What:Black Mountain w/Ryley Walker When: Friday, 11.29, 8 p.m. Where: Bluebird Theater Why: Black Mountain is one of a handful of bands that was associated with 2000s “stoner rock” that evolved past and beyond the tropes of that genre. Probably because from the beginning the psychedelic end of its sound was more developed than some other bands that were essentially making a form of what’s now called “drone metal.” But even at the beginning, with its 2005 self-titled debut, the band wrote heavy songs with an ethereal tonal architecture like “Heart of Snow.” The group’s 2019 album Destroyer is its first with former Sleepy Sun guitarist/vocalist Rachel Fannan and Adam Bulgasem of Soft Kill. It sounds like it has more extensive use of synthesizer than previous albums and thus having more in common with obvious influences like Hawkwind and Can. Live the new direction for the band has been more immersive and hypnotic without sacrificing its rock and roll punch, a testament to its integration of its musical instincts and incorporation of even more of Jeremy Schmidt’s transporting synth work which he used to great effect on the soundtrack to dark science fiction film Beyond the Black Rainbow under his moniker Sinoia Caves.
What:Cheap Perfume Burn It Down album release, SPELLS, Plasma Canvas and Wild Lives When: Saturday, 11.30, 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Cheap Perfume is the Colorado Springs-based punk band who make no bones about their feminist political orientation but that really should be part of anyone’s agenda in the modern world and a centerpiece of any human who claims to have morality, ethics, basic human decency and concern for human rights as part of their perspective on the world. But Cheap Perfume makes it fun with pointed songs that while sometimes snarky are heartfelt and clever but with no fence sitting. Its new album, Burn It Down, is being released this night with some of the Mile High City’s best punk acts sharing the stage for the occasion.
Tuesday | December 3
What:Allah-Las w/Mapache & Tim Hill When: Tuesday, 12.3, 7 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: In the rush to cop the 60s and early 70s southern California sound in the past half decade and more so many bands seem to have mimicked those Laurel Canyon artists outright. Allah-Las dipped into a similar pool of references but didn’t forget to write great songs or to inject that with modern sensibilities. Its soundscapes are paired well with entrancing melodies and not merely indie rock with some reverb and chorus and a laid back vibe. Its 2019 album LAHS is typically introspective and expansive with more than a dash of playfulness.
What:Turnover & Men I Trust w/Renata Zeiguer When: Wednesday, 12.4, 8 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: Men I Trust has been described any number of ways but the live band evokes the mood of dusky nightclub R&B and soft lighting. But without evoking the early 70s Laurel Canyon pop sound so much in vogue lately. The band’s videos look like some kind of cinematic rendering of 1980s home movies and in a way reminds one of fan videos various people have made for Boards of Canada. It’s not often a band can maintain some sense of mystique these days but Men I Trust definitely has some. Currently touring in support of its lushly downtempo 2019 album Oncle Jazz.
What:Glasss Presents the Speakeasy Series Season 3: Equine and Julien Miller When: Thursday, 05.23, 6:30 p.m. Where: Hooked On Colfax Why: This latest edition of the Speakeasy Series features guitar wizard Kevin Richards’ project Equine. By introducing left field methods, chord structures, signal manipulation and unconventional composition methods in general, Richards is pushing the frontier of the styles and sonics of guitar-base sound art.
What:Necromantic When: Thursday, 05.23, 9 p.m. Where: Shag Lounge Why: Necromantic is an old school Goth DJ night with plenty of the best of the newer darkwave and industrial music mixed in. Each second and fourth Thursdays of every month you can partake of the evening’s main DJs as well as select guests to bring a little bit of that old Denver flavor back into downtown.
Friday | May 24
What:The Hives and Refused w/Bleached When: Friday, 05.24, 9 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: Two power houses of punk and garage rock, Refused and The Hives respective, will make this a memorable night where you will probably be not just pleasantly surprised but inspired by the sheer energy and charisma of both bands. Refused in particular pioneered multiple genres of punk on its 1998 masterpiece The Shape of Punk to Come. Bleached includes former members of irreverent noise punks extraordinaire Mika Miko. And the group went through a phase of exploring various sounds before fully developing its knack for intimate pop songs with some bite, attitude and punk energy.
