Here's what NORAD's closing will mean for Denver's dance music community
Update, 5/1: Since this story went to press, some of the promotional entities involved have come up with a new arrangement. Please see the bottom of the story for details
Preston Douglas opened NORAD Dance Bar two years ago with the intention of uniting an underground dance-music scene that had previously been relegated to vacant warehouses and discreet late-night locations. Although members of that scene have started to pack the floors at NORAD, business hasn't been good enough to allow Douglas to compete with others who want to buy the space. NORAD will close at the end of May.
Since news of the club's closing broke last week, Douglas notes, some of Denver's largest entertainment companies, including LiveNation and AEG Live, have approached him about working with them. "Clubs base success off of a three-year trajectory, and we were on track to do very well," he says.
The building that houses NORAD, at 821 22nd Street, has been for sale for nearly six years. NORAD's owners moved in with the understanding that once the building was sold, the continuation of the club would be at the discretion of the new owners. The landlord has now found new owners, and their plans do not involve NORAD.
When it closes, Denver will lose one of its most prominent gathering places for serious dance-music fans. NORAD's weekly residencies have been successful because the venue attracts a group of fans from an older generation who have a history in the warehouse raves of the late '90s and early '00s; it's also populated by a crop of younger fans looking for more varied and complex music than that offered by mainstream EDM. Patrons appreciate the minutiae associated with house music, a genre in which NORAD's residencies specialize: the groove of a room, the communal feeling of mutual appreciation and respect, the intricacies of sound braided in a repeating bass line.
There will still be places for house fans to indulge that vibe once NORAD closes, but they will be diminished. The HOME Denver residency, currently at NORAD, will move to Bar Standard on Broadway. It will replace Denver Disco, a weekly night dedicated to the nu-disco sound. Other Friday-night options for people looking to dance include Sub.mission Dubstep's Bassic Friday at Beta, and a reinvented Global Fridays at the Church, which recently installed a new sound system. In addition, the long-running Lipgloss is still held each week at Beauty Bar. (Update: Contrary to the original arrangement, Denver Disco will work with The Hundred at Bar Standard. For details, see the bottom of this story)
For its part, NORAD was beginning to consistently fill its space. But its owners weren't just competing against other nightclubs; they were competing against everything that might possibly occupy a piece of increasingly prime real estate close to downtown. When a buyer emerged with other plans -- there are rumors floating around that they involve either a restaurant or a retail store -- Douglas and his business partners couldn't match their offer on the building. "We've never been rich club owners; we're music enthusiasts and fans," says Douglas. "We've weighed the numbers, and unless someone came through with the money and would partner with us as a nightclub, it's not something we are ready to jump into."
Outside of its staff, NORAD's closing impacts few people more directly than Brennen Bryarly, known in the music world as Option4. He's the founder of promotional company The Hundred, which presents the HOME Denver residency at NORAD. "The music we bring is everything that relates to four-on-the-floor," Bryarly says, "but it's not specific to any genre. We are going to book what we think is underground and interesting, all while trying to stay relevant."
NORAD was a perfect fit for HOME. "That was the most beautiful thing about NORAD: We were all doing it because we love the music and supported the scene," Bryarly says. Still, the lack of a large financial backer -- the very thing that prevented Douglas from buying the space outright -- often put a strain on things. There was no big budget to help with talent buying, marketing or even staffing events. "As much as I'll miss [NORAD]," concedes Bryarly, "it was always stressful for me to throw shows there."
More implications are on the next page.
It's possible that the best things about NORAD weren't related to the actual building, anyway. "We invested a fair amount of money into the...NORAD brand," Douglas says. Part of that investment was in the form of lighting and audio production, and Douglas and his partners will take the two complete lighting and sound rigs they own and use them to throw shows elsewhere. But upgrades they made to the property won't go with them, and for now, Denver is one dance club poorer.
Doug Bohm, talent buyer and marketing director for South of Colfax (SOCO) Nightlife District, which owns several clubs and competes with NORAD, takes no joy in the news. "I think it's sad for Denver overall," he says. "Is this town not big enough to sustain multiple dance clubs with different styles and genres going on simultaneously?"
Still, with HOME Denver moving from NORAD to SOCO-owned Bar Standard, Bohm's company is in a prime spot. Between Bar Standard and Club Vinyl (which it also owns), nearly all of the city's house music now rests in a fifty-yard stretch on Broadway shared between Friday and Saturday nights.
"We loved competing with NORAD, and we loved their ability to bring in diverse underground sounds to Denver," says Jonny Shuman, another SOCO talent buyer. "Preston is a leader in the dance community and [is] incredibly well respected. We look forward to supporting any and all [of his] future endeavors."
Going forward, serious dance-music fans in Denver still have plenty to be optimistic about. Douglas and the NORAD crew, which includes co-owner Alex Brooks and general manager Jason Schmierer, are already planning to promote shows with independently owned Beta and Bar Standard. And with the HOME Denver move, Bar Standard seems well-positioned to attract the 300 bodies that currently fill the dance floor at 821 22nd Street every Friday. As Douglas promises, "We are going to continue pushing the sound and events until we find a permanent home."
Update, 5/1: At the time this story went to press, HOME Denver was set to replace Denver Disco at Bar Standard. However, since that time, Denver Disco has worked on a collaboration with HOME presented The Hundred. That joint effort will involve DJs on the second floor deck at Bar Standard, as well as the artists playing inside. The first show presented by both brands will be held Friday, May 30.
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