Best DIY Venue — Fort Collins 2012 | GNU: Experience Gallery | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.

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.

Regina Benson, who lives in the foothills above Golden, was among those evacuated in the face of an approaching wildfire last summer, and seeing the bright oranges glowing in the darkness of night inspired a new body of work. The centerpiece of Regina Benson: On Fire was "Passage," a curving pair of walls hung from the ceiling, made from cloth that has been dyed in the orange-to-black range of the natural tones associated with fire. Using an elaborate method she invented, Benson discharged the dyes over and over until she achieved her desired effects on the ready-made synthetic cloth panels, the edges of which had been burned to seal them. Walking through "Passage" was meant to convey to the viewer what it must be like to be in the middle of a fire — and even if the experience could only approximate that horror, it was nonetheless compelling and visually rich.

From cult classics to box-office blowouts, Keith Garcia makes sure that every film — even a dog — has its day. The program director at the Denver FilmCenter, he does exhaustive research, and he's willing to take a chance by booking movies that are unlikely to attract mainstream audiences. Garcia has put both the queer-advocate music documentary Who Took The Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour and the not-so-classic 1968 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton flick Boom! on the big screen, as well as Mean Girls, Nightmare on Elm Street and more. And he curates his weekend late-night series, The Watching Hour, with incredible care, giving obscure, campy, serious, big-budget and art-house films equal play while pairing them with parties, special events, costume contests and other audience-participatory fun.

While other punk film festivals feature such predictable fare as The Filth and the Fury and The Clash: Westway to the World, capitalizing on the bands and the stories everyone has already heard, Mid-Winter Punk Film Festival organizers Sarah Slater and Molly Zackary embraced the true DIY nature of punk rock and gave us something completely unexpected yet ultimately delightful. Offering films like Downtown 81, Kill All Redneck Pricks and Born Into Flames, this series presented gems that had slipped through the cracks of history, only to be located by two true believers willing to forgo a commercial audience in favor of attracting those truly interested in discovering something new. Oh, and it all went down at the best little record distro in the city, Growler.

Readers' Choice: Boulder International Film Festival

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