Most working musicians have, at one point or another, fantasized about the day when they sign the dotted line of a recording contract and promptly get on with the business of becoming international superstars. Yet those involved in the world of underground electronic dance music are more likely to view the elusive recording contract with a more restrained enthusiasm -- after all, by their own definition, "underground" artists aren't likely to give more mainstream acts a run for their sales dollar. For them, inking a deal is more likely to pay off in the long-term: through national exposure that might lead to a national buzz, which might eventually lead to national clout in the clubs and rave halls of the world. A signing can also do wonders for the scene that is home to the signee -- by putting it on that coveted and exclusive map of cities that give birth to innovative artists. And while it may still be a while before fans of the genre equate Denver with the radical happenings in coastal cities like Miami, New York or L.A., those involved in the scene have something to rave about with the recent addition of local DJ crew the Mile High Club to the talent roster of San Francisco electronica label Om Records.
Since the early Nineties, Denver's active underground dance rave scene has often relied on outside talent to add a star element to its events. Promoters such as Together, Lowerworld and Roofless have spent the better part of the decade bringing international stars like Sasha and Digweed, Mickey Finn and Frankie Bones to the city, amassing crowds as large as 5,000 people. But the city has yet to produce an artist or a sound it can claim as its own. The Mile High Club, which boasts Derrick Daisey (DJ Vitamin D), Ben Pound and Sean Biddle as its founding members, hopes to change all of that. With a new EP released on Om, the Club is making a very solid effort to become Denver's first nationally recognized electronica crew.
"Denver has always had this weird hodgepodge of different styles. You can't identify it the way you can with Chicago house or Miami breaks or L.A. trance," Pound says, adding that the band's choice of monikers was a conscious effort to up Denver's dance cache. "Depending on how this Om deal works out, it's about time that maybe our sound could start to develop and people could start to identify it with Denver."
The word "Om" may mean little to the non-electronica-initiated; for most people, it probably conjures a familiar Buddhist meditation mantra. But to consumers and makers of dance music, it's an increasingly common part of the raver's vernacular. One of the U.S.'s more established dance labels, Om is best known for the popular Mushroom Jazz mix-CD series from DJ Mark Farina and has a reputation for discovering new talent like the Hell's Kitchen DJ team of Ming & FS ("Cooking Up Beats in Hell's Kitchen," October 7). The label aggressively promotes its artists, distributing domestically and overseas. When the Mile High Club released its self-titled EP with Om on November 9, it joined a short list of highbrow Om artists that includes URB magazine publisher Raymond Roker, who recently released a drum-and-bass mix CD on the label. Apparently, Om is pleased with the first fruit of the Mile High deal: The label has already asked the trio to do a followup and contribute a track or two to some upcoming compilations.
It's been a long time coming for the crew, which has been spinning together for the past five years and has a collective twenty-plus years of DJ experience under the belt of its baggy jeans. Biddle has been making electronic music since he was sixteen. Most of his early projects were essentially Depeche Mode ripoffs that were showcased at weekend house parties while he was attending high school. It was when he moved to Denver at age nineteen that Biddle first discovered the rave scene and slowly began to immerse himself in that world. It eventually became his primary focus and culminated in a partnership with Pound (the two still frequently perform live together under the name "Technicolor") that eventually grew to include Daisey.
Pound started producing music during his freshman year at CU. His earliest efforts were, in his words, "bad-sounding pseudo-dance tracks" made on the school's equipment because he didn't have his own. He began listening to as many different styles of electronic music as he could and learned the ropes by trying to imitate them. He took to the turntables shortly after his early attempts at production. His first gigs were house parties where, he says, "I got beer dumped on me for playing techno and trance instead of hip-hop." In 1998 Pound established his own record label, Funkless Music; the future of that label depends on what happens with the Mile High/Om partnership.
Of the three DJs, Daisey has had the longest and most prolific career to date. Under the name Vitamin D, Daisey began working in Los Angeles in 1990, and like most DJs, got his start playing after-hours parties in and around the city. His first real exposure came from an appearance at a rave called "What?" in 1991. Shortly thereafter, he began producing his own mix tapes and was able to gain a substantial number of bookings by passing them out to promoters and clubs. He made one of the very first all-DJ mix CDs on the market in 1992 and was part of a larger CD compilation titled LA Hardcore, a release that saw wide distribution in most major record stores. His first out-of-town gig was for Together Productions (later Come Together Productions) in Denver. Daisey moved here permanently in 1995 and swiftly became a very prominent member of Denver's underground dance community. Today he and his partner and girlfriend, Miss Audrey, are predictable fixtures at most rave events in town, selling mix tapes (he's made 75 to date) and assorted rave toys under the name "F@#?in' Mix Tapes." Daisey also sells mix tapes and CDs over the Internet at www.djmixtapes.com and works as a resident DJ for clubs like the Church, Synergy and Soma.
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It was in 1995 that the three recognized kindred spirits in one another and began to seriously consider producing their own music, rather than simply being DJs for hire. Daisey founded Daisey Age Records and the tiny label's first release, "The Lift," did better than they expected it to. The Games of Life EP followed in 1996 and was eventually incorporated into the U.S. rave circuit and spun by club luminaries such as DJ Dan and Donald Glaude. The record brought the trio its first taste of true nationwide exposure -- but as with Pound's Funkless endeavor, the act's current success with Om could mean a welcome farewell to the upstart Daisey Age. And that's fine by Daisey: Despite his relative success as an indie operator, he concedes that in the long run, it's "more desirable to work for an established label that's willing to get behind its artists rather than handling everything yourself. A label like Om stays true on every level and works with the artist to establish a name. Major record labels like Sony aren't digging too deep into underground dance music right now. Most artists aren't evolving into the larger-scale moneymakers like Fatboy Slim or the Chemical Brothers."
Biddle agrees. "Certain artists are gaining notoriety within the scene, but they aren't getting the dues they should be getting," he says.
As for Denver's status as a comparatively small fish in the huge pond of electronic dance music, the Mile High Club sees the market as full of potential. Truly, as any survey of the city's dance-music offerings will reveal, Denver's problem isn't a lack of talent. Local artists Craig C and Dealer have made good names for themselves in the house-music world, and their work has been featured on several of the more established U.S. house labels. In addition, Terraform Records has recently inked a deal with Astralwerks (the U.S. home of Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers). What could be preventing Denver from stepping into that strobing rave limelight, says Pound, is a communication breakdown between producers. "Not a lot of them are in contact with each other," he explains. "The people doing it know of each other, but they don't necessarily communicate."
Daisey, Pound and Biddle hope that the success of the Mile High Club will have a trickle-down effect on the local electronica scene, perhaps initiating more of a collaborative attitude or simply inspiring excitement within its ranks. Maybe then the phrase "Mile High Club," in electronica circles at least, can connote something more meaningful than sex at climbing altitudes.