, distorted vocals that you’d expect from a black metal outfit there’s always been something tuneful and catchy about the band’s output.

What: Pink Hawks’ Scorpio Party: Pink Hawks, Los Mocochetes, Brothers of Brass, DJ A-L
When: Saturday, 11.9, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Ophelia’s

What: Zebroids, Mr. Pacman, The Half Hearts, Ladies Night
When: Saturday, 11.9, 9 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Lair

What: Integrity w/Limbwrecker, Victim of Fire and Clusterfux
When: Saturday, 11.9, 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater

What: Houndmouth w/Kyle Emerson
When: Saturday, 11.9, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Fox Theatre

Sunday | November 10

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Pile, photo by Elisabeth Fuchsia

What: Pile w/Slow Code and Moon Pussy
When: Sunday, 11.10, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Fox Theatre
Why: Pile formed in 2007, the same year as the Canadian band Women, and has exerted a similarly strong influence on underground guitar rock by going off the map of conventional structure, dynamics and tone. Its new album Green and Gray has all of its signature contorted and noisy angularity. Opening is Denver noise rock Moon Pussy whose Big Black-esque bluster is a revelation.

What: Vincent Comparetto Going Away Party
When: Sunday, 11.10, 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Vincent Comparetto has been calling Denver home for over 20 years and is now moving to New York City. He got involved in the skating community in the 90s and discovered the local world’s punk and post-punk communities and has been avidly documenting the music scene and the cityscape for years as can be found in his ‘zines Follow Focus, particulary #2 in which he shared several of his shots of shows and the arts world in Denver. Here’s a public chance to say farewell to one of local cultures most cordial and thoughtful preservers of what has been and advocates for what is going on.

What: FUTUREBIRDS w/Rowboat and Paul DeHaven
When: Sunday, 11.10, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall

Monday | November 11

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Hippo Campus, photo by Pooneh Ghana

What: Hippo Campus w/The Greeting Committee
When: Monday, 11.11, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why: Hippo Campus released two albums in 2019 as Demos I and Demos II. While they sound a bit like the titles suggest and recorded between 2017 and 2018, the spare, raw quality of the recordings actually serve to highlight the band’s songwriting further. Its 2018 album Bambi showcased its knack for expertly produced pop songs while the new batch of material is almost the polar opposite like the experiments Magnetic Fields have engaged in over the years with its creative and varied use of technology in songwriting and processing sounds. But whatever its approach, Hippo Campus has proven its mastery of dynamics and tone.

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Aquabats, photo courtesy the artists

What: The Aquabats
When: Monday, 11.11, 7 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: It’s odd to think that The Aquabats has been around for over twenty-five years now. Hailing from Huntington Beach, California, the quintet’s mixture of ska, punk and pop is as surreal as it is playful. Its singer The MC Bat Commander (aka Christian Jacobs) is better known for his involvement with the kids’ show Yo Gabba Gabba! these days but The Aquabats was a good natured send-up of the Orange County punk scene as the opposite of a macho, violent band. Instead The Aquabats have assumed the personae of super heroes and its multi-media presentation through its own TV shows and sillymusic videos has allowed the band to transcend not just genre appeal but appeal beyond the realm of punk and ska, which the group has long since left behind in favor of greater musical diversity in its songwriting. Go expecting more than just a musical performance, expect the full integration of that with theater and comedy routines and special guest performers along with its usual incorporation of the audience into the proceedings as well.

What: RAREBYRD$, Staple (WI), Gone Full Heathen, Heathen Burial and Denizens of the Deep
When: Monday, 11.11, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Glitter City

What: Ulthar w/Nightfell, Malum Mortuus and Saeva
When: Monday, 11.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive

What: Decide Today (ex-Realicide), Watabou, Church Fire and Techno Allah
When: Monday, 11.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

Tuesday | November 12

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Emerald Siam, photo by Tom Murphy

What: Elephant Stone w/Frankie and the Witch Fingers and Emerald Siam
When: Tuesday, 11.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Elephant Stone’s psychedelic pop songs have weathered the glut of wannabe psychedelic rock of the past several years by going beyond the tropes and creating transcendent melodies incorporating traditional Indian musical styles and methods for a sound that seems to drift in from some brighter realm than our own. Frankie and the Witch Fingers is a little more traditionally garage psyche but the sheer momentum of its performances elevates it beyond the languid pace and laid back style we’ve come to expect all while maintaining a delicacy of feeling. Emerald Siam from Denver has some of that psychedelic garage rock in its musical DNA but is more like a moody, dark, post-punk band that discovered that musical catharsis comes from overcoming one’s personal momentum rather than sinking deeper into it.

