Scenes From GNU: Experience Gallery, The Last Great DIY Venue in Fort Collins

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GNU: Experience Gallery, in its former location at 109 Linden Street in Fort Collins, provided an oasis of alternative culture to anyone who showed up. It was literally underground, next to Pin Ball Jones and relatively under the radar. But it hosted touring bands and regional acts willing to make the trek to Fort Collins to play pretty much the only DIY space left in town. Its mission continues today in a new location, inside Downtown Artery at 252 Linden St.

See also: Beloved Underground Venue GNU Gets a Second Chance in Fort Collins

Here is Brandton Manshel working the door. Every town needs someone that dedicated to making cool, underground events happen.

On June 1, 2012, the bill for the night was something about Rhinoceropolis being at GNU. The two venues had/have similar interests in promoting art and music in the underground and both open their doors to touring bands. This is Echo Beds when David Mead was still in the band. Echo Beds just recorded its next full-length at Black In Bluhm, with a release expected in the fall.

Kevin Wesley was the guitarist in the legendary local noise rock band Hot White. He performed a solo performance art piece this night.

Amerikhan was Zach Khan who had long been a fixture in the art and music community in Fort Collins before moving to Denver. He always had an interesting performance project going including the completely unforgettable Exhuman, which was like a live Voodoo mystical ceremony with music and make-up and costumes. He lit his synth on fire for real for this show.

Tripp Nasty is the performance persona of William "Trip" Wallin III. Tripp Nasty is kind of an umbrella name for Tripp's various interests in doing something creative live including music. But this night it was spoken word/storytelling and he wasn't shy about walking up to people and asking them direct questions.

My own band, Pythian Whispers, played this night but the night ended with Chris Westin, who was then the leaseholder at Rhinoceropolis, as Voices Of, an experimental electronic music project. He built a kind of wall around him with foam bricks and at the end of the set crashed down the wall and people pelted him with those bricks and he was buried underneath with a light illuminating the bricks from inside. It was one of those nights you don't soon forget and a real synthesis of like-minded people's sense of fun.

Matt Sage is the mastermind behind the Patient Sounds imprint and a guy who has been making innovative music from Fort Collins for more than a decade. From Castles to M. Pyres and various other projects, Sage perfectly captured a sense of melancholy, isolation and yearning for connection in his music. With M. Sage he took that to a different level of sound embodying the environment.

Kevin Greenspon seems to be constantly on tour and is sometimes based out of California. His own experimental electronic music evokes a zen-like transcendence that seems to be his anchor in a life that is otherwise in near constant motion, uprooting to travel around more often than not. That he is able to make such soothing, evocative music is pretty remarkable, given his mode of operating.

Eric Delsine from Belgium performed this night as Eric In the Kitchen. He played live instruments and had a track and at times was reminiscent of Tangerine Dream or Radiohead if the latter toned down the rock band thing. Either way, he had an ineffably interesting and original set of material and his playing it solo was impressive to see. He continues to make fascinating music and play live in Belgium and Europe. If he comes back through, don't miss him.

Sara Century, who also was no stranger to living in Fort Collins and nearby areas, closed out the night with her own eccentric pop songs. Though she only has an acoustic guitar here, Century found ways to push the seeming limitations of that format and put on a confrontational show.

Sauna was the darling of the local indie rock world for a long time and justifiably so because the band had good songs and the people in it were the kind of "kids" you'd want to know in high school because they are nice and good people. They're all living in different parts of the country now though drummer Sammy Davis moved back to Denver after a stint in Seattle. Sauna didn't break up, per se, and you may be able to see the group sometime should everyone be back in Denver on a break from school.

Sour Boy Bitter Girl is a Fort Collins-based folk/pop/rock band that might remind some people of Smog. Benjamin Buttice has a gritty voice and a weathered persona that really lends the music an uncommon weight. Guitarist Jonathan Alonzo, recently in You, Me & Apollo, was in this band at this time as well. Not as well-known as it should be, SBBG is one of the real gems of Fort Collins music of the last decade.

Like any town where live music is developing and flourishing in any sense, Fort Collins has pockets of bands that are almost completely unknown outside of town. Electric Shoes is a good, fairly straight-ahead rock band from FoCo. Not to be confused with another band called The Electric Shoes.

One of the later period shows at GNU was all hip-hop and Pythian Whispers. Though Toby Hendricks now lives in Denver and is part of Nighttimeschoolbus with the inimitable Robin Walker, for years he was doing experimental hip-hop as Otem Rellik. Check out any of his albums, they're all excellent, inventive and imaginative.

Chris Steele has been plugging away as a hip-hop artist in Denver for years as a member of Calm and The Grimies as well as his solo project under his rap moniker, Time. With an interest in experimental music, literature and politics generally, Time's music is smart and imbued with a psychedelic sensibility.

Sole is Tim Holland. For those not in the know, Holland formed influential hip-hop imprint Anticon in the '90s. That label was responsible for getting Slug of Atmosphere out into the world as well as the home of Dose One, Cloudead, Deep Puddle Dynamics and many of the other great underground hip-hop bands of recent times. He has also recently tried his hand at a longtime interest of making noise-influenced music as White Noise with his wife Yasamin.

*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 in 1999 at Herman's Hideaway. 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 • - Brandton Manshel of GNU on the Struggles of Keeping a DIY Space Going in Fort Collins - Seven of Denver's Most Underrated Bands - 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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