How Catherine Nguyen Le Helped Shape Denver's Dance Music Scene

Catherine Nguyen Le recently stepped down as executive director of Beta Nightclub.EXPAND
Catherine Nguyen Le recently stepped down as executive director of Beta Nightclub.
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If you’ve enjoyed any part of the recent dance-music boom in Denver, you owe some thanks to Catherine Nguyen Le. Until recently, she was the executive director of Beta Nightclub.

Her absence (she left to spend more time with her family) will have a profound impact on both Beta and the dance-music community. “She handled operations, general-manager duties and pretty much everything — every aspect of marketing, booking, and even dealing with neighborhood committees,” says Beta owner Brad Roulier. “In 2008, when we opened Beta, she and [Mike McCray] were the key components. She had her hands in everything.”

Le and her husband, John, had their first child a couple of years ago, and since then, she has been attempting to juggle being a mom with booking artists, managing Beta, negotiating contracts and everything else that happened to fall in her lap in her role as the fairy godmother of Denver’s dance scene.

“There has been a real shift in my life,” Le says. “That includes having a son, and that shift has made me realize that my first baby, which is Beta, is something that needed my undivided attention for it to work.”

So she finally decided to resign last month. Lance Dunlap, the club’s marketing and logistics manager, will be stepping into her role.
Le is a first-generation American born to two Vietnamese refugees. Her parents fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975; her older brother was born in a refugee camp. Making a home in Denver, her parents opened a restaurant called the Vietnamese Inn at South Broadway and Arapahoe Road. Le worked there as a youngster, and although she didn’t necessarily appreciate it at the time, she believes the experience instilled an entrepreneurial spirit that was the impetus for her success at Beta.

“My parents would have me come to the restaurant — total child labor — and I would be washing dishes,” she recalls. She wanted to be at home watching television, and she remembers being scolded by her mother when she would pray that it would be a slow night. “‘What are you talking about?’ she would ask me. ‘We need to put food on the table!’”

Her living situation, she says, was one of “a typical immigrant story,” with twelve people living in a three-bedroom house. There were four generations living under one roof: her great-grandmother, grandparents, parents and sibling, plus three cousins her parents had taken in. There were room dividers in the basement to separate bed space.

Le attended St. Mary’s Academy in Englewood for high school before moving on to the University of Colorado Boulder. During her freshman year in college, she met Ha Hau, then a small-time promoter.

A few months later, she was introduced to John, who would go on to found promotion company Triad Dragons with Hau. “John and I met at the end of finals.... We spent our first 48 hours together and really hit it off,” says Le. About a month later the two started dating, and they eventually got married.

In those early days, before EDM became the huge cultural phenomenon it is today, the couple and Hau would produce events wherever they could. They would drive down to Pueblo, where they held the original Caffeine parties, or out past Limon, where a property owner would allow them to host shows. Whether it was handing out fliers for shows, picking up artists or other operational requirements for event production, Le was doing it all.

She graduated in 2003 and began interning with a company that produced ads for movie houses. She attributes her success in promotions to the experience she gained working in the corporate world with clients like DreamWorks. “When they would launch a movie, we would do everything to get the hype going,” she says.

After that, she moved to a position in Ticketmaster’s marketing department — her first real-world corporate job in the music industry. Hau had just purchased the rights to Rave on the Rocks — which happened to be Le’s first client at the company — from KTCL.

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Between 2003 and 2006, Le bounced around Denver, working in various hospitality and entertainment positions. She sold ads for Out Front Colorado, helped open Craig Nassi’s now-defunct Moda Ristorante and Lounge in the Beauvallon, and did a short stint at Francois Saffieddine’s Lotus nightclub.

Shortly after marrying John in 2006, Le was approached by Roulier to be part of a new business venture. Aside from their mutual interest in dance music, Roulier had purchased advertising from Le when she worked at Out Front, as the LGBT community was a prime audience for the shows he was producing.

“He said, ‘I have a position I need to fill, and you’ll be at the forefront of dance music,” she recalls. At first she served as more of an assistant than an integral part of the industry, and she wondered if she’d be making the most of her degree in her new job.

“That was my only hesitation. Truth be told, I didn’t hesitate. I was working for Brad Roulier. It was his party that I first went to,” she says. Her first show was one of Roulier’s early Come Together events — Episode 2, to be exact — during the summer of 1999.

Between 2006 and 2007, she began helping to book talent at the Church and Club Vinyl. “I knew from the get-go that Brad was intending on starting his own club. When he hired me, the notion was that he would take over the Church. It just didn’t materialize that way,” she says.
Instead, he opened Beta Nightclub in 2008. The first Beta show was on Friday, March 7, of that year and featured Kaskade, Sharam and Benny Benassi.

“It flopped,” Le said. “We were so heartbroken that it did not garner the attendance we intended.” Still, the pieces were in place to build something remarkable.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better person to work with,” Roulier says of Le. “She didn’t think she knew everything — and if she didn’t, she tried to know about it.”

The tagline for Beta has always been “club culture evolving,” and the venue has consistently been equal to that claim. Within three years of opening, Beta earned the coveted number-one spot on DJ Mag’s Top 100 Clubs list.

Having spent roughly sixteen years in the dance scene, Le has seen it all. She’s watched as various subgenres have cycled in popularity and crowds have changed. And now she’s ready for something new.

Initially, she imagined working full-time while her parents watched her son, but she soon realized that her efforts would be better served shaping her child’s life than shaping the tastes of music fans. Still, she’s not ruling out a return.

“Over the last sixteen years in the industry, the fundamentals [have stayed] the same. After the [EDM] bubble bursts, if it ever does, I think the fundamentals will remain: providing an excellent product to a community willing to pay for it and support it,” Le says. Besides, this stuff is in her blood: “When I get up at 6 a.m. for my bike rides, I put on Eric Prydz. That’s what indicates to me that I’m not done with it.”

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