What: FKA Twigs
When: Tuesday, 11.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Mission Ballroom
Why: FKA Twigs brilliantly fuses downtempo with experimental electronic music. Her new album Magdalene is basically an environmental noise record with elements of R&B and soul in a pop format in the foreground.

What: Big Freedia w/Low Cut Connie
When: Tuesday, 11.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Gothic Theatre
Why: Big Freedia’s “sissy bounce” is like some hip-hop performance art spell-casting that is disorienting yet utterly riveting.

What: At the Heart of the World w/Lowfaith and Polyurethane
When: Tuesday, 11.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Rhinoceropolis

Wednesday | November 13

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The Coathangers, photo by Jeff Forney

What: The Coathangers w/Control Top and Rocket Dust
When: Wednesday, 11.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: The Coathangers have evolved a lot since the incendiary and thrilling chaos of their earlier punk rock without losing any of that raw power. Now touring for The Devil You Know, The Coathangers have completely integrated its instinct for tearing down convention with sharply focused songwriting.

What: Sun Seeker w/Duncan Fellows
When: Wednesday, 11.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Duncan Fellows from Austin unexpectedly makes a blend of Americana, psychedelic pop and 2000s indie rock work through creative layering of instrumentation and vocals giving its songs great dynamic range and an element of unpredictability. There’s a lot of imitation in music at the moment and while Duncan Fellows may not strike some as incredibly original, give them a good listen and it becomes obvious they’re at least following their musical instincts where the mood flows rather than where pre-existing style suggests. In that way the group is a bit like Foxygen and Unknown Mortal Orchestra without sounding like either. Its use of synths as a full compositional element sets it apart from most of its peers as well as heard put to full effect on the group’s latest release the Eyelids Shut EP.

What: MONO w/Bell Witch
When: Wednesday, 11.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Ophelia’s

What: The Get Up Kids w/Kevin Devine and The Whiffs
When: Wednesday, 11.13, 7 p.m.
Where: Oriental Theater

What: Mr. Phylzzz w/Simulators, Church Van and Moon Pussy
When: Wednesday, 11.13, 8 p.m.
Where: Glitter City

Best Shows in Denver 3/15/18 – 3/21/18

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Mint Field performs at Lost Lake on March 21. Photo by Maria Fernanda Molins

 

Who: Protomartyr w/Ned Garthe Explosion
When: Thursday, 03.15, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Protomartyr apparently didn’t get the memo on what post-punk bands in the current era are supposed to sound like. The vocal delivery hits at weird angles to the fluid rhythms and jagged yet expressive and atmospheric guitar work like Nick Cave singing for a hybrid of The Fall and Sleaford Mods. Its latest record is 2017’s Relatives in Descent. It’s a bit moodier than the group’s earlier albums yet has a headlong quality as though the band is embracing the chaos and disorientation of the world now to see where the broken machine ultimately lands. Ned Garthe Explosion is more of a psychedelic rock band but one of the most gloriously ragged around the edges and one for which you never quite know where the show will go in a way we need to see more often.

Who: Alonerly, R A R E B Y R D $, Claudzilla
When: Thursday, 03.15, 10 p.m.
Where: Mutiny Information Café
Why: Alonerly is the solo project of Antonia Montoya from Albuquerque. Using upright bass, soulful vocals and beats, Montoya creates the kind of spacious yet intimate music that probably gets lumped, and not unjustifiably so, with jazz and hip-hop but is in the end its own thing, a rarity in a time when many musical artists are trying to tap a little too much into an established musical genre. She won’t be alone in bringing something not quite like anything else with keytar weirdo Claudzilla and hypnotic and highly evocative hip-hop/noise crew R A R E B Y R D $.

Friday | March 16, 2018

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Bad Licks, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Bad Licks 7 inch release w/Vic ‘n’ the Narwhals, The Corner Girls and Soulfax DJs
When: Friday, 03.16, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: Bad Licks includes former members of The Blue Rider so there’s plenty of the subtle weirdness to the undertones of its psychedelic garage rock. The group is celebrating the release of its latest seven inch of its excellent Lies EP. Because people in the band are very much into genuinely experimental music, the record is worth listening to beyond obvious genre trappings. Joined this night by pastel/surf punks The Corner Girls and surf/blues punk band Vic ‘n’ the Narwhals. All around a post-garage rock genre-bending extravaganza because all of these bands put on an energetic performance.

