Each year of the Underground Music Showcase, the unofficial slogans are on everyone’s lips, cocktails and marquees.
“Bless this mess.” “You a mess.” “Someone broke a toilet at the Hi-Dive.”
It’s the biggest party of the year for Denver’s music scene, with thousands of people swarming South Broadway for three July days. This particular year brought a few new outdoor stages into the mix and booked up more than a dozen venues from Fourth to Alameda. It also brought the usual street performances and lines out the doors at Pie Hole and the Hi-Dive, plus angels distributing free Shake Shack burgers and at least one wristband-less woman trying to barter her way into the Hi-Dive with Milano cookies.
This year marked the festivals first under new ownership. Two Parts marketing and events agency bought the UMS from the Denver Post Community Foundation early this year and, come July, had produced a familiar event with logistical tweaks.
“I think it went really well overall,” said Tobias Krause, director of the UMS. “I think we’re all really pleased with the turnout and the changes that were enacted. … I think we’re all really happy right now.
“I think the decreased days was a really positive thing. I think everybody had a little extra energy on Sunday,” he added. “I think there was some concern there wasn’t going to be enough music, and I think we took care of that with an increased footprint and multiple new stages. In the past people might have just hung out at their favorite venue or main stage. … We really wanted to focus on a diverse lineup across the board to get people walking from end to end.”
As he put it, “there’s always going to be challenges.” And as we’ve heard from former UMS organizers, a the biggest hitch can be keeping the neighbors happy. In the past, that job fell to production manager Will Dupree. This year, Two Parts also brought someone in to act as community liaison.
“We really wanted to take the time to go out and listen to the businesses and ask what worked and what they hated in the past,” Krause said. “… We really wanted to be part of the community.”
All that aside, at the heart of the party, it’s the music. The slate of more than 300 acts, though not all of them were local, represent a diverse Denver music scene that manages to change as much as it stays the same.
Below, you’ll find some highlights from our weekend. You can also find them on our Youtube playlist, along with eight performances from 2017. And if you’re feeling an itch for a little backstory while you listen, be sure to check out our oral history of the UMS.
KDUBBS plays Moe’s Original Bar B Que
According to her UMS bio, Kaitlyn Williams, aka KDUBBS, is a classically trained musician who’s brought her skills into the universe of jazz. With a trumpet, sax, guitar and drums backing her powerful voice, KDUBBS brought a sultry, groovy vibe to the UMS’s barbecue joint.
Los Mocochetes play the Sesh Stage
As you’ll hear below, “Los Mocochetes” doesn’t actually mean anything. Instead, a bunch of self-identified “booger kids” made up a word to define their Chicano funk band and frame their purpose around social responsibility and justice. Band member Joshua Abeyta told Westword’s Jon Solomon this year that it comes from mocoso, “someone who is snot-faced — but it has that connotation of a punk kid” and machete. Their track here, “El Mocochete,” is about choosing your own destiny.
Chloe Tang plays Illegal Pete’s
Chloe Tang, a classically trained pianist, is “exploring alternative pop” with a blend of electronic, voice-looping sounds with traditional band elements, according to her website. She’s been based in Denver for the last few years, but she wished her local fans farewell during her UMS performance. She’s headed to Los Angeles to take her career to the next level. This song, “She’s Not Me,” comes from her new EP, “Stranger.”
Ray Reed plays the Blue Ice Lounge
Denver native Ray Reed, according to his artist bio, says he turned to selling marijuana in high school as a way to scrape by before ending up in jail. When he got out, he promised himself that he’d find a new way forward. He found his new future in music. His song here, “NEVER HAD IT [A Dolla And A Scheme],” was borne from those personal experiences that brought him to his musical career. Last year, he told 303 Magazine that he’s ready for his hip hop work to “blow up.”
Church Fire plays the 3 Kings Tavern
The duo Church Fire call themselves “primal therapy,” and that shows through in their aggressive and mystical dance music. We’ll leave it to them for more adjectives: “darkwave distorted witchy luminous synth-noise-pop.” What’s missing from listening to their tracks online is the presence and performance they bring to the stage. With costumery as dark and mysterious as their music, Church Fire’s live show brings their music to new, intense and zombified life.
Panther Martin plays the Skylark Lounge
Panther Martin is not your one stop shop for fishing lures, they’re a cheeky quartet that specializes in classic riffing. The first of their two UMS performances this year consisted entirely of covers, like The Knack’s “My Sharona” below. In 2015, they told Ashley (then at the Denver Post) that their show is, “Energetic, and also very precise and careless at the same time. Just good old fashioned rock ‘n roll.”
Rotten Reputation plays the Hi-Dive
The Denver-based femme punk band Rotten Reputation is as loud and fast as one might hope from any punk rockers to grace the Hi-Dive. Politics has always been deeply tied to punk music, and Rotten Reputation’s feminist perspective keeps with that tradition. Earlier this year, they kicked off an Anti-Flag show that turned into a full-on “Punk Against Trump” festival at Summit Music Hall.
Whitacre plays the South Broadway Christian Church
Not to be confused with acclaimed composer Eric Whitacre, Denver-based folk band Whitacre is a five-piece crew that utilizes sounds ranging from distorted guitar to banjo to accordion. While they say their act has taken off, lead vocalist Paul Whitacre told the crowd that their faith was recently tested when thousands of dollars of gear was stolen while they were on tour. They got through it, he said, and today they’re more sure than ever that they’re on the right track.