PterrorFractyl Takes Flight to Elevate Denver's Music Scene

PterrorFractyl core members James Jewkes, Dana'-Ra'eL and absenz.
PterrorFractyl core members James Jewkes, Dana'-Ra'eL and absenz. Lauren Antonoff
Although they’re rare in Denver, boom-bap beats aren’t dead.

Witness PterrorFractyl, a genre-transcendent hip-hop collective producing “low-fi boom-bap metaphysical rap.” From resonant samples to trance-evoking beats, the band’s vibrations send listeners into a realm of fantasy, a space between mind and matter.

That’s rather lofty for a group that began with a late-night encounter in 2015 at Gennaro’s Cafe Italiano on South Broadway. Gennaro’s is known for kindling love affairs between people and pizza, but the cafe’s then-assistant general manager, Christine Roddy, had another love affair in mind. She had a feeling that two of her regulars, James Jewkes and Sean Leftwich, aka absenz, would hit it off. And one night, they did.

Over pizza, they started talking about music. That evening, Jewkes shared some of his tracks with Leftwich, and the two decided to collaborate. Not long after, they formed PterrorFractyl and dedicated themselves to producing music while nurturing Denver’s independent music scene. The latter is particularly important to Jewkes, who cut his teeth as an artist at Rhinoceropolis, a DIY music and arts venue on Brighton Boulevard.

The venue is a longtime staple of Denver’s underground scene — a place where scrappy artists can share wild creations, unbound by commercial sensibilities. Inspectors shut Rhinoceropolis down after they found safety-code violations in 2016, weeks after a fire had blazed through a party at the Ghost Ship artist-run warehouse in Oakland, killing 36 people.

The Rhinoceropolis shutdowntook place a few months after PterrorFractyl released its first album, RODDY! — named for the friend who had brought the bandmates together. In the more than two years that the venue was shuttered, Jewkes did what he could to ensure that Denver’s music scene stayed vibrant, working with various community organizations, including Rocketspace — a music studio providing hourly rentals to musicians looking for practice space — and the Globeville Recreation Center, where he teaches music to children. Rhinoceropolis reopened earlier this year.

“I remember how angry I was when I was young. It’s really easy to misdirect that anger,” he acknowledges. So he’s working to create a better future for others. “A lot of what I tell my students is just to be open, you know? Maybe you wanted to come in and make a trap beat. But now I’ve got a cat who’s obsessed with Beethoven. This kid’s never touched an instrument in his life, and now he’s literally coming to me, like, ‘I just figured out this symphony.’”

Over three years, PterrorFractyl has grown. Once a duo, the band is now a four-part ensemble.

“It took us a while to craft our sound,” Leftwich admits. “The earlier album was a little bit edgy, not complete in certain ways.” Eventually they brought in Leftwich’s brother, Dana’-Ra’eL, as a vocalist and contributor. Dana’-Ra’eL’s lyrics lend a soulfulness to PterrorFractyl’s music, anchoring the group in more traditional hip-hop aesthetics with a lyrical flow.

Most recently, PterrorFractyl welcomed Ishka B. Phoenix to the crew. A former session vocalist, Phoenix is becoming more integral to the band's sound. Her song “Melted Mind,” which is included on PterrorFractyl’s upcoming double LP, This Is Your Brain on Us, reels listeners into a trance, guided by her sensual voice. Backing her is heady synth, the sort of downtempo space travel that RODDY! evoked.

Now this gang of four is hustling to crank out new music. “It’s like Rodgers and Hammerstein,” they say, laughing. “We mass-produce beats.”

Their goal: Get music on stage as quickly as possible — but not just any stage. The crew is stridently independent and fed up with the “overarching conglomerate controlling major venues,” as Jewkes describes major players such as AEG, a massive multinational corporation owned by Colorado resident and Republican donor Phil Anschutz.

“I encourage anybody who’s concerned with any kind of social issues that are going on in the world right now — attacks on people’s rights — if you’re really about that, really about liberating yourself, watch where you spend your money,” cautions Jewkes. For him, that means supporting independently booked acts at places like art galleries, city functions, heritage festivals, cultural festivals and the like.

“There are creative, artistic, jazzy, soulful, courageous people who are doing real music, who are talking about real things, says Leftwich. “You just gotta give people a platform to have that. Those are the platforms PterrorFractyl is looking for, and it’s what they’ve found in an upcoming residency at the Squire Lounge.

“Where do I see this going?” asks Phoenix, regarding PterrorFractyl’s next moves. “The fucking future, man. Wherever there’s an opportunity for growth as a human, that’s where you’ll find me.”

PterrorFractyl, 10 p.m. Wednesday, July 10, Squire Lounge, no cover.
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Lauren Antonoff is a Denver native dedicated to telling Colorado stories. She loves all things multi-media, and can often be found tinkering in digital collage. She joined the Westword team in 2019, where she serves as the Audience Engagement Editor — connecting people, ideas, and the stories that matter.
Contact: Lauren Antonoff