Why a changing Denver is creating a hotbed for Hardcore in 2019

Now, I’ll start off by saying that I’m not Denver born and raised, nor do I have memories of how it used to be or how it was better back then. But I do know enough people, who I spoke to for this article, that have lived here their whole life and have important words to share about how the city has changed so rapidly that most people don’t recognize the areas or neighborhoods they grew up in, or the fact that no one outside of Colorado even knows there’s a hardcore scene here.

Denver is an island, in a vast area of nothingness that isn’t quite the West or the Midwest, and most certainly isn’t either of the coasts. What happens when you live on an island? You don’t see much of the contiguous United States. We don’t get bands from out of state playing here and the bands that do exist here don’t often go play other places. It’s eight hours to the closest city, which makes starting a tour from here nearly impossible, and when bands from other states go on tour they mainly stick to the coasts or just the Midwest.

I’ve only lived here since 2014, the year it all began changing. Rent prices are sky high with no foreseeable end in sight, traffic is miserable, and it’s just fucking crowded wherever you go. Within the last year or so, the changing environment is forcing a lot of scene stalwarts to escape this weed-infused, brewery tour, edible nightmare. But to me, there’s something commendable about anyone who sticks with where they came from regardless of what temporary bullshit is causing discomfort. For better or for worse, here’s the bands sticking through it in 2019, and in their own words what this city represents in the spectrum of hardcore in the American landscape, their fight for a voice, and why it’s important to support each other when the rest of the country could care less.

BLOOD LOSS

Photo by Jarrett Barnes


Starting in 2017, BLOOD LOSS is somewhat new blood for Denver. They share members of the short lived LOW TAX and VIDEODROME, which also appears on this list. Being such a new band, expect a lot more coming from BLOOD LOSS including some touring and new recordings. Check out their demo from last year above.

“The guitarist from SADIST thought we should have a booking collective with some internet presence to get the word out to the coast. I think that’s a great idea. People don’t know how strong of a scene we have here.

We have always had a lot of go-between with the pacific northwest. A lot of midwest or Minneapolis bands will hit Denver as well. Not as many from Texas as you might think. I think people may have the impression that trends make it here the year after things happen on the coast, but we are just as plugged in as all the other idiots.”

Clay DeHaan, guitar

CADAVER DOG

Photo by Chris Klausner


CADAVER DOG emerged in 2011 as the solo project of James Trejo, standing against the grain of what Denver’s scene used to be populated with. Now in 2019; a scene staple. The excellent Dying Breed came out last year to much allaud on Youth Attack Records. CADAVER DOG’s live assault is just that, a complete wrecking ball of unnatural aggression.

“CADAVER DOG was my reaction to the old Denver Hardcore scene. I wanted to create something that was against everything the older try hard thugs stood for. Putting a stop to crews running the scene, and having something anyone could enjoy was the biggest goal.

If this was a bigger city I think most of these voices would get drowned out. A lot of us are still going strong and that’s something I’m greatly proud of. Denver is too small for any self absorbed attitude. I’d like to see people take their head out of their ass, and realize they’re no better than the person next to them.”

James Trejo, vocals

COMBAT FORCE

Photo by John Menchaca


COMBAT FORCE burst onto the scene in early 2017 and in that such short time might be Denver’s most love-to-hate, or hate-to-love hardcore band, which always keeps things interesting. Their drummer, Gordy, plays in almost half of the bands on this list and is partially responsible for some of the sickest shows in Aurora, CO (a nearby Denver suburb). Youth Attack Records is putting out their 7” EP (hopefully) sometime this year.

“We’re at a stagnation in the punk/hardcore scene right now where there seems to be a lot of ‘key players’ not starting bands or booking shows, so we have to take the initiative and do it ourselves, although we don’t mind and neither do the others that are doing their part. We’d like to see more of the newer generation coming into the scene being dedicated and wanting to create something productive themselves.

Denver definitely doesn’t fit the mold for most other places in the country. The sound is different, the look is different, but I think it is going through a lot of the same things as other places. For example, the takeover of festival hippies starting up craft breweries and gentrifying our homes and businesses. [We’re] also similar in a way to a lot of other cities because we’re sick of the standard open note metalcore bands that have no knowledge of the history of the subculture they claim to support.”

