Denver's often divided electronic-music scene has finally found a reason to come together: to shut down underground raves and house parties that risk becoming COVID-19 superspreader events.
Promoters, venue staffers and musicians in the city's underground scene, which isn't exactly known for abiding by the law, say that public health is more important than partying right now, and as much they want to get back to throwing raves and parties, the events aren't worth it if they're going to make people sick. And some of these scene stalwarts are willing to blacklist artists and promoters who go forward with raves and other shows.
While indoor live-music events have been banned in counties along the Front Range under Level Red COVID-19 restrictions, DJ Dustin Chaves, founder/owner of Down Events and a new resident of the Mile High, has been selling tickets for a New Year’s Eve rave headlined by Sluggo.
Chaves gives himself second billing on the ticket page on Ticket Fairy: "As this awful year comes to an end ring in 2021 with Sluggo, Dustin Chaves + 20 more local undisclosed acts! 12 hour warehouse experience located just outside of Denver...Starting the night off with some filthy bass music then rolling into the sunrise with some house & techno sets."
Sluggo had confirmed that he would perform in Denver, telling his 114,000-some Facebook followers: "Hey looks like I’m going to be headed to Denver on New Years Eve to crush skulls.....Covid-19 skulls....... get ready!!!!!"
But just before noon on December 21, Sluggo backed out, posting this: "To my Denver people: It's been brought to my attention that live music events are not currently compliant with local guidelines. At the time of accepting this booking, neither myself nor Prysm Talent Agency were aware of that simply due to the fact that none of us are based in Denver or anywhere in Colorado. Guidelines being different everywhere, we gave the benefit of the doubt and shouldn't have. Unfortunately, I will not be performing at the aforementioned New Years Eve event, but I look forward to coming back and doing this when the time is right, and when local venues can legally resume operations safely."
In the weeks before announcing the lineup, Chaves bragged that the event would be so impressive that it would attract “half the city” — an achievement that would dwarf turnouts for the Rolling Stones, Garth Brooks and the annual Decadence party that usually takes over the Colorado Convention Center at the end of each year...combined.
"It could happen," Chaves told Westword on December 18, the day before ticket sales started. "I'm waiting. I'm seeing what's going on, watching and waiting and evaluating everything going on around me. You know, if I drop a New Year's Eve show, it's going to be with...one of the biggest artists in the world, so you'll have something plenty to write about."
With Sluggo out, Chaves is going to have to find another headliner — if anyone is willing to both violate the law and risk the rage of most of Denver's established electronic-music community.
This isn't Chaves's first time to be on the bill of a rule-breaking show. His name was included on a flier for the illegal Warehouse Invasion rave scheduled in Denver on December 12, which was canceled after we reported on the event that day.
"Hello you can remove Dustin Chaves from your article or you’ll be sued I was never contracted for this show and have no ties with it," he wrote in one message. In another, he added, "Going to need my name blurred out too I was never contracted to do this show I have a legal event company which will cause issues to my business which is grounds for a libel lawsuit my name won’t be posted on this flyer."
Here's the event flier that includes Chaves's name, but not that of the promoter:
Chaves wasn't the only act on the flier to distance himself from the Warehouse Invasion. New York trance DJ Tom Rogers, who had promoted the rave on his social feed and told his fans that it was legal (it was not), posted this on December 12, after our story appeared:
"Unfortunately Michael Phase & I have pulled out from the Warehouse Invasion event. The precautions and agreements guaranteed in our contracts have come into question among new, difficult circumstances changing in Colorado. The situation is no longer the same one I had every confidence in," Rogers posted. "Thank you all for sending me articles, screenshots, and other new information I did not have before I flew out. This information has changed my perspective, and in the interest of safety for myself, my friends, and my following, I have to cancel my participation."
