High Plains Underground Archive

Meet a Few of the Denver Bands We Couldn't Write About

Inevitably, in a music community, some of the people who write about music for local publications will also be musicians — and because of the conflict of interest, if you happen to fall into both categories, there's a good chance that your project or your band will not be covered during your tenure as a journalist. You also fall into a strange realm of being part of the music world while commenting on it and shining a light on music that you find interesting and noteworthy. 

What favoritism exists seems to be based largely on who you know and the circles you run in and what a writer knows about. And, honestly, who wants to read an article by someone who has no clue as to what they're writing about? Those of us who are part of both the writing-about-music world and the music world itself naturally come to know the community and its virtues and pitfalls, the characters and the politics as well as the nuances and the richness of detail that exist. It's an invaluable perspective, but it comes at the expense of your own musical efforts being recognized, even if your project or band are doing something interesting, innovative and socially positive. That situation is further cemented by the fact that when your own publication doesn't write up your band, others tend not to, either. Your efforts can go completely undocumented and your existence largely whitewashed from the narrative of what's going on in your city. 

As a gesture to correct this situation, I am offering photos of bands that some of Westword's scribes have been involved in since I started taking pictures regularly. It's certainly not all, because I don't have photos of everyone's band, nor am I aware of everyone who is in a band at Westword. In addition, all of the projects below are now defunct.

Aenka included Jon Solomon and was a challenging and fascinating free-jazz project. Lust-Cats of the Gutters was a duo in which former Westword arts and culture writer Robin Edwards played guitar. That group was somewhere between punk, garage rock and something else indefinable; Lust-Cats also had an impact on certain circles of the American underground scenein a positive way and inspired more than a couple of other fledgling musicians to start their own bands. Night of Joy wove together post-punk, no-wave and noise-rock ideas and made it accessible and powerful. Current Westword writer Bree Davies played bass in that band, which toured with Hideous Men and brought together unexpectedly diverse strands of the music community before splitting in 2013. Andy Thomas also writes about music for Westword and has been in the local punk world for years; one of his better bands was Only Thunder, a group that took melodic hardcore and gave it some real emotional fire. Red Cloud was former Westword writer Jason Heller's country-rock band that really transcended both genre designations with cathartic live shows incorporating elements of psychedelia, folk and even gospel as part of its sound and performance. The Amicable Splits was a weird punk band that Sara Century was in before going solo. The Splits did Big Black covers at times, as well as some truly bizarre tunes with sass and spirit. There are likely plenty more bands with Westword people involved, but I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity now to acknowledge some that seemed noteworthy at the time but rarely got any attention from the local press. 

*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 The 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.

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 this series, called High Plains Underground Archive, I will share a small fraction of the tens of thousands of those 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 1975 to the present.

- Seven of Denver's Most Underrated Bands
- Wolf Eyes' John Olson Talks About the Importance of Music Communities
- Why DIY Venues Are Vital Are Vital to the Health of the Entire Music Scene
- DIY or Die: Why Denver Need Under-The-Radar, All-Ages Arts Spaces

If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.