DIY or die: Why Denver needs under-the-radar, all-ages arts spaces

Japantherandcrowd2.jpg
Dean Keim
Japanther and its crowd become one at a show at Denver DIY show space Glob.
Last month, Denver DIY house venue and show space Mouth House was shut down by the cops for good. As far as house venues go, it had a good, three-year run. Undaunted by surrounding gentification, Mouth House sat in the midst of Five Points, minding its own business in a surprisingly busy neighborhood that didn't seem to mind or even notice the dirt yard -- which was often teeming with people either taking a smoke break from the noisy interior sweat box or waiting to get in to see whatever band was playing (or sometimes, whatever guy was writhing around on the floor pouring windshield-wiper-fluid-blue soda all over himself while screaming into a microphone).

When I heard that the coffin lid on Mouth House had been nailed shut forever, all I could think was, fuck. Another all-ages performance space in Denver gone for good.

See also: Denver DIY space Mouth House shut down, two of its tenants due in court today

Part one of Pete Bell's 2012 documentary on the still-thriving DIY Denver venue Rhinoceropolis.

I guess the cops were looking for drugs when they set up an undercover sting at a Mouth House Halloween party. From talking to some people who lived at Mouth House, it sounds like they didn't find drugs -- but they found enough violations that they shut the place down. The current tenants of Mouth House have been asked to leave, and given less than a week to do so -- which sucks for them. If you've tried to find a decently priced place to rent in Denver lately, you know it isn't easy. These tenants -- some of whom are my friends -- are effectively homeless. And two of them will be in court today, as I report in this Backbeat story.

But there's more to the Mouth House saga. The situation isn't a one-dimensional issue of some kids losing an affordable housing situation that also doubled as a venue for shows and, often, parties. With the closure of Mouth House, Denver has lost yet another space where people of all ages, demographics and incomes could gather to see art and music, as it was happening, for free (or whatever they could afford to donate).

With these DIY or Do-It-Yourself venue ventures, the house, warehouse, gallery or space is run by a community of musicians and artists that operates it as a place to showcase art and music while interacting with the larger community. And like Mouth House, sometimes these venues double as living quarters for those who run the place. That in-house investment is not seen in a "normal" tax-paying, business-minded venue venture: Living in a venue also means that you'll most likely do a lot of work there for free. Booking shows, providing sound and other equipment, operating and staffing the venue, cleaning up and finding places for out-of-town performers to stay are all things that tenants of DIY show spaces do on a regular basis.

But all of those are also the inherent benefits of running a DIY show space. You're in charge of everything, which means you can see performers you like getting a chance to connect with an audience (and possibly get some money), make lasting connections with touring acts, offer affordable performances in a space that is welcoming to all, have a really good time doing what you love and experience art outside of the realms of what is often considered socially acceptable.

I'm not knocking the business behind legit performance venues; I understand there is a place for all types of show spaces. But I see a lot I disparity in those places that are supposedly devoted to showcasing art -- namely, the artists often getting ripped off and the audience being completely separated from the performance and in essence, the full experience.


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31 comments
SonicTitan
SonicTitan

There are tons of DIY placed in Denver that rule! But a lot of them are viewed as places to get fucked up, and party rather than places to actually listen to music. No disrespect to mouth house at all, it's just that music needs to come before partying PERIOD.  Seventh Circle Music Collective is a perfect example of an actual DIY VENUE that's ran for the sake of live music. 

Grady Hines
Grady Hines

Substructure studios!!! All of denver up and coming nu-disco, hip hop, experimental and pop artists!!!

gbhoover
gbhoover

The DIY venue in Denver was special. Period. I'm forty-four years old and found it to be one of the best things downtown had to offer. Thanks for the article, Westword.

Colin Clark
Colin Clark

Thank you, Westword, for posting a story of relevance to the community. I knew you had it in you!

JJJJ
JJJJ

Instead of arguing how one of these places should be ran, why don't we give a hand to the people who are actually out there DOING IT! These places are a learning experience. Wouldn't Vincent agree it takes "experience" in order to learn the ropes? Isn't that why he bragged about his "20 years in booking shows". Everyone starts somewhere, and we obviously learn along the way. So for anyone who is just going to sit there and talk crap is being a hipster. thanks

oskereatstrash
oskereatstrash

I don't fully agree with the sentiment that people can not be excluded because of something they can't control. These spaces are almost entirely white, and very dominated by men. Given the fact that the mouth house was in five points I'd say people were being excluded. How many of the neighbors who have lived on that block for generations would come to those parties? I appreciate your thoughts about bar shows, and I agree bars don't support creativity. I just hope we have a bigger discussion about access. For instance, Mouth House allowed smoking inside, my band played there and people were literally blowing smoke in my face while we played. My band made it clear that we never wanted to play there again. It's too bad.

