Ian Vanek is perhaps best known for his time in the band Japanther. From 2001 to 2014 Japanther brought together the interest of Vanek and bandmate Matt Reilly in hip-hop, punk, art, graffiti and a spirit of experimenting with a mode of creative expression that would be difficult to pigeonhole. Depending on who you might have asked at any point people might have lumped Japanther in with punk, garage rock, indie rock or art rock. The group befriended a broad spectrum of like-minded artists in the realm of music and fine art and pursued whatever opportunities presented themselves in that rich milieu of Brooklyn in the 2000s and early 2010s and the American and international art and music underground. In the spring of 2021 Vanek released his memoir Puppy Dog Ice Cream about his time in Japanther. His candid and thoughtful account of his life during those years is a vibrant and encompassing narrative that truly captures the spirit of that time and those various places that certainly intersected similar scenes throughout the country and the wider world before various political, social and economic forces made the cultural infrastructure that made aspects of DIY touring and the art galleries and venues increasingly unsustainable certainly by the end of the decade.
These days Vanek’s perhaps main musical project is Howardian and he’s playing a show at 1010 Workshop in Denver, Colorado on Monday, October 18, 2001 at 10:30 p.m. with Knuckle Pups which includes Oliver Holloway formerly of the great folk punk band The Fainting Fansies. Vanek also publishes his long running zine 99mm, the current issue of which includes an interview with hip-hop legend Boots Riley of The Coup whose film Sorry To Bother You garnered rave critical reviews upon its release in 2018 and with whom Vanek has toured and collaborated. We recently got to talk with Vanek extensively about his time in music going back to his youth in Olympia, Washington in the 90s when he was involved in underground music and culture from a very young age. In the extended discussion we talked about aspects of how underground music has changed and how that evolution was inevitable as well as the perils of nostalgia and a looking forward to a future of inspirational music and art that one has not yet encountered. For more information on Vanek, his various projects and goings on, please visit ianvanek.com where you can also find links to his social media accounts related to his varied creative projects. For now, you can listen to the interview on Bandcamp for episode 5 of the Queen City Sounds Podcast below.
What:Sheer Mag w/Tweens and The Born Readies When: Thursday, 09.12, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Sheer Mag sounds like a band that grew up listening mostly to Thin Lizzy, 70s power pop and AC/DC but invented punk rock without ever having heard it. It’s new record A Distant Call finds the band having refined some of its raw power without blunting it.
Friday | September 13
What:Soulless Maneater, Sweetness Itself, Sad Bug When: Friday, 09.13, 8 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: Sad Bug is sort of a neo-emo pop punk band. Sweetness Itself might come off as a bit of a fuzzy psychedelic band but sometimes Cyrena Rosati’s guitar work verves into bendy waves akin to something you might hear from My Bloody Valentine via No Joy. Which is to say gloriously loud and noisy but also tied to tight songwriting and accessible hooks. Soulless Maneater is what happens when you give doom metal more of an abrasive edge and more pointed and political lyrics aimed at where a critical eye belongs.
What:Summer Cannibals w/Mr. Atomic and Knuckle Pups When: Friday, 09.13, 8 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Summer Cannibals have for the past seven years charted a path out of the neo-garage rock that dominated American underground rock for several years. Its own songwriting more fluid and dynamic than just the adolescent release and raw, youthful enthusiasm that was both what was exciting but ultimately limiting and tiresome about the new garage bands. Summer Cannibals didn’t just have a healthy sense of humor but the band also seemed to take seriously its songcraft but without overthinking it. Its new album, 2019’s Can’t Tell Me No is Summer Cannibals in high form with its contrast of melodic vocals, grit, attitude and confessional lyrics.
What:Dub Trio w/Incubus When: Friday, 09.13, 7 p.m. Where: Fillmore Auditorium Why: It shouldn’t work and maybe for some it doesn’t, but Brooklyn’s Dub Trio took inspiration from King Tubby and applied the principles of dub to heavier music in terms of shaping sound, production and signal processing. Surface level, the group comes across like an arty doom band and it has served as part of the backing band for Mike Patton on the 2006 Peeping Tom tour and on its new album The Shape of Jazz to Come, it worked with Buzz Osborne of Melvins fame. But the bass is sculpted in a way to sync up with the sampled and manipulated sounds fed back into the mix for a disorienting yet hypnotic effect. Sure, opening for a pretty famous nü metal band but worth going to see for their set alone.
