By Team Backbeat
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By Jon Solomon
By Tom Murphy
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Ten years ago, most Denverites wouldn't have known a rave from a Broncos tailgate party. Yet over the course of the past decade, the city's rave scene has slowly morphed into one of the more vibrant -- and respected -- in the country. The average citizen might not realize this fact, but that is largely by design. As those involved will tell you, part of what makes a good rave scene -- and what catches the attention of ravers and DJs across America -- is an ability to thrive as an almost exclusively underground activity, all but invisible to the uninitiated. Take a closer look, though, and you'll find it: Nearly every Friday and Saturday night, the area's underground dance parties attract crowds of up to several thousand ravers -- bigger numbers than most live-music venues or traditional nightclubs can boast.
Like any good party, Denver's raves require a host, and the upswing in the scene has created a healthy competition between the dozen or so promoters who regularly vie for that title. Since they're competing for the same crowd, promoters often will put on events that are in direct conflict with those of another promoter. It's a risky business, financially: One poorly executed event can easily end a career. As a result, promoters who are capable of maintaining consistency in the business are rare.
Even rarer, then, is the relative success story of Jason Bills and Brad Roulier. Since forming Come Together Productions in late 1993, Bills, 29, has organized some of the largest rave events Colorado has ever hosted. (Roulier, 26, joined up in 1997.) And though the pair currently enjoys their status as (arguably) the most professional and reliable production crew in the city, they've negotiated their fair share of fiscal hardship. But they don't have time to dwell on the past -- they're too busy planning raves well into 2000.
To the fan of electronic dance music and the casual observer of rave events, it's easy to get caught up in the glamorous aspects of the business. Promoters hobnob with the biggest names in electronic music and get into (sometimes quite pricey) events for free. But according to Bills, it isn't all flashing lights and shmoozing. "A lot of people think it's a really neat thing to do, but it's really not as cool as it seems," he says. "People talk shit. By the time I was 25, I had two bleeding ulcers because I was always so worried about what other people thought about what I was doing. It was hard for me to concentrate on keeping my life normal. There's a lot of stress. Out of the seven years, it took me about five and a half to learn how to balance everything." There isn't a guaranteed paycheck at the end of every week, and there's no job security. With the rave scene, like any other business, you have to know what you're doing and what you're getting into. "We've been lucky to be able to make a living off of something we love," Bills says. "The fact that we've lasted is, hopefully, testament to the fact that we're not sketchy businessmen."
The Come Together saga officially began in November of 1993, when Bills teamed up with Drew McBride to put on an event called, simply, "Come Together." Bills had attended many of the first raves in Denver and had spent some time exploring the scene on the West Coast. "People who know me now can't believe it, but I used to dance right out in the crowd in front of the speakers all night," he says. After glimpsing the way things were done there, he felt that Denver wasn't attracting the same artists or vibes as other cities, and he decided to try his hand at the production game. He put to use several of the connections he had established on the West Coast and managed to find a friend with some money who was willing to help him out: McBride, a free spirit who spent much of his life traveling from place to place and who was much more into the creative aspects of throwing raves than the actual work involved in making it all happen. "At the time, promoters were fighting with other promoters, shooting at each other, shutting down each other's parties and even shutting down their own parties," Bills says. "We wanted to provide something more positive; we wanted to present something new and different." That first event took place at the Gothic Theater and made a profit of $350 -- enough to encourage Bills and McBride to keep going.
They weren't as fortunate in 1994, when a New Year's Eve rave called "Sands of Time" was shut down before midnight by local authorities. Together had teamed up with LowerWorld Productions to put on the event, set to be the largest rave in Colorado's history. The dual promoters flew in DJs from all over the country and had a venue they believed to be reliable. Bills, who lost upwards of $15,000 that night, says, "My life was changed permanently. So was Fury's (LowerWorld founder Steve Blakely). We were ready to sell our cars and move into little shacks. The only thing that saved us was great support from our families and friends. I would have been screwed otherwise."
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