It’s a Wednesday, one of those cold winter nights when it feels way later than it actually is. In a nondescript strip mall along Wadsworth in Arvada, the storefronts are dark, save for a few flashing lights seeping into the near-empty parking lot from Mile High DJ Supply.
Inside the store, things are more animated. In one room, technician Ian Kimsey sits behind a stack of random electronics parts, a wisp of smoke rising from his soldering iron. Down a short hallway, bright workroom lights give way to a moodier, pulsing array of colors that bop along to the beat as half a dozen people surround a square island littered with turntables, furiously scratching vinyl records.
This scene plays out week after week at Mile High, a fixture in the Denver-area turntablist community. Owner Kyle Montoya opened the store in 2015 and has been hosting the weekly meetup ever since.
“I had a few DJ friends, but not a lot of them,” says Montoya, “and the ones I did have had scratch sessions at their houses every once in a while. So my dream with Mile High DJ Supply was to bring the entire DJ community together. The most DJs I ever saw was when we had the scratch sessions.”
The Wednesday night events started modestly. Montoya says there were nights early on when it was just him and one other person in the shop, scratching by themselves. Today, he says, the event regularly draws twenty people, fifty on big nights. Social media has helped, he says, but word of mouth is also a powerful force.
“When I first opened Mile High DJ Supply,” says Montoya, “I thought in my mind I was going to be helping the two or three hundred DJs that I had become friends with before the store was around, not knowing that there were thousands upon thousands of DJs in the state — and, of course, people who are just getting into it and getting excited about it.”
The Wednesday night scratching events, along with a roaming Sunday meetup for portable turntable enthusiasts, are informal and not competitive. Montoya says keeping things relaxed has been important to the success of the scratch meetup.
“I don't want it to be any sort of pissing contest,” he says. “If people want to get a little heat in there, that's cool, but it's not a battle. We have a time and a place for DJ battles, but this is not it. This is a place for everyone to be able to be on the same playing field.”
The dynamic between experienced scratchers and newcomers has kept the weekly meetup going strong, he notes.
“When other people are better than you, you get a bit embarrassed or you get a feeling of not being at that level, or sometimes awe,” says Montoya. “You get that feeling of inadequacy sometimes. This is good, because it's good to get rid of that.”
And it’s not just newbies who benefit from the community atmosphere of the Mile High DJ Supply scratch sessions.
“There's even been people who have been scratching themselves for five or ten years, but they didn't realize that there were several other techniques they had overlooked or [never] learned,” he says. “A lot of DJs are secluded. Whether they're playing in nightclubs every night or they’re bedroom DJs, you never hear them play or scratch. They've been in the basement by themselves. They are kind of alone all the time. When I'm working in a club, I'm focused and I'm so by myself. It's good to have people of a like mind get together. A lot of people wait for this day each week. It's their safe place, their happy place. It's a getaway.”
says he got into scratching in North Carolina, where he grew up, then heard about Mile High DJ Supply after moving to Colorado in 2015. The scratch sessions, he says, provide a place to try new things in a welcoming environment with quality turntables and accessories.
“I like that it feels like a community,” says Wolf. “There are so many good DJs in Denver. All the best scratchers in Denver come through here. You never know who you’re going to see. [Montoya] has all the nicest equipment, the nicest mixers and turntables you can’t even get yet.”
While the majority of the scratchers who show up for the events are men, women are more than welcome. Montoya’s girlfriend, Christie Z, who also works at Mile High, is a legend in the national turntablism and hip-hop community who's been responsible for organizing battles and other events around the country since the ’90s. She says the Wednesday meetup is a great place for both men and women to learn, practice or just hang out.
“It’s a really unique community,” she says. “When women show up, if they don’t already know how to scratch, they can learn. It brings in some of the best turntablists and scratchers in the city and surrounding areas. As long as you’re cool, you can be down.”
Montoya echoes that message, adding that he’d like to see more women get into scratching.
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“It's not a boys' club, because we have girls scratching, too,” he says. “It's been mostly men for a long time, but I think in the last few years, it's really changing. It's just a place for anybody that likes the same stuff to hang out and like the same stuff together.”
Montoya says his dream of bringing the entire Denver turntablism community together is still a work in progress, but he’s more than happy with the progress that he and his store’s customers have made. After all, he says, all scratchers — newbies and veterans alike — are working with the same equipment and trying to make the same kind of music.
“We're all just going forward, backward, on and off,” he says, describing how turntablists scratch records. “That's all scratching is — forward, backward and the fader cutting the sound on and off. We make patterns using that. We might get more skilled with our hand style, we might learn patterns, you get more muscle memory, but at the end of the day, we all started at day one.”
The weekly scratch meetup at Mile High DJ Supply, 6652 Wadsworth Boulevard in Arvada, runs from 6 to 10 p.m. every Wednesday.