When it comes to the Denver club scene, the Eighties are in. Expensive venues such as Polyester's and Lucky Star are treating expanding crowds to a diet laden with plenty of the Human League and the Cure, and nightspots associated with modern rock or current dance music, including Tracks 2000, the Church and Synergy, have jumped on the bandwagon as well, adding Eighties events or slotting vintage sets into their back rooms. The best regular Eighties night in town, though, takes place at an even more unlikely location--the Snake Pit, Denver's underground club leader--and stars Garth Geisler, aka DJ Garth, a 21-year-old bottle-blond disc jockey who'd never spun a set in public before last year.
"She-Bop," the Pit's regular Tuesday bash, is Geisler's baby, and part of the reason it works so well is his undisguised love for the smashes of the previous decade. "I think the Eighties were a golden age for pop music," he says. "It was about the whole Reagan era, where everybody wanted to have fun and not worry about things so much." Furthermore, he points out, Eighties electro-sounds generally feature resonant singers and the kind of lyrics that are exceedingly rare in today's electronica. "When I listen to a New Order song or a Pet Shop Boys song, I can relate to how the group felt when they wrote it--and I can picture the moment in time when they created it. It makes me feel like I can connect to the band."
He's not alone. Large audiences are rediscovering older genres, including Forties swing, Sixties garage and Seventies disco. But Eighties-based retro and its redheaded stepchild, goth, have struck equally deep chords with both thirtyish nostalgia seekers and prosperous Nineties youth. Geisler doesn't feel much of a kinship with members of the former group, who tend to congregate in lower downtown. "Those LoDo clubs are packed with an older crowd, and they are there to drink," he claims, adding, "To this day, I'd rather go to an all-ages club, because those kids are there for the music, not to get drunk or find the best drink specials. They are there because they want to dance."
Although Geisler eventually became a club kid, he was introduced to Eighties faves in a considerably less hip environment: "I remember all of this retro music from the skating rink when I was a little kid. I loved it." The picture changed a few years later; according to him, "I was influenced by other kids and started to think that Eighties music sucked. I went to high school in the mid-Nineties, and I was sucked up into all of that angry rock that sprang up." But he subsequently came to his senses. "When I started going to clubs and hearing retro, it changed my whole attitude about a lot of things," he says. "I seriously think it made me a happier person to listen to upbeat music rather than music that was all about 'life sucks.'"
By the time he was fifteen, Geisler was a regular at Ground Zero, a now-defunct Boulder space ("I would sneak in on my friend's sixteen-year-old ID," he explains), and in the years that followed, he began to fantasize about helping put on the show rather than simply enjoying it. "I always had a really good time in clubs, and I thought it would be cool if I was the one spinning the records and deciding what music was playing--and making the crowd jump up and down."
Thanks to friendships that developed between him and a pair of professional spinners--onetime Ground Zero resident Mike Rich and DJ Stan, who's currently ensconced at Lucky Star--Geisler learned the rudiments of deejaying. The knowledge he gained convinced him to invest in equipment. "I ended up maxing out my credit card buying one turntable," he says, "and the other I got by trading in an old keyboard amp and a sampler." As for his mixer, "it's a crappy Radio Shack deal. But it's one of my most prized possessions, because it started out as Mike Rich's, who passed it down to DJ Stan, who passed it down to me."
These connections helped Geisler skip over the unsightly jobs most beginner jocks are forced to take and move directly to the big leagues: He debuted at the Snake Pit a year ago, when he was not even old enough to purchase a beer. "She-Bop," named for a quintessential pop nugget by Cyndi Lauper, caught on soon thereafter, attracting bohemian types who see no contradiction between owning Orbital and Lauryn Hill CDs and knowing all the words to "Holiday" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Geisler has kept their loyalty by helping them to celebrate the pop soul that lurks beneath the sneer of Nineties chic. "I don't have a very good night unless I feel like I made at least 99 percent of the people have a really good time," he says. To that end, he plays up audience participation in ways that would make most dance-music DJs shudder. "I always see how the crowd is reacting to what I'm playing. And with retro, I have to take requests into account. I try to do the best I can with getting requests in there while staying with a general set list and what I think will keep the night going."
This balancing act can be a difficult one. "The crowd at the Snake Pit is unpredictable," Geisler says. "One week I can play rap for an hour and the dance floor will be just packed, and the next week I can play two rap songs and clear the floor." A rock or new-wave set can have the same effect--and the arrival of hardcore gothers can necessitate a shift in strategy. "Sometimes I'll get a little darker if I see they're in the crowd," he confirms.
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Still, Geisler doesn't spend his nights wishing he could play more recent offerings. Indeed, techno culture in general leaves him decidedly cold. "I might find myself at a club where they're playing house music, but I don't have a really good time," he says. "A lot of people go to raves and house parties to escape from their everyday lives, and to be honest, a lot of that is about drugs. For me, that's not where it's at, because I don't drink or do drugs." The grooves aren't his style, either: "Personally, I'm not that interested in trance and house, because just plain beats don't really connect with me."
Other Denver clubs have taken notice of Geisler's back-to-the-basics approach. In fact, Lucky Star (previously the I-Beam) briefly usurped the "She-Bop" moniker to plug its own Eighties night, much to DJ Garth's justifiable annoyance. As for Tracks 2000, it is playing Eighties music Wednesdays in its back room in an effort to fill the vacuum left by a Club Proteus party that ended with the venue's recent demise--and the management there has successfully wooed Geisler to participate. "Tracks is definitely the biggest club I've ever spun in," gushes Geisler, "and I'm definitely looking forward to it."
Despite this new gig, Geisler doesn't have delusions of grandeur. "The reason I deejay is to have a good time and let people have a lot of fun," he says. "And if I ever find myself doing it for the money, I want to quit that day. I can't say I mind being paid to DJ, but I don't want it to be something I have to do." His voice becomes firm as he notes, "I do this because I'm in love with the music."
"She-Bop," with DJ Garth and DJ Tim. 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Snake Pit, 608 East 13th Avenue, $2 after 10 p.m., 303-831-1234.