The Sound and Fury
Steve Blakley has never attended a job interview. He's never owned a power suit, never riffled through those How to Answer the Right Questions and Land the Right Job books so familiar to many twentysomethings attempting to enter the job market. It's not that he relishes the trappings of slackerdom -- far from it. In fact, if the 26-year-old Blakley were to contribute a chapter to Deepak Chopra's latest, or any of the other recent missives that attempt to repackage wage slavery as spiritual salvation, it might include passages on the importance of a do-it-yourself work ethic, or self-employment, or recognizing a golden business opportunity. If he ever does need to present a resumé, it will probably include the following: drummer, professional snowboarder, rave promoter and president of a graphic design company. It might even mention that as DJ Fury, Blakley also occupies a special position as Denver's premier jungle DJ.
In the eight years he's been spinning, Blakley has gradually become the most in-demand DJ in and around Denver -- a scene that five years ago was meager at best. His series of Rewind and Reload jungle events, which pull in as many as 1,400 attendees with each installment, are known to jungle enthusiasts all over the world and have helped establish Denver and Boulder as the seat of one of the nation's most active rave cultures. Yet Blakley's first experience with music came not with turntables and dance mixes, but floor-punching East Coast hardcore. Early East Coast raves were almost completely populated by kids who had defected from the hardcore scene, and like his fellow future ravers, Blakley did his time as a punk-rocker.
More than ten years ago, he played drums for a band named Betrayed in Rochester, New York. After being sucked into the city's straight-edge scene at a very early age, he convinced his mom to let him take up drumming in addition to his piano playing. Although Betrayed was never a strictly straight-edge band, Blakley adopted the ethics of that movement -- no drugs, no smoking, no alcohol -- and has adhered to them ever since. With a perennially sober Blakley essentially running the band, Betrayed became part of the vibrant, local straight-edge scene and achieved minor success in New York, sharing stages with such big shots as Snapcase and Burn. The band's only recording -- a seven-inch on Torrid Records -- made it to most punk-rock record shops across the U.S. (The band never saw a dime from the recording. "The record came out of my mom's pocket," Blakley says. "We sent them all out and never saw any money. There's straight-edge morals for you.").
Just prior to the vinyl release, Blakley, then seventeen, relocated to Colorado and dissolved the band. "We would have gotten a lot further if I hadn't moved away," he says. "None of the other guys really had the motivation to keep it going." The move -- and Colorado's famous purple mountains majesty -- allowed Blakley to concentrate on another of his passions: snowboarding, something he'd also been seriously involved in since his early teens. At fourteen, Blakley had worked unofficially (being too young for official certification) as a snowboard instructor at Swain Ski Area in upstate New York. At 600 vertical feet, Swain isn't even an actual mountain, but it was one of the only places that allowed snowboarders on the trails at the time. "By the time I was old enough to instruct," he says, "I had already gotten my first sponsorship. I got it when I was fourteen." The sponsorship was with Barfoot, one of the original snowboard companies along with Burton and Sims, and it led Blakley to spend the next few years competing in contests such as the U.S. Snowboarding Open. At one contest, Blakley was paired with Ross Rebegliatti, the boarder who was eliminated from the Winter Olympics for smoking weed, to compete in the slalom. "He's like this 'racer guy,' all decked out in racing gear, and I'm in big ol' baggy pants with a shitty freestyle board. I'm like, 'I'm gonna beat your ass! I'm gonna whup you!' He was all serious, and I was joking about it. Well, he finished like thirty seconds ahead of me," he says.
Despite his standing as a professional snowboarder, times were tight when Blakley moved to Colorado. "When I first moved out here, there weren't many people making much money off snowboarding," he says. "Barfoot was paying me $300 a month, and that was cool back then." The now-defunct Division-23 Snowboards was started up that year by a former Barfoot executive, and Blakley left Barfoot to join the new company's roster. His salary went up, and he was given his first pro-model snowboard. Two years later he was making a good living off snowboarding. So he did what most people do when they've reached some success in their chosen profession: He switched careers.