What:Tommy Wright III When: Friday, 05.24, 9 p.m. Where: Rhinoceropolis Why: Tommy Wright III must be considered one of the early progenitors for the style of underground hip-hop that one hears echoing in the work of the various members and associates of A$AP, Odd Future and Migos. The creatively profane lyrics and subject matter of his songs, the lo-fi-but-deep production style with the finely treated loops as heard in so much modern trap is present in one form or another in Wright’s 90s output through today. This is a rare chance to see the legendary producer live in Denver and witness his mastery of outsider gangster rap up close and personal.
What:Cloud Rat, Gadget, Immortal Bird and 908 When: Friday, 05.24, 8 p.m. Where: Syntax Physic Opera Why: Sort of a deathgrind show given Gadget from Sweden and Cloud Rat from Michigan are on the bill. 908 from Colorado Springs definitely fits into what will be a night of short, furious sets.
Saturday | May 25
What:Slugger and Michael Thompson When: Saturday, 05.25, 2-4 p.m. Where: Wax Trax – Sidewalk outside Why: Slugger is basically showing where psychedelic rock can go when the musicians focus on the songwriting over adhering to some style. Michael Thompson of Arc Sol will also perform a solo set of his songs informed by a broad range of unusual music. What:LUTHI at Denver Day of Rock When: Saturday, 05.25, 6-7 p.m. Where: 16th Street Mall Why: The Denver Day of Rock will have plenty of bands, local and otherwise, to see throughout the day and evening all along the 16th Street Mall. In the early evening you can catch LUTHI from Nashville, Tennessee. The seven-piece band perform music that’s a compelling blending of funk, downtempo pop and what might be called post-Daft Punk psychedelia. There’s some unusual X-factor about the band that keeps it well apart from “party” bands in general while also providing suitable music for a dance party.
What:Jello Biafra’s Incredibly Strange Dance Party When: Saturday, 05.25, 9 p.m. Where: Lion’s Lair Why: Jello Biafra needs no introduction and this is an edition of his Incredibly Strange Dance Party where he’ll bring some of the most bizarre dance tracks to DJ at the Lion’s Lair and knowing Biafra he may even join in on the dancing, adding to the strangeness.
What:Spirit of the Beehive w/Strange Ranger, Cuckoo and Rowboat When: Saturday, 05.25, 8 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Spirit of the Beehive could be something like a light psych indie rock band but its aesthetic has a bit of a collage element and its songs sound out of phase with the contemporary world and its sometimes ennervating cultural climate. It’s music is a side step into spaces more dreamlike and mysterious. The rock instruments integrating perfectly with the warping and wefting electronic compositions is beautifully disorienting. In 2018 the band released Hypnic Jerks, a title and songs suggesting the band is coming at the world from a different angle than a lot of people. Like Unknown Mortal Orchestra but more grounded in American 90s weirdo indie pop.
What:Shibui Denver #3; Shocker Mom, Space Geist and DJ Vahco When: Sunday, 05.26, 7 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: Shibui Denver is a monthly event last Sundays of the month at Mutiny Information Café. It’s designed to start and end early and aims to showcase some of the best Denver underground acts and the occasional touring band that fits the format of being a little different. Tonight’s featured guests are Shocker Mom, Robin Walker’s ambient beat driven pop act whose album >^^< will be included in our much belated Favorite Albums of 2018 listing. Walker has been a prolific songwriter and collaborator in Denver as a solo artist under her given name, while a member of indie pop duo Cougar Pants, in hip-hop outfit Nighttimeschoolbus, sitting in with rapper Time and folk pop artist Jason Horodyski. Vahco Before Horses heads Glasss Records through which he boosts, produces and finds spaces to showcase the music of some of Denver’s most forward thinking underground artists. This night he will DJ Denver bands and several from the Glasss Roster. Space Geist is a solo guitar band in which riffs will be looped and manipulated in post to produce, with any luck, disorienting tones and rhythms.
What:Alien Weaponry w/Dreadnought and Palehorse/Palerider When: Sunday, 05.26, 6:30 p.m. Where: Bluebird Theater Why: Alien Weaponry is a band from Waipu, New Zealand. While operating somewhat in the realm of melodic thrash its lyrics are often in Maori because its three members are of that extraction and it suits the music in a way for which English sometimes seems inadequate. Opening the show are psychedelic doom folk band Dreadnought and heavy ambient noise/industrial dark psychedelic band Palehorse/Palerider also from the Mile High City.