Saturday | September 14
What:Dub Trio w/Incubus When: Saturday, 09.14, 7 p.m. Where: Fillmore Auditorium Why: For Dub Trio see above on 9.14.
What:Test Dept w/Acidbat, eHpH and DJ Dave Vendetta When: Saturday, 09.14, 7 p.m. Where: Antero Hall (formerly Eck’s Saloon) Why: Test Dept is indeed the legendary early industrial band from London touring through Denver before it performs at the Cold Waves festival in Chicago. Percussion heavy, full, mind-altering assault to the senses in the vein of those early industrial groups of the 80s. Different from but definitely for fans of Einstürzende Neubauten and Crash Worship.
What:Total Trash, Vampire Squids From Hell, Lords of Howling When: Saturday, 09.14, 8 p.m. Where: The People’s Building Why: September’s Get Your Ears Swoll will include “doom surf” band Vampire Squids From Hell, avant-folk Lords of Howling and psychedelic indie rock phenoms Total Trash.
What:Strand of Oaks w/Apex Manor When: Saturday, 09.14, 8 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: As Strand of Oaks, Timothy Showalter has had a prolific career writing delicate and thoughtful, introspective, folk-inflected pop songs. One might call it pastoral but by candlelight. There’s an intimacy to Showalter’s songwriting that sets it apart from some other songwriters exploring similar sonic territory. That and Showalter’s attention to the rhythm side of the music so that all parts compliment each other well. His new album, 2019’s Eraserland, was never supposed to happen until some friends convinced him to get back into the studio to write the record and it’s a particularly touching testament to rediscovering the strength to continue on and do what you love even if it feels to you at the time pointless and hopeless. It’s a personal reinvention with music that feels gently reinvigorating as well.
What:KGNU Quarterly Showcase, Smash it Back Edition: Sputnik Slovenia, Little Fyodor & Babushka and The Hinckleys – DJ Andy Z When: Saturday, 09.14, 8 p.m. Where: Lion’s Lair Why: This edition of the KGNU Quaterly showcase features Jim Yelnick of hardcore band Pitch Invasion playing his solo material and probably treating you to some unusual humor. And of course the great, avant-garde punk band Little Fyodor & Babushka will be putting in a, these days, rare appearance and demonstrate how punk can push the boundaries of the songwriting and subject matter while writing incredibly catchy music. There is no fashion victim type stuff with Fyodor because he already looks like an accountant who burned down his office and started a cable access show about underground culture and the impending collapse of civilization.
What:Of Monsters and Men w/Lower Dens When: Monday, 09.16, 6:30 p.m. Where: The Mission Ballroom Why: Icelandic pop band Of Monsters and Men are currently touring in support of its 2019 album Fever Dream and will provide the expansive, emotional, melodic songs made for the larger club setting. Opening the show is experimental dream pop band Lower Dens. The group’s earlier albums were in the realm of dub-inflected post-punk but its newer material, particularly on its new record The Competition, combines its lush melodies with an almost disco flavored adult contemporary sound. Like Jana Hunter and company mined 80s pop music and removed the cheese but kept the solid songwriting and production.
What:Roselit Bone, High Plains Honky and Erika Ryann When: Monday, 09.16, 7 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Roselit Bone is like a honky tonk, cow boy high desert Gun Club and visually reminiscent of the same. Intense live performances and riveting storytelling. Its new album Crisis Actor is a storybook of American skullduggery, misdeeds and a celebration of life.
Tuesday | September 17
What:Man Man w/GRLwood When: Tuesday, 09.17, 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: GRLwood from Louisville, Kentucky sound like an emotionally nuanced math-y emo band on its 2018 album Daddy. Though there is a smoldering sensibility to the vocals the band is able to reconcile powerful feelings with actually feeling its hurt and transforming that into a melancholic catharsis that bursts forth in fiery riffs and introspective passages. And it will contrast well with Man Man, the psychedelic art rock band formerly form Philadelphia who made it “indie big” in the 2000s with its ambitious albums and theatrical and bombastic live shows.
What:Hatchie w/Orchin and Slow Caves When: Tuesday, 09.17, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Hatchie’s 2019 debut full length Keepsake is the rare dream pop offering of late with a keen ear for the low end to give the music some weightiness and drive. Maybe there’s no surprise there since Harriet Pilbeam has played bass and guitar in her musical career up to now and the songwriting on Keepsake reflects an appreciation for a broad spectrum of how the music can stimulate your emotions. It’s breezy in dynamic and Pilbeam’s vocals warmly melodic but the songs always seem to be reaching forward to draw you in.
