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Sentimentally Yours

Most local gay nightlife languishes in self-imposed mediocrity that couldn't be further removed from the exciting club milieu invented by queers back in the Sixties and Seventies--which is why Kim Fronapfel, aka DJ Sentiment, is such a valuable part of the community. By blending funk, jazz, R&B and rap from...
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Most local gay nightlife languishes in self-imposed mediocrity that couldn't be further removed from the exciting club milieu invented by queers back in the Sixties and Seventies--which is why Kim Fronapfel, aka DJ Sentiment, is such a valuable part of the community. By blending funk, jazz, R&B and rap from both the old and new schools, she's turned the Lava Lounge, a Saturday-night event at the Elle, into an open-minded party that appeals equally to gays and straights, ethnics and Anglos.

"It's hip-hop with brains, as I like to put it," Fronapfel says. "That's our concept for the Lava Lounge. Something beyond that monotonous techno beat, like the acid jazz and trip-hop we play a lot. When we first opened, it was so nice to watch people, especially from the gay community, come out to the patio and hear this new music and be blown away."

In a scene dominated by male DJs, Fronapfel quite naturally stands out--but then again, she always has. She grew up as part of an artistic family: At her house, the radio was always playing, a paint box was usually within reach, and her sisters were happy to teach her the Hustle. Nonetheless, she hardly blended into the woodwork. "I love rhythm," she points out. "My father was a construction worker, and my mom tells me she would always find me banging away for hours on the buckets and things he kept in the garage."

By the time she was a teenager, Fronapfel was a huge fan of Crash Worship, a percussion-mad Southern California cult band, and had taken up the congas. In other words, she had the beat--and upon meeting J.D. Blu, one of Denver's pioneering female jocks, she got an opportunity to prove it.

"I was one of those people who made mixed tapes obsessively," she says. "Then my sister Cathy introduced me to Blu, who really liked my musical choices, and she suggested the Lava Lounge project. Up to that point, I'd only put songs together with blank tapes on a boombox. But she asked if I wanted to learn how to use the equipment and be her partner."

The pair set up shop at the Elle, which was founded in 1994 by Joan Glover during a noteworthy club boom. Their debut took place in August 1995 and immediately impressed, thanks both to the Lounge's music and its look. "Blu helped paint a great mural on the wall, and we found some vintage furniture and bought velvet and candles for the tables," Fronapfel remembers. "It was an amazing atmosphere." She adds, "The basis of what Blu and I wanted to do at the Lava Lounge was very different from what other gay and lesbian clubs were doing at the time."

As the Elle grew into a happening terminus for club kids and weekend hipsters, the Lounge became popular enough to move into the space's large front room. Fronapfel views the new sound system Glover installed there as a symbol of her support for the Lounge. "As far as the creative process, Joanie just lets you go. She wants us to stay at the Elle, doing what we do."

Despite such incentives, Blu moved to New York in summer 1997 to pursue an art career. Fronapfel felt the crunch. "I was stuck without a partner," she says. "Like any job, you need a break to go outside, to use the bathroom, to dance. So I taught Jen DeRosey, my girlfriend, how to throw on the next song, and the more she did it, the better she got. I mean, she was really good at it, a natural. Now we split the sets right down the middle." The transition was essential, she insists, because "I don't like DJing by myself. I like having time to dance, to soak up the atmosphere and to feel out the crowd."

Fronapfel follows a socially conscious pattern when choosing tracks, avoiding the bad-boy hip-hop of Puff Daddy and his ilk in favor of sounds made by a warmer, more talented group of musicians. She gives props to acts ranging from Otis Redding, Gil Scott-Heron and Sly and the Family Stone to the Roots, A Tribe Called Quest and the Refugee crew, but she lavishes special praise on Missy 'Misdemeanor' Elliott. "I have a lot of respect for Missy, because she's not the idea of what an R&B/hip-hop woman is supposed to look like. I mean, she's big and she's smart; her raps are fast, and she's all out there. I think that's sexier than anything."

As the years have passed, Fronapfel has developed a sixth sense about what cuts will bring down the house. "You've got to feel your crowd out, and you've got to know when to throw some James Brown on to get those asses shaking," she says. Even so, she doesn't expect to still be working with wax when her gray hairs start to show. She's a professional nanny during the daytime hours, and she plans to put this experience to good use: "I'm going back to school in the fall, to Metro and then Naropa next year. I'm going to enter the art therapy/music therapy program, and eventually I'd like to be a music therapist for children. I think we need therapy like that in a country where public schools don't have art or music classes anymore. Now it's all about football and pop machines for third-graders to get them high on caffeine, while there's all these creative children who want to express themselves. And it just doesn't happen, unfortunately."

In the meantime, Fronapfel is hoping to start making music of her own rather than simply playing it. "Jen just bought me a mandolin, which I'm going to learn soon, and I want a dulcimer next. Any stringed instrument that I can get my hands on excites me. So much music is derived from string instruments--everything from classical symphonies to funk guitar."

Don't worry: Fronapfel isn't ready to shut down the Lava Lounge just yet. "My biggest high as a DJ...well, I have a lot of highs, but first of all, it's the music," she says. "I couldn't do this job if I couldn't play the music I want to hear. I couldn't work at a corporate radio station. I want people to feel good and I want them to think. And you'll never hear that kind of music on the radio."

The Lava Lounge, with DJ Sentiment, Jen DeRosey and DJ Mystique. 9 p.m. Saturdays, The Elle, 716 West Colfax, $3, 893-3553.

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