Aaron Saye of Seventh Circle Music Collective on making the transition from Blast-O-Mat
Aaron Saye of Seventh Circle Music Collective.
Seventh Circle Music Collective is the new name for the former Blast-O-Mat space, which, until its recent closing, had been one of the longest-running DIY spaces in Denver. Originally a host to heavier and more extreme music, in the last couple of years, Blast-O-Mat became home to numerous other branches of underground music as well. This past summer, Ethan McCarthy, the long-running lease-holder and former proprietor of Monkey Mania and Kingdom of Doom, announced he would be leaving his involvement with the venue and opening a new place called Aqualung's Community Music Space. That announcement left the future of the space up in the air. Fortunately, one of Blast-O-Mat's volunteers, Aaron Saye, had the resources, drive and compatible ideas to take over the space and keep it running.
Saye is known to many as the guy who is constantly filming metal, hardcore and ska shows. He's also one of the most dedicated fans of music in general in Denver. Those who know him can tell you that he's a standup guy who is always friendly, cordial and willing to help out -- exactly the kind of guy who should be running a volunteer-driven DIY venue. In advance of Seventh Circle's opening show tomorrow night, we spoke at length with Saye about how the transition happened and the importance of this sort of place to the local community.
Westword: How does the lineup for the first show reflect the organization of Seventh Circle itself?
Aaron Saye: The way I structured the opening show is that every band except for the touring band has at least one member that is part of the new volunteer collective. I just basically said, "For grand opening show, I want to be all of us." Everybody that came out of the woodwork and wanted to be involved in helping me run this new space, I wanted them to have first crack and being the first ones to play that. This guy Riley [Rukavina], from Fall in the Ride, knows a lot about sound engineering, and he's been helping me immensely with getting this PA built and structured.
With the Mouth House guys, I wanted them involved because I know they're inundated with shows over there, and they're having to turn them down because they have six shows in a week sometimes. So I was thinking, "Well, if you guys want to be involved here at Seventh Circle, we could have two venues, and you guys could totally book your own shows here, and I would just give you keys that night or something like that."
They were talking about how they were trying to structure that kind of camaraderie with Rhinoceropolis, to do the same sort of thing, where if they had two things going on the same night, combine them or schedule them differently so people can do both and there's no competition going on. I guess it didn't pan out due to communication or something with RiNo.
So I just went to a show over at Mouth House after the decision was finalized that I could take over the Blast-O-Mat space and do a new thing with it. I told them I wanted to work with them. I said, "I want this to be a venue that you have just as much access to book as I do, because I know you're inundated over here, and I don't want to see you guys burn out. Mouth House is way too important, just like Blast-O-Mat is. Both venues are just so important to the DIY scene that if either of them goes down, then it's going to be a huge hole in everything."
How did the opportunity come about that you could take over the space that used to be Blast-O-Mat?
Ethan McCarthy moved into Blast-O-Mat after Monkey Mania [or Kingdom of Doom] got shut down. That was right around the same time that Kate Spencer, who was the original person that started Blast-O-Mat, basically, announced that she wanted to move to L.A., which is where she now lives. I don't remember exactly when that was, but there was a meeting about it, and it was like, "If nobody wants to put your name on the lease to rent Blast-O-Mat, then it's going to go under."
Nobody really in the room stepped up, and I said, "I'll do it." But that was right after I started volunteering with them, and I think a lot of people -- and no insult to them at all -- in the original Blast-O-Mat collective weren't exactly thrilled about the fact that I was starting to book shows that weren't musically their cup of tea.
So everybody said, "We'll think about it. We'll see what's up." I didn't really hear anything back about it for a couple of weeks, and then Ethan said he was moving in. And I thought, "Great, it'll be the same as it ever was. Same scene, same everything, it'll be awesome."
So I just started volunteering, and then, through no conscious effort of everyone, it morphed a little. When it started, as far as I'm aware, it was a spot where the grindcore bands and crust bands comprised of people that lived there could play. I remember the first time I went there, there was a 'fridge and a stove in the show space. I think that was the summer of 2006. I really started going there more in later '06 or early '07.
