High Plains Underground: 21st Century Colorado Shoegaze and Dream Pop

Pale Sun | Savoy | Synesthesia | August 15, 2015
Pale Sun | Savoy | Synesthesia | August 15, 2015
Tom Murphy

One of the sounds that has long been part of the Colorado music scene is lush, atmospheric rock. Even though Colorado boasts more than 300 days of sunshine each year, many significant Colorado artists have an indisputable attraction to music that, if not exactly dark,  suggests an inward expansiveness and hazy emotional colorings, as in a waking dream. The sound is enveloping and washes through you; while there's an ethereal quality to this music, the bands are often loud but generally not abrasive. In England in the early 1990s this music, as exemplified by Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 and post-punk generally, was given the name "shoegaze" by critics — even if bands like the aforementioned MBV completely rejected such insulting and clumsy genre designations.

Whatever you might call the music —  shoegaze, dream pop or even psychedelic rock* — it seems like a natural fit for many musicians who, living in relative geographical isolation, turn inward to imaginative pursuits that stir the mind and heart. There is a twinge of melancholy to this music, although it is also a means of transmogrifying despair and sadness into something bright and vital. The therapeutic quality of intertwining melancholy with the vibrant is undeniable, and is the spark of the exorcism/soothing quality of how that music often manifests in Colorado. What's iinteresting is that few of the bands pursuing this mode of expression sound anything alike — except a loose affinity for creative atmospheres. 

*For the purposes of discussion, I am using the terms “shoegaze” and “dream pop” in the title because those genres have a strong resonance for the bands below — and if you're fond of these styles of music, you'd be well-advised to check out any of these bands that have emerged — or in the case of 40th Day, reconvened — since the turn of the century in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and beyond.

40th Day | Larimer Lounge | July 20, 2013
40th Day | Larimer Lounge | July 20, 2013
Tom Murphy
Anti-Glacier Movement | Larimer Lounge | August 23, 2007
Anti-Glacier Movement | Larimer Lounge | August 23, 2007
Tom Murphy
A Shoreline Dream | Hi-Dive | January 11, 2007
A Shoreline Dream | Hi-Dive | January 11, 2007
Tom Murphy
Blue Million MIles | Larimer Lounge | October 8, 2006
Blue Million MIles | Larimer Lounge | October 8, 2006
Tom Murphy
Bright Channel | Larimer Lounge | August 5, 2007
Bright Channel | Larimer Lounge | August 5, 2007
Tom Murphy
Candy Claws | Hi-Dive | Goldrush | September 16, 2011
Candy Claws | Hi-Dive | Goldrush | September 16, 2011
Tom Murphy
Cat-A-Tac | Larimer Lounge | August 5, 2007
Cat-A-Tac | Larimer Lounge | August 5, 2007
Tom Murphy
Dan Kaufman Superstar Eruption | Hi-Dive | July 23, 2009
Dan Kaufman Superstar Eruption | Hi-Dive | July 23, 2009
Tom Murphy
Emerald Siam | Eslinger Gallery | UMS | July 27, 2014
Emerald Siam | Eslinger Gallery | UMS | July 27, 2014
Tom Murphy
Eros and the Eschaton | Marquis Theater | September 25, 2015
Eros and the Eschaton | Marquis Theater | September 25, 2015
Tom Murphy
Eyes Caught Fire | The Rocket Room | November 21, 2009
Eyes Caught Fire | The Rocket Room | November 21, 2009
Tom Murphy
Fell | Larimer Lounge | August 23, 2007
Fell | Larimer Lounge | August 23, 2007
Tom Murphy
Fellow Citizens | Larimer Lounge | January 8, 2007
Fellow Citizens | Larimer Lounge | January 8, 2007
Tom Murphy
Flashlights | China Blue in Boise, ID | March 22, 2013
Flashlights | China Blue in Boise, ID | March 22, 2013
Tom Murphy
Force Publique | Larimer Lounge | November 11, 2012
Force Publique | Larimer Lounge | November 11, 2012
Tom Murphy
Gangcharger | Weather Center | October 21, 2010
Gangcharger | Weather Center | October 21, 2010
Tom Murphy
Good Housekeeping | Larimer Lounge | July 23, 2008
Good Housekeeping | Larimer Lounge | July 23, 2008
Tom Murphy
Hearts In Space | Larimer Lounge | August 22, 2010
Hearts In Space | Larimer Lounge | August 22, 2010
Tom Murphy
Hiraeth | Syntax Physic Opera | July 12, 2014
Hiraeth | Syntax Physic Opera | July 12, 2014
Tom Murphy
Juliet Mission | Larimer Lounge | October 29, 2009
Juliet Mission | Larimer Lounge | October 29, 2009
Tom Murphy
Kevin Costner Suicide Pact | Walnut Room | March 22, 2012
Kevin Costner Suicide Pact | Walnut Room | March 22, 2012
Tom Murphy
King Mob | The Meadowlark | February 4, 2011
King Mob | The Meadowlark | February 4, 2011
Tom Murphy
Le Divorce | Larimer Lounge | December 11, 2010
Le Divorce | Larimer Lounge | December 11, 2010
Tom Murphy
Lightlooms | The Skylark Lounge | UMS | July 22, 2012
Lightlooms | The Skylark Lounge | UMS | July 22, 2012
Tom Murphy
Moonspeed | Larimer Lounge | June 28, 2008
Moonspeed | Larimer Lounge | June 28, 2008
Tom Murphy
Morning Clouds | Bar Standard | Westword Music Showcase | June 23, 2012
Morning Clouds | Bar Standard | Westword Music Showcase | June 23, 2012
Tom Murphy
Nightingale (later Moccasin) | Hi-Dive | September 30, 2005
Nightingale (later Moccasin) | Hi-Dive | September 30, 2005
Tom Murphy
Oko Tygra | Syntax Physic Opera | July 12, 2014
Oko Tygra | Syntax Physic Opera | July 12, 2014
Tom Murphy
Orbiteer | The Meadowlark | February 5, 2010
Orbiteer | The Meadowlark | February 5, 2010
Tom Murphy
Overcasters | Hi-Dive | August 27, 2011
Overcasters | Hi-Dive | August 27, 2011
Tom Murphy
Palehorse/Palerider | Lost Lake | May 23, 2015
Palehorse/Palerider | Lost Lake | May 23, 2015
Tom Murphy
Plume Varia | Oriental Theater | March 7, 2015
Plume Varia | Oriental Theater | March 7, 2015
Tom Murphy
Sonnenblume | Larimer Lounge | October 23, 2008
Sonnenblume | Larimer Lounge | October 23, 2008
Tom Murphy
Sound of Ceres (see also Candy Claws) | Oriental Theater | March 7, 2015
Sound of Ceres (see also Candy Claws) | Oriental Theater | March 7, 2015
Tom Murphy
Space Team Electra | Gothic Theatre | April 26, 2001
Space Team Electra | Gothic Theatre | April 26, 2001
Tom Murphy
Spires | Hi-Dive | September 9, 2011
Spires | Hi-Dive | September 9, 2011
Tom Murphy
StaG | Walnut Room | March 22, 2012
StaG | Walnut Room | March 22, 2012
Tom Murphy
Sympathy F | Larimer Lounge | July 20, 2013
Sympathy F | Larimer Lounge | July 20, 2013
Tom Murphy
That Silver Shell | Carioca Café (aka Bar Bar) | November 5, 2013
That Silver Shell | Carioca Café (aka Bar Bar) | November 5, 2013
Tom Murphy
The Christines | Hi-Dive | August 27, 2011
The Christines | Hi-Dive | August 27, 2011
Tom Murphy
The Czars | Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom | March 22, 2001
The Czars | Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom | March 22, 2001
Tom Murphy
Twilight Garden | Casselman's Bar and Venue | February 9, 2013
Twilight Garden | Casselman's Bar and Venue | February 9, 2013
Tom Murphy
Treeverb | Hi-Dive | January 22, 2010
Treeverb | Hi-Dive | January 22, 2010
Tom Murphy

*Author's Note on the High Plains Underground Archive: In the late 1990s, I started going to local shows on a regular basis. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I didn't know there was such a thing as local music worth checking out. But I was drawn in after seeing a band called Rainbow Sugar (an all-female punk/hip-hop/experimental guitar-rock extravaganza) opening for Sleater-Kinney's first show in Colorado at rhe Fox Theatre in October 1998. Next, I learned about a show at the now-defunct Rebis Galleries. From there I went to the first Monkey Mania show, and there was no looking back.

Rainbow Sugar was the first local band I photographed at Herman's Hideaway in 1999. But it was in 2005, when I got my first digital camera, that my extensive photo archive started. In High Plains Underground Archive, I share a small fraction of the tens of thousands of my photos, focusing on specific venues, bands, time periods, movements and whatever else seems to make sense. The title of this series comes from the working title of my book on the history of underground music in Denver from 1975 to the present.


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