Who: Clan of Xymox w/Voicecoil and Radio Scarlet w/DJ Svipal
When: Friday, 03.16, 7 p.m.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Why: Clan of Xymox formed in Amsterdam near the height of the first wave of post-punk in 1981. The band’s sound including more extensive use of synths was more in line with groups like Comsat Angels, The Sound, Killing Joke and The Chameleons. Clan of Xymox’s first three albums are considered foundational for what has come to be known as “darkwave” – the blending of early synth pop aesthetics with post-punk. Xymox and contemporaries like Anne Clark, Fad Gadget and Depeche Mode made what might have been considered weird and avant-garde accessible to a broad audience. By the early 90s, however, the band splintered and Ronnie Moorings continued in a direction inspired by the acid house music popular in dance clubs in the late 80s and early 90s. But apparently the project’s fanbase wasn’t into that sound and it didn’t translate well to the rave crowd. And yet Xymox hadn’t completely lost its darkwave cachet and throughout the 90s Moorings experimented with a return to that sort of sound while absorbing the industrial music of bands he had in part influenced. Over the past decade darkwave, industrial and gothic rock has been enjoying the most extensive genuine revival since the first time around and Xymox has enjoyed a little of its own renaissance being invited to festivals catering to the aforementioned genres and with its last eight albums, including 2017’s Days of Black, released or re-issued on Metropolis. Why did the music matter? As someone once said about Joy Division, despite and because of its sometimes gloomy, brooding, emotionally urgent and intense sounds, Xymox and its contemporaries had to come along to articulate complex and sometimes conflicting emotions with a clarity, power and poignancy that wasn’t happening with a lot of rock and roll.

Monday | March 19, 2018

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Yardsss, photo by Tom Murphy

Who: Screwtape, Wander, Young Lovers, Ridgeway, Yardsss, Brother Saturn
When: Monday, 03.19, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: One of the great things about shows at Seventh Circle is that even if it’s all supposed to be all one thing it never really is. Tonight proves that as local hardcore heroes Screwtape are performing alongside mostly post-rock/shoegaze bands. Brother Saturn’s collage of guitar sounds tracing the outsides of daydreams made up of soothingly hypnotic layers of atmosphere is a good fit with California based post-rock bands Wander, Young Lovers and Ridgeway to send them back home from SXSW in a welcoming show halfway through that journey. Yardsss from Portland, Oregon has a diverse sonic palette but broadly speaking, the band’s core sounds are rooted in droning atmospheres, noise and improvisational electronic composition. Fans of more experimental industrial music will find much to like in Yardsss’ darkly evocative aesthetic.

Who: Mimicking Birds, The Raven and the Writing Desk and Haley Heynderickx
When: Monday, 03.19, 7 p.m.
Where: Globe Hall
Why: Indie rock band Mimicking Birds are making a stop in Denver on their way to Treefort Music Fest (we’ll be featuring some advance coverage in the next few days as well as post-fest coverage in the following weeks). The group recently released its new album, the gorgeously lush and pastoral Layers of Us. If you’re not making it out to Treefort for the 7:40 p.m. set at El Korah Shrine, catch the Portland, Oregon-based band tonight with the like-minded The Raven and the Writing Desk. The latter is one of Denver’s best kept secrets in music as a band that has really pushed itself to explore new vistas in its own sound and breaking with its own musical past in order to make something interesting and fresh. A rarity.

Tuesday | March 20, 2018

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GGOOLLDD, photo by Kelly Bolter

Who: OMD w/GGOOLLDD
When: Tuesday, 03.20, 7 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, often referred to as OMD, were, like fellow UK artists Gary Numan and Human League as well as Berlin in the USA, instrumental in establishing what became synth pop. After seeing an mid-70s Kraftwerk concert, bassist and vocalist Andy McCluskey started OMD with some friends and from early on the band separated itself from many other bands of the era in having no guitars and but a visceral live show. OMD enjoyed its share of commercial popularity in the UK and the US at various points in its career but artistically it’s arguably greatest achievement was the 1983 album Dazzle Ships. But the mainstream audience didn’t seem to be much into the truly boundary pushing pop compositions. Today the album is considered by many fans to be its best alongside its 1981 predecessor, Architecture & Morality. Now recognized as innovators as well talented masters of pop songcraft, OMD will be headlining a show at The Ogden Theatre with the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based GGOOLLDD. The latter, fronted by the dynamic and talented Margaret Butler, recently released the TEETH EP in December 2017. Part synth pop, part theatrical glam band, GGOOLLDD has always put on a large theater show in small, even intimate venues, so catch a great, newer band opening for a group in a similar lineage of imaginative yet sincere music.

