As I walked past a handful of cops gathered next to KS-107.5's van and into Bash for its new night, Magic City, I expected to see fools losing their minds. I mean, rap fans are supposed to be violent by nature, right? And sure enough, folks were losing their minds -- but not the way you'd think. All night long, there was nothing but a mass of asses and smiling faces on the packed dance floor. Bash looked like a living, breathing modern-day equivalent of that Ernie Barnes painting on Good Times; the only murderous act I witnessed was my man DJ Quote killin' it on the ones and twos. Sure, there were archetypal, hard-looking homeboys with their hats tilted to the side, and there were just as many honeys competing for the fellas' attention. But no one was sweating anybody else, no matter how heavy the beats got. And Quote, who's ice-cold behind the mixer, wasn't holding back. I hadn't been in the club fifteen minutes before he threw down cuts by Lil Jon, Ludacris and J-Kwon. Honestly, I've seen rowdier crowds and felt more tension at a TGI Friday's happy hour. As Cube would say, it was a good day; I didn't have to use my AK.
Outside of Bash, the streets of LoDo were easy like a Sunday morning. All the aggression and havoc of this summer's tougher nights had dissipated along with the tear-gas fumes. By the club, I ran into Johnny Fantastic, a local DJ who spins on Wednesday nights at the Casbah with Al Your Pal and is also one-third of All Star Entertainment, the crew that organized Magic City. Fantastic's history in Mootown runs deep. His brother, the late Mix Master Mike, was the promoter behind F Stop, one of LoDo's earliest progenitors of hip-hop. Needless to say, Fantastic, who's promoted nights on his own at Baja Beach Club and Larimer 21, is no newcomer to the scene; he's felt the heavy hand of the stigma attached to hip-hop. And as if on cue, he confirmed my assessment that the music was being used as a scapegoat.
"It's like Scarface once said," Fantastic offered. "'When Brad went and shot his dad, they didn't blame it on Gunsmoke.' If you go to McDonald's or Burger King and eat your hamburger or whatever and then go out and shoot someone, is McDonald's or Burger King responsible? No! We're not babysitters. We're a club. And these are grown people. It's 21-and-up to drink, and 21-and-up to act the fool, if that's what you want to do. After the club lets out, if you go out in the street and start a fight, I can't control that."
Finally, a voice of reason. And Fantastic wasn't the only one. I also spoke with a couple of police officers, twenty-year veterans who've worked their fair share of hip-hop nights at various clubs over the years. Both offered unsolicited praise of Bash, saying the club has done an exceptional job of controlling its crowd. They also made it clear that Bash's patrons had nothing to do with the July 4 incident on Market Street so graphically documented in Westword last month. Both insisted that the Bash crowd, with which they are quite familiar -- "It's the same people every week," one of the officers said -- is very respectful. More troublesome, they said, is a small contingent of people -- most likely non-club-goers -- who congregate on the corner of 19th and Blake streets shortly before Let Out. That makes sense; the shooting this past spring took place in a parking lot within throwing distance of that corner. Because of the lot's proximity to Bash, it might be easy to assume that the triggerman came from the club. It might be easy, but it would be wrong.
Still, hip-hop and the clubs that offer it will continue to serve as patsies until this town places the blame where it belongs -- on a handful of knuckleheads doing the dirt. Admittedly, filtering out the idiots will be tricky, but putting the kibosh on loitering would be a good place to start. While some people do linger after Let Out, there's a big difference between giving your boys a pound and chilling in the same spot for hours.
Fantastic is optimistic that the situation will make a paradigm shift next year -- a shift driven by the almighty dollar. "There's been a lot of complaining about hip-hop lately," he said. "But hip-hop is what's keeping a lot of these clubs alive. And next year, with All Star Weekend, when Jay-Z and all them throw their parties, Denver's gonna want that money."
No doubt. And right now, with hip-hop keeping the lights on at several venues, the smart money is on clubs like Bash, Sky and Soul that aren't afraid of the music or its fans. Maybe the name of Bash's new night will prove prophetic. Maybe this time next year, Mootown will indeed be a magic city for hip-hop.
Upbeats and beatdowns: I can never decide what's more aggravating about karaoke nights -- the limited song selection or the painful renditions of the tunes I'm usually subjected to. Before I headed to Bash last Thursday night, I stopped by Bender's Tavern, at 13th and Grant. And while the singers still blew -- with the exception of a Cocoon extra named Millie -- I'm happy to report that Bender's at least has a wider assortment of songs. I was stoked to see "Too Drunk to Fuck," by the Dead Kennedys, alongside cuts by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sham 69, Flaming Lips, Magna Pop and the Boo Radleys on the list. Of course, nobody sang any of that shit, but it was nice to know it was there.
Some ideas are so simple and yet so utilitarian, you can't help but wonder why someone didn't come up with the concept sooner. DenverXSyndicate.com, launched earlier this month by Kim Baker (of Kim Quirk and the Big, Bad Band) and her husband, Steve Baker (of Barstool Messiah), is a retail outlet that will focus exclusively on local music and allow non-tech-savvy netizens of Mootown to hawk their wares online. It's like a non-brick-and-mortar version of Locals' Music -- the Capitol Hill shop run by John Carter in the mid-'90s that specialized in homegrown music -- with the database-driven structure of Amazon.com. And the Bakers have made the consignment process as turnkey as possible: After an artist provides five copies of a release, the Bakers will take care of everything else, adding the disc to inventory, scanning the cover art and posting song samples. The proceeds of each sale are then split, with the artist collecting 60 percent and the Bakers taking the remaining 40 percent.
The Syndicate already has 25 titles in stock, with more added daily. Those interested in joining can contact the Bakers through the site.