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High Plains Underground: 21st Century Colorado Shoegaze and Dream Pop

One of the sounds that has long been part of the Colorado music scene is lush, atmospheric rock. Even though Colorado boasts more than 300 days of sunshine each year, many significant Colorado artists have an indisputable attraction to music that, if not exactly dark,  suggests an inward expansiveness and hazy emotional colorings, as in a waking dream. The sound is enveloping and washes through you; while there's an ethereal quality to this music, the bands are often loud but generally not abrasive. In England in the early 1990s this music, as exemplified by Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 and post-punk generally, was given the name "shoegaze" by critics — even if bands like the aforementioned MBV completely rejected such insulting and clumsy genre designations.

Whatever you might call the music —  shoegaze, dream pop or even psychedelic rock* — it seems like a natural fit for many musicians who, living in relative geographical isolation, turn inward to imaginative pursuits that stir the mind and heart. There is a twinge of melancholy to this music, although it is also a means of transmogrifying despair and sadness into something bright and vital. The therapeutic quality of intertwining melancholy with the vibrant is undeniable, and is the spark of the exorcism/soothing quality of how that music often manifests in Colorado. What's iinteresting is that few of the bands pursuing this mode of expression sound anything alike — except a loose affinity for creative atmospheres. 

*For the purposes of discussion, I am using the terms “shoegaze” and “dream pop” in the title because those genres have a strong resonance for the bands below — and if you're fond of these styles of music, you'd be well-advised to check out any of these bands that have emerged — or in the case of 40th Day, reconvened — since the turn of the century in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and beyond.


*Author's Note on the High Plains Underground Archive: In the late 1990s, I started going to local shows on a regular basis. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I didn't know there was such a thing as local music worth checking out. But I was drawn in after seeing a band called Rainbow Sugar (an all-female punk/hip-hop/experimental guitar-rock extravaganza) opening for Sleater-Kinney's first show in Colorado at rhe Fox Theatre in October 1998. Next, I learned about a show at the now-defunct Rebis Galleries. From there I went to the first Monkey Mania show, and there was no looking back.

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Rainbow Sugar was the first local band I photographed at Herman's Hideaway in 1999. But it was in 2005, when I got my first digital camera, that my extensive photo archive started. In High Plains Underground Archive, I share a small fraction of the tens of thousands of my photos, focusing on specific venues, bands, time periods, movements and whatever else seems to make sense. The title of this series comes from the working title of my book on the history of underground music in Denver from 1975 to the present.

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