Whenever drum-and-bass is mentioned in Denver, it doesn't take long for the name Despise to come up. That's the DJ name of Maggie Balas, a constant presence at Denver drum-and-bass events and also head of Recon, a fourteen-year-old promotion company and booking agency working in the city.
Drum-and-bass – an inspiration for dubstep, with roots in ’90s jungle music – is a major EDM genre. And although electronic music is constantly shifting, no matter what comes into vogue, drum-and-bass thrives.
Balas likes how "eclectic and complex" drum-and-bass can be; she notes that it's "always evolving and reinventing itself. So many different types of sounds and energies are represented within the genre. It has such a deep-rooted history while still sounding fresh and futuristic.”
In addition to booking important drum-and-bass acts such as the Upbeats, Black Sun Empire and Alix Perez, Balas works and studies as a scientist.
“I’m a graduate student currently working on my Ph.D. in molecular biology,” she says. “It's challenging to find a balance at times, as the hours I put into my lab research far exceed a nine-to-five schedule. But somehow I manage to find the time for both [music and science], which basically means I’m busy and stressed out most of the time.”
Having both music and science in her life creates a perfect whole, she says.
“I absolutely feel doing both creative and scientific work help and influence each other,” she says. “Parts of the music side can be technical at times, and the science side can benefit greatly from creative, out-of-the-box ideas, so in the end, having both kinds of thinking in my life makes for an overall balanced perspective, which I think is healthy for everyone. Having the creative music outlet is what really keeps me sane, both in science and in life.”
Doing all this as a woman and a person of color hardly fazes Balas, despite the fact that she operates in largely male- and white-dominated zones in the EDM scene and the science world.
“I believe the music scene here is supportive of women and minorities, though it’s not really something I think about, to be honest,” she told Westword. “Talent, dedication and passion should always shine through in the end, no matter the gender or ethnicity.”
This year, Balas was asked to play the Westword Music Showcase for the first time, which surprised her.
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“I’m quite shocked that I was chosen and voted for. I feel extremely honored and grateful, but very surprised. I’m so far from a popular DJ. I don’t play popular music, and I don’t feel like I have a huge fan base, so how this happened is perplexing. Needless to say, I’m super-stoked about it!”
So are we!
Catch Maggie Balas at the Westword Music Showcase this Saturday, June 24. For the full Showcase lineup and tickets, go to Westword Music Showcase online. Follow Despise and Recon on Soundcloud, YouTube, Twitter, Beatport and Facebook.