DJ Ty Tek sits in the back room of Casa Del Soul, the modest yet packed retailer that hawks albums, clubwear and other gear to aspiring Denver spinners. The scene is part vinyl hot spot, part mini-Warhol Factory for the turntable set: A booming house track plays noisily in the background of the small space next to Club Vinyl on Broadway as fellow DJ "Little" Mike Chapman moves in and out of the room, and the store's information minister, Nathan Uhlier, hunches over a nearby computer. With cropped dark hair, an olive complexion and a vaguely Slavic appearance courtesy of a pair of large, luminous eyes, Ty Tek stands out as a cool and collected figure among the Casa clutter, qualities that characterize his role within the local DJ realm.
"Right now, in this day and age, it's really hard for kids to get noticed as DJs because there are so many of them," Tek says. "I got in at the tail end of that last wave of DJs in Denver. I'm not saying people don't have a chance right now, but there's this whole crowd trying to get in. It's harder to get noticed when there's all that competition."
Tek is a part of a second wave of Denver DJs, a sophomore crew heavily influenced by the dance-music revolution that gestated in Detroit and Chicago and then came of age in London, Manchester and Liverpool. Fueled by Rock City techno, Windy City boom and the beat-laden acid house of the U.K., the global wave began to move through clubs in just about every major metropolis more than a decade ago. Denver joined in sometime around 1991, just a couple of years after the neo-disco brands made their presence felt in the rave fields of England and the ominous black-box clubs of New York and Los Angeles.
DJ Ty Tek
9 p.m. Saturdays
Vinyl, 1082 Broadway
1 a.m. Thursdays
Enigma, 1446 Larimer Street
Casa Del Soul
1 a.m. Fridays
Locally, first-string DJs like Hipp-E, Craig C, Jonas Temple and Vitamin D and promotion outfits like Together and Step On jumped on top of this future-forward soundscape; later, Skunk and Miss Audrey explored the measurements of the new genre's potential as a scene. Ty Tek, Little Mike, Jeremy and Nutmeg, among others, formed a rear guard, essentially filling up the Mile High City's DJ rosters to a saturation point that has left little room for a third wave.
But, hey, that's why they build new clubs.
Tek doesn't have much reason to worry about getting squeezed out, however. He maintains juicy residencies at both Vinyl and Enigma (formerly Rezodanc), does video work for local outfit Rocket Pictures and holds a coveted coolster job at Casa Del Soul. And his background is as interesting as his tech-house mixing skills. He was born Tyrone Maximillian Tekavec in 1979, the child of immigrants from Slovenia, a Western-leaning Catholic state that emerged from the Yugoslav nations' early-'90s collapse in better shape than neighboring countries such as Croatia and Bosnia. He and his grandparents migrated to the States when he was a boy.
"Pueblo is where my grandparents moved," Ty says, "and then my dad was married down there. I have four sisters and two brothers. I lived there for eighteen years."
Rather than draw influence from politics or the Eastern European folk traditions of his homeland, Tek developed musical interests that fell within the somber electronica so popular with small-town kids looking for a lifestyle usually found in larger cities. Skinny Puppy, TKK and Coil were among his adolescent faves, tastes inspired by an uncle who worked as a sound engineer and had his own band in the '80s. "It was a local industrial band, and he had a lot of influence on me. I was really young when I started playing around with keyboards, like eight or nine years old.
"When I started getting older, like high-school age, I bought my first set of turntables. I was the only guy in Pueblo who had them at the time. I didn't know where to buy records, so I had to order them. I taught myself. I got one of my first gigs at Pueblo's Evolution nightclub at the age of sixteen. I was one of the first DJs there, so I was able to learn as I played."
Around the time his mixing skills began to flourish, Tek got raver's fever and started checking out Denver's after-hours parties, a scene still in formation at the time. "I got my mix tapes together and started giving them out to promoters up here," he says. "They probably weren't the best tapes, but I was determined to do it."
An early rave promotional unit, Odyssey Productions, became a primary target for Tek's analog juvenilia. When he came of age, he made the official leap to the big city.
