By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Nearly two years ago, news that Superstar DJ Keoki had moved to Denver created a splash. And why not? As noted in a previous Westword profile ("DJ Keoki, Superstar," July 18, 1996), Keoki's Disco 2000 night at New York City's Limelight nightclub made him a national figure, and the recordings he put together for Los Angeles's Moonshine imprint only enhanced his image. Having such an artist in Colorado seemed guaranteed to enliven the local scene.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the turntable. For someone who supposedly lived here, Keoki wasn't around very much. He was absent for such long stretches that most people figured he had put down roots elsewhere. The truth is a bit more complicated than that. Keoki continues to live in the Denver area; he's finally found a house that he likes, and he hopes to close on it in the near future. But he also has an apartment in New York, and he's been spending a significant amount of time in half a dozen other places, including Los Angeles. When I finally tracked him down at an L.A. studio, where he was putting the finishing touches on Inevitable Alien Nation, a new mix CD that's due in stores within the next several weeks, even he had trouble remembering all the places he's hung his hat of late.
"I've been doing the album--we've got a photo shoot tonight--and I've been coming to Denver a lot," he says. "I'm also doing a gig every six weeks in Florida, one in Atlanta every five weeks or so, and one in San Francisco about once a month. I'm looking to set up a residency in New Orleans, and there's a good chance I'll have something going in L.A. before long. It's just a couple of hours from Denver, so it'd be nice to do shows there and then fly to Colorado to clear my head."
Keoki continues to sing the praises of the state we're in. "Denver's up and coming; it's just booming right now," he enthuses. "There's so much youth around there, what with all the colleges. I was in Boulder recently, and I was amazed at the pent-up sort of art and feeling that you get from these kids. They're all really free spirits, and they made me feel that way, too. My creative energy is always uplifted when I come back to Denver. I don't know if it's the air or being around my family [his brother is a Denverite] or what it is, but I feel it on a daily level, and it has an effect on my music."
At the same time, Keoki acknowledges frustration over some of the attitudes he's encountered while headlining Wednesdays and Thursdays at Tracks 2000, the club that's become his Denver base of operations. "There's a perception that Tracks is a gay club, so some people have been uncomfortable coming there," he concedes. "But to me, music crosses borders, and the more I've played there, the better things have gotten. I see a curiosity, an open-mindedness that's growing in Denver. And I've been blown away by the vibe I've been seeing on the all-ages nights I've done. It's like the kids don't want to drink, and they don't want to do drugs--they just want to come in and dance."
The actual number of people attending these parties keeps growing, but not as quickly as Keoki would like--and the reason, he believes, is his inconsistency. "I missed a couple of gigs, and the kids were just over it," he concedes. "They were like, 'He's not going to show up. He's not coming.' So I had to keep up with my responsibilities week after week to prove myself back to them. I'm trying to do a better job of it."
"Trying" is the operative word. Keoki hasn't been able to make weekly stops here for a while because of the new album. He describes the disc as "a mix of all the different drum tracks that are coming out right now, from speed garage to trip-hop to jungle to intelligent reggae to liquid beats to hardcore breakbeats to whatever. I'm not one for labels, so I'm tying all these styles together to show that even though every one of them is its own thing, they're all coming from the same place."
A CD-release party at which Keoki will appear is likely to take place at Tracks 2000 in late March or early April; the schedule is up in the air at present. But as busy as Keoki is, he's still looking for new ways to express his creativity. After making an appearance on KTCL-FM/93.3 to debut his latest single, "Me," he's been thinking about the possibility of helming a regular radio program. "I've always wanted to do radio," he says. "I think it's a really cool way to get music across. I'd like to do a syndicated show that could air across the country, and if I do, I'll do it in Denver."
If he can stick around long enough, that is.
On Saturday, March 14, at the Holiday Inn-DIA, I-70 and Chambers Road, Manuel Molina headlines Carnival '98, his fifth annual late-winter bash. A native of Peru who's lived in Colorado since the Seventies, Molina is still amazed that the performance has gone from being a one-time party to a local tradition in such a relatively short period of time. "My idea was to do an international event in Denver," he says. "Because if I went to one event with black music, I would only see black people. And if I would go to a white event, I'd only see white people. So I decided to do something that had a Latin flavor but that would appeal to everyone. And it has. At our first event, we were just hoping to get 600 people. But last year we had 3,000, and this year we're expecting 5,000."