Photos: 1010 Workshop Cultivates After-Hours Scene in Denver

On a cold Friday night in January, on a corner in the Baker neighborhood near the highway and train tracks, sits an unassuming venue for a music festival. The location of the 1010 Workshop — around the corner from the original location of legendary center of local DIY music Monkey Mania Vol. 2 — retains the gritty industrial quality that's been a hallmark of Baker for decades. It's here that James McElwee has been throwing a monthly after-hours party that recently showcased some of the best in current underground music. 

On January 15, 1010 hosted a mini-festival called Radical Waves Vol. 1, put together by longtime underground-music promoter Don White, who also plays in the experimental bands the Terminals and the Kappa Cell. The night's schedule of sets was split into two sections, with one group of bands playing before midnight, the second after midnight. However, like many events featuring more than seven musical acts in one night, the tentative schedule posted online pushed deeper into the night, with 8-bit prog-avant-garde musician Michael Zucker performing at 9 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. Still, somehow before 1 a.m., Dr. Zilog, Sonic Vomit, Deer Creek and Of Earth and Sun all managed to perform. The festival's final band played until well after 4 a.m.

There were wristbands and ID checks to get in, of course, but once you were inside, the atmosphere felt like Denver in the '90s, when fans would go to a not-so-reputable part of town to find the music that didn't fit in with the mainstream. There were a couple of differences: 1010's back yard featured heaters for guests who wanted to warm up, smoke a cigarette or take a break from the close quarters of the basement venue. In addition, the sound system was high-quality and could handle, for example, the low end of Solypsis's menacing, industrial dub as well as the dark, lush soundscapes of Mirror Fears and the broad sonic spectrum of Mondo Obscura's ambient compositions. Church Fire's forays into darker industrial territory felt at home alongside the other acts on the bill.

The transformation of the small basement room into a den of challenging-yet-accessible music was made complete by the performance of Orchidz3ro and 75ohms. The room has concrete walls and floors, but those were transformed by screens and fascinating images projected onto them throughout the sets, including video-game animation, unusual '80s B-movie scenes, abstract colors and textures. The room would not fit hundreds of people, but that's the appeal: It caters to an after-hours audience and those who appreciate an intimate environment.

Whether show-goers stayed until the end or only caught certain segments of the mini-festival, the overall feeling was that of a secret show happening close to the city center. McElwee is cultivating a space that fills a niche in current Denver nightlife and draws on some of the Mile High City's history of DIY venue shows. 1010 Workshop may be on to something — even a glimpse into the future of Denver's underground culture.