A heavy beat pulsates through the room. By sheer reflex, your body starts to respond, head bobbing, hips and feet moving to the groove. It’s the unmistakable allure of soul music.
Soul music began in the U.S. in the 1950s, evolving from African-American gospel, rewritten with up-tempo beats and secular lyrics. The genre was pioneered by artists such as Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett
Denver boasts a handful of retro soul-music nights, all run by avid vintage vinyl collectors and each with a unique take on the classic sound.
Scott Damnit grew up in New Jersey and moved to Denver after a short time in Boulder. He got into soul music through the thriving scooter and mod scene of the early ’90s. He started digging through record-store crates, collecting the sounds of obscure artists and northern soul, a late-’60s British take on the genre, often just going off instinct and the look of an album cover, until one day someone asked if he'd ever thought about deejaying with his finds. “I gave it a try one night, and I went from nervous to exhilarated. I was hooked!” he says.
Damnit, who now runs Groove Diggers Soul Club, along with partners Adam Hester and Wesley Summerhill, says the thrill of deejaying is letting others enjoy his collection: “I could just keep them all to myself, but I’ve chosen to share them and watch people dance to them. I did the work to find them; other people might not have the time or know what they are missing.”
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Miggy Camacho, who runs Motown Groove and Soul4You, grew up in East Los Angeles and discovered soul through the punk and ska scenes. He’s been deejaying multiple incarnations of soul nights for years around Denver. For him, the thrill of deejaying is introducing young audiences to the music. “I get a lot of twenty-year-olds who are hearing this music for the first time. They hear samples in hip-hop and EDM, and they’re putting it all together. It’s cool to educate people about where the music comes from.”
Both DJs say the current interest in 1960s-era music might be a sign of the times as our country goes through cultural and political struggles similar to those of the ’60s and people have a definite need for some release and joyful distraction. “Some of those songs may sound like simple love songs, but if you really listen to the lyrics, they’re singing about Vietnam, the riots and turmoil that was going on, and it provided some escapism,” says Damnit. “We may be slipping back into a similar situation right now. It just became relevant again.”
Camacho also believes that soul music connects people. “It brings you to a place that reminds you of hanging out with your parents, parties, something that moved you when you were a kid, or the ’60s movements.
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Get your groove on at the following five soul nights in Denver:
Groove Diggers Soul Club
Relaxed, underground, mod vibe with the vintage beats of soul, doo-wop, R&B, lowrider oldies, ska and boogaloo. With DJs Scott Damnit, Adam Hester and Wesley Summerhill. Last Saturday of the month at Bowman's Vinyl and Lounge,1312 South Broadway.
Mile High Soul
Vintage northern soul, R&B, popcorn, funk, and rarities from the late ’50s to early ’70s get Saturday night partiers packed onto the large dance floor. With DJs Jason Heller, Tyler Jacobson, Dogboy and Steve Cervantes. First Saturday of the month at Syntax Physic Opera, 554 South Broadway.
The classic sounds of the 1960s to ’70s-era Motown, soul
Motown on Mondays
Take the blues out of Monday with the irresistible sounds of Motown on a large dance floor. With DJ A-L playing a mix of vintage vinyl and digital. Every Monday night at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, 1215 20th Street.
A Saturday night dance party in an intimate space, mixing old and new sounds of soul, funk, Latin soul, reggae and dancehall music. With DJ Miggy Camacho and special guests. Second Saturday of the month at the Meadowlark Bar, 2701 Larimer Street.