Tuesday | May 28
What:Sebadoh w/Flower and Race to Neptune When: Tuesday, 05.28, 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Sebadoh didn’t invent lo-fi rock but in the early 90s it helped to chart the direction much of that style of music would go by incorporating field recordings alongside off the cuff recording and an emphasis on feeling over precise capture of “professional” fidelity in the studio. Naturally the band went on to take that aesthetic into actual recording studios but the spirit of play and fidelity to emotional honesty and spontaneous energy remained. Currently Sebadoh is touring in support of its newly released record Act Surprised. Flower was and is now again from New York City that in the 80s reflected the city of legend and its mixture of evolving Bohemian subcultures, melting pot ethnicity, gritty urban decay, a sense of possibilities and the avant-garde alongside emerging popular culture. Musically that meant Flower was well within the realm of post-punk at the time. It wasn’t so far in the past that The Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, Suicide and countless others had built the foundation of what punk could be and even less far back since the bands that emerged out of that milieu, directly inspired by it in various ways like the No Wave groups, Sonic Youth, SWANS, Live Skull, Bush Tetras, Arthur Russel, Liquid Liquid, ESG, The Lounge Lizards and other unfortunately less-well-known bands that made up the ecosystem of the New York underground. Flower formed in 1986 while Richard Balulyut was still in college and its sound fit into the rich diversity of the then NYC scene. The group split in 1990 soon after which Balulyut and two of his brothers formed indie/alternative rock band Versus which went on to some acclaim in the 90s. The latter band reconvened in 2017 and it dawned on Balulyut that he could write new music in the more post-punk, some might now say darkwave, style of Flower and now the band is on tour in support of its new material and there’s a better than half a chance you’ll get to see some of its older material live as well.
What:Closet Witch, Law of the Night and Bi-Proxy When: Tuesday, 05.28, 7 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Café Why: Kind of a grind-y hardcore night including a set from Closet Witch from southeast Iowa. Molly Piatetsky’s feral vocals are something to witness.
Update: This show was combined with another at Syntax Physic Opera at 8 p.m. with a line up that is now Full of Hell, Primitive Man, Genocide Pact, In The Company of Serpents and Closet Witch.
Wednesday | May 29
What:Sleep w/Big Business When: Wednesday, 05.29, 7:30 p.m. Where: Boulder Theater Why: Sleep is one of the most influential bands out of the world of doom metal. Though its sound was lumped in with “stoner rock,” which seems apt seeing as it’s until recently latest album was called Dopesmoker comprised of a single track over an hour long. Its psychedelic, towering drones live up to the hype as do the more concise songs, like those on the 1992’s Sleep’s Holy Mountain. Sleep is almost as heavy as it gets and its high volume show as engulfing as you would hope for. Big Business is a sludge rock band well suited to the bill. The members of the band were part of The Melvins for around a decade and recently released a new record. The Beast You Are is a collection of dynamic, triumphant songs with unconventional melodies and an elevated updraft of tone. Big Business has always been, if nothing else, heavy but buoyant. On The Beast You Are, Big Business experiments further in the songwriting with its use of space and pacing. There’s still the headlong rush you’d expect from the band but also an imaginative application of its palette of sound that has kept the band from being predictable, an uncommon quality in heavy music. For Big Business it is not enough to pummel with its colossal sound but to have emotional and thoughtful intentionality behind it.
What:Skeletonwitch w/Soft Kill and Wiegedood When: Wednesday, 05.29, 7 p.m. Where: The Marquis Theater Why: Skeletonwitch has been perfecting and then evolving its technical melodic death metal sound since its inception in 2003. Its latest record, 2018’s Devouring Radiant Light finds the band bringing in even more unconventionally atmospheric elements into its brutal and unrelenting soundscape. All while maintaining the dark imagery and animalistic, distorted vocals like they are telling stories of a mythical past in our current impending, post-apocalypse after climate change has cleansed the earth of much of human civilization.
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.
“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.”
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.