Last night was quite an interesting journey - a stroll to the very underbelly of the local music scene and a huge departure from the from the organized, orderly structure of the venues I usually frequent. It was exposure to music in its most raw form, where musicians, onlookers and hosts all boasted a do-it-yourself attitude creating an atmosphere unlike any other. Rhinoceropolis lies quietly on the outskirts of downtown Denver, nestled inconspicuously in a row of warehouses in the heart of an industrial district. Cars zoom by it constantly as if it wasn't even there. You're bound to miss it if you blink for too long, even if you know where it is.
Rhinoceropolis isn't really a venue, and although they exhibit art there, it isn't really an art space. It is a skinny, grungy corridor lined with discarded furniture that makes it seem like the adult version of a secret hangout space; like a tree fort in the woods or clubhouse in an alley you would build and covet as a kid to get away from it all. Events are not really advertised there so news travels by word of mouth, making those who arrive a devoted few who really want to be a part of the experience on any given night. There is no onsite bar, so those who come plan ahead and it certainly reinforces the fact that most who arrive for shows are there for the music.
Civilized was the first band up last night and they were set up in the front room/exhibition space which is no bigger than a typical garage. Their instruments were set up in the middle of the floor, and the audience were no more than a few feet away as they began their set. I've never really been into hardcore and can't say I've ever listened to more than a song and a half of this genre before this night in one sitting, but seeing it performed live definitely shed some light on what the music is about.
It seemed when Civilized was playing, that although they had an incredible amount of energy and ferocity, it wasn't just plain aggression and violence but rather passion and emotion that was on display. There was only one guy in the crowd who was out there that night to pick a fight, and before the end of the second Civilized song (which last 40-90 seconds on average), somehow two people were a bloody mess - quite intense, but also quite ridiculous. I can't really comment on the lyrics and vocals of this band and most that performed - the sound crew was having problems dialing in the microphones all night long so all the singers were pretty much inaudible for the whole night. The singer for Civilized didn't seem to notice though, as he still screamed into the mic with passion as if we all could hear him.
Next up was Negative Degree, another punk band leaning on the hardcore side of the genre. This band also had a lot of intensity and energy, trying to draw the crowd in close for the set, but once a handful of people started moshing the crowd dissipated toward the edges a bit to leave those willing to get to bruising to do their thing. Again, the singer was completely inaudible and by this point, the frustration was spilling out onto the band members' faces and the crowd seemed a bit annoyed as well. They didn't come to see an instrumental punk show, but that's what they got.
Religious Girls was the next band up, and they played in the back lounge area instead of the main exhibition area like the other bands. This band had an unusual setup - only keyboards, sample pads and drums - no guitars or basses in sight. Yet what they ended up doing with those tools was quite remarkable. One member of the band was a dedicated drummer, another on keyboards or sample pad, while the third would play keyboard and drums, often at the same time. I mentioned in my preview that each of Religious Girls' songs feature complex, non-repeating structures and that is exactly what unfolded.
Ironically enough, Religious Girls was the only band that had audible vocals the entire night, despite the fact that their songs don't actually feature any lyrics. Instead, each member of the band would shout and and chant as if they were performing in a tribal ceremony all while furiously pounding their respective instruments. As weird as that sounds, it was incredible to watch. Their music may not be the easiest listening to hear as a recording, but watching it live is an awesome sight to behold, especially considering the complexity of their song structures - they made it look somewhat easy. If you are a fan of musicianship, catch these guys in a live show.
The show went back to the main exhibition area for The Men to perform their set. When researching these guys, I noticed they put a lot more focus on instrumentation in their songs than most punk bands. Because of the sound issues, they were pretty much forced to play an instrumental set. I would have liked to hear the vocal portion, but the instrumentation was actually pretty spot on. It was cross-genre punk, or something along the lines of cerebral sludge punk. The music had a punk backbone but with a slight sprinkling of math rock and shades of stoner metal from time to time. I'd like to see them again with a better sound setup.
|Hot White without the singer|
Hot White came out to end the show, and I suppose with all the sound issues and everything else running a little long, they cut their set short and the vocalist did not appear at all. The drummer and guitarist seemed to come out and play just two songs as a courtesy to the remaining faithful crowd that was there. I certainly appreciated that, but will reserve commenting on the band's music until I can actually see them all together in a full performance.
Overall, it was a good night and a fresh experience. The homegrown setting and attitude of the bands and crowd made it very wholesome in terms of witnessing music. Minus the issues with the sound and the lone aggravator at the beginning of the show, everything else went pretty smoothly. It's definitely a curious scene and one worth checking out in the future. If you're tired of the typical venue setting, Rhinoceropolis is a refreshing change of pace. You can mingle with the devoted crowd, many of them musicians themselves, and you can witness the music happen right in front of you - inches away if you please. It certainly isn't the place for everyone and they definitely don't pretend that it is, but it has a certain appeal, especially for the lover of the most underground offerings of music.