In 2010, that's when I started volunteering, and I started booking shows I was interested in, just like everybody else did there, and it didn't seem like a big deal. It was all fine and good, and then it evolved into this thing where people knew about Blast-O-Mat because they were in the hardcore scene and that's where hardcore bands played. Or when I started booking ska shows, the ska scene found out about it. There are so many people now that know of Blast-O-Mat than the people who created it may have seen it. So it just changed into through no conscious effort of anybody to encompass all different types of music.
In July, Ethan announced that he was moving out, and he had found a space with cheaper rent, a place he could kind of start over and just throw only the shows he wanted to throw. He was getting way burned out, and I think he came back from tour at the beginning of July, and he had to run sound eleven out of the first sixteen days that he was back in town or something like that.
Part of it was that our Blast-O-Mat collective had dwindled so much that there were only a few of us left that could do sound. And I was out at other shows all eleven of those nights. I felt bad, but I was just another volunteer, and I did as much as I could, and I couldn't be at every single show. Not to say that he had to shoulder that burden, but he lived there and kind of got defaulted into that position of having to do sound or cancel the shows. So, obviously, he didn't cancel the shows.
The fact that he had found the new place was, like, "Yes, that's exactly what he needs." That's awesome, because he could reopen it, new name, no reputation of being somewhere where all these types of music that he doesn't care for play at. And he can book whatever he wants and not overbook himself. Blast-O-Mat had gotten to the point where it was overbooked all the time, and it was way too stressful on all of us that were the regular volunteers.
He announced that he was moving out and opening a new space and that Blast-O-Mat was closing down at the end of August. I wasn't at the meeting because I couldn't be there, because I was at a show at Red Rocks that night that I had tickets to all summer. The show was Yanni with my mom, actually. Second row center! It was so much fun. Anyway, Ethan said there was an emergency Blast-O-Mat meeting on Friday the 13th, 7 p.m., and Yanni was on stage at 7:15. I told him I couldn't make it, and he said, "Well that sucks, because it's kind of an important meeting."
I kind of felt the death knell coming on, because that was right after he had gotten off tour with Death of Self, and I think their van ended up getting totaled. A wheel bearing locked up and the wheel caught on fire, and they had to get it towed to Boise. Then they had to reach out to all their record label stuff to get people to buy their merch online, so they would have money coming in to get home. And they did get home pretty much on schedule, but they were broke. I think that was the straw that broke the camel's back, and he was probably like, "I'm done with this place. I'm done being stressed out. I'm done having money problems."
I'm not trash-talking at all. Ethan is one of the greatest dudes in this community, and the fact that he has a space where he can book just what he wants is incredible. I went to the first show there, and he was the happiest I'd seen him in months. It was so cool to see him so happy. He's stoked on the new place.
I called Ethan the next day after the meeting to find out what happened, and he said he was moving out and shutting down at the end of August and opening up a new space where he could do what he wanted. So I said, "Oh, sweet. What's happening to Blast-O-Mat?" He said, "It's going to shut down. It's going under because I don't think anybody has the means, the motivation or the time to take over the lease and keep it going."
I said, "What about me?" He then said, "Well, a few people at the meeting suggested that, and a few other people said it wasn't a good idea because the way that it will change and that it won't be Blast-O-Mat anymore. So that wouldn't be cool." Some people didn't necessarily like the kind of music that I book. Their idea of Blast-O-Mat is what it started as. It's a very valid point. It's a very emotionally charged issue. A lot of the people that started it are very invested in their ideals and what Blast-O-Mat represents for them, which is totally valid.
But it represents many other things for many other scenes of people now because it has ballooned into this gigantic, all-encompassing, multi-genre space. So there were people, I guess, that expressed concern with the idea of me taking the place over, so I said to Ethan, "Could I do it? I would definitely be down to try and assume the responsibility to keep the place going."
