Good news for the DIY music community: Seventh Circle Music Collective passed its safety inspection on January 11, and has been officially declared up to code by the Denver Fire Department.
The venue was born in the fall of 2012 when operator Aaron Saye picked up the torch from Ethan McCarthy, who stepped away from Blast-O-Mat, a Denver punk venue once housed in the same building. Ever since, the spot has been hosting five shows most weeks.
We spoke to Saye following yesterday's fire-department inspection about his take on what the inspectors are looking for, why his venue passed when others haven't, and tips for other DIY spaces struggling to stay open.
Westword: What happened?
Aaron Saye: Basically, Denver Fire called (on January 9) and said that they had received an anonymous complaint from someone who was concerned, after the Oakland fire, that Seventh Circle might fall prey to a similar fate.
A member of the fire-prevention department said he wanted to come down and check the place out. We set up a time, he came down and looked around, and said that his main concern was — when he initially heard about the place — he was worried that the shows were happening in the basement of the house building and that crowding/exiting would be an issue.
Once he got in there, however, he looked around and asked me if the basement was open to the public. I told him it's not, as we just use the basement for band practice and storage, and the garage area is where the shows are held. He asked if people hang out and congregate anywhere in the house, and I said, "Not really. The only people who are spending time in here are selling merch or coming in to shop or use the restroom." He asked if we provided liquor, and I said that we don't.
What did DFD say regarding why you passed?
One of the main things he said he was looking for was that he was under the impression that the building zoning and use permit didn't match what we do here. Apparently it was still listed as an auto-repair shop somewhere. Luckily, we did have it properly permitted in 2014. A few years ago, we got the right-use permit that specifies "indoor recreational and entertainment, with additional retail," and the permit is hanging on the wall in our main entryway, where it should be. He looked it over and basically said, "Oh, okay, that's great. That just means our database is out of date." After seeing that we had the proper permit, he said there were no problems that he noted. He said, "Here's my card in case you need anything," essentially told us to keep on doing what we're doing, and he signed off on the building.
Did you breathe a sigh of relief?
Yes. It was a really easy thing: He looked around and saw that there aren't any fire hazards anywhere. The main thing is that we are up to code as far as the building permit goes to legally run the type of business that we are running.
Many people in DIY venues do not know the complexities behind zoning requirements for each building. Is this something you learned the hard way or by research?
In the beginning, we had no idea it was something we even had to do. It was really lucky that at some point, a few years ago, there was a band practicing one afternoon when someone who works for the city dropped by. He told the band that there was no use permit on file for the property, and they passed the info on to me. I didn't even know what that meant, so I looked into it and talked to the landlord. They still had the old use permit that Blast-O-Mat had before us, so we went down to the city offices with that and said that we just needed to transfer the permit over to me. She specified indoor entertainment and retail, Seventh Circle, put my name on it. It was a very quick, easy, inexpensive thing for us to do.
Blast-O-Mat really laid the groundwork for it to be done right. We didn't think it was any big deal at the time, but I believe it's the reason we were able to stay open today.
Do you want more people within the DIY community to have these resources moving forward?
Absolutely. I want to make sure this information is available to everyone so they know what to do in order to do this right, in order to keep playing and showing music.
You mentioned the tip was anonymous. Do you have an opinion on recent allegations, including the rumors spread on 4Chan, that "hateful groups" across the country are attempting to make fire departments aware of DIY spaces in order to shut them down — not in their best interest, but as an act of defiance toward the DIY community?
I'm honestly not sure, I definitely feel like that Internet group on 4Chan was real, and I feel like the complaints levied against a lot of these places nationwide, maybe including us and maybe not, have been coming from those groups of people under the false pretense of concern. It seems that what they actually wanted to do was try to damage places where they know they're not welcome due to their hateful ways. I don't know if that type of thing is true. The report was anonymous, so it totally could have been a legitimate person who had been to Seventh Circle and was concerned, or it could have been one of these people from 4Chan for their own devious reasons. It could have been either. I don't care to speculate on it. I do think there is a certain group of people out there who do not have the best intentions in mind for DIY venues, but regardless of their witch hunt, the real issue is safety, and I'm glad to have had the official sign-off stating that we're doing things right.
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What shows can we look forward to at Seventh Circle?
The next show at Seventh Circle, we've got some really cool punk and grunge-punk bands, The Youthful Nothings from Colorado Springs and Bloomers from Fort Collins, and Dramad from Denver. That's Friday's show. This Saturday we have a hip-hop show, and Monday has a really cool punk show as well.
Seventh Circle Music Collective is located at 2935 West Seventh Avenue. For more information about upcoming shows, go to the Seventh Circle website.