Although its name is menacing, the Ominous DJ night has become one of the most inclusive musical events in Denver, and may soon loom large beyond the city’s subcultures. The monthly alternative dance party, which rolls out at Tracks nightclub, is an extravaganza of music and visual elements, as well as a themed event for which dressing up is heartily encouraged. (Past themes have included Marvel/DC comics and Doctor Who; the latter night featured a life-sized TARDIS on site.) The goal of Ominous is to create a space where everyone is welcome, no matter what alt-community or lifestyle they embrace or where their musical interests lie.
When A.J. Ritual started the night at the Compound in April 2013, its mission was to bring together various communities, and that hasn’t changed in the two-plus years that he’s been putting it on. Today the primary Ominous collaborators are Ritual, Tina “DJ Slave 1” Berger and Sante Suffoletta, all of whom have been involved — separately — in the dance and DJ worlds for years. Before moving to Denver, Ritual had been working as a promoter for bands and events in Albuquerque, and one night when a DJ didn’t show up, he stepped up to the booth, which led to him deejaying his own club nights. He moved to Denver in 2010 with the idea of removing himself from Albuquerque’s party scene, but once he got here, he found himself going out every night of the week. In 2012, he got sober, something that he says allowed him to focus on creating an event with the size and scope of Ominous. He also began landing gigs at Old Curtis Street, Blue Ice and the Compound, as well as slots opening for bands.
Ritual had met Berger during a visit to Denver in 2009, when she and fellow goth/industrial DJ Dave Vendetta, along with DJ Deathwish, were doing a short-lived event called Hellbound at the Roxy Theatre. That event, and that meeting, had laid some of the conceptual groundwork for Ominous.
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“People were so splintered, and we wanted to pull everything together,” Berger recalls. “So we had people in their own niches who came together for one night [at Hellbound]. Unfortunately, the venue didn’t work out. Every week something went wrong. Sometimes we’d have to bring our own lights; sometimes we’d even have to bring our own liquor.”
By that time, Berger had already made a name for herself with the popular DJ night Disintegration, which ran from 2003 to 2008 at the now-defunct Wave in downtown Denver. Early on, Ritual invited her to spin at Ominous — and while today she continues to spin weekly at Milk Bar and the Church, her musical choices at Ominous are less circumscribed by genre, a freedom she says she relishes.
By the fall of 2013, Ominous had outgrown its space at the Compound and relocated to Tracks, where it flourished, quickly becoming one of the most popular underground dance nights in the city. Still, Ritual and Berger, who by then was a co-producer of the event, felt that it could expand further — as did Suffoletta, who had spent the ’90s as a professional DJ for club nights and raves in Denver, Colorado Springs and beyond, including a deep involvement in the Burning Man community. For the past ten years, Suffoletta has focused on event planning; he currently runs the Dance World program for Denver’s PrideFest and is involved in the burner community’s annual Decompression event.
“I reached out to [Ritual and Berger] last year,” Suffoletta says. “I was honestly always interested in the night, and it just worked out that we had the same vision.... I was getting invites from A.J. and Tina every month, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s another cool theme. What they’re doing is really great.’ They weren’t trying to do just another goth night or club night. The focus was really on the guests and great themes and a place where people could costume — but no matter what alternative lifestyle you were into, you would be welcome.”
Suffoletta’s knowledge and connections complement those of Ritual and Berger when it comes to planning events. As a result of their partnership, Ominous was connected to the LGBTQ community and the burner world, as well as the cosplay community, Comic Con and Starfest. Sparked by Ritual’s interest in horror movies, the night has also linked up with the Mile High Horror Film Fest and Colorado Horror Con.
“I think a lot of us have been outsiders our whole lives, and we’ve been shunned and ridiculed and bullied, and nobody wants to feel like that,” explains Berger. “We united the niche communities we’re involved in, and we’ve found acceptance at Ominous and want everyone to have that chance.”
“It’s gay, it’s goth, leather, rave, burner — anything alternative,” adds Ritual.
“The only other place I see that is at Burning Man,” says Suffoletta. “Even with Decompression, we’re not playing goth; it’s mostly EDM, house and underground-type stuff. But we’ve played video-game music, classical music, jazz and techno, alternative and goth and industrial at Ominous, and it all works, because people are there to hear something new and for the theme. It’s not just one box you need to fit into.”
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Next Friday, Ominous will present Dead Snow: The Zombie Apocalypse Ball at Tracks. Afterward, across the street at Fusion Factory, festivities will continue with a zombie-themed after-party called Quarantine. Like any rave worthy of the name, Quarantine will go all night, with dancing from 1:30 to 6 a.m. It’s open to the public but is 21-plus, charges a cover and is strictly BYOB.
Ritual, Berger and Suffoletta hope to take the Ominous format to other cities in the United States. Along with their other collaborators, including performance manager Ru Fio, community stage manager Kimiko Von Wyrd and artwalk manager Landon Richter, the trio is exploring that expansion for the coming year.
“Now that we’ve polished the formula locally, [we want] to really try to reach out,” Suffoletta says. “I think, just with the way the world is, lines are disappearing between communities. People are a lot more accepting than they were twenty years ago. It’s time for an event like this.”
Ominous Presents Dead Snow: The Zombie Apocalypse
9 p.m. Friday, January 22, Tracks, 3500 Walnut Street, $5-$15, 18+, 303-863-7326.