He was a little perturbed and reticent at the moment, probably because of the stress of everything going on, and said something like, "Where the fuck were you on these eleven shows out of the sixteen days that I had to fucking work? Where have you been? Why do you suddenly have the time now that I'm out of there? What's that all about?"
I said, "No, dude, it has nothing to do with that. You're one of my favorite people that I've ever encountered in this community. You've done so much. You saved Blast-O-Mat the last time it almost went down. This place wouldn't even exist if it weren't for you. I went to Monkey Mania before I even knew you. It has nothing to do with you, and working with you has been one of the best things about being involved with Blast-O-Mat because you do things right.
And I know your new venue is going to be done right. The reputation of Blast-O-Mat makes it too important a space. If it has come to the point that it either goes down or I step up and take over and put in that more time, effort and money, then I'm going to do it because I don't want to see that place disappear.
"Personally, I can't fund it past December, but I at least want to have it open now to December and we'll see what we can do with it and see if we can enough people on board and enough shows and enough money coming in to keep it going after that initial investment runs out.
"I want to work with you, if anything, because I'm going to get offers to do crust shows that you can work better, so I'll send them your way at Aqualung's, and if you get hit up to do ska shows you can send 'em my way. We can make this a really great thing because we'd have two venues instead of one."
He said, "Okay, man. Let me think about it and I'll get back to you, because, like I said, there are people that don't want you to change it into what you would change it into, so I've got to take that into account."
A few days later he called me back. Initially his attitude was kind of, "If I move out of there and you go talk to the landlord yourself and rent the space out on your own terms, I can't stop you." He thought about it and realized that that would be a dick move, so he was like, "I'll totally introduce you to the landlord. I will help you out with this and tell the landlord the lease is not going back to them.
"You'll be responsible for September's rent because that's when I'll be out of there. It's basically yours, you can do what you want with it. I just have to caution you, you know how it's been these last few months at Blast-O-Mat. There have been like five of us that have had to run every single show and there have been so many shows where there were only two people and you really need three to do it right.
"You know how stressed I've been about this whole situation. I have to warn you that you will encounter that stress. You will encounter these problems, because there's just not enough people interested in keeping up this space. I wish you the best of luck. I'm here to help. I have some PA gear you can buy from me; I'll give it to you cheap. You don't have to pay me for six months if you can't."
He was totally on board after he thought about it for a couple of days, and it was awesome. He was like, "I'm sorry about being weird about this on the phone the other day. I've been really stressed. I've been booking shows here for the better part of my twenties, and it really kind of pains me to see how it's changed and how it's different than it was when it started, but I think you're going to do good things with it, and I would be down to help you with whatever you need."
In terms of the transition, it has been really smooth with Ethan and it's been awesome to have him on board and helping, because there are so many things I have no idea about. Like, is water included in rent, or is that a separate thing I have to reopen? Little things like that that you just overlook. He's been very great and helpful with that.
For the longest time after I was part of Blast-O-Mat, I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to have a DIY space where it was all scenes of music working together? No boundaries, no bullshit like that?" That's what it is now.
The next step after Ethan and I worked out the transition -- nobody was announcing anything yet, and I thought I should let them do that on their own time because it wasn't my deal. They made a Facebook event on August 8 announcing a final Blast-O-Mat show ever, and after this, "all the good shit's moving over to Aqualung's." It wasn't even Ethan or anybody from Blast-O-Mat that was really involved that had made the event. It was just somebody in one of the bands. Fair enough, that's your opinion. That's valid.
But everybody from the ska scene and the pop-punk scene and every other kind of scene of music that was booked there started freaking out all over Facebook, and I got four or five text messages, phone calls and people posting statuses within an hour of the event being made and saying things like, "What the fuck is happening to Blast-O-Mat? Why is it shutting down? Aaron, what's going on?" I said, "Don't worry about it, I'll post a big thing so everybody knows what's up. Just sit tight."
