Click, click, click...boom. While you were sleeping last week, a big part of the local music scene morphed into a face on a milk carton -- digitally speaking, at least. Just like that. No Amber Alert. No forwarding address. No explanation. Nothing.
Those who clicked on to www.DenverLocalMusicScene.com -- as about 3,000 people have been doing every day -- suddenly discovered that the music had died. And not just the music, but the unmoderated message board that was the real draw on a site already comprehensive with bios, show listings and MP3 downloads from hundreds of provincial acts. The board had offered local pundits a place to post unedited, stream-of-consciousness rants about the scene, which were often mean-spirited and sometimes unintentionally funny. Earlier this month, for example, some rocket scientist going by the moniker e.w. took me to task with this: "I am not a fan of Dave Herrera, especially his since he only took a 9th grade composition as a prerequisite for his job." Um, okay.
But everybody who went to the DLMS site a week ago Monday to look for their daily dose of dirt was greeted instead by bold black type on an otherwise blank white screen. "Directory Listing Denied," it said, over the line "This Virtual Directory does not allow contents to be listed."
That's Web-god geek-speak for "Listen up, jackass, the smackdown is taking a dirtnap until further notice. No anonymous shit-talking about the Mile High music scene today, chief. We're closed."
And all across Cowtown, from an Englewood basement to a cubicle farm in LoDo to a mailroom in Capitol Hill, disillusioned Netizens were wringing their hands, pacing the floor, chain-smoking like Patty and Selma and mumbling like crazed drug fiends whose connection had just dried up.
Meanwhile, nearly 800 miles away, in Sin City, no one was more surprised by DLMS's sudden disappearance than Josh Churnick, the site's Las Vegas-based Web master and former vice president of operations for Jam Music, the company that owns the domain. He discovered that the site had gone dark the same way the rest of us did: He tried to log on.
When Churnick -- who'd been updating the site for free since he was laid off late this summer -- called Jam president Jeff Higginbotham to find out what the hell had happened, Higginbotham blamed Jam's corporate sugar daddy, Billboard Live, for cutting funding for the site. And not just Denver's site, but five more local-music sites. Until things can be sorted out, Higginbotham told Churnick, only the flagship Las Vegas site will remain.
But here's the weird thing, according to Churnick: All of the sites had been hosted for free through NowStream.com, and the Billboard financing just covered payroll for Jam Music -- which employs only Higginbotham. (Neither Higginbotham nor Billboard Live's president, Mitch Chait, has responded to my requests for interviews.)
Too bad Jam didn't share Churnick's loyalty to Denver scenesters. "I've been involved for so long -- I know so many people and have so many contacts and have so many friends and consider the scene my scene -- that I just couldn't let it sit there and not do anything," says Churnick. "It was the dream job, so it's not exactly like I could just walk up and leave and feel good about it. It's not like I was just a cashier at Radio Shack. I was actually doing something that I really cared about and loved. So it's not something I could just walk away from and not care."
Churnick is currently employed by Billboard Live, which may help explain why Higginbotham didn't give him any warning about the DLMS closing. But Churnick didn't just wake up one day and decide to go over to the dark side. He's worked for Billboard in one capacity or another since 1997 and helped open both of its ill-conceived venues -- one on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, in the space now occupied by the Key Club, and another in Miami's South Beach. And right now, he's helping develop the company's next online venture, BillboardLive.com, which Churnick describes as a substantial music portal similar to iTunes that will offer MP3 downloads and CD distribution and will have local components similar to DLMS "on steroids." Those sites are slated to launch on January 1. (After a bit of Googling, I discovered that the URL for the Colorado site will most likely be Colorado.BillboardLive.com.)
Churnick doesn't know when -- or even if -- the DLMS site will come back online. But in the meantime, and with the help of Al Brown (formerly of Flex Luther) and Jenn Padgett (Rubber Planet's Web designer), he's getting ready to launch another site, TheDenverMessageBoard.com, which should satiate those users now jonesing for their daily fix.
DIY? Because they can: Taking a page straight out of the Samples playbook, bassist Chris Pearson and his compadres in the Czars are employing some unorthodox measures to finance their next album.
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The as-yet-untitled full-length, a followup to 2001's brilliant The Ugly People Vs. the Beautiful People, was supposed to have been financed by the group's label, Bella Union. According to Pearson, though, when the Czars advised the imprint -- founded by the Cocteau Twins' Simone Raymonde and bandmate Robin Guthrie -- how much they needed to finish the record, the label said good luck; try again; come up with something else.
"We sent an e-mail back saying, 'All right, you tell us how much you can afford, and we'll tell you if we can get the album done,'" says Pearson. "That was about six weeks ago, and we have not heard anything from them since."
But the Czars aren't just waiting around for Bella Union to step up. Last week, bandmembers sold original pieces of art in hopes of generating some loot -- sort of like a bake sale without the carbohydrates. And here's where things are getting really innovative: The group will also give fans a chance to appear on its new record -- in name, at least. For a $10 donation, you'll be thanked in the liner notes; $20 will buy kudos and a copy of the album; $50 will garner a thank-you, a signed copy of the album and a T-shirt. And for die-hard fans with plenty of dead presidents, $500 will buy not only gratitude but put your name on the Czars' guest list for life, while $1,000 will earn you your own private Czars show.
Pearson says the act hopes to generate $10,000 toward recording costs with these efforts. And one gracious booster from the Great White North -- Vancouver, Canada, to you and me, eh! -- has already committed to giving the band a $3,000 interest-free loan. Now, that's what I call fanatical.