What:Torche w/Pinkish Black and Green Druid When: Wednesday, 09.18, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Torche formed in 2004 in Miami and came out of the heavy music underground of the 90s when Steve Brooks and former member Juan Montoya were members of doom/sludge legends Floor. Torche was a different animal and as the band has developed over the years it is difficult to really call it a sludge or doom band, especially with its 2019 album Admission with its sometimes shimmery and gritty melodies, expansive vocal dynamic and sinuous rhythms. The fuzzy drones seem to have more in common with the likes of Swervedriver than what you’re likely to hear on a doom record and yet often enough Torche employs a colossally blunt riff but then sends it spiralling in different trajectories giving the songs a sound like what might happen if a psychedelic metal band left behind its limiting tropes and explored the inherent possibilities of its sound palette.
What:Man Man w/GRLwood When: Wednesday, 09.18, 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: See above on 9/17 for Man Man and GRLwood.
What:Jail Wolf w/Hotel Garuda, ford When: Thursday, 05.02, 7 p.m. Where: The Ogden Why: Sajeeb Saha got started making electronic music and did remixes for the likes of Odesza and Dirty South before embarking on making the kind of effervescent pop that appeared on his 2016 EP Kindred Spirits as Jai Wolf. The EP reflected his earlier production experience in terms of the musical ideas and details that one might hear on an EDM record. But it also incorporated the kind of expansive and psyche cleansing musicality of the post-chillwave efforts of artists like Toro Y Moi and Washed Out. Three years later the new Jai Wolf album, The Cure to Loneliness sounds like a massive leap forward evolving the eccentric sonic flourishes of EDM into more interesting features of a song and tighter songwriting with a wider array of instrumentation including guitar and percussion that sounds like a human is behind the performance somewhere. Intact and more fully realized in its expression, though, is Saha’s gift for expressing a sense of wonder and hope, qualities that are much needed given the state of the world. The same line-up same time performs at the Ogden Theatre on Friday, May 3.
What:Speakeasy Series: Denizens of the Deep and Felix Fast4ward When: Thursday, 05.02, 6:30 p.m. Where: Hooked On Colfax Why: This edition of the Speakeasy Series presented by Glasss Recorods are master Denver soundsculptors Denizens of the Deep and Felix Fast4ward. Both fit somewhere in the realm of ambient and electronic dance music and psychedelia without needing to fit in any of those categories.
What:Monolord w/The Munsens and The Well When: Thursday, 05.02, 7 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Solid doom show including Monolord from Gothenburg, Sweden, a city more well-known for its melodic death metal. Monolord sounds more like they grew up listening to pre-1995 Melvins and that’s a positive.
What:A Rembrance for Brittany Strummer w/Typesetter, Cheap Perfume and Ersatz Robots When: Thursday, 05.02, 7 p.m. Where: 3 Kings Tavern Why: Brittany Strummer was not in bands but as a fan and associate of bands and the punk community and a friend to many she touched many lives nationally and even internationally. For this show some of her friends are getting together to celebrate her life and legacy with live music.
What:Shpongle w/Tipper, Desert Dwellers, Leo P (from Too Many Zooz) When: Thursday, 05.02, 6:30 p.m. Where: Red Rocks Why: Shpongle has kind of a silly name and its fusion of world music, psychedelia and electronic dance music isn’t for everyone but it’s shows are like an idiosyncratic ritual of spectacle and depth of sound. Tipper’s deep ambient abstract dance could be headling this show as well but is only on this first date of Shpongle’s 2-day run at Red Rocks.
Friday | May 3
What:Faces Under the Mirror, Rosegarden Funeral Party, Vio\ator and eHpH When: Friday, 05.03, 8 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: Darkwave show of the week with electro-industrial band Faces Under the Mirror, Dallas-based post-punkers Rose Garden Funeral Party, noisy dark industrial project Vio/lator and Denver EBM duo eHpH whose electronic industrial soundscapes have a bit of confrontational energy built into the mix.
What:Jacket of Spiders When: Friday, 05.03, 9 p.m. Where: Denver Art Society Why: The debut show of the new band from former members of Tarmints/Twice Wilted/Cynic’s Bane/Soulbender ,AJ Hathaway, Bobby Jamison and Bobby Bane.
What:Copper Leaf, Bear and the Beasts and Gun Street Ghost When: Friday, 05.03, 9 p.m. Where: BarFly Why: A free show. Somewhere betwixt Americana and late 90s/early 2000s indie pop with a charming richness of musical detail is Copper Leaf. Bear and the Beasts is like-minded but more rock and probably more influenced by the likes of Lucero. Gun Street Ghost is kind of a gritty Americana band but Mike Perfetti’s masterful storytelling and charisma sets any of his projects apart from most other bands.
