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Rhinoceropolis in Photos: The Early Years

When Rhinoceropolis opened its doors to the public for the first time in May of 2005 for an art show, it represented a continuation of Denver's long tradition of DIY venues. From warehouses in the '80s to the Greenhaus and the various Twice Wilted warehouses later that decade and through to the mid-'90s and the legendary Monkey Mania (among many others), Denver has been fortunate to be a place where people have often sought to go outside the more established/commercial route of having a place to see art and music.

Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I had no clue such places existed. Certainly not in Aurora, Colorado or nearby Denver. Music meant stuff you heard on the radio or saw on FMTV or MTV or Teletunes. So after going to college in Illinois in the late '80s through the early '90s, and being exposed to early alternative music and returning to Denver, I didn't know such things could exist in a place that I lived. Many people in this area know this experience. So when I discovered an all female punk/hip-hop group called Rainbow Sugar through going to see Sleater-Kinney at the Fox Theater in Boulder and following the band to its shows at places like Rebis Gallery, Monkey Mania, Cricket On the Hill, 15th St. Tavern, 7 South, Soulciety and even a house show, I had a pretty thorough introduction to underground music in Denver at that time.

Monkey Mania and 15th St. Tavern held a special place in my heart, because both were places you could see the most interesting and important underground bands of that time. I also felt welcome at both places and became friends with the people at Monkey Mania and even talked with Scott Campbell, the booking manager at 15th St. Tavern, from time to time. Both venues became mainstays of my preferred musical experiences for a handful of years.

At Monkey Mania, though, I often saw Ultra Boyz and got to see Zombie Zombie once or twice. Ultra Boyz seemed to play every other Monkey Mania show as well as shows at other venues and if you were paying attention, you couldn't escape them. Not that you would have wanted to. So naturally I'd heard about how one of the guys in Ultra Boyz and a guy in Zombie Zombie were starting a new warehouse space or something with a couple of friends I was interested but didn't take it too seriously at first, more's the pity. I thought of it as kind of like Monkey Mania Jr. Josh Taylor and Amy Fantastic moved to L.A. In December 2005 I wasn't worried about a hole being left in that world so near and dear to me because members of the band Pretty Thigh kept it going well into the next year.

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The new venue, called Rhinoceropolis, didn't have many shows the first year or two of its existence. Not compared to later years at any rate, but I missed most of the shows in 2005 and 2006 because I kept going to Monkey Mania, and because I was making an unsuccessful attempt at going to graduate school to become an elementary school teacher.

But by 2007 I found myself going to Rhinoceropolis as often as possible. The venue becoming more active oddly paralleled a time in my life when I was ready to give up on everything as my life spiralled out of control having dropped out of grad school and not having any job prospects that paid any better than minimum wage. It dovetailed together with becoming friends with Nick Houde (Transistor Radio Sound) and Brittany Gould (Married in Berdichev and Mannequin Makeout) who were still doing Still Soft Recordings and putting out honest, creative music in beautiful packaging and they also played Rhino, as the venue is affectionately called, often.

The next series of photos represents a segment of those first three years of Rhinoceropolis and its sister venue and neighbor, Glob, with virtually nothing from the first two years for the reasons outlined above. Over the next three weeks, I will also share photos for a total of four sections. Following this section there will be a chapter, if you will, on the very busy period of Rhinoceropolis' existence from 2008 to 2010, the era representing 2011 to the present and one chapter dedicated to the photography of the late Kyle King whose photos are some of the finest visual representations of what it was like to go to Rhino at that time.

*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.

• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
- 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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