"F*ck the Mold" and Embrace the Dark Side at Rise of the VLLN

From left: Carlo Ignacio, Ru Johnson, Kelci Newlin and other members of the VLLN crew host their first weekly event, Rise of the VLLN, on November 15 at SneekEazy.
From left: Carlo Ignacio, Ru Johnson, Kelci Newlin and other members of the VLLN crew host their first weekly event, Rise of the VLLN, on November 15 at SneekEazy. Courtesy of Kelci Newlin
Over Halloween weekend, artists Kelci Newlin and Carlo Ignacio opened their home for a music contest for cash, held on a homemade stage in a backyard garage. It was part of their effort, along with some friends, to escape the monotony of the nine-to-five schedule through all manner of creative media experiences, from music to tarot readings. Starting Wednesday, November 15, they're bringing their concept, Rise of the VLLN, aboveground and turning it into what will become a weekly event at new Broadway spot SneekEazy, opening up space for more local creatives to gather, connect and do what they do best: create.

Ru Johnson, one of the organizers of the event, says VLLN is an opportunity for people to celebrate their differences and indulge in the uniqueness they bring to the community. She will be reading tarot at the event, engaging her own witchy side.

“This is the home of people who are natural outcasts,” Johnson explains. “The way folks have tended to be outcasts, what ends up happening is the culture they’ve created ends up moving up into popular culture. Let’s experience something different, with different people, and let those different aspects of these dark sides we don’t pay much attention to rise.”

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SneekEazy is part bar, part sneaker gallery, part venue.
Riley Cowing
Co-creator Ignacio’s focus has been organizing the evening's competition. He, Newlin and photographer Jamal Browning will select what kind of music will be highlighted each night and who will perform. Their inspiration: early hip-hop battles.

“I think people nowadays are too scared to compete with anyone in their industry,” Ignacio says. “I wanted to break from that cycle by engaging different artists from all over the city in a friendly competition. In my opinion, competition breeds better art. Where would we be in hip-hop today without those early hip-hop artists trying to essentially one-up each other?”

Ignacio, who has found himself surrounded by a lot of the same people watching the same artists play the same music at the same types of shows, says Rise of the VLLN will break the redundancy and freshen up the scene.

“We wanted a place where our art wasn’t limited to a time slot, genre or who is coming to attend,” Ignacio explains. “I grew up on rock and roll. Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to find or, better yet, create a space like CBGB, a place for new and upcoming artists to find their feet as well as bigger artists to come through and experience the atmosphere we provide. I want artists ten years from now who are breaking records and burning the charts to say, ‘That’s where it all began.’”

Organizers want to provide a space for creatives to connect, test the limits of art, and push beyond the confines of societal expectation of how people should – or should not – behave.

“We want to do more than just throw parties,” Newlin explains. “We want to create these spaces where not only are you having a good time, but there are like-minded individuals around with the same intentions. To be more than oneself — that feeling is found less and less around the city, especially in the nightlife as Denver expands. There's a pressure to fit a mold…and we say fuck the mold.”

Rise of the VLLN, 9 p.m. Wednesday, November 15, SneekEazy, 1134 Broadway, no cover.
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Riley Cowing has been writing with Westword since July 2016. She is originally from Kansas City and graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She enjoys connecting with local artists, drinking all types of espresso and loves any excuse to watch The Devil Wears Prada.
Contact: Riley Cowing