Gordy, drums

FAIM

Photo by Jacki Vitetta


FAIM brings an interesting perspective because they’re all somewhat recent transplants to the city. Formed in 2016 and playing their first shows in the spring of 2017, FAIM quickly established themselves as a driving force in Denver’s hardcore scene. With a 7” that just came out on Convulse Records this past October and a European tour on the horizon, FAIM is thankfully putting Denver on everyone’s radar.

“I would like to see more kids booking shows. One problem we have here is that there isn’t a person or group of people who are super focused on booking hardcore shows. I am so new to this scene and I have booked a bunch of shows because I didn’t know who else to turn to for this. Most other cities have a few kids who are in charge of booking all the hardcore shows, and I believe Denver used to be like that back in the day. So many larger hardcore bands play big mainstream venues like Marquis and I am sure we would all rather see them at a DIY spot.

I love the enthusiasm and kindness of the kids I know in the scene. They are supportive and welcoming of new faces. There is however multiple scenes here that don’t really associate. I don’t know the history of Denver hardcore and why this is, but it’s a bummer because there are groups of kids I don’t know at all. They go to separate hardcore shows. It’s odd for me because I’m not used to that. I would love for everyone to be part of the same group, but I know that’s idealistic. I honestly don’t know enough to be able to say how to fix this problem. It’s a bummer though.”

Kat, vocals

GOON

Photo by Austin Chirillo


Not to be confused with any other imposters, GOON started in 2015 as the solo project of AP Fiedler and has slowly emerged as Denver’s punkest hardcore band or Denver’s hardest punk band, whatever way you want to look at it. Since 2016, GOON has become a full band and in 2019 they just finished up recording a full-length record to be released sometime in the near future.

“Cultivate the people around you in your own city. Those out of town worms will WANT to come here and we can all boogie. Denver is a big piss party to see who is the coolest and the sooner we all realize we’re all pieces of poop we could be one of the best shits in the whole pot.”

AP Fiedler, vocals

LINE BRAWL

Photo by Jacki V Photography


Forming in 2014, LINE BRAWL is one on this list who has been around for a minute and has seen the growth of the city, influx of tourists, rising prices, and endless traffic jams. With a demo and 7” under their belt with more on the way, 2019 is looking just as bleak for LINE BRAWL to be pissed off about.

“I think the biggest issue within our scene is the fragmentation. We have cool bands and cool venues but I don’t see a lot of cooperation between different genres or bands I guess. It just seems like cliques form and people stick to the bands and shows they are accustomed to and that prevents Denver from being what it could be I think. I want to see bands reach out across these fragmented groups and try to play different shows with different bands, to build a larger and more inclusive scene.”

Alex Brown, guitar

NEGATIVE DEGREE

Photo by Martin Sorrondeguy


NEGATIVE DEGREE is the longest running band on this list, forming in 2010, and can be mostly given credit to ushering in a new wave of punk and hardcore in Denver. Originally bridging the gap from Denver and the rest of the country (and world), while simultaneously influencing the current influencers throughout the city. They’re currently working on an LP that’ll once again re-establish Denver as a hardcore hotbed.

Now, with that said I’m gonna let a few of the members speak to how the scene used to be and how it has always been changing…

“I’m not from here either. I’m originally from New Mexico, so if you think Denver is an island I was living in the middle of the fucking ocean before I moved here. To me, all the complaining about Denver being in the middle of nowhere and no bands play here just doesn’t hold water.  If you really want to see what it’s like living in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming is just down the street and will charge you $250 a month in rent. So much more happens in Denver than anywhere else in the Mountain Time Zone. If it’s not enough for you there are 3 other time zones in the U.S.

I’ve been coming up to Denver for shows for a long time and I have to say that Denver has never really had a great hardcore scene. If it wasn’t a bunch of chongos from the suburbs in basketball shorts beating up kids to open E breakdowns it’s been a bunch of white kid coffee baristas trying to tell working class brown people what’s best for ‘em. Both scenes suck. Denver is and always has been a boomtown so it lacks the working class mentality of a Chicago or St. Louis hardcore scene. As such, no one has ever been good at the Y in DIY. There have been awesome individuals that have produced awesome communities and had a good scene going for a bit. The problem is it eventually becomes unsustainable because no one wants to deal with all of the bullshit forever. There is always a huge lull before someone else picks the torch up.

Even though my rent has gone up by an insane amount, I’ve accepted the trade off. I’d rather pay more in rent to live in a city and have the opportunities that I have than live somewhere cheap where nothing happens and I make dick to shit for wages. Any time I hear that bullshit argument about how “weed rose my rent and made this city too expensive” I remember how many people of color are not in jail in Colorado after that vote and smile. From gold to oil and now weed, people in power and business have always tried to squeeze as much money out of the bubbles in this state as they can.