The artist, whose most recent claim to fame was when DJ Armin van Buuren played his song "Train to Nowhere" on the A State of Trance radio show, says he was given false information about what COVID-19 regulations looked like in Colorado. He doesn't name the show's promoters, or even say whether they are based in Colorado. "I unfortunately am unable to comment on this as I don't really know the promoters to that extent," he writes. "This was my first time working with them at this capacity."
Rogers had a lot of other firsts on December 12. "This was my first time visiting Colorado in my life, and despite having to withdraw our participation for Warehouse Invasion, I did enjoy allowed activities such as walking through the Valley of the Gods," he writes, presumably referring to Garden of the Gods. "When things are more safe, I would love to experience this place the right way."
Trap and dubstep artist Tyree Cartlidge Jr., aka Tundriix, was also listed on the Warehouse Invasion flier; he says the promoters were from Rage Cage Entertainment out of Colorado Springs. The company did not respond to requests for comment; the email contact form on its website has been disabled.
"Basically, me and a couple artists and all the artists on the lineup got hit up by Rage Cage, and they asked us all if we wanted to DJ," Cartlidge says. "We all said yes. He didn’t say anything for a couple of weeks. Then he put us all in a group chat and said, 'Send me your logo names.' We sent it to them; then they sent back a flier. It was like, okay. We didn’t know what was going on with the whole situation. This is going to be a very small event. Bring a friend or something. Then the promoters started promoting it as an actual event."
And that angered not just those listed on the flier, but others in the scene who were obeying the rules. "I think it should be noted that all of the DJs listed on that warehouse event are practically unknown, and clearly just trying to make a name for themselves while the rest of us suffer," says Treavor Moontribe of the popular local electronic act Desert Dwellers, who's lost multiple gigs because of the pandemic. (Desert Dwellers will be ringing in 2021 as the headliner for ARISE Music Festival's end-of-year live-stream event).
Black Box owner Nicole Cacciavillano, underground bass-music royalty who got her start throwing shows around fifteen years ago and has been a major force behind the bass and dubstep explosion in Denver, is irate about the Warehouse Invasion and other shows she says have been thrown by "local crews." After all, her club has remained closed under Level Red orders to keep patrons, staff and artists safe.
"How wildly irresponsible for people to even think that is okay," she says. "Anyone who is coming into Denver right now from out of state to throw an event should turn around and fly home. That is so opportunistic and disrespectful.... That just showed their true character."
Cartlidge agreed to play the Warehouse Invasion show before Level Red COVID-19 restrictions went into place in November, he says. He had been told it was a small affair, possibly something that would be live-streamed, and was mortified when he saw the promoters advertising on social media.
"When it came to the show, since everything was so unorganized, we didn’t know what was going on," recalls Cartlidge. "None of the artists had the address for the place. Everybody was in the dark wondering what was going on. I had people asking me where it was going to be and stuff like that.
"When we saw that the event was against Denver’s COVID guidelines, we removed ourselves from the lineup," Cartlidge continues. But by the time he posted that to social media, the flier had been shared. "The artists on the flier were thrown under the bus by the promoters," he adds.
While many of the artists pulled out and the venue was moved from Denver, the show apparently went on in Colorado Springs. According to Cartlidge, three of the DJs on the original bill played a show at the Jazz-Funk Connection, where two parties were combined.
Jenny Lynn, who deejays as Jlynn and was on the bill for the Warehouse Invasion, says she pulled out of the show early December 12, after she realized the promoter had misrepresented it. She says she regrets participating in earlier underground shows in Denver, where she moved about six months ago. As a result, she notes, she's been put on a blacklist, along with Chaves, Rogers and others.
At those shows, "Nobody was wearing a mask. Everybody’s sharing drinks," she recalls. "I’ll take ownership when I’ve done people wrong. They can bash me or accept that I have the balls to accept that I did something wrong."
And the illegal parties are continuing, despite protests from the community.
A second party was advertised for December 12 in Colorado Springs, at Dr. Zeus and Space Pharaoh's Village Hidden in the Springs, at 2355 Platte Place. That venue is operated by Z3illionaires, which is also promoting a New Year's Eve party; it's reportedly hosted other events.