Neil-Degrasse Tyson McCormick
Neil-Degrasse Tyson McCormick

I like the article and agree that diy venues are and always have been shortlived. The major local exception (currently) is SeventhCircle MusicCollective. But (and Vincent hit it on the head) just because you're running a diy operation doesn't mean you don't need to have your logistics, ordinances, and general business in order. Why do you think seventh circle is booking 365 days a year? Because Aaron has his shit together and knows city ordinances and enforces it because he knows that his venue is needed and he wants to ensure it stays open. A little planning can go a long way. The city will leave you alone as long as you're not getting complaints. I mourn mouth house. We definitely need more venues for art expression, rather than just a place to consume alcohol and drugs to a background soundtrack. Future diy venue operators: take note and take precautions.

william.hayden
william.hayden

I've been looking for places like this for my band to play at. Best shows I've ever played have been at tiny little under-the-radar places. Traditional venues are too money oriented. Blah. Anyone know of an active one? Shoot me a message! -> http://www.reverbnation.com/televisiongeneration

Will Hayden
Will Hayden

The best shows I've played weren't at a typical venue, it was at one of these types of things. It's much more attractive to play these types of shows for my band (and fans). Too many rules at traditional venues, all business crap. Anyone know someone to contact about playing these kinda shows?

Jasmine Le
Jasmine Le

While it was a church, Lifespot hosted a lot of events that welcomed everyone for such a long period of time and I rather miss it very much. *atheist the entire time I went to lifespot

Traci Roe
Traci Roe

lifespot wasn't a D.I.Y. venue it falls under more of the "church" category (which also seems to be a fading thing too)

Becca Kreidler
Becca Kreidler

I won't lie. There's some magic to the party house that hosts shows. I've learned that these places are all too fleeting. But that ephemeral nature flavors everything with a frenetic, life-is-too-short energy. Why say no or be reasonable? Who knows how long this is going to last? Just say yes. Go hard. Stay late. Book 60 bands for the weekend. Because who knows if it will be there tomorrow? Not to say Mouth House was a party house. There were lots of really great adults there that were trying to merge life, music and friendships. It was and is a glorious challenge.

Mike Lewandowski
Mike Lewandowski

Had the pleasure of playing petes a couple of times.. honestly, some of our more fun gigs.. and come on, nothing like some bomb food to fuel your rock!

Virgil Dickerson
Virgil Dickerson

Great piece! While not a DIY space, all the shows we do at Illegal Pete's are always FREE and All Ages. I love the quote, "but I will never for a second believe that art shouldn't be accessible to everyone." I for one still miss the Arapahoe warehouse!

Vincent Charles
Vincent Charles

After 20 yrs of throwing shows...diy spots are often run by fairly inexperienced youngsters that do not know the limits of zoning in neighbor hoods or the consequences of distro of booze and sound restrictions... when they get shut down they often play the poor me card...if these spots are done correctly with detailed logistical importance they last...it said in the blog that they are being charged with distro of booze...there really is no way in court to prove otherwise unless you are a genius... beside that if the cops set up a sting you are obviously not caring about your shit....I started my musical and live music journey all over the country at diy spots...I even prefer them....some were awesome...others and most were glorified squats...follow the rules of your community and you can make it happen...if you can't, you are just a party house....it's called integrity....

Jasmine Le
Jasmine Le

Or the loft before it was bought out?

Jasmine Le
Jasmine Le

Remember lifespot or the garage ?

breecdavies
breecdavies

@oskereatstrash I stop playing and ask people who are smoking to go outside. I've also stopping playing altogether and left if a space wasn't welcoming or open to me or others I felt were being excluded. I hear your sentiments and appreciate them. But I still think Mouth House was open to ANYONE who wanted to come their shows/parties. I know for a fact neighbors weren't ever excluded and think Mouth House actually had a much better track record of inclusion that some other spaces. But I also know that if you want to change what you see, you have to make it happen. I still think bars are ageist and I still think it is not appropriate for art to happen in spaces where everyone can't be a part of it. 

fotimrocks
fotimrocks

@Vincent Charles fuck off. if you want "integrity" go to the ogden or fillmore. these spots are supposed to be anarchy. you obviously don't understand the nuance of a diy spot.

gbhoover
gbhoover

@Vincent Charles The times are a changin' dear Vincent. What would Robert Zimmermann say about the subject? He'd come down on the side of access for the youth, I'd say. My DIY friends at Unit e, for instance, always treated people with dignity.. They were always giving back to the community. Let's not place all DIY venues into the same category! It would behoove the Denver Police department to reach out to this community; to find a common ground. These young artists and musicians happen to be our future entrepreneurs. Let's mentor them. What purpose is served by alienating  and treating them like criminals? The Denver PD already set a bad president, at Occupy Denver. It's on them to work on repairing that ill will, in my opinion..

junesong
junesong

@Vincent Charles BURN OUT! 

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