One other thing that I have to say is fuck everyone who calls themselves a “Native” in Colorado. Your family got off a boat and you helped displace actual 1st People when you moved here. The fact that you think that just ‘cause your dad moved here in the 60s somehow makes this land yours is bullshit. My mom is Apache. Not a little bit, 100% Apache. The Mescalero Apache tribe that she is a part of has been living in the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Juarez since your European family was living in caves trying to figure out fire. Fuck you.”

–Carlos Jesús (CJ) Quiñones, vocals

“It’s really tough to know what to say about Denver hardcore. I’ve played a larger role than some in this scene, but I’ll always feel like an outsider to some extent with this town. I guess that’s because the composition of the punk scene here mirrors the demographics of the city – transplants and tourists. Being from Wyoming, I’m at least one of those things. The problem with both is that they show up to enjoy things that someone else has created. I think CJ touched on how difficult people here find it to figure out the “Y” in “DIY” and maybe that’s the answer – they just expect things to already be done for them by the time they arrive. It’s definitely true for me. I moved here in 2006 thinking that I would be coming right into some sort of punk utopia. Nope. The scene here was basically focused on grindcore and shitty tough guy hardcore. It was so confusing when I had watched 150 people flip their lids for DS-13 and AMDI PETERSENS ARMÉ a few years years earlier. Where the fuck were those kids? Where the fuck were those tours? I guess that a lot of them had defected to the bar scene and developed coke habits. My bands at the time, GUNS N’ ROSA PARKS and LOS SOBRIOS EMPUTADO, couldn’t find a DIY show more than once every couple of months, and even when we did they were rarely worth playing. There was simply no interest in fast hardcore around here at the time.

One of the only advantages to growing up in a dumb small town is that it teaches some sort of weird resourcefulness. Most people that I know in Denver who make shit happen grew up in smaller towns and moved here in their teens or 20s. Cheyenne, Grand Junction, Portales, Elizabeth, Laramie, Cody, Montrose, Peoria…you get the idea. There’s definitely homegrown talent here, but the city kids will never understand what it’s like to live in a complete cultural void and that’s the difference between us. It’s one thing to grow up stuck on an island, but it’s another to grow up drifting at sea with the island in sight but out of reach. I think that’s what Denver represents to a lot of us who wound up here. It might not be the paradise that we were hoping for, but it’s at least safe harbor compared to the Western wasteland that we grew up with, and it was a place that we could help shape and mold with the skill sets that our small town upbringings had given us.

I don’t really care too much about bringing out of state bands through town at this point. There are some groups I’d love to see, but it’s their job to get out and tour here. I don’t think it’s our job as a scene to make ourselves enticing to them. If they don’t want to play Denver, fuck ’em. We have great bands here that I’d probably rather watch anyway. Punk bands that are allowed to have that attitude is completely perplexing to me. If I’m touring, I want to see all that I can and go anywhere that’ll have me. Show me everything. Bands that would skip a city or a whole part of the country because the drive is more than 6 hours or there aren’t any cool bands they want to play with don’t have any business touring anyway. If you’re too cool, stay home. Touring should be reserved for bands who want to go out and explore this stupid world and enjoy their ability to roam around outside the confines of a normal existence.

As far as how Denver hardcore fits in with the rest of the country, I don’t think it does. Not from lack of effort, but mainly from geographic isolation. Most cities have a neighbor they foster some sort of kinship or rivalry with, sometimes both. We don’t have that here, so I think a lot of people here look to places like Chicago, Portland, or L.A. for inspiration. Those places suck too in their own ways and I think it’s idiotic for people here to try and gain the acceptance or approval of people anywhere. No one gave a shit about what happened here for a long time and there was no reason to. I used to care a lot about what the larger world of hardcore punk thought of NEGATIVE DEGREE, but now I only really care about my friends that I’ve met and it’s a lot easier to go through life without that chip on my shoulder.