Before the December 12 date, Z3's Robert Forrest Trice, aka DJ Space Pharaoh Yahmenrabi, had been on social media encouraging people to buck COVID-19 guidelines: "Yoo too everyone scared stop tripping the vaccine is coming out Monday lmao!!!!! You guys will survive hit me up exclusive party tonight!!!!! Love Space Pharaoh The Goat."
According to Michael Johnson, who does visuals for the Z3illionaires, the parties that his company is promoting on Facebook are canceled, but he has no plans to take the posts down. He claims that Z3illionaires has a partnership with independent promotion giant Z2 Entertainment, which runs the Boulder and Fox theaters. Don Strasburg and Cheryl Ligouri, who co-head Z2, are two of the most reputable promoters in town, and they say they have nothing to do with the Colorado Springs company.
Chaves and the Z3 crew have their own beef. "Z3 is clout chasers who throw parties every weekend," Chaves says.
Z3's Johnson doesn't disagree; he says he wants to build himself a big name, whether he's famous or infamous. "I can use all the publicity I can get," he says. "I’ve been at this for six months. If everybody wants to know my name, I’m all about it. It’s all doing me a favor. Six months ago, I was absolutely nobody."
And now he's under attack, Johnson says: "That’s the real pandemic. DJs trying to throw shit. The egos of the old DJs coming at the new DJs, trying to sabotage them in ways like this. That’s what people need to be learning about: the hate. People starting rumors, dirty people starting rumors and shit. That’s the problem."
Johnson says that his team is keeping a close eye on COVID-19 regulations, and as soon as El Paso County is no longer under Level Red restrictions, he'll start throwing shows. While indoor shows aren't permitted at Level Orange, either, Johnson already has one on the calendar, scheduled for February 6 at Sunshine Studios.
"As soon as COVID is done, we’ll be back in business," he insists. "If they go to the next level, whatever it is, we’ll be operating again."
Joshua Richard Victorino, a local promoter who has posted promos for several house parties, says that they're about more than just clout. While Victorino does not admit to running any shows, he offers the following statement:
"These alleged Pop-Up shows have been an opportunity for people who are struggling to deal with the heaviness and side effects of pandemic fatigue," he explains. "At these 'alleged' shows there's precautions taken to ensure that COVID regulations are considered as far as masks, temp checks, and capacity limits are taken into consideration. Seems like attention to detail is a small price to pay to spread happiness when suicide rates are at an all time high since the distance enforced on us by Miss Rona. You're 'allegedly' a journalist. Mister Harris, do you know the statistics of the jump in suicides since music events were forced to go back underground? Purely poetic period in times we are living in isn't it my good sir."
(There is not a jump in suicides in Denver. In March and April, the first two months the music industry was shut down, there was a surprising 40 percent decrease in suicides across Colorado, though calls to crisis lines went up, the Denver Post reported. As of December 21, Denver's Office of the Medical Examiner had tracked 138 deaths by suicide in 2020; that's compared to 155 people who died by suicide in 2019. As of December 21, Denver had lost at least 650 people to COVID-19.)
Neither Victorino, Chaves nor the Z3illionaires were significant players in the Colorado underground scene pre-COVID. Johnson has only been running Z3 for six months; Space Pharoah and Zeus have only been at it a few months. Chaves, who has been in the industry for years, just moved to Denver in the spring, when he fled COVID-19, according to his Facebook feed.
"Decided I’m picking up my stuff and leaving the east coast headed to Colorado," he wrote at the time. "Things are getting really bad out here as well as I lost who I was and want to find that again. Cheers to the next chapter in life."
During the months that the pandemic has ravaged the country, Chaves played a string of shows at the Beta Event Center — a venue that was shut down in the summer for violating COVID-19 rules. On Facebook, Chaves says he was a resident DJ at Beta and a talent buyer for Bass Capital Productions before falling out with promoter Topher Mason.
