If androids were able to partake of and enjoy psychedelic drugs, that would be Shaggy Robot," says James Sharpe, den master of the avant-electro monthly theme night at 60 South. The new club -- formerly Zu Denver -- houses the indie event on the first Monday of each month in the Broadway Terrace neighborhood; the next Robotic encounter is slated for September 3. And while psychedelics may be optional, the synth pop avant-electronic psychedelic robot rock spun by DJs Quid and DeLuxe (Sharpe and Shaggy partner Shannon Kelly) inhabits its own zip code on the sonic postal diagram of the Rocky Mountains. Basement Jaxx, Yello, Add N to X, Grandaddy, Radiohead, Aphex Twin, David Bowie (in his electronic mode) and the Creatures are among the artists who have so far helped define the experience. With this fermenting gizmo juice oozing around the spacious club interior of 60 South, you might expect A.I.'s Gigolo Joe to show up in a flying car to download the set list.
"I've managed to find something I enjoy doing," Sharpe says of his newfound Shaggy Robot fun and his prior DJ gigs in Denver. "The trick is turning your hobby into something that can support you."
As an Air Force brat born in Las Vegas, the now-thirty-year-old Sharpe acquired a keen eye early on for hobbies that spike high on the groove-o-meter. His family's travels around the country and around the world gained him an appreciation for cosmopolitan threads and tunes as well, readily evidenced by his two-tone bleach job, tortoise-shell sunglasses and crisp duds. With crated records in hand and Hooligan pal John Reidy at his side, Sharpe first dipped into Denver's nightlife waters on May 1, 1996, with Quid. The Brit-pop event was the first of its kind for Denver; preceded only by the infamous Skunk Motel, it was also the first genuine hit for 13th Avenue's Snake Pit ("The Brit Pack," March 8). But Sharpe's interest in the concept he introduced to local nightlife has waned with time.
"I'm not so fascinated anymore [with Brit pop]," Sharpe says. "I mean, there's a Brit-pop night at the Snake Pit (Wednesday's Shag), and there's a Brit-pop night at 60 South (the new Lipgloss event). And you know what? That would have been really hot and topical around 1995, 1996, but it's half a decade later. It's great that there's a scene that appreciates that kind of thing, but at some point, it's going to become nostalgia.
"I love [the British band] Pulp, and I'm as excited for the new album as the next guy, but let's put 'Common People' to rest for a bit," Sharpe says, referring to the underground hit that jump-started Brit-pop fanaticism on American shores. "That was a brilliant song in its time, but it's been played to death in this town." Of course, Sharpe worked the concept for an extended period himself. After Quid closed at the Snake Pit in 1997, the young scenester moved to Portland, Oregon, for a year to soak up some West Coast ambience. He re-entered the local scene in 1999 and, with the help of his sister Julia, a bartender at Streets of London, launched a revamped Quid at the pint-y Colfax pub run by bona-fide Brits.
"The English are a little more reserved," Sharpe says of his U.K.-born bosses at Streets. "Except when they're drunk. They've given me a lot of opportunities: After deejaying for them during the millennium [New Year's Eve 1999], they sent me to London with a round-trip ticket." But despite that fresh stimulus and exposure to authentic Euro-sounds, Sharpe has quietly transitioned his once-British-only night into a more free-form affair. Although Quid continues as a club event every Thursday, it's not as Anglo-centric as it once was.
"I've been a bit regimented as a DJ in the past," he admits, "but it's a fantastic job that gives you a budget to reinvest and expand your library. Now I'm getting into my electronic-and-dance-music phase while trying to steer clear of that hands-in-the-air, diva-wailing stuff."
This fresh direction has led to the silicon-valley ranges where the shaggy robots graze. The robo-pop event kicked off last spring as part of an early effort to transform former lesbian hangout Zu into the gay-but-mixed hipster hangout that 60 South has become.
"I admit that what Shannon and I play is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think 'gay club,'" Sharpe says when queried about the notion that the gay scene has become predictable during the last decade. "Which is why I was happy that 60 South was willing to take a chance with us. With gay clubs, you think diva house music, and we just don't do that. Our divas, like Kraftwerk, Goldfrapp and Fisher Spooner, are electronic.
"We're in like the fifteenth wave of it now," he says of the electro-pop genre he champions. "Each wave is exciting, creating its own stars, and even if a band never managed a solid album -- maybe they just got out a good single or two -- I'm willing to play them. It might be something I picked up at Twist & Shout last week or something that came out ten, twenty years ago." This archaeological method of acquiring music has gained favor among Sharpe and his peers in recent years, as the Britney Spears/Justin Timberlake corporate behemoth squeezes indie sounds off the airwaves. "Shaggy Robot was born out of an appreciation of good underground music."
In Kelly, Sharpe seems to have found the perfect accomplice. "I went into Shaggy Robot with him in mind because he and I both have an appreciation for synth pop and other indie styles," Sharpe says. The two met at Streets of London and quickly made a musical and aesthetic connection; at the time, Kelly had a regular happy-hour gig at the Snake Pit. Sharpe refers to the Boulder Buffalo Exchange employee as a "rising star": Kelly deejays Remission on Radio 1190 and was recently featured in a national Volkswagen commercial (he plays the "sleeping guy" who wakes up with a face full of makeup).
"I think we could really pull a cool crowd in there," says Sharpe of the South Broadway bistro. "One that's maybe mid-twenties to early thirties, maybe a bit more sophisticated." The September installment of Shaggy Robot will feature a tribute to Bowie casualty Gary Numan, whose industry prestige and creative output have increased dramatically during the last five years. Kelly won't make the gig, because he'll be in Europe making a one-man film project (the dot-com generation's idea of a Renaissance man?), but if it goes down as well as August's Mr. Pac-Man gala, Sharpe has nothing to worry about.
"I've got such a sweet gig in Denver. The more sets I can pick up, the less tables I have to wait on," he says. And though he's still required to do time at Dixons Downtown Grill, Sharpe's beefing up his own resumé with his latest residency: He's begun spinning at Maddie's House of Mirrors, at 20th and Market streets in a club night tentatively called The Brothel Beat. He refers to the gig as "sexy pop songs and down-tempo electronica," though he acknowledges that his LoDo crowd is often composed of "drunk guys throwing up."
"I survived my twenties in better shape that a lot of my people in my age group," says Sharpe, "and in a lot better situation. Now I'm enjoying being an adult for the first time, and I really feel that my thirties are going to be my most creative years."
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