I took 45 minutes or an hour typing out this whole long thing about what was going on. I basically told it as a little story about how when Blast-O-Mat started as one thing and through no conscious effort of anyone it became something else that other scenes of music were aware of. So the people who started it are moving to another place to do what they want to do again.
So that leaves us who are invested in it for these other genres as well. So I said, "Don't freak out. I'll keep it running, and we'll still keep booking the kinds of shows anyone wants to book. We'll still have the same ideals: No racism, no sexism, no homophobia. But it's going to be somewhere where basically every scene of music is going to be welcome. I want it to basically identical to what Blast-O-Mat has become."
A lot of people started responding and saying, "This is amazing, this is awesome. Thank you for doing this. I want to be part of this." That was the second part of what I wrote saying, "I can't do this by myself. I need all of your help. I need volunteers. I basically have to build an entirely new volunteer staff because I don't think anybody currently a volunteer here is going to come back. They're going to focus on the new place and more power to them. If you're reading this, I'm not going to say you can't be part of this place. I want anyone that wants to be to be a part of this place."
There was a lot of commentary saying things like they wanted to be involved or -- and this I hope people know I don't talk down on how things were at all -- "Man, you being in charge of that place makes it feel so much more inviting than I ever felt that place was." I got the gamut of responses like, "I always wanted to volunteer there but I never did because I felt everyone there besides you looked down their nose at me when I paid at the door and judged me because I wasn't a crusty kind like they were. But I always wanted to help out because the idea of DIY shows was great." Things like that.
Riley does home recordings at his place, and he had a PA set up and said, "You can use that for as long as you need it to build your own." People like that came out of the woodwork. The thing that is the coolest is that some of the most enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers I now have on my staff are these fifteen and sixteen-year-old punk rock kids that are so stoked to be part of something like this. They started coming to those DIY shows at Blast-O-Mat or Mouth House.
One of these kids really involved now the first time I met him was a Summit with Misfits. My first show at a "tiny" venue was Misfits at the Ogden in September or October 2002. It was Misfits, Stunt Doubles and Qualm. Justin Hackl was in that band, and now he's in Native Daughters, of course. Later I got into the Clusterfux, and that was my introduction to the darker, crustier scene.
Being at this last Misfits show here at the Summit earlier this year, and this punk rock kid comes up and asks if he can spare any change, inside the show, so he can buy a water bottle. I said, "Oh, dude, here." I always walk around with a water bottle, so I handed him mine, "Chug this, I'll go refill it." It turned out he was friends with Orie Bender of the Purple Fluid, and he's friends with Richard and Roman Kulwicki.
Two or three days later, I got a friend request from him, and we hung out at all these shows. And I told him I was taking over Blast-O-Mat, and he said he wanted to help. Three or four others the same age have been the same kind of thing and met me at punk shows. "Who's that random dude videotaping all these bands? Where are these videos ending up." And just seeing me be involved and being, that phrase you so appropriately coined, "punk scene booster."
I hadn't ever really thought about it, but it's true. So many of these kids, you know, I've given them rides home from shows because it's either that or they don't get to go to the show because their parents don't want to pick them up at midnight or whatever. Some of these parents I haven't even met, and it's astounding to me that they're totally cool with like, "Yeah, I got a ride home with this dude who is involved in the music scene." These kids must be really good kids if their parents are that trusting. That's really awesome.
I basically put out the call, in addition to the Facebook announcement I mentioned, and said, "It's going to the same, and I want your help, and I want any ideas you guys have as to how to change it. I know some of you guys have felt uncomfortable about coming here, so whatever that is that makes you feel uncomfortable, we're going to get rid of that immediately.
We're going to change it so that everybody feels like it's somewhere they feel welcome no matter what they look like, no matter what kind of music they're into -- it doesn't matter." That's how I've always felt that space should be and that's how it was promoted as but that's not how it was because there were so many people from other music scenes that felt uncomfortable.