I think Denver is lucky to enjoy the isolation we have. It’s rare that anyone from anywhere shines a spotlight on us and I think that’s a good thing. That lets you do the things you want to do without having to worry about the opinions of anyone else. No one is recording the history of this place, or at least I hope they’re not. You can’t fail if you have no aspirations, and there’s something liberating in having no legacy to uphold or protect. Someday soon no one will even remember what we did here. Until then, I’m happy I can live on a musical island where my idiot friends and I can play dumb hardcore music to one another and, in a lot of ways, for one another. That being said, I think the quality of hardcore in Denver is better these past few years than it’s been since the early 80s, and if no one wants to pay attention to us, that’s fine. I’m sure they have their own shit going on where they are to be excited about. But I’m glad I got to be here for it.”

Mark Masters, bass

“Denvoid, I’ve been here a long time, long before the boom. This was not a city anyone was moving to. Denver was a “cowtown”, it was cheap, really really cheap, economically depressed, a city in decline…perfect for a young punk like me. We spent most of our time at parties, hanging out in abandoned buildings, or skating the deserted city streets, every once in awhile go to a show to blow off some steam.

There were bands but the scene was small and splintered, no social media, the only way to find out about shows were flyers and word of mouth, you often missed smaller or last minute shows. We very rarely had any touring bands come through, it’s a long drive to the next big city and we’re not really on any of the tour routes but it still happened. We really were (and still are) kinda isolated. There are cities that offer bands instant recognition and being located on either coast or even the Midwest offer easy opportunities to tour, being from Denver for the most part means you’re on your own. This is one of the things I used to like about Denver, there was no hype, nobody cared, we just did it out of boredom… be loud, get in trouble. We didn’t care, just something to do.

Denver has grown far beyond that, I knew it had potential to make a comeback from being a “cowtown” but it’s too much now, the city is overpopulated, crowded and full of so many bands and venues, multiple shows every single night and yet almost nothing I have any interest in. The hardcore scene has remained relatively unchanged, we’re still small and splintered, still don’t get the amount of touring bands of other cities but both are better than 20 years ago. One of the things I dislike is that so many people drop out in their late 20s, I would love to see people stay involved at the DIY level instead of moving into the “more adult” bar/major venue circuit. Denver continues to change in ways that are great for economic growth but pushes out most of the things I care about, leaving me feeling a bit disenfranchised.

Anyway, for better or worse, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, always been mad, pissed off and irritated, music is my release. I’m still bored, still pissed off, I still don’t care, do you?”

Johnny Seven, guitar

MOB

Photo by Ananda Zaragoza


When I first heard of MOB I knew I had to see it, just from the fact that they had multiple vocalists, a harken back to the time of when I first started getting into and going to hardcore shows in the early 2000s. MOB started in 2016 and has carved out their own little slice of the very diverse hardcore scene in Denver. Expect more in 2019 from this insane mob of hardcore fanatics.

“Denver is separate from any other place since it there is no a clear or distinct sound to us. Every Aurora Brawl that’s booked by Gordy and Jack from MOB, they always try to incorporate the most diverse bands in hardcore into one show. Anywhere from REMAIN AND SUSTAIN on the more metalcore side of things to NO CHANCE the ska/hardcore crossover. I believe shows like this are what will grow the scene and unite it more than anything else.

Denver has 4/5 distinct hardcore scenes which are divided by cliques. I believe if people set their pride to the side and be more charismatic to hardcore in whole, that there would be more shows, more people coming to shows, and a more beautiful scene in which could be the archetype for the rest of the country.”

Chris Klausner, vocals

PRODUCT LUST

Photo by Sam Grabowska / Manifolding


The one thing about Denver’s hardcore scene is that there really are no two bands that sound super similar to each other, PRODUCT LUST being one of the very outliers when it comes to this aforementioned accolade. Taking influence from the weirder side of punk and hardcore, PRODUCT LUST recently hurled a full length at the world, another solid release for Denver-based Convulse Records.

“I kind of fell into participating in the hardcore scene by accident while studying for my undergraduate degree. Hardcore always kind of seemed like a political device that functioned as a break from the bullshit, or a way to express praxis free from this idea of academia. I started making music in PRODUCT LUST as a critique of an expanding city and a dwindling punk scene. Our city destroyed our flagship DIY venues (Rhinoceropolis/Club Scum), kicked its residents out in the dead of winter then compensated them with some free Starbucks gift cards. In some effort to seem like Denver supports ‘arts culture’ the city commissioned a bunch of artists from New York to paint our murals and funded a bunch of hippies from New Mexico to ‘keep the spirit of DIY alive.’ I used to feel like I was an active participant in this city, until this city said it didn’t want me or any of my friends.

