Brian Howe is making a big noise as a Denver DJ -- even if he lives in Loveland, a quiet backwater better known for its Valentine's Day postage seal than its thriving electronic scene.
Howe moved to northern Colorado from the Bay area a year ago. "I really just kind of came out here for a quieter life," he explains. "It wasn't my intent to get involved in the DJ club scene. But I got bored one day and went and did a guest spot at a club in Fort Collins. I guess there were a couple of other managers from other places there, so I started getting these phone calls for those places, and it led me to Denver, where I got a call from Rise. I didn't have much interest at first, because I live here in Loveland. But they were pretty persistent about having me come out there to check it out. I liked the club and the staff a lot. In fact, I think I liked the staff so much, that's really what kind of turned me on to the club itself. Then in February of last year, I started spinning, and it's been like family there ever since."
Relationships play a key role in Howe's most recent breakthrough, too. After he performed at last year's Winter Music Conference in Florida, he met a jock who wound up working with XM Radio and recommended Howe to the program director of BPM, the station's dance-music channel, for a weekly gig. "At first I wasn't sure if I really wanted to do it," he says. "I've done mix shows in the past, and they usually never pan out. It's a lot of free work without any real return. But XM was a lot different than that. So I went ahead and jumped on, and after the first show, I immediately started getting e-mails from people from all over the country and Canada, and even a lot of e-mails from people here in Denver who didn't realize that Denver still has a really good dance scene."
Given hip-hop's surging popularity in local clubs and the diminishing profile of the electronic scene over the past year -- which lost such noted icons as DJ Idiom, who stopped performing because of a hearing condition, and DJ Nutmeg, who moved to Hawaii -- it's easy to see how folks might get the impression that Denver's dance scene is all but toe-tagged. But the truth is, dance music is alive and well -- as Howe proves with his midnight-to-1 a.m. slot every Friday on Air 81, BPM's flagship on XM that "touches down in every major city from the East to the West," he explains. "And every time it touches down in a city, they select one DJ to represent the entire city and the entire area's club scene. And that DJ plays an hour mix set.
"So many big cities have these great reputations for dance music because of maybe one or two DJs who represented it properly," he goes on. "I thought, well, maybe this is my chance to do the right thing for Denver and put a good message out there, and maybe put us on the map and say, 'Hey, there's some really good dance music in the scene, and it's happening in Denver.'"
Even if a lot of the music that Howe plays comes from Europe.
"I do a lot of remix work in Frankfurt," he reveals. "It's really not that available in the U.S., but it's not out-there stuff; it's usually just remixes of songs that we've all heard -- everything from 'My Neck, My Back,' by Khia, to 50 Cent's 'In Da Club,' but in a way that's commercially remixed in a dance format, sort of like a Benny Benassi-style remix. I also play a lot of my own remixes that I do for record labels, that I keep in my catalogue, and I usually spin them in the club and put them in my mix shows. And, of course, the white labels. In the end, my prerequisite is that every single song has to have some sort of a familiar hook that everyone can identify with."
Howe certainly knows remixes, having reinterpreted music for Sony, Warner Bros., Universal and a number of indie imprints; he's also overseen remixes and produced original music for Oprah Winfrey, CSI, Extreme Home Makeover and the Fit TV network. And like any good DJ, of course, he knows his way around the decks. During his two decades in the game, he's held residencies at some of San Francisco's hottest clubs and guested at spaces such as Studio 54 in Las Vegas as well as a host of clubs across Europe. This past weekend, in fact, he returned from a European tour where he co-headlined with Darude.
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Weekends at Rise, Howe's playlists lean toward the Studio 54 aesthetic, a "dance party mega-mix," he says. "I came out here, and I really didn't have much interest in deejaying. I thought all the fun dance music was history; it was all hip-hop now.
"I have nothing against hip-hop, but there's just so much great music out there," he continues. "It just seemed like there was just one thing, one sound -- and that didn't seem right. There's just too much music. You've got music from the '70s, '80s, '90s. You've got artists that do everything from rock to funk to soul to filtered. And with the dance beat being at 120 bpm-plus, psychologically, it actually makes you feel better because the music increases your adrenaline. It's a scientific fact: Music at a higher bpm makes you happy; it makes you feel better. So I've always kind of leaned in that direction. It's really a multi-genre format of all styles of music, but blended and mixed together. I can go from Bon Jovi into Eric Prydz into AC/DC, but perfectly in the mix, with some sort of interesting beat content."
Howe hasn't tested this mix yet on his XM show, where he's played strictly commercial dance music since the gig started just over a month ago. But he's already found a fan base -- he's received at least a thousand e-mails from listeners, he says -- and last week, XM brass contacted him to discuss the prospect of doing a live broadcast at Rise that would reach over four million listeners.
And put Denver back on the electronic map.