What:Roller Disco 2 When: Friday, 05.03, 11:30 p.m. Where: Roller City Why: Late night culture is back to being nascent and underground in Denver but this is something along those lines where your entry fee gets you a skate rental and new wave and synth pop songs appropriate to the occasion playing into the wee hours.
What:Tyto Alba album release – Sucker w/Panther Martin and Modern Leisure When: Saturday, 05.04, 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Anyone paying attention to the Denver underground rock scene with any taste or discernment would tell you that Tyto Alba is one of the city’s best bands. Its ear for melody and keen sense of dynamics has resulted in a body of work that is emotionally rich and deeply evocative. Its dream pop is a master class in contrasts between strong rhythms and delicate, gauzy melodies and Melanie Steinway’s thought-provoking lyrics delivered with a gift for expressing nuanced sometimes uncomfortable truths with a vulnerability and strength of conviction that isn’t common enough. The group’s new album Sucker is a showcase for the band’s songwriting versatility. Tyto Alba already had a sound of fascinating contrasts and complexities (moody, bright, melancholic, emotional truthfulness and acceptance of the range of one’s feelings) but Sucker is the band at its peak of development so far. In the hands of other artists some of the material could be brutal but a sense of compassion has also long informed the music.
What:Skating Polly w/MONSTERWATCH and Backseat Vinyl When: Sunday, 05.05, 8 p.m. Where: Streets of London Why: Because Skating Polly had to come up as musicians in an insular way and didn’t come up on trends the way many other musicians have, its almost outsider blend of primal grunge and garage rock is unlike much else in the scenes of the revival of either of the past decade.
Monday | May 6
What:Pedestrian Deposit w/Entrancer, Anime Love Hotel, Sunk Cost When: Monday, 05.06, 8 p.m. Where: Syntax Physic Opera Why: Pedestrian Deposit combines layers of sound to create an engulfing sonic experience. From organic stringed instruments, field recordings, tape collage, harsh noise and electronic instrumentation, the duo from Los Angeles is unlike many bands in the realm of “noise” and its shows border on a kind of ritual born out of urban decay and neglect. Also sharing the bill are techno wizard and ambient artist Entrancer and noise sculptor supreme Sunk Cost.
What:Lolo Zouaï: High Highs to Low Lows Tour w/Jean Deaux When: Monday, 05.06, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Lolo Zouaï’s 2018 full-length High Highs to Low Lows is surprisingly downtempo and world weary for an artist in her early 20s. She cites Too Short as an influence so maybe that is a factor. Its lush production and trap-esque and gritty, ethereal flavor bears comparison to Alice Glass’s solo EP of a couple of years ago.
What:Winter w/Ancient Elk When: Monday, 05.06, 8 p.m. Where: Lost Lake Why: Samir Winter and the band that takes its moniker from her surname is fortunately not sticking to one sound for an entire career. Yes, those blissfully atmospheric pop songs from the debut album benefited from Winter’s strong, evocative singing. But the 2018 album Ethereality sounds like the group adopted a bit of the muscular, fuzzy upbeat rock sound of other groups that are tapping into the 90s but Winter’s buoyant yet introspective presence gives it some depth. Denver psychedelic folk band Ancient Elk is changing its name and supposedly this is the show where the new name and presumably new line-up will be launched.
Tuesday | May 7
What:Perturbator w/GOST and Many Blessings When: Tuesday, 05.07, 8 p.m. Where: The Oriental Theater Why: Perturbator takes that sort of analog synth John Carpenter worship soundtrack thing and elevates it with even more dramatic flourish and volume by transforming it into industrial dance music.
What:Real Dom, Terror Pigeon, Techno Allah, Aman When: Tuesday, 05.07, 8 p.m. Where: Rhinoceropolis
Why: Since the late 2000s Terror Pigeon has created bombastic synth poppy dance music with deep grooves like they were some band out of Brooklyn rather than Nashville.
Wednesday | May 8
What:Fasano Twin Film Night When: Wednesday, 05.08, 10 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: Charly and Vincent Fasano have been fixtures of the front range art, poetry and music scene for close to three decades. Charly “The City Mouse” will be screening some of his short films while Vinnie “Cheap” will provide musical accompaniment with his experimental jazz group Still Birth of Cool.