has been entrenched in Denver's music scene for as long as he can remember, going to Red Rocks concerts and sometimes skipping school in order to be first in line at venues. He had always been into hip-hop, but once he entered the EDM scene
, he didn't look back. He wasn't just in love with the music, though: He was captivated by the creative fashions worn by ravers.
So Phinney, a 21-year-old who recently graduated from Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design
, decided to document how the styles of EDM fans not only reflected their personalities, but created an all-encompassing foundation for creative expression. He met his subjects in a variety of ways, including at concerts and through social media, but all of the photos are thematically linked by Phinney's use of lighting and color to reflect the spiritual layer that has made the genre so special to him.
Westword: What inspired you to start this project?
I started in the fall of 2021, and what really inspired me was that I really enjoyed all of the aesthetics. I always wanted to learn more about the EDM community in Denver, but every time I tried to explore it myself, I kept running into barriers and was kind of getting lost along the way. So I thought the best way to get to know the community and the music would be to just find some people [to photograph], because every day on Instagram, I'll see awesome outfits from all sorts of people going to shows.
I invited over a few people to shoot, and that was kind of where the idea began. In the really early phases of this project, I was trying to take some photos at Red Rocks tailgates and just around the venue. But the more I got into it, the more I realized that the fashion was really the thing that I was connecting with. And I just really wanted to showcase it in a way that emphasized the spirituality aspect and the soul of each person that wears these clothes. A lot of the lighting design and stuff that I do in my photos is to kind of exude what you can't tell from a person just by seeing a portrait of them.
What subgenres of EDM were you looking at?
Ryann Musgrave's favorite artists are Pretty Lights and Zedd.
EDM has a huge variety of different styles and a whole vocabulary for it. I was talking to some people, and they're like, "Oh, I'm really into deep house music," or "I got really into, like, crunchy ethereal drum and bass." One of the big ones was a sort of organic world, tribal EDM, and one of the really big artists right now for that is CloZee
; a lot of the people I shot are really into her music. Another person that I was shooting with was way more into the grungy, underground side of Denver EDM. The Black Box
throws a lot of shows where there are a lot of smaller artists, and one of my models, Ryan, was telling me a lot about how just being in that scene got her really into finding new artists and getting deeper into the more experimental side of Denver's EDM.
One thing that I kept thinking about when I was doing these shoots was how the EDM scene is very aligned with that psychedelic, 1960s rock feeling — everything was just kind of like a Woodstock energy. One of my models was really into early-2010s Skrillex-type dubstep and really liked hard techno stuff, too. There's definitely a variety and a lot of subtleties within the subgenres.
Did you find any stark difference between fashion styles in subgenres?
Ryan Jane loves Skrillex and horror movies.
I think some of the biggest differences were with Ryan, who is into early 2010s-style dubstep, really into Skrillex and Deadmau5, and she kind of had a more gothic look to her — others were a lot more colorful. She was in a big black cloak and had this corset dress situation going on. One of the things you really notice as you're shooting all these people is their jewelry and the different meanings to the bracelets — which are called "candy" and are traded at shows — and the expression that comes with that.
Her candy had a spooky, gothic feel to it; one of them said Jigsaw
because she's really into horror movies, and she loves Halloween aesthetics. Another stark difference I saw was with another girl I shot named Ryann, who is really deep into the local scene. One of the trends she was telling me about that's really popular in EDM right now is getting these jerseys for different shows. That was really interesting, because a lot of the fashion that you see involves dresses, different tops and colorful fishnets. Apparently, these websites make jerseys for a variety of different artists. So there'll be some shows you go to and some people are decked out in their total rave gear, and some are just more chilled out in jerseys.
And when it comes to the more tribal, spiritual rave scene, you'll see a lot of scarves and big, flowy, bright outfits compared to the more grungy techno, where you see a lot more motifs like chains and more aggressive materials.
Were there fashion styles that you found that crossed over various subgenres or even completely different genres, such as metal, rock or jam?
I do feel like candy is pretty universal, just because there's something about having that physical material to connect with a show or to connect with something else, and kind of expanding on that. People like to have artifacts from these shows; I'd collect really random things to remember those moments, like, "Oh, here's a piece of confetti that's taped to my wall now."
In my pictures with Skyler, I really thought that out of everybody, her look and vibe reflected the music she was really into the most, like CloZee, the tribal stuff. But she was also telling me about how she loves surf rock and she loves the Grateful Dead. Her dress was super-swirly and gave off such a ’60s vibe. And if you look at her earrings, they're huge, psychedelic hoop earrings you might see at a disco or something like that. And Ryan Jane, in her gothic look — I know that she also listens to a lot of hip-hop and alternative music and a lot of metal, especially, and I think you can definitely tell that her look is inspired from going to a lot of those shows.
How can fashion be used to express your own outside interests or standing in the scene?
Another of the girls, California Summer — at the time when we were shooting, she was the vice president of the University of Colorado's EDM club — brought a fan and a bunch of other stuff to the shoot. ... You can really tell she knows a lot about the scene through what she's wearing, with all of her festival bracelets and candy. And with Kaya, she's a yoga trainer, and I think her style is super reflective of that — it's a lot more athletic wear.
But another thing that I think is really important to the expression is a lot of the tattoos that I came across — such cool tattoos, very psychedelic-inspired. Some of my favorites were from Casey, and she had these super-gnarly tattoos on the back of her legs of sacred geometry.
Sacred geometry often ties in with psychedelics, which are a big part of music scenes whose fans cross over into EDM, such as the jam-band scene. How would you say psychedelics fit into the EDM scene and the fashion?
Kaya Mallick's favorite artists are Dabin, Rezz, Nurko, RL Grime, and Champagne Drip.
I think psychedelics and psychedelia in general are a huge part of EDM. That's why I keep bringing up the word "spiritual," because it really just reminds me of what's like deeper inside of these people beyond their fashion. When you go to EDM shows, you are so focused in on the music and the visuals and the dancing, and it's not about anything else in that moment except the experience. I think that the almost meditative visuals that your brain produces at a show — whether you're on psychedelics or not — speaks to a lot of the greater artistry and philosophy behind the EDM community. And I do think that's why there's such a friendly and welcoming community. At raves, you always hear about PLUR: peace, love, unity and respect. It's so true. I feel like I barely know all of these people but could trust them with anything if I needed to.
What did you find in the different styles that speaks to the ethos of the EDM scene in Denver as a whole?
Kasey Duffin's favorite artist is CloZee.
I genuinely think it's one of the most positive, friendly social groups out of any genre that I've really experienced. Everybody's getting along, and you see the friend groups where no one's all dressed the same — they all have their own aesthetic going on. And I just think it's such an awesome center of self-expression, expanding from who you see yourself as — as your everyday self.
Going back to candies, that's like a huge thing to just easily reflect on who you are and show your EDM pride. There's also the creation for yourself and building your own outfits. [The scene] really makes you want to produce things for yourself and see what you're actually capable of, and physical artifacts are a huge attachment to memory and showing the significance of how the music speaks to you and your spirit and your soul. Your thoughts kind of come out in the creation.
That's why I think that a lot of these are way more kind of freeing, colorful, exciting looks than we see in the everyday world. It's really people connecting with their spirituality, whether it be through just the music or their own mind or whatever's going on. I really think it's an expression of one's soul and one's energy in a situation like that.
See more of Phinney's work at trumanvisuals.com or follow him on Instagram @TrumanPhinney.