One-upping Steve Albini ain't easy. The world-famous sound engineer has recorded everyone from the Pixies and Nirvana to his own legendary bands Big Black and Shellac. In 2004, he also recorded Bright Channel's eponymous debut at his Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago. The result, though, wasn't as stellar as it could have been. While the songs and performances were brilliant, there seemed to be too much of a cold distance between the disc and its listener that blunted the impact of its droning, skyward-fixated sound. The trio's sophomore effort, Self-Propelled, is a vast improvement, at once heavier, breathier, more celestial and more intimate than its predecessor. And the kicker? Singer/guitarist Jeff Suthers produced the whole thing in his basement studio, Flight Approved. Let's hear it for do-it-yourself.
Much more than just DJs, Friends in Stereo takes traditional deejaying a step further by incorporating live instrumentation, real-time effects and live vocals into a style that can be described as groovy performance art. Friends Colin Chapman, Reggie Lafaye and vocalist Orange Peel Moses have each played an integral part in the Denver dance-music scene's development and maturation for more than a decade, and while it's recently become fashionable to abandon pure electronic music in favor of dance rock like LCD Soundsystem, Friends in Stereo has remained true to its roots and to pure electronic music. With sharp breakbeats, electro riffs and Orange Peel's vocals in the mix, the collective just may be the best thing to happen to Denver dance music since the advent of turntables.
Club Vinyl
Vinyl remains the answer to Denver's Saturday-night blues. With three floors of music, from hip-hop to '80s retro to the best in techno and house, most anybody can find something to like in the impressive SoCo club. As a stop on nearly every major electronic act's tour, Vinyl plays host to the world's biggest DJs on a weekly basis. Bad Boy Bill, Sasha, Dieselboy and Richie Hawtin are all regular faces in the main DJ booth; boosted by the club's killer system, they've never sounded better. And the rooftop patio, with its city views, is one of the best spots in town.
La Rumba
Eric Gruneisen
Overheard recently at Lipgloss: "Hey, bro, you gotta get down here, fast! Guess who's on the dance floor right now? That hot chick!" Yes, that hot chick -- plus about 300 of her best friends -- are in attendance at La Rumba every Friday night. And the guys are just as dolled up as the gals, resulting in a veritable breeder feeding frenzy. Of course, resident DJs Michael Trundle and Tyler Jacobsen urge the whole orgy on with their patented mix of Brit pop, dance punk, garage rock, glam and soul. There's absolutely nothing gay-unfriendly about Lipgloss. Just be prepared: The hetero hookup factor is off the meter.
J.R.'s Bar and Grill
Capitol Hill's beautiful boys (and a few straights) all come down to JR's on Thursdays for High Energy Night, knowing that they'll get hooked up -- even if it's only with fifty-cent Buds and half-price cocktails. Bears, femmes and twinks all happily co-habitate here, which makes for excellent people-watching and a pretty good shot at scoring, no matter your type. Sure beats the Donald and Must-See TV.
La Rumba
Eric Gruneisen
In the restaurant world, you're considered a success if you still have a standing wait after being in business for a certain amount of time. That said, Lipgloss is the club equivalent of the French Laundry. Founded in 2001 by the Denver 3 (now the Denver 2 since Tim Cook has parted ways with Lipgloss co-founders Michael Trundle and Tyler Jacobson), the 'Gloss remains the hottest brand going. Five years in, there's still a line down the block leading to La Rumba, Lipgloss's home. Except now that line starts forming almost as soon as the doors open. Weekly listening parties and continually diverse playlists have made Lipgloss the choice destination for Denver's hipsters and rock's royalty; everyone from Franz Ferdinand to Peter Hook has stopped by. This kiss should be on your lips.
Somewhere along the line, hip-hop became all about style over substance. People forgot about music and the culture. Thankfully, conscious hip-hop has slowly forced its way to the forefront, courtesy of acts like the Roots, Common and Talib Kweli, among others -- artists you'd traditionally never hear in a club. Until Good Fridays, that is. The night does its best to subvert the status quo, as evidenced by its slogan: "No groupies. No bottle service. No bullshit." Overseen by resident Radio Bum DJ Style N. Fashion and his young proteges, DJ Sounds Supreme and Massiv, Fridays celebrates real hip-hop. Thank God it's Fridays.
hi-dive
To keep the momentum of monthly club night going, you have to have a strong identity, a tireless imagination and, of course, the love of the loyal. Rockstars Are Dead! is blessed with all three. But it's not by the grace of God that founder Peter Black (aka DJ Aztec of the legendary So What!) sustained RAD!'s infrequent schedule and high energy level for over a year. Instead, he's an indefatigable self-promoter who plays the industry game at least as well as he spins. And it's paid off: After a promising start at the Walnut Room, Black and his cohorts the Polarity Twins packed up their crates and moved to the more simpatico clime of the hi-dive. There they've been able to expand their multimedia palate, bringing aboard more live bands, guest DJs, art and fashion to supplement the main reason the faithful keep coming back -- to get their asses plastered to the dance floor.
Bender's Tavern
Who is the man known as DJ Wesley Wayne? From practically out of nowhere, he's stormed Denver's indie club scene with guerrilla guest sets and oddball residencies like Sputnik's What We Do Is Secret. But none of that prepared anyone for Night of the Living Shred, a Thursday-night blowout at Bender's that Wayne helms alongside his Pirate Sound System partner, DJ Parris. Spinning everything from hair metal and vintage punk to electro and hip-hop -- plus a few surprises that will leave your jaw under the table -- the duo pulls off wired, schizophonic mixes that would make DJ Shadow proud. And maybe even a little scared.

BEST NON-DANCE-CLUB NIGHT THAT YOU DANCE TO ANYWAY

Babydoll Skylark Lounge

Name any decade in recent memory, and it's been raped by a million retro-frenzied DJs. But James Sharp -- otherwise known as DJ Quid, host of the Skylark's Wednesday-night party, Babydoll -- has a knack for seeing culture in a non-linear fashion. Rather than stodgily rehashing pop's '50s and '60s golden age, he's tapped into its invisible corollary, one that extends from Buddy Holly to Morrissey, from the Ronettes to the Raveonettes. Most of this music, though, wasn't built to dance to; predictably, Babydoll is more of a chill-out than a boogie fever. But Sharp's picks are so infectious that, come midnight, there are always a few enraptured hipsters shakin' it to Nancy Sinatra or the Cramps. That's the mark of timeless music -- and a great DJ.

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