For years, Denver has been a hot spot for metal. In part, that's because of the small bars and DIY music venues that open themselves up to newcomers and lesser-known bands from Denver and beyond.
When music journalist and rocker Michael Goodwin lived in Capitol Hill, he could go to a killer show for a paltry $5 — sometimes even $3, if the gods were smiling upon him. Those affordable shows made the city fertile ground for up-and-coming bands to make new fans.
“It’s the people there, too, and the people who are enthusiastic about music and willing to go to shows,” Goodwin says of the city. “But so much of it really revolved around venues that were willing to host music in an approachable way, in an affordable way, and do it any night of the week.”
Goodwin, an occasional Westword contributor, took along his camera and documented the sights and sounds of the Mile High metal scene over several years.
Last year, he took a job in California, saying goodbye to Denver for the time being. But as live music mostly disappeared over the course of 2020, he started to think about how much time he’d spent at shows here and what a huge part of his life that had become. He went through his thousands of photos and compiled the best of them for a zine he’s called The City Gasped.
“I’m not living there, and I miss it more than ever,” Goodwin says. “I know full well what I’m envisioning, and what I’m longing for isn’t happening right now.”
But the zine is by no means his farewell to Denver.
“If anything, it’s more like a love letter to the Denver scene,” he says. “It was a fantastic time, and I know a lot of people felt that way and were there to enjoy it."
The photos primarily document metal and rock-and-roll bands from Denver’s music community from about 2015 to 2019. Goodwin uses the term "rock and roll" broadly; there are a variety of genres and styles represented between the zine's covers.
“There are some blues bands in there, there’s some stuff that has a retro feel, there’s stuff that’s hardcore," he says. "But it all falls under that heavy-music umbrella."
Daughters, Weedeater, Wayfarer, Chelsea Wolfe, Disposal Notice, Satan's Satyrs, Meth, Corky Laing, Speedwolf, Amplified Heat, Dizz Brew, Electric Citizen, Plack Blague, Toke, RMBLR and Sourvein all make appearances in the zine, which includes local acts as well as bands from outside of Denver.
Goodwin has already published multiple issues of another zine called Ritual of Sin, which, in addition to photos of a resurgent rock-and-roll underground in the United States, offers accompanying stories and essays. Issues are still available for purchase.
“I hadn’t published an issue in a few years,” he says of the new book. “It was kind of an itch to return to the zine-making process and having this wealth of photos I was sitting on [that] was kind of the impetus for the whole project.”
The City Gasped differs from its predecessor in that it is made up almost entirely of photos, mostly live shots of bands playing and a few portraits of musicians. Goodwin plans to include a short introduction, but aside from that, the only text will be band names, place names and years. The zine contains a mix of black-and-white and color photos and traditional and digital photography.
Goodwin says he mostly selected shots from independent Denver venues such as the Squire Lounge, the hi-dive, Mutiny Information Cafe, and the former Streets Denver, though there are some images from non-independent venues like the Bluebird Theater. He ventured as far as the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park for at least one photo. And there are shots from a handful of the venues that, sadly, didn’t survive the COVID pandemic, like 3 Kings Tavern, which shut down permanently in May, and Tooey's Off Colfax, which closed in December.
When he can, Goodwin prefers shooting at small spots, because doing so affords him more creative opportunities than larger venues, where photographers are typically ushered into a space between the front of the crowd and the stage and given only a short time to take photos.
Although the images in The City Gasped focus on the bands, Goodwin says they are meant to draw attention to how important the venues are to the community.
“In one place where it is immediately obvious is the intimacy and the angles and perspectives you can get when you’re in a non-traditional venue,” he says. “I was hoping to remind people of some of these shows and the rooms that came to life, and how important those spaces are to these shows.”
The City Gasped is most likely a one-off project meant to focus on the years leading up to last year’s closures, a way to remind people of how rich Denver’s music scene was and can be again, once we return to a sense of normalcy.
“I wanted this to be an impromptu collection of photos given the time we're in, and not my opus of my best photographs,” Goodwin says. “I wanted this to be an impromptu look back at how vibrant the scene was and what made it so.”
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