"Two months after I graduated from high school, in 1997, I moved up to Denver to attend film-and-video school at CIA." The Colorado Institute of Art has nurtured many would-be artists of one persuasion or another, and Tek continues to integrate his visual and sonic talents through soundtrack work and his own recordings. You've probably heard some of his work on Emergency Vets, part of the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet schedule. His artistic bent is also on display in a nicely composed Euro train photo featured on the cover of his latest, trancey mix CD, The Ride.
Tek jumped right into urban life by shaking it up in a warehouse space downtown that doubled as a homeless shelter. Danny Bledsoe, a friend made during Tek's early rave sessions, hooked him up with his first gigs, spinning house after hours in the back room of the now-defunct Club Synergy. This early ambition -- which some might describe as precociousness -- helps explain why Tek, now 22, is one of the most well-established members of Denver's club culture, a status often reserved for people older than he is. But there were early fumblings, particularly when he tried to settle on an acceptable stage name.
"My name was Furon for a couple of months, but it just didn't fly," he says. "I wanted to go by my original name, Ty Tekavec, so I just cut it off, and it works quite well."
Like many burgeoning DJs, Tek also developed something of a vinyl addiction, hanging out at outfits like Soulflower and the short-lived Synaptic Records. After filling up his crates, he started working on his dance card, befriending the architects of the local club and rave scenes. In 1998, he was introduced to Kekoa Franconi, the brother of superstar DJ Keoki, who was a student at Regis University at the time. The meeting eventually led to Tek's signature gig.
"I was going out a lot, meeting a lot of different industry people," he says. "Koa told me he was starting a night called Playscool Thursdays at Tracks 2000, and that's how everything got started for me." When they launched in 1998, Playscool Thursdays -- all-ages weekly events created by the Superstar Productions team -- got off to a slow start. "No one showed up the first couple of months," Tek recalls. "Maybe twenty people would show up, but we just kept promoting it. All of a sudden, it just caught on and became huge. Tracks 2000 will always be my most memorable gig. It's an era of my life that I will never forget."
Playscool Thursdays eventually drew about 1300 clubgoers a week, a level it maintained until Tracks 2000 closed late last year. Playing alongside DJs like Shahzad and Little Mike, Tek crafted preliminary sets that were powered more by testosterone than by a deep and well-rounded vinyl crate. But the young spinner displayed a talent that was clearly more advanced than that of his newcomer peers, thanks to his tech-heavy background. Over time, he developed his own style behind the tables; his affiliation with Playscool increased his name recognition and profit potential, both at home and abroad. Tek has recently built up a decent out-of-state gigging circuit, with regular stops in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Canada. He attributes his popularity in a couple of Canadian cities to a thumbs-up review that one of his mix CDs received in Urb Magazine: "I started playing up in Edmonton a lot, just off that 1999 mix." Who needs a soul-stifling telemarketing day job when you've got the ample fields of mid-Canadian nightlife waiting for you?
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Currently, Tek has more on his agenda than conquering k.d. lang's old stamping grounds. Though he's found individual success as a DJ, he is also part of the Casa Del Soul spinning collective and record label, which produces and distributes mix CDs and vinyl releases to clubs and DJs all over the world. The crew also operates the Denver store owned by Nathan Uhlier, better known to clubbers as DJ Sensé. Little Mike and Brian "DJ Catt" Hull fill out the collective's roster, with assists from DJs Foxx and Wyatt Earp. So far, Casa Del Soul Records has ten mostly tech-house releases, not including the mates' various recordings on national and international labels. And though its output has yet to strike it big with a Billboard dance-chart smash or a Madonna remix, the crew has had a good year, snagging an invitation to the Florida Winter Music Conference in March, one of the dance-music industry's biggest annual events.
"For the first time, all of us at Casa Del Soul are going down there together," Tek says. "We all have studios at home, so we collaborate and do our own solo material on the Casa Del Soul record label out of the store."
The local unit hasn't exactly branded itself on a global scale, but the talent is there to make it happen if the group can keep it together. The recent incorporation of a Little Mike track and a Ty Tek track on international DJ Lee Burridge's Nu-Breed Global Underground compilation is a significant step, as is Tek and Mike's recent slot opening for bigwig Brian "BT" Transeau.
"When I first started playing, I imagined myself as this big rave DJ flying to raves all over the country," Tek says. "But now I'm focused more on the clubs. I've been here in Denver almost five years, and it's been great. It's my home base, and I can make it to both coasts for work when I need to."