Neal Samples has put out music under multiple names for years with an abundance that most people would never bother to explore, much less indulge. His Cabaret Voltaire-esque Tollund Men took his lo-fi, electro-post-punk/performance-art inclinations to another level when he began performing the music live with the aid of friend Daniel Bouse. Last fall, Samples combined that cold, dark, evocative music with his absurdist, self-deprecating sense of humor and produced a music video for his cover of the classic Q. Lazzarus song "Goodbye Horses." Most people know that song from the Married to the Mob soundtrack or, more likely, The Silence of the Lambs. Re-creating the scene in which Buffalo Bill dances to the song for his own video, Samples didn't go the Full Monty, but it was disturbing and hilarious enough for most people.

Miners Alley Playhouse

When you're doing a show about Maria Callas giving a master class, it helps if there's a genuine diva around to play the role, and for this Miners Alley Playhouse production of Master Class, director Robert Kramer scored a coup when he cast local mezzo-soprano Marcia Ragonetti — even though she didn't get to sing very much. But watching Ragonetti explain technique for the very talented performers who did sing, you understood that she knew exactly what she was talking about. And when she demonstrated at one point just how to make an entrance, it was mesmerizing — and pure diva. RuPaul, eat your heart out.

Aaron Miller moved to Denver from the Western Slope a few years back and became part of the local musical community through some old friends. He established a small imprint called Clam Records that released tapes by friends including TekTone. But his real goal was to create a distro and label to support music that he believed in, one that was so far outside the mainstream, oftentimes so hermetic in its approach and distribution, that it could never be co-opted. The result was Bleak Environment, and Miller has since booked the first Iceage show in Denver, in addition to spreading the word about acts as obscure and inspiring as Raspberry Bulbs and Nuit Noir. Proof that big impact need not be big-scale.

Fort Collins has had its own vibrant art and musical community going back decades. Its existence has resulted in various DIY venue experiments over the years, as well as the scene's semi-legendary progressive shows. For those, one band would play in a certain location, and the next band on the bill would play in a second location whose whereabouts were only revealed to those who were at the first one, as a way of keeping the shows from getting shut down. GNU: Experience Gallery is one of the latest and most active sites of that tradition. Not only does the GNU host the work of some of the most interesting artists and musicians connected to Fort Collins, but it opens its arms to regional talent as well. Kris Smith and Brandton Manshell clearly have a significant institution on their hands.

In 2004, DJ Vajra earned a Best of Denver nod as Best Hip-Hop DJ/Turntablist. Back then, we described the DJ, otherwise known as Chris Karns, as an unassuming record clerk from Boulder. "All DJs fear Vajra," one of his peers said at the time. And in fact, even back then a number of people considered him not just the best DJ in Denver, but one of the best in the world. And now, with his win at the 2011 DMC Championship in London, the freshly minted champion has officially been crowned the best DJ in the world.

Not only is Gypdahip an incredible producer — he can sample, chop, screw and do pretty much everything you can imagine to a beat — but he's one of the top DJs in the city. You can find him wrecking shop on everything from underground hip-hop you've forgotten about (Mos Def's "Taxi") to the rarest Dilla sample you've never heard to supreme cuts you don't expect to hear in the club. We've seen him throw on the Roots' famous drum track, "Din Da Da," and come from behind the decks to slay the dance floor, freestyle on the mike and ultimately bring the house down with his sense of style and esoteric selection.

Beta

When the dubstep craze started taking over Denver, there were so many random bass-heavy weeklies that we almost lost count. But then the Sub.mission Dubstep crew teamed up with Beta Nightclub and Reload Productions' drum-and-bass squad to present a night, and the result was Bassic Fridays. Designed to cater to Denver's true bass-heads, the dub-strong night brings in only the highest talent from the low-end sound spectrum, giving Beta's Funktion-One system a chance to really show what it can do when pushed to the limits. Together with Sub.mission and Reload, Beta has set the bar high for a weekly night dedicated to bass music — in this case, one that shines above the rest.

While conceptual art can be really ponderous, it can also be really witty — at times downright funny — and super-smart. That was the case with Joseph Coniff: This Is What It's Like, a show at Rule Gallery that was the art-world version of a smirk. Coniff, a recent Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design grad, had his tongue firmly in cheek when he conjured up this collection of oddball pieces. "Listen," a white square with a set of earphones that conveyed no sound whatsoever, referred to the silent concert that John Cage created — or didn't create. And there were other pieces that didn't work even though they looked like they would, turning them into exemplars and lampoons of new media at the same time. These non-functional devices were supplemented by digitally altered photos and a video of Coniff painting a monochrome, with the painting itself hung next to the monitor. All in all, it was a spectacular debut for an up-and-coming young artist.

You don't need pages and pages to tell a good story. In fact, a great story can be related in just six words. Fast Forward Press constantly proves this by publishing flash novels and annual anthologies devoted to literature that falls under the 1,000-word mark. From six-worders like "Seven cock-rings later, she kissed me," by Michael Flatt, to longer, more involved pieces, the Denver-based press consistently publishes quality flash fiction for those of us who tend to nod off in the middle of Dickensian descriptions.

Best Established Female MC to Inspire Aspiring Female MCs

Bianca Mikahn

In a town full of boys with ruffian rhymes, Bianca Mikahn has made a name for herself as a breakout MC. An award-winning poet on her own, Mikahn first attracted attention as a member of the live hip-hop act Paradox and has continued to progress with the release of Left Fist Evolution, her debut solo album. A lecturer and teacher of hip-hop, Mikahn empowers girls to stand tall with their lyrics amid other traditional roles. Poet and straight rhyme slayer, she has held her own on the same stage as the city's most vibrant rappers and left more than a few in her dust.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of