Denver Rock Atlas: The Aztlan Theatre

Our Denver Rock Atlas feature is precisely what it sounds like, a compendium of storied Denver venues, past and present, in which we pick a place and share our favorite memories of the joint. After you read our memories, please feel free to share some of your own.


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If we had to guess, the Aztlan Theatre has been around since roughly the dawn of time, and the place hasn't been remodeled or even really cleaned well in that stretch. Despite ( or perhaps because of) its seedy, ramshackle appearance, it played host to many, many shows and events, from punk rock shows to raves.

The place was a shit hole, and its issues were legion. There were way too many beat-up seats filling most of it to make it a good venue for any of the events that played there, the scary-ass bouncers always seemed like they were tweaked to the gills and ready to cut anyone that gave them shit and the bathrooms started the night disgusting and quickly progressed to deadly (seriously -- we've seen the bathrooms under close to four inches of backed up sewage on more than one occasion).

It was an especially popular location for raves when the scene was booming here in the late '90s to early '00s. You were never really glad to get to a map point and see that the venue was the Aztlan, but you were never terribly surprised either -- promoters must have been getting a serious deal on the place and the owners clearly didn't care at all what the hell went down there.

Although we've got plenty of memories of the place, including an absolutely incendiary set from Plastikman that saw so many people crammed into the space that if it had it become literally incendiary, no one could have been reasonably expected to escape. But as kick-ass as that set was -- not to mention many, many others -- the most cherished memory we have of the place almost literally set it on fire.

On the cusp of 1998, Crash Worship brought its tribal-pagan-circus noise rock theater to the venue to ring in the new year. They had a big section of seats cordoned off so the act's fire performer could do his thing from the balcony without setting anyone ablaze. Naturally, he did set the plastic sheeting they used to cover the seats on fire. And it's amazing that's all that caught fire, since they were lighting road flares at one point near the front. There may have been some fireworks as well... our memories of the event are clouded by both the substances we imbibed then and the time that has passed since.

This seems to be footage from that night...

Curiously, the fire wasn't even the craziest point of the night. No, that would have been when the band carried one of its performers down the aisle on a dais, "slave caravan transporting nubile queen" style, through the audience, out into the lobby and then into the streets, all the while banging on drums and chanting. The audience followed them out into the street like the band was some sort of mad pied piper and god know where we might have ended up if the Denver police hadn't showed up before they even made the end of the block. The cops were pretty cool and just and shepherded them, and us, back inside and shut things down before it turned into a riot. Hands down the craziest show we've ever seen there -- or pretty much anywhere.

Got a favorite memory of your own? Let's hear it.

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