Denver Music Scene "Icons" Reflect Before the 21st Westword Music Showcase

Air DubaiEXPAND
Air Dubai
Brandon Marshall

Westword approached the ballot for the 21st Westword Music Awards a little differently this year. In order to help highlight the burgeoning Denver scene, we limited this year's ballot to bands and artists who have not been repeatedly recognized in the past, and created a new group comprised of bands that are currently active and have been nominated at least four times in the past five years. These mainstays have been dubbed “Westword Music Icons.”

I sent questions to a few of these Icons, chatting with members of the Knew, Joy Subtraction, the Epilogues, King Rat and Air Dubai to get their seasoned perspective on Denver and the Westword Music Showcase. This year's festival will take place this Saturday, June 20, and will feature over 100 Colorado bands and artists, all either Nominees or Icons. 

Westword: How has the Denver scene changed/evolved over the past five years?

Ty Breuer, The Knew: I think things have become more inclusive, but still have a ways to go to include other genres or even other parts of town. The "scene" means a lot of different things to different people and the times that they have overlapped in the past 5 years have been the best. Also, I'm liking when bands are playing bars one night but even being more excited to play all ages warehouse shows the next.

Abe Brennan, Joy Subtraction: Other than Joy Subtraction evolving into icons, nothing of note has really happened in the Denver scene over the past 5 years so far as we can tell.

Chris Heckman, The Epilogues: Music trends tend to cycle fairly frequently, and I think that shows in the local scene. Five years ago, rock music was on top, then folk music took over for a while, and now everything is electronic.

Luke Shmaltz, King Rat: There are two scenes in Denver: the big national shows that are mass-advertised across print and social media and the small local shows that are inter-promoted through the networks of underground musicians and artists. The first "scene" is easy to find, while the second is more elusive. To truly get your finger onto the pulse of what Denver locals are drumming up and laying down, you have to actually immerse yourself in the culture.

Jon Shockness, Air Dubai: In the years since the start of our band in 2009, one thing that hasn't changed is the love and consistency of the fanbase here. I know that doesn't answer your question but we appreciate that remaining steadfast.

Reno Divorce onstage at last year's Showcase.EXPAND
Reno Divorce onstage at last year's Showcase.
Focus 4 Design

What are some fond memories from past Showcases?

The Knew: Highlight: the first one we played in 2007 or 2008 at a bar/restaurant that isn't there anymore. It was the best set up to that date and we got to play with American Relay. Lowlight: We haven't played one in a few years, but the last one the venue or restaurant that probably is not there anymore got pretty trashed and the sound guy muttered during clean up "nobody gives me any respect." We sometimes chuckle about it, but it's a very evil laugh.

Joy Subtraction: Well, there was that time Brian the drummer threatened to quit the band right as we were about to go on unless Dave and I gave him all their drink tickets. Actually, that happens every year.

The Epilogues: The Music Showcase is always a good time. Playing the main stage was probably my favorite memory, but any time you get to hang out with so many friends and see a ton of shows, it's always pretty memorable.

King Rat: King Rat's fondest memory from a past showcase was the 2013 punk showcase at The Garage. The power cut out on us a total of six - yes, SIX times during our mere 30 minute set - inevitably just before the song's chorus where everyone was gearing up to sing along.

Air Dubai: I personally don't think we realized how cool the WMS actually is. It's amazing to be able to play any venue in your city but to be a part of a larger festival that is fully representative of the art and creativity that is homegrown is incredible.

What advice would you give to new bands that might help them achieve “Icon” status themselves one day?

The Knew: Not sure what Westword Icon status really entails, so I can't really speak to it. My advice would be to invest in checking out the local bands and think of the national acts as afterthoughts of a day well-spent learning about a very small part of your city's music community that is represented.

Joy Subtraction: I don’t know—just wing it. Things’ll probably work out. Or, I mean, I guess you could work really hard and try your best, etc., etc. But that seems like an awful lot of toil with no guarantee of success. What are we, farmers?

The Epilogues: Honestly, I think the key is that you have to love the people you're playing with. Being in a band can be tough, and you need that brotherhood to survive the dark days. I've seen bad bands become really good over the years, because they had a great dynamic, and they just kept playing and getting better. On the flip side, I've seen some brilliant bands completely self-destruct because they just couldn't get along personally.

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King Rat: If you're a new band who aspires to "icon" status here's what you have to do: You have to resist the urge to break up over stupid shit and stick together for the purpose of making good music for as long as possible.

Air Dubai: Don't try to become icons. Just play, write and share good music.

Lately, there’s been so many new transplants to Denver. What recommendation do you have for first time attendees of the showcase to help them discover new music?

The Knew: Man, there is a lot to say about this. But JUST IN CASE said transplant has a short attention span: the local bands playing deserve your attention and respect - they are trying something new just like you.

Joy Subtraction: I guess our best advice would be to sell your tickets and get the hell out of our city— who asked you to come here anyway? You people are the problem, not the solution. Go get your own goddamn city. This one’s ours. You’ll have to pry Denver from our cold, dead fingers. In the meantime, though, be sure and catch our set.

The Epilogues: Leave that "Free Bird" shit at the door. Other than that, enjoy your night and don't underestimate the altitude.

King Rat: Research some bands before you go blindly staggering off into the matrix of the Golden Triangle. If punk rock is your thing, look up the bands who are playing and check out their stuff online ahead of time. If the music compels you, then make sure to get to their showcase time and place with prudence, don't text while they are playing, and buy their stuff.

Air Dubai: In discovering new music/new places to explore in Denver keep your eyes and ears open, there's talent in the most unlikely places.

Now that the Showcase is turning 21, what drink would you buy it to celebrate its birthday?

The Knew: You can have whatever as long as you are watching the Outfit.

Joy Subtraction: Buy it a drink? Uh, have you been to the Showcase in the last eight years? You don’t buy the rich kid a drink on his birthday— he buys the drinks. So he can have friends. That kid’s lucky we’re even coming to his party.

The Epilogues: Just a shot of whiskey. It gets the job done.

King Rat: The Showcase is 21 this year and, coincidentally, so is King Rat. The Showcase should buy us a round of Law's Whiskey and we will return the gesture with a keg of Great Divide Titan IPA.

Air Dubai: There's a game where someone hides a Smirnoff Ice somewhere random and whoever finds it has to chug the whole thing. I'd hit the WMS with that.

What do you think your legacy on Denver music will be?

The Knew: Most likely: misunderstood. Hopefully: whatever Tom Murphy writes about us.

Joy Subtraction: I imagine Joy Subtraction will be remembered as the one band that . . . that, uh . . . well, the band that . . . you know . . . um . . .

The Epilogues: Probably as a cautionary tale of what can happen when you combine a little bit of talent with too many cats.

King Rat: I think King Rat's legacy on Denver music is that we are a band that sticks to its principles regardless of industry trends. We play the music we want to hear and thankfully it satisfies the same desires of people who come to our shows.

Air Dubai: Hopefully, at the end of the day, our legacy is that we came out of Denver with the intention of breaking new ground. We wanted to come from this city but not stay here. It's important to travel, see who's doing it big in other cities and then be able to bring that energy and life back home.


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