For years, drunk crust punks gathered on the roof of Blast-O-Mat and watched the Denver skyline light up during thunderstorms or on the Fourth of July, a holiday even the anarchist crowd couldn’t help but enjoy from up there.
Jonny and Jo, two of the world’s sweetest crust punks and part of the crew that operated Blast-O-Mat, greeted visitors to the grimy industrial space turned de facto concert venue and makeshift home off Federal Boulevard. Jonny, Jo, their friends and strangers spent countless nights there smoking around fire pits, passing around acoustic guitars, sweating through noisy shows and hatching long-shot plans for making the world a better place.
More than a decade later, though Jonny and Jo are gone and the punks who used to inhabit Blast-O-Mat have largely abandoned the scene altogether, the DIY music and arts venue still exists, just under a different name.
Five years ago, the space became the Seventh Circle Music Collective. Nobody lives there anymore, but the DIY scene keeps running shows out of the garage, more now than ever. Seventh Circle will celebrate its fifth anniversary this week, showcasing roughly 25 bands over three days.
Aaron Saye, a skinny, friendly guy with a ponytail, is one of the few people still around who has been involved in the space since its early days. He and an ever-shifting crew of volunteers maintain and operate Seventh Circle.
Saye started showing up to what was then Blast-O-Mat with his video camera in 2006, not long after it opened.
Although the 21-year-old looked more like a hippie than the punks who haunted the space, he became fast friends with the Blast-O-Mat crew. Sure, a few of the crusty anarchists raised an eyebrow, wondering why some creep was recording all the shows. After all, the FBI had terrorized their community for years, arresting environmental activists, raiding community houses and snooping on all stripes of do-gooders. Trusting outsiders didn’t come easy for this crowd.
But Saye eventually forged friendships across all the punk scenes that inhabited Blast-O-Mat: street, crust, anarcho, folk and beyond, as well as devotees of heavier music. He had a pure love for the DIY community, and the more he hung around the space, the more friends he made.
Saye started running the soundboard and booking shows at the space, even as one generation after another of punks moved in and out. He was there when Jonny and Jo ran things, then others, and eventually Ethan McCarthy, who has now gone big-time with the black-metal act Primitive Man.
Back then, shows were messy. Kids got way too drunk. The scene was romantic but bleak. Eventually, McCarthy had to back out. When he decided to shutter the space in 2012, a friend of Saye’s thought maybe the two of them could take over the lease.
Saye posted a request on social media for people to show up to a community meeting and help him start a new DIY space in the shell of the old one.
“Everybody in the community came out,” he recalls.
Saye says he never intended to become the project’s leader, but he did, in part because he’s terrible at delegating and takes on too much work.
The new collective began booking local acts and the occasional touring band. While veteran punks missed Blast-O-Mat too much to show up to Seventh Circle, younger kids started coming to shows and making it their home away from home, even forming their own acts.
“Honestly, the biggest and coolest part of Seventh Circle is seeing so many teenage bands play their first shows here,” Saye says.
He remembers the first big act the collective booked. He got a call from the management of the legacy punk band Agent Orange, which was looking to set up a gig. One catch: Saye had 36 hours to pull it off.
Agent Orange attracted an army of teenage punks to the venue. For many, it was their first time at a DIY space. After meeting at that concert, some of those kids formed bands of their own and made Seventh Circle their hub.
“The Rotten Blue Menace grew out of that show,” Saye says. That band, which honed its chops in the underground scene, has since played venues as large as the Gothic Theatre. “If that Agent Orange show hadn’t happened, that might not have happened,” Saye speculates.
Over the years the venue has seen its share of big acts. Saye rattles off some of his favorites: Defiance, Tiger Jaw, Total Chaos and D.I. But Seventh Circle has also hosted little-known groups, some that keep performing in obscurity and others that died before they ever got off the ground.
Nothing would be possible at Seventh Circle without its mighty volunteer crew, which counts roughly 200 people, 45 of whom are active, notes Saye. That the venue steadily throws five shows a week — often more than the Gothic, Ogden or Summit — proves the volunteers are loyal.
Since transitioning from Blast-O-Mat into Seventh Circle, the space has risen aboveground. Saye updates permits with the city. That served the venue well when the city shut down DIY spaces Rhinoceropolis and Glob for code violations after Oakland’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire sparked a nationwide panic about safety in underground venues. (The fire department gave the okay to Seventh Circle.) The collective pays music-licensing fees to performing-rights agencies so their scouts don’t bust the DIY collective when some teenage band plays a cover.
The five-year anniversary rager starts on the date Seventh Circle threw its first show back in 2012: September 22. As with other concerts the venue has thrown, all of the bands playing have Seventh Circle volunteers in them, a testament to the collective’s desire to build community.
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Saye wants to make sure everybody in Denver knows this volunteer-run, all-ages space is for them — as long as they’re not Nazis, jerks or unable to follow a handful of common-sense rules.
Whether people want to come to shows, volunteer, book bands or play the space, it’s open, he says, doling out the venue’s email, firstname.lastname@example.org, to anyone who asks.
“I wish we had more people that were more available,” he says. “We’d love to do seven nights a week again.”
Seventh Circle Five-Year Anniversary, September 22-24, Seventh Circle Music Collective, 2935 West Seventh Avenue, donations accepted.