When independent promoter Diana Mallayeva, whom Chaves refers to as a “bitch,” told him on December 13 that he would be blacklisted for playing and throwing events, he wrote: “I throw my own event with A list artist and don’t care about your blacklist it’s gonna be half the city when you see my lineup. Good luck.”
And Chaves has reacted to blacklisting threats by posting this on Facebook: “Denver’s blacklist is gonna be the next new biggest event."
He accused people working at the Black Box — a venue with deep roots in the underground electronic-music scene — of publicly shaming him. But the Black Box crew was hardly alone. Independent promoters, ravers, and even security guards at prominent nightclubs called foul on the Warehouse Invasion event.
"While [that] weekend's party was the culmination, crews have been throwing house parties — C-Team promoters, people who have never thrown a party before," says Cacciavillano. "It’s been consistent across the board: Bass-music social media is calling these people out since we’re in this new lockdown, which is obviously where we don’t want to be.... The entire community stood up and were like, 'Hell, no, we’re not having this.' If that’s not the most beautiful sentiment of how this quarantine and how this pandemic has brought people together...."
She adds: "All those artists, that promoter — all of them in one day showed who they were to the entire Denver bass-music scene. How do any of them expect to get anywhere in the music scene?"
Chaves is still trying. Questioned about his New Year’s event on social media, he wrote: “Some care but most don’t my line ups stacked for NYE. Go down to the speed way tho for zhu you can safely go car to car with your masks off roll up the windows and breathe your wook friends air. That’s legal.” Zhu is scheduled to play a drive-in gig at the Pikes Peak International Raceway on New Year's Eve.
Chaves followed up with this: “I don’t throw events to think I’m cool sorry not a clout chaser. Just a money maker.”
Meanwhile, most of the city's longtime artists and promoters haven't had a moneymaking show in almost a year.
"In March of this year, the music industry was brought to its knees due to the dangerous spread of COVID-19," says Chris Zacher, who has been championing the sector as the co-captain of the Colorado chapter of the National Independent Venue Association. "Since that time, venues and promoters across the country have banded together to lobby for federal relief and standardized reopening guidelines.
"The majority of us have followed the guidelines set in place by our cities and states," Zacher continues. "However, there are outliers who are not taking the pandemic seriously. Instead, they are attempting to take advantage of the market. These malicious acts do nothing other than put thousands of Coloradans' lives in danger. If these events are not stopped before they happen, I worry that it will cost more Coloradans their lives."
"I think there should be more emphasis on how pretty much the entire established electronic-music scene has shut down and isn't doing events," Moontribe says. "These idiots shouldn't be allowed to give the scene a bad reputation...I would say that 99.9 percent of the so-called EDM scene — which is a bad name for it, anyway — have been responsible in Denver. To me, that is a bigger story than some clowns throwing an illegal warehouse party with no-name artists desperate for attention."
And there's one more part to this story: Members of the scene say they wish that city officials would take these potential superspreader events as seriously as the EDM community does. The Denver Police Department and the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment confirm that there are no current investigations into raves, house parties or New Year's Eve events.
"It’s crazy that the city is shutting us all down but letting these parties happen," says one venue's talent buyer, who requested anonymity after receiving threats for putting the underground shows on blast. "How do they justify that? It’s a slap in the face to us. What was the end goal of shutting the venues down but not shutting the parties down?"
Lynn, at least, is done with those parties. "I’d like to encourage people to not go to events, and work together as a group and not against each other," she says. "Everyone is always like PLUR [Peace, Love, Unity, Respect]...Maybe PLUR needs to be rewritten in COVID."
December 26, 2020: Gabe Felix of We're Not Brothers offered the following comment about the Warehouse Invasion show: "We’re Not Brothers respectively backed out of the show a week and a half before the show due to us thinking over the situation and being worried about our safety and the safety of others."
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