When eminent techno DJ and producer Carl Cox embarks on his first North American tour in fifteen years, he’ll be making only a dozen stops, in Mexico, for the Electric Daisy Carnival, and in a handful of other big cities on the electronic-music map. Thanks to Kaz Qamruddin, aka the Brown Elvis, and Casey Stongle, aka Mental 69, and their work establishing Denver on that map, Cox will also play a warehouse set on March 7 with Josh Wink that sold out in less than six hours.
Qamruddin and Stongle are the promoters behind Whirling Dervish, a production company bringing huge names in electronic music to Denver and hosting them in warehouses several steps up from those of the gritty early days of the ’90s and ’00s.
“We both agreed there was this gap in the music scene in Colorado,” explains Stongle. Artists they loved who were still relevant and touring and producing new music — including Sasha, John Digweed, Rabbit in the Moon, Hernan Cattaneo, Roger Sanchez and Dubfire — weren’t making it to Denver regularly. “There’s all this great, progressive music that so many people our age loved and listened to in the ’90s and early 2000s, and it kind of got nudged out of the scene here and replaced by other genres that were a little more dominating,” he adds.
But Qamruddin and Stongle felt well positioned to facilitate a renaissance: They had both spent decades producing and promoting parties, and Qamruddin has maintained relationships with prominent artists over the years. Together, the duo has perfected its Whirling Dervish warehouse-experience events, capturing the feel of an old-school rave with just the right updates — clean bathrooms, good security, high-quality alcohol, top-notch lighting and sound — creating a comfortable and safe space to dance all night.
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The partnership emerged in 2016, when Qamruddin brought John Digweed to Denver for an event that became the birth of Whirling Dervish. “After years of not working with him, I was able to re-establish that relationship [with Digweed], and they offered us a Saturday night in April of 2016,” he recalls. “I had the space and the DJ and the date — and I found out that Casey was doing a party [through Fantastic Hosts] on the same date. That would have been pretty detrimental to my party.”
Stongle had co-founded Fantastic Hosts in 1997 after years of producing parties in Colorado, and Qamruddin was well aware that those events were “very well attended and successful.” The two were passing acquaintances, though they’d never worked together before; Stongle threw his first rave in Colorado in 1991 after discovering the music and scene in the late ’80s, while Qamruddin stumbled across house music on the radio as a college student at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1992 and began throwing his own events in 1993.
“So I reached out and asked if he’d mind moving his date, because this was a big deal for me,” Qamruddin explains. Stongle agreed to shift the date of his Fantastic Hosts event, and the two of them also decided to team up on the April 2016 Digweed show, which sold out six weeks in advance.
During that process, the two realized they had very different operating styles: “I’m kind of a hundred miles a minute all the time — that’s just my personality — while Casey thinks about stuff more," says Qamruddin. "It’s a really good balance.” But early on, they weren’t sure they would be able to work together long-term; at one point, Stongle told Qamruddin that working with him was like working with a whirling dervish.
That’s one reason that they eventually dubbed their company Whirling Dervish — but the logo, a stylized “WD” that evokes a spinning, dancing mystic, references the term's origins. In Sufism, a dervish is a type of devotee who sometimes performs a whirling dance meant to invoke religious ecstasy.
“They look to achieve enlightenment by dancing, spinning around and around to very rhythmic beats, whirling until they achieve these higher states of consciousness,” explains Stongle. “That’s what we’re trying to create on the dance floor, using lights and a comfortable, calm, safe environment so that people can lose themselves in the music and vibrate together and resonate as one. That’s the underlying drive in what we do.”
After the John Digweed bash, Whirling Dervish threw two more events in 2016, seven in 2017, ten in 2018, then pared back to four in 2019; this month they’re celebrating an anniversary with the Carl Cox warehouse experience followed by Hernan Cattaneo and Nick Warren on March 21.
“Whirling Dervish Productions are definitely one of the most interesting promoters I work with around the world,” Cattaneo explains over email. “Not only the quality of the events they produce, but the atmosphere and the crowds they pull at their shows — every time is different and exciting.”
Tara Brooks, who has opened for several Whirling Dervish headliners, writes Westword, “Denver has become a very special place for me to play for many reasons. There’s nothing like a down-to-earth crowd that is die-hard for the music, they never stop dancing, and don’t give a shit about who’s watching or taking selfies — well, at least the Denver crowd that attends Whirling Dervish parties!
“I’ve been playing for Kaz and Casey for quite a few years now, and they take the warehouse experience to the next level,” she adds. “They’ve built a brand the people trust, bringing in the most respected legends, while always stepping up their production.”
For Whirling Dervish, producing events that engage and excite both artists and attendees is a challenge that’s possibly even more acute because of geography: Stongle is based in Denver, while Qamruddin lives in New York. But on the other hand, like their operating styles, the distance that could be a weakness is also a real strength for this team.
Because Stongle is “on the ground in Denver, he’ll go and meet with the venues,” explains Qamruddin. “I get access to a ton of artists, because everyone comes through New York, and I also travel a lot to relevant electronic-music shows. I’ll go to festivals in other parts of the world where our DJs are playing, and if I’m with them, they’ll introduce me to another agent.”
Qamruddin also handles Facebook marketing for Whirling Dervish — posting rave memes and engaging with fans — while Stongle is in charge of coordinating logistics. “We’re in constant contact. We’re talking just about every day as the party is coming up and making sure that we’re aligned and no balls are dropped,” notes Stongle. “It comes down to what we have learned over time.”
That learning is cumulative, and Qamruddin and Stongle are excited about what the rest of the year has in store for the music scene in Denver in general and Whirling Dervish in particular.
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“The parties will be bigger; there will be more of Whirling Dervish and what we have to offer — which is the best music, the best venues, the best sound and the best overall experience, and we’re excited to be able to bring that to Colorado,” Qamruddin says.
“When I come back to Denver, I feel like I’m throwing parties for my friends, with my friends,” he adds. “It feels intimate. I can throw parties in other places, but it doesn’t feel like family. I feel like we have roots here, and when we do it right, it’s like we’re giving back to the scene that we helped create.”
Find out more about Whirling Dervish at the group's website.
Correction, Thursday, March 5: Casey Stongle's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.