"I decided to be a rave promoter and lose all the money I was making off snowboarding," he explains. Blakley's boarding had sent him to expos all over the world -- in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Canada. Along the way he attended his first rave, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1991. Blakley's interest in the scene had been piqued by his friends back in New York, who'd begun to attend DJ Frankie Bones's infamous "Storm" raves in Brooklyn. Though that first experience was less than inspirational, Blakley began going to every rave he heard about in Denver. "Just being the idiot I am," he says, "I can't just be satisfied participating as a spectator. I had to decide to be a DJ and bought turntables right away."
Still snowboarding for money, Blakley adopted the name DJ Fury and submerged himself in the hardcore techno scene. While in Los Angeles for a trade show, he bought an almost entirely full crate of records at once. "I didn't even know what the hell I was buying," he says. "I have a stack of shitty old house records because I didn't know what they were. All I wanted was the hard techno stuff, breakbeat techno, and I picked up anything that looked cool." The first rave he played was held in a little space on Santa Fe; it was also one of the first times that then-L.A.-based Derrick Daisey, aka local DJ Vitamin D, played in Denver. The two formed a casual partnership and later released one of the very first locally produced DJ mix CDs, Vitamin D vs. Fury, and a string of mix tapes.
As hardcore techno gradually evolved into jungle (with faster breakbeats and deeper, harder bass), Blakley became the first real jungle DJ in Denver. He founded his own production company, LowerWorld Productions, and eventually teamed with Jason Bills and Come Together Productions ("Two's Company," January 6), with whom he's had a string of successes -- the "Skylab" series, in particular -- and some devastating failures (most notably, the 1994 event "Sands of Time," which ended prematurely at the, um, request of the Denver Police Department). "'Sands of Time' knocked about three years of financial stability out of my life," says Blakley. "I had just gotten my board royalties, a check from Division-23 for $9,000, and I lost it all that night. It took me years to recover from that night." The debacle didn't end the pair's collaboration, however, and the "Skylab" events have consistently been some of the largest raves in Denver each year.
Yet as Blakley's profile as a DJ went up, his interest in snowboarding declined like so many snowcapped mountains. He eventually left Division-23 for Ignition Snowboards, a maneuver he describes as "my sellout move. It was a bad move. I was starting to get washed up, and I wanted to move to a company that was going to pay me a lot of money. Ignition just needed someone with a halfway decent name."
When all of his contracts eventually ran out, Blakley didn't bother pursuing others; his focus had completely shifted to deejaying and being a rave promoter. He had resident DJ slots with Together and LowerWorld, gigs around the country and, most important, a name. But the nature of a DJ's work can lend itself to rather dry stretches of downtime. So Blakley -- not adept at the art of simply lounging -- embarked on yet another venture. After his dad bought him a Macintosh computer for Christmas in 1997, Blakley began teaching himself graphic design, and with partner Brandon Kindred, aka DJ Beekay, he began publishing a rave-oriented zine called Static. Though the zine survived only three issues, it led Blakley to a gig designing all of Together's rave fliers. On average, Together produces 20,000 full-color, glossy fliers for each rave it promotes; as a result, Blakley's work quickly made its way around Denver. Soon he was designing for more and more rave promoters, as well as local hip-hop artists Dez and B-Rock. Faced with eighteen-hour work days, he named his new business The Firm, acquired an office space in LoDo and took on two employees: Daisey and Chuck Crouse. The Firm has since designed fliers for raves in various parts of the U.S. and Toronto, as well as tape and CD covers for DJs. The Snake Pit, La Rumba and nobody in particular presents are among some of its steady local clients. Daisey and Crouse have been instrumental in expanding the company's scope to include Web-site design for Together (www.togetherproductions.com), the Snake Pit (www.snakepitdenver.com) and Natural Records (www.naturalrecords.com), among others.
Blakley's DJ and design work keep him almost completely away from the slopes nowadays, a fact that he's not lamenting. Because as the rave scene in Denver grows and grows, and Blakley continues to pump jungle beats into the hearts of rave-going kids in baggy jeans and club-hopping scenesters, he knows that much of it is by his design.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.