What: Faster Than Light Fest: Obtuse (1st), Blue Lane Frontier, Old Sport, Granddad (AK/MN), Closer is a Band (Brooklyn), Alien Boy (Portland), Runaway Brother (Cleveland)
When: Tuesday, 03.20, 5 p.m.
Where: Seventh Circle Music Collective
Why: This is a festival put together for bands on their way from SXSW or going through and happening to converge in Denver for one date. It’s also a good cross section of the modern punk/emo/math rock underground in America and naturally it’s at Seventh Circle where a lot of touring if that stripe often plays in Denver these days. Locals Obtuse, Old Sport and Blue Lane Frontier represent a rebirth for the kind of punk that both embraces pop punk, screamo, indie rock and math rock but also advances where that music could have gone had it converged and evolved. Portland’s Alien Boy gets points for naming itself after a Wipers song but also for embodying the kind of moody punk with thoughtful, sometimes wryly humorous, lyrics and the kind of darkness and intensity, not to say anger, that a lot of punk frankly lacks.

Wednesday | March 21, 2018

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Kelly Lee Owens, photo by Kim Hiorthøy

Who: Kelly Lee Owens
When: Wednesday, 03.21, 9 p.m.
Where: Bar Standard
Why: With her 2017 self-titled full-length, Kelly Lee Owens displayed a keen ear for electronic composition and a knack for translating that into accessible dance tracks. Her mastery of mixing hypnotic and deep low end with melodic drones interweaving with her ethereal vocals across the record was stunning. Fans of IDM, dub techno and deep house, do yourself a favor and at a minimum pick up the album. Also, fans of dream pop/shoegaze acts unafraid of jumping straight into abstract atmospheres such as Slowdive, Seefeel and Sound of Ceres will find much to like with Owens’ output as well. Owens performs tonight at Bar Standard before setting off for Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho where she performs Thursday night 3.22 at 12:30 a.m. at Neurolux

Who: Mint Field w/Neighbor Lady and American Grandma
When: Wednesday, 03.21, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Mint Field’s 2018 debut album Pasar De Las Luces is being touted as a great modern shoegaze album. And it is, but it is one that isn’t particularly beholden to an older sound. The minimalist aesthetic of the music bears a stronger resemblance to ambient and downtempo dance music than to rock. At its most “rock” the band comes off as more post-punk and Krautrock like Neu! or Faust than worshippers of Lush or My Bloody Valentine. Although the band is from Tijuana its gauzy layers and swirling melodies are a far cry from that city’s reputation as one of the party capitals of the world. Mint Field also performs at Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho on Saturday, March 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Boise All Ages Movement.

Who: U.S. Girls w/Rubedo and Michael Rault
When: Wednesday, 03.21, 7 p.m.
Where: Larimer Lounge
Why: Meghan Remy’s U.S. Girls has thankfully been pretty much impossible to chalk up to a single genre of music since the project’s inception. It’s always pop songs whether those have a leg in noise, punk, garage rock or whatever. Her latest album, 2018’s In a Poem Unlimited, sounds, interestingly enough, like a reinvention of 90s hip-hop as a funk and soul record. It has that lush production with grit and a melancholic undertone. “Pearly Gates” in particular is reminiscent of Warren G’s 1994 hit “Regulate.” Which, considering the themes of the album, is an interesting allusion. But whatever ideas and sounds informed the record, it is a literate and insightful exploration the various manifestations of toxic masculinity, its effects throughout culture and society and what life might be like without it’s wearying, destructive influence.

Who: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat w/Naked Giants and Hairclub
When: Wednesday, 03.21, 8 p.m.
Where: Hi-Dive
Why: If you listened to Ed Schrader’s Music Beat’s albums and other recorded releases prior to 2018 and didn’t see live, the appeal can be a bit of a head scratcher. A floor tom, scream-ish vocals and bass? Live it all made sense and the records relatable. But the band put out its most accessible album to date with Riddles. Having worked with Dan Deacon didn’t hurt and as the band’s producer, Deacon helped to shape a sound that took the duo’s avant-garde urban tribal contradictions and into the level of recorded coherence the project has always warranted. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat also performs at Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho at 10:30 p.m. at Boise All-ages Movement Project.

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

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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.