Essentially, I said I was going to have the first meeting for anyone that wants to be part of this new collective this Sunday at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Thirty-five people showed up. It was incredible that that many people showed up. It was magical. There were these street punk kids; then there was Sara Century from whatever scene of music -- I don't know how to describe whatever scene of music she's from -- Steve, the guy that books all the hardcore shows was there. These kids from the post-hardcore scene were there. Spike, this dude that shoots photos for the Metro and has a radio show on KMET is a thrasher guy and he showed up. This kid into glam metal and Guns N Roses and pogo punk, and he's down to be involved.
This whole smorgasbord of people from every facet of the music scene. One of the dudes from Potato Pirates, one of the dudes from Pikes, one of the dudes False Colours -- all these ska and punk bands. Everybody is coming out of the woodwork, and everybody's making friends with each other. Tyler from Vomit Slaughter, he's way into goregrind and stuff, and he's down to be involved.
Every single facet of the music scene came together, and it was like, "This is a new beginning of this place, and I want to be a part of it." It didn't really hit me until that night, but I made a Facebook group that only the members can see, so we have an open forum to always communicate about what's going on, what shows are being booked, who's working what shows and that kind of thing.
At the top of the Facebook group there are eight icons of randomized members of the group, and it just happened to randomly select the metal kid, the post-hardcore kid and the ska kid. All of it, it gave me chills. "This is it! This is what I've always wanted, to have some sort of space where every scene of music is putting aside all their bullshit differences, and they're all working together for a common goal, and this is happening."
That was only two weeks ago and that day people started cleaning up. After that last show it was a mess. To be fair, Ethan felt bad, and he said, "I feel so terrible that place is such a mess after that last show. You know how much I hate ska, but I will let you throw a ska show at Aqualung's and keep all the door, so you can hire a cleaning crew to come clean that place up." We didn't have to do that because so many people came and helped clean and the day after the meeting was over. I talked to someone about some details and everyone else cleaned up and ten minutes later the place was spotless.
Some of the people who were skeptical and naysayers about the shows were afraid it would disappear from its roots, but it's an ever-evolving thing. There will still be grind and crust shows, but there were so many other types of shows. And I realized that some of the skeptics hadn't worked any of the shows I booked because they knew it wasn't music they cared for.
So it almost feels like it was an out of sight out of mind thing, and they weren't conscious of the fact that it had changed. They saw it as what it was. That's fine, I'm not talking down on anyone. The first thing we have to acknowledge is that if none of them had been part of it, it wouldn't have existed. They absolutely need way more recognition than I do about that place's existence because they paved the way.
I just didn't want to see it as a building stop being a show space because that garage would be turned into a car repair shop in a hot minute if we weren't there paying the landlords the rent and keeping it open as our venue space. I was out of town a couple of weekends ago. This girl Becca, who came in through the hardcore scene, and is basically the only person other than me from the Blast-O-Mat collective that's sticking around, and Devon from Dendera and Swells, who did shows at the Goat Head House, organized a clean-up day. I knew I'd be gone and she said, "That's okay, I have keys. " I said I'd feel bad about not helping, but they said it would be fine.
Those fifteen and sixteen year old kids got down on their hands and knees that weekend I wasn't there and cleaned up the basement so spic and span. I'm sure their parents have a hard time getting them to do the dishes. It's incredible. The energy and the enthusiasm these people have is unmatched and it's so refreshing to see that. That kind of love hasn't been shown to that building in so long.
The shows we worked toward the end of Blast-O-Mat were kind of a chore. And it needs to be something you enjoy doing because no one is getting paid. Now it's something people are invested in and interesting in, and that's the way it absolutely has to be, otherwise there's no point. If the people that run the place aren't enjoying it, there's no point.
There's a guy really into filmmaking and he's started a DIY filmmaking collective and is having meetings at Seventh Circle. So many good ideas are floating around, and it's going to be this incredible collective of everything. Anything that anybody wants, really. I'm so excited.
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