I like the accessibility [of Denver]. We kind of foster an environment where our bills aren’t exclusive. You’re nineteen and have never played an instrument? Sure, hop on! I don’t like weird personal beef being disguised as a political issue. Please stop using the term ‘toxic’ or ‘gaslighting’ to describe someone who swiped a beer from your six pack. You delegitimize terminology that is actually very valid and crucial to our current political climate.”

Kat Salvaggio, vocals

RAW BREED

Photo by Jacki Vitetta


Beginning in the fall of 2017, RAW BREED rose from the ashes of the short lived UNEASY PEACE. With a hot new 7” out on Trip Machine Laboratories and fresh off a west coast tour (and an east coast tour planned for spring/summer), RAW BREED isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Even now with members scattered around the country, make no mistake, RAW BREED is still very Denver at heart.

“Bands don’t typically tour through here because it’s easier to fly to a coast than tour through the middle of the country. It’s going to take people willing to take chances and put up the money to bring bigger bands here. The most important thing we can do is support the bands that are willing to come through this part of the country.

Denver may only have a handful of solid bands, but the bands that deserve attention from here are all real. These aren’t bands that just get hyped up because they are friends with the right people or are trendy on social media.”

Joey Hidalgo, bass

SCREWTAPE

Photo by Captured Counter Culture


The first time I saw SCREWTAPE kids were singing along to every song and moshing as if they were doing an entire set of covers…this should happen more and to every band on this list. SCREWTAPE released an EP at the very tail end of 2018 (stream above) and is currently working on a tour planned around the release.

“We want to see more of a community in the local music scene. We believe if more people worked together to try to build a community, then it would be more about change on a local level rather than just going to shows to look cool. We need more kids who are there to actually enjoy the music.

If young artists don’t have a base to create art due to rising housing prices, etc. then the entire idea of any local subculture being created will be squandered. At the end of the day, if an artist’s housing situation is determined by an economic situation that is out of their control, and rather superficial in nature then the music scene alike becomes superficial.”

Z, vocals

TARGETS

Photo by Josh Nethken


Easily the newest and youngest band on this list, TARGETS is a breath of fresh air within the hardcore scene here. They went completely under my radar until I stumbled on their demo while researching and writing this article. Highly energetic and fucked sounding live performances; if you only listen to one band in this article make sure it’s this one. TARGETS is currently working on recording an EP due out later this year.

“The environment plays a big part in it. Having seen the negative effects this wave of gentrification has had on Denver and its underground culture has left a huge scar in our psyches and how we operate. It’s tough to live with everyday. Everyone struggling to get by with the housing market, seeing places you once prided as your home and stomping ground turned into a tourist trap wasteland of luxury condos and breweries. It’s stirred a lot of anger and frustration for the artists who’ve been here, and are still trying to make it here. But it’s also made the energy more genuine, as the artists and fans participating value what they’re holding on to.”

Pete Bell, bass

VIDEODROME

Photo by Marc Canfield


Long live the new flesh…VIDEODROME surprised us all when they showed up on the scene in 2016. I first saw them playing in front of David Cronenberg’s masterpiece, aptly titled VIDEODROME (part of the best horror movie series in town, SCREAM SCREEN, which supports local hardcore bands more than most). They blew me away and are back at playing shows regularly with a second demo coming soon.

“The worst thing for hardcore, punk, all underground music and art in Denver is the rapid replacement of everything that made Denver special. Endless rows of whitewashed, cheap to build, but expensive to rent apartment buildings. Shutting down the real art spaces like Rhinoceropolis, that single handedly turned a dilapidated ex-industrial area into an arts district, while opening the door for multi-million dollar corporate music spaces right down the block, all in the now hip ‘RiNo Art District’.”

Adam Golder, vocals

I’m sure I missed something, as I only included bands I’ve seen live. Please post anything related to Denver hardcore in the comments below.

 

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John Menchaca

John Menchaca

Plays in too many bands.

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Mark Masters

With all due respect to John’s massive list here, I would also implore the reader to check out a number of bands that weren’t included in this article:

CIVILIZED
THE NERVOUS
LOW TAX
SECTICIDE
DICK WIDLER
NOSE BLED
NO CROSSES
CITY HUNTER
HERSE
SIN CAVE
CLUSTERFUX
CHASE AMBLER
KURB STOMP
ZERO FORM
BLANK BODIES
WEATHERED STATUES
STRAFGOD
SENTRY DOGS

and many others I’m forgetting.