Don't look for a fancy sign or neon lights outside. Right off of West Colfax, west of Casa Bonita, Hyperspace arcade is a nondescript building with virtually no outside adornment. It does not have regular hours of operation for you to drop by and play some games. The proprietor repairs video games and pinball machines, and doesn't open her place to the public regularly, just for certain events. In this case, it was the Legendary Pink Dots-esque Drones, Los Angeles-based deep house/industrial/minimal synth act DISIR and Denver industrial legends Blackcell.
Inside the door to the left is the change machine and to the right the cashier, where donations were taken for the touring band, and where one could buy refreshments that seemed to be the sort of thing you'd be able to buy at an arcade in the early to mid-'80s: soda, coffee, water, Twix. The grey carpet, reminiscent of schools and offices of that early '80s era, dampened the sound a bit when the bands played, while adding an air of authenticity to the old school arcade vibe.
Cataloging all the games available to play could take an entire article, but one that left this writer taken aback, having just seen the excellent Video Games: The Movie documentary, was a functioning Space Wars machine. Not an emulator or a port, but the actual machine. Pong may have been the first game people could have in a home system, but Space Wars was one of the first video games ever made available for people outside of the university setting to play. And there it was and functioning. I hadn't personally seen the game or played it since around 1982 when walking home from middle school in Aurora, Colorado and stopping in to the Galaxy arcade near Galena and Colfax near where Woolworths used to be.
But there it was at Hyperspace, along with the unusual Qix, a game where you used a "Fast Draw" and a "Slow Draw" function to create boxes on the screen before a line you're drawing is touched by a "spark." It was a tough game before and I avoided it this time but was fascinated to see it because hardly anyone remembers that game. There is no nostalgia for it like there was with Donkey Kong or Pac-Man.
Projector Pete provided visuals for the night with a powerful projector, casting various textures, images and colors on to the performers. This made the set from the dark psychedelic band Drones seem even more disorienting and haunting and intense than usual. Dave Colberg already gives off an air of the demented, but when it looked like he and Patrick Urn were swimming in deep nebula swarms of hue and sparks it synched up with the active video games going on around the room.
Before the show and between sets, master DJs Cozmos Mudwulf and Hepster Pat treated us to a diverse set of music that wasn't just some tired parade of industrial and experimental electronic hits, but rather was some relatively obscure choices that fit the mood as well as some choice hip-hop that one might have heard at a hipper arcade back in the day. Knowing how to fit all that together takes some knowledge and taste and both of those guys are never short of either.
Probably everyone that showed up ended up playing some games. There were two working Tempest machines and I personally ended up playing that a couple of times and this fighting game from 1994 called Dark Stalkers but was soundly beat by CP-208's Darren Kulback who used the "Frankenstein" character to beat all comers. When his ex-Hot White bandmate Kevin Wesley got on and played Frankenstein he was unbeatable too. Apparently not all video game characters are created equally. For the introductory/demo screens, at the end, there was an anti-drug message that was clearly the product of its time as if that or a urinal mat with similar messaging would get people to rethink their life choices. Fortunately, such clumsy, misguided, social engineering messages were missing from all the older games. And we were spared the hilarious old "This is your brain on drugs" campaign ads.
DISIR may have been playing with some other dark, industrial-ish bands and its music fit in with that aesthetic but its sounds were also in line with ambient and deep house music with the low end vibrating with a gentle caress of beats.
Blackcell ended the night near one a.m. Two songs in, something went haywire with the power from the stage area and a song that had a lot of momentum ended only slightly early but in perfect time with the end of a line of beats. Eric Isbell handled it like a champ and threw his hands in the air triumphantly and had the whole show ended there it would have been perfect, albeit not idea in terms of finishing the set. But the band got things back up and running and its brooding but exhilarating music resounded into the night.
Bias: Been a big fan of Blackcell for years and Drones, a new band, is a favorite. But vintage video games that are well-maintained and the potential for creating unusual visuals out of that milieu? Pretty much priceless.
Random Detail: Ran into Matt Hunzeker of Of Earth and Sun, Ben Krajenke of Shroud and formerly Munly & The Lupercalians, Chris Westin of Voices Of and Chase Dobson at the show.
By the Way: The next show at Hyperspace is Tronce, a trance show on February 21 with Coral, Skyrocker and Mama Jedi.
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS • - Seven of Denver's Most Underrated Bands - Wolf Eyes' John Olson Talks About the Importance of Music Communities - Why DIY Venues Are Vital Are Vital to the Health of the Entire Music Scene - DIY or Die: Why Denver Need Under-The-Radar, All-Ages Arts Spaces
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.