Kick Drum Therapy Is Denver's Newest Label Devoted to Techno | Westword

Kick Drum Therapy Is Denver's Newest Label Devoted to Techno

"I'm a college dropout, but I've managed to make a way for myself," says founder James Lenhart.
James Lenhart, aka SWEEPR, creator of Kick Drum Therapy.
James Lenhart, aka SWEEPR, creator of Kick Drum Therapy. Emerald Boes Photography
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After James Lenhart, who produces music under the name SWEEPR, had an unpleasant experience with a techno music label, he decided to promote his music himself. Now Lenhart runs Kick Drum Therapy, a music label and collective dedicated to promoting Denver's house and techno music while fostering a thriving artistic community.

Lenhart's journey to founding Kick Drum Therapy was a long one, starting with his music-filled childhood back in Florida. On weekends, his dad would continuousy blast funk and pop records by artists like Stevie Wonder and Mariah Carey. "I knew it was going to be a music weekend when he would pull a turntable out and crack open some vinyls," he recalls.

So it's no surprise that Lenhart began revealing musical talents early on. By age six, he was learning how to play the keyboard, and by twelve, he'd expanded to the drums. He remembers basking in his first taste of techno, Ian Van Dahl's "Castles in the Sky," around that same time.

Lenhart carried his love of music through every grade, playing with high school bands and developing an eclectic taste for European techno. His college roommate introduced him to the elusive power of digital audio workstations (DAWs), and he produced his first track. But music was still just a passion project for him, simmering on the back burner while he focused on a design career.

The pandemic changed that, shifting Lenhart's priorities to make room for his musical endeavors. "My father passed away in 2021," he says. "That was a big push for me. I felt like I could still connect with him through the music."

Like most of the nation, Lenhart was isolated during the lockdown and remembers feeling extremely lonely. When clubs and performance venues started to open up again, he threw himself into Denver's techno and house scene, searching for the therapeutic release of his favorite music and a community of like-minded individuals.

Fortunately, Denver has a very lush house-music scene, brought to life by a large group of talented techno artists and enthusiastic fans. House music is a genre of high-tempo electronic dance music that originated in primarily gay, Latino and Black clubs in 1980s Chicago, fusing ’70s disco with synthesizer-driven beats. The style took off in Denver when raves entered the city and its outskirts in the ’90s, and even more so when Red Rocks Amphitheatre began hosting electronic shows in the early 2000s. Beatport, the ultimate online electronic music resource, was founded in Colorado in 2004, and many electronic pioneers, including Morton Subotnik, established themselves here.

Within Denver's flourishing EDM scene, Lenhart found a squad of fellow techno lovers through mutual friends, and the group attended everything from the Electric Forest music festival to shows at Red Rocks together. One Sunday morning, when traveling home after a weekend of intense shows, Lenhart and his friends stumbled by a street sweeper. "It [had] this bass sound," Lenhart says. "We were just kind of lifted by it."

The moment inspired the SWEEPR moniker, but that isn't the only aspect of Lenhart's musical brand that was born of memories with friends. His entire musical persona is built on love for his community; two antennae poking out of the "S" in the SWEEPR logo represent one of his friend groups, whose members affectionately refer to themselves as "The Slugs."

By 2022, Lenhart was deejaying and producing music with vigor. "I feel like to be a good producer in this space of music, you have to be a good DJ," he says. "And to be a good DJ, you have to be producing music. I feel like they help each other." So he does both, compiling a body of work with a mix of live performances and DAW-produced electronic tracks that combine elements of European techno with groovy melodies and lyrics. He released his first self-published single, "Bad Dream," last November, and will release his first EP, Night Shift, on Friday, May 12, through Kick Drum Therapy.

Lenhart started the label after learning some hard lessons in his first few months in the music industry. In January, he signed his very first single, "Overtime," to Blue Soho Recordings — a label he felt only cared about the music's copyright. "It seems like a lot of labels out there, they're just sort of building these portfolios of songs that they own the copyright of," he says. "It's less about you, the artist, ever getting exposure."

And what happens to the careers of the artists who no longer own their music five years down the line? Lenhart wanted to be sure he always had control over his body of work, and he believed labels could do better by their artists, so he and his best friend got to work creating their own imprint and launched Kick Drum Therapy in April. Regarding the label's name, Lenhart explains, "[Electronic music] is therapeutic, because you're with your squad, you're with your community, and the kick drum in a lot of electronic music is one of the most prominent things in the song."

He takes pride in the fact that the label represents artists without taking their music rights. Although Kick Drum Therapy is starting small — so far, it has only released two of SWEEPR's singles, "Wait" and "Quitting Culture," which includes a collaboration with Lil Cross  — he has big dreams for the business. He wants it to become an artistic community, or, as he describes it, "a tribe of other people you can collab with." His goal is to promote the talented artists he's met in Denver's underground house scene, elevating the city's status to one of the nation's house-music capitals.

Kick Drum Therapy is already growing, and Lenhart is confident that his ability to plan, design and execute a vision will serve his label well. He's toying with the idea of renting a venue for a local, industry-curated event that will function as Kick Drum Therapy's soft launch. He's considering the Banshee House on Larimer Street, and plans to fill the space with DJs and other artists, inviting local club owners and promoters to attend and network.

Lenhart wants to concentrate his label on underserved communities, giving other artists the chance to pursue their dream careers. "The cards were stacked against me. I grew up in impoverished conditions, and I didn't really have a lot of opportunity for myself in terms of monetary or family connections," he says. "I've gotten a couple of breaks. Somebody saw something in me. ... I'm a college dropout, but I've managed to make a way for myself."

He wants to pass that gift along — finding the talented underdogs of the Denver house and techno scene and giving them a platform and an opportunity. "If you look around at the [music] landscape, there are not a lot of [techno] talent agencies or promotion companies or labels and prints in Denver," he says. Lenhart and his friend saw that gap in services and decided to fill it.

A year from now, Lenhart hopes that Kick Drum Therapy will represent at least two more artists and will be able to offer community educational services, such as how to negotiate a musical contract. "Sometimes we have to give back in different ways," he says. "I feel like that's a good thing to really put out into the world — really change people's thought patterns and change the dynamics of the music business."

SWEEPR's first EP, Night Shift, via Kick Drum Therapy, drops on all major streaming services Friday, May 12.
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