This Secret DIY Space's Last Event Was Almost Called "F*ck New Denver"

Church Fire is one of the acts that will play Dirty Denver Fest.
Church Fire is one of the acts that will play Dirty Denver Fest. Kenneth Hamblin III
In the DIY world, nobody expects venues to stick around that long. Backspace, an outlet that has been quietly booking loud shows for the past year and a half, is no exception. This weekend, dozens of bands will play the Dirty Denver Fest, the venue's ambitious swan-song event and last jab at the gentrification that has driven up property values citywide and kicked out long-term residents, making the city a hostile place for artists and activists.

Backspace organizers opted to come aboveground for this last event, securing permits with the city and even speaking with press – something they had long avoided – to bring attention to the Mile High housing crisis and to invite the public at large to enjoy many of the bands and artists dedicated to the DIY scene who have been pushed underground.

The punks who run the outlet managed to stay under the radar as DIY hubs like Rhinoceropolis and Glob were shut down by the city for code violations in the wake of Oakland's Ghost Ship fire. (City brass and organizers anticipate that both Rhinoceropolis and Glob will reopen in the next few weeks after months of negotiations about how to get the spaces up to code.)

Backspace's organizers thought they were in the clear. Then, several months ago, they got word from their landlord, who had initially pledged to keep them in the space for eight to ten years, that he would be kicking them out to develop the property at 900 South Jason Street into an industrial warehouse.

Subsumed by the cannabis industry, warehouse space is scarce in Denver, says Schwa, a Backspace organizer. He adds that the DIY community would have been better off if weed had never been legalized.

While he appreciates the months of notice, Schwa is understandably sad to see another Denver community space go, and now he's scrambling for a home.

Backspace is a garage adjacent to one of the few remaining houses – where Schwa has lived and put on shows for roughly three years – in a neighborhood that was destroyed by the 1965 Platte River flood; most of the buildings near the venue are industrial warehouses.

As Schwa tells it, his Athmar Park neighborhood isn't undergoing the rapid gentrification of RiNo, where Rhinoceropolis and Glob manage to maintain an underground arts presence in a hipster-yuppie enclave full of artisans, trendy galleries and pop-up shops fertilized by artists-turned-developers. He's right, to an extent, though he admits that the doggie daycare near his venue might suggest that the seeds of the Athmar Park neighborhood's transformation have been planted.

Either way, he and his fellow organizers want to make sure that it's clear that this festival is nothing short of an attack on the developers and city officials who have created conditions that have jacked up housing prices while offering little in the way of solutions for the displacement of long-term residents.

The Dirty Denver Fest was initially going to be called Fuck New Denver, but because the organizers wanted to secure a city permit for the event, they opted to tone down the name and call it Dirty Denver Fest instead. Schwa and his friends coined the slogan "Keep Denver Dirty" years ago, and put it on patches in a defiant act of nostalgia, hoping the city would change its ways.

The festival, which will take place at Backspace, will run July 21 to 23 and will shine a spotlight on an array of bands across the punk spectrum, experimental acts and beyond. There will be no better event to attend this summer to get a snapshot of Denver's underground music scene.

The lineup, posted to the event's Facebook page, is as follows.

Doors @ 5:00 music 6:00-12ish
6:30 Bleak Plaza
7:00 Ludlow *
7:30 The Dorms
8:00 Major Babes *
8:30 Corner Girls
9:00 Banshee Tree *

9:30 p.m.- ? in BackSpace:
Tyto Alba
Two Tone Wolf Pack
Old Sport

Doors @ 3:00, music 4:00-12ish
4:00 Obtuse
4:30 Fortnight Uprise *
5:00 Seed Bomb
5:30 Xenon Superstar *
6:00 Dreaming Dingo (NOLA)
6:30 Tall Boys *
7:00 Chase Ambler
7:20 Polyurethane *
7:40 Altered State
8:00 Many Blessings*

8:30-? in BackSpace:
Princess Dewclaw
Ghosts of Glaciers
Church Fire

Doors @ 2:00, music @ 3:00-9ish

3:00 GUTS
3:30 Tunica Externa *
4:00 Oxeye Daisy
4:30 Pythian Whispers *
5:00 Total Goth
5:30 Fake Awake*
6:00 The So Help Me's
6:30 Barely Free *
7:00 Midwife
7:30 Wrinkle *
8:00 Vic n' the Narwhals
8:30 Pizza Time *

(* = outdoor stage)

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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris