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An Inside Look at Echo Beds' DIY Midwest Tour: Part One

In October 2014, Denver-based industrial/avant-garde band Echo Beds embarked on a tour of the American Midwest. Without a booking agent — working instead with friends and friends of friends — members Keith Curts and Tom Nelsen were able to put together a resoundingly successful tour that paid for itself. But the real reward came in connecting with like-minded musicians from the central portion of the United States and tapping into the rich, new underground music world that has been brewing for the past several years. It was a significant experience for both Echo Beds and the crowds who saw the band, often on the advice of people like Benjamin Jones, an old friend of Curts and Nelsen’s and the charismatic singer and guitarist for Minneapolis-based band Funeral and the Twilight. Jones has forged bonds with musicians across the country during tours with his own projects, helping to establish a creative community far beyond the bounds of his home town.

Curts and Nelsen have built something similar. They started out by putting together shows in Denver, bringing like-minded people in at this early stage of what promises to be an exciting new period for the American underground music scene.

When Echo Beds booked its tour, Curts and Nelsen asked me to come along to witness and possibly document the experience. As a freelance writer, my work is fairly portable, and I was able to put together the appropriate funds to pay my own way. Beyond that, it was my pleasure to get to travel with people like Curts and Nelsen. We all knew there would be discomfort along the way — sleeping on couches and floors, enduring long drives — but the adventure of getting to experience things you can’t at home has a strong allure. And for my trouble, I got to see once-in-a-lifetime performances and discovered some of the most interesting and inspiring DIY spaces out there.

What follows are some highlights from the Echo Beds fall 2014 tour. You'll find more elsewhere on this site soon. 

Monday, October 20, Denver: The tour kicked off at Mutiny Information Cafe with a show featuring Echo Beds and CP-208, Primitive Man, Sandworm and the Body. Primitive Man has been making a name for itself in the metal world, thanks in part to a recent appearance at the Netherlands’ Roadburn Festival. But singer/guitarist Ethan McCarthy has been paving the underground-touring-circuit road for years with real integrity.

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A cross-country network of musicians was visible even at this hometown show. The Body is originally from Providence, Rhode Island, and its musicians are part of the group keeping the touring circuit alive, by making both interesting music and the sacrifices necessary to be able to tour regularly.
Tuesday, October 21, Kansas City, Missouri:Through Jones, Echo Beds landed a show at a DIY space called Negative Space, in a part of town called the West Bottoms. It’s an essentially abandoned part of Kansas City; you don’t really see police cars or much activity at all, just blocks of abandoned or semi-abandoned brick buildings in a formerly industrial part of town. It’s reminiscent of early-’90s Denver, particularly the place where the now-long-gone 20th Street Viaduct led out of downtown.

The building that Negative Space partly occupies was built in the 1800s and bears an old Pabst mosaic. In the early twentieth century, we were told, it was a club for people who practiced bestiality. These days, it’s a place that some art students took over to throw art and music shows. In that, it’s similar to Denver’s Rhinoceropolis.

Negative Space is a special place where good things can happen, where the setting is as interesting as the art being made and seen there. There’s no sense of impending gentrification, as there are no houses nearby. It feels like certain places that used to exist in Denver, where creative people could take advantage of relatively low rents to create a space in which to do something outside of the purview of more established or commercial venues. Negative Space seems like a hub for people who appreciate something off the beaten path.

The trip to our next stop — Iowa City, Iowa — wasn’t long, so we were able to spend some time in Kansas City eating at a good vegan-friendly restaurant, though no one on the tour was vegan. And Stephen Proski of Human Traffic took us to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, with its fantastic outdoor sculptures and a glass maze so disorienting that a few of us bumped into the walls.

Wednesday, October 22, Iowa City:Iowa City is lucky to have one Joe Milik as a resident. A world traveler and veteran of underground music, Milik was known by bands everywhere we went. The guy is a one-person cornucopia of musical and DIY cultural knowledge, and he’s personable, to boot. Like Jones, Milik was not only well respected, but also connected in unexpected ways. Listening to him talk about music — as well as local politics — was extremely enlightening.

When we first got to town, we went to a house called Dog Mansion, where we met with Milik and his band, Errors, which is kind of a grindcore act but is really too far outside the lines for that designation. The show, in the basement of a house off the main strip of Iowa City, was well attended. But someone called the police, and before Errors could finish, the show had to be shut down. It was during midterms in the college town, so you can hardly blame people.

Fortunately, Iowa City has several alternate DIY venues around (unlike Denver), and the rest of the show was soon moved a block and a half away, to the basement of Milik’s house — a “venue” space formerly known as Butt Fuck Egypt but now called Jiggly Room. It was there that Echo Beds and a local post-punk/jangle-rock band called Xerox got to finish out the night.

Driving from town to town in the Midwest made me appreciate how far Denver really is from any other large city where a truly active music scene might exist. The morning after the Iowa City show, we had time to see one of the local attractions: the somewhat mysterious Black Angel statue in Oakland Cemetery, where deer wandered in to feed, only moderately wary of human presence. And then we moved on to Chicago, which was only a short drive away.

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