In the wake of the Ghost Ship tragedy in December 2016, DIY music and art venues took a major hit nationwide, as many were shut down or put on indefinite hiatus in the name of safety. But in Denver, a pair of shows at Five Points vegan hole-in-the-wall the Handy Diner proves DIY is thriving.
Polyurethane at the Handy Diner, February 2017.
The first concert, on Friday, February 24 showcased industrial, noise and doom artists and was a mashup of two competing shows that had been organized at the same time and were merged into one. CBN from Omaha, Gnawed from Minneapolis and Filth from Denton, Texas, were on the last date of their western tour. All the groups played on the spectrum of power electronics and, in the case of CBN, doom. Body Void from Oakland and Denver's Oryx and Polyurethane opened the show with a set of industrial grind-oriented music.
The Saturday, February 25, event included a collaboration set between experimental electronic artist Cloudless Rain and the more noise-oriented Sheet Metal Skingraft, along with the dark IDM of the costume-clad Herpes Hideaway, Portland noise/ambient/poetry artist Yardsss and ambient act Blank Human. Video artist Orchidz3ro offered up texturally rich visuals, as he often does for shows in Denver's experimental music world.
The social circles supporting both shows overlapped, and in the current climate of cooperating and making do, any of the artists could have been on the same bill, even though Friday's concert was heavier than Saturday's.
Cloudless Rain and Sheet Metal Skingraft at the Handy Diner, February 2017.
Handy Diner has been filling a wide gap in Denver's music scene, straddling identities, at once functioning by day as an affordable vegan fast-food restaurant and by night as an underground music venue without the commercial demands of most bars, clubs and theaters.
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Cultural innovation of the kind that we witnessed at Handy Diner this weekend thrives when artists have spaces to perform in. If venues require shows to make a profit, musicians conform to market demands, art stagnates, and new acts and genres fail to emerge.
Fortunately, Handy Diner is opening up for creative work that pushes boundaries, thus ensuring that a legitimate underground scene continues to find ways to exist in Denver, even after mainstays in the experimental music community like Glob and Rhinoceropolis were forced to shut their doors.
Sure, the venues hosting experimental shows might not always be warehouses, but thanks to spaces like Handy Diner, DIY and underground culture is here to stay.