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In 2005, Denver Puts the West in South by Southwest

Denver will finally be getting a chance to flex its musical muscles at this year’s South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. SXSW, a tradition for the past 18 years, fills Austin’s 50 hottest venues with the best up-and-coming acts of the year, going 24 hours a day for four days straight from March 14th through the 20th. Pop performers, rock bands, hip-hop groups, indie outfits and every other genre in between will take on the city and thousands of its visitors, selling their sonic wares to fans and suits alike.

While Denver bands have sporadically participated in SXSW in the past, this year is proving to be a much different experience for all those involved.

In the past two years, two Denver-based labels have risen to the forefront of this town’s indie scene and helped to light it on fire for the rest of the country to see. Denver is notorious for a lack of unity within its music community; this is made even more obvious by the fact that a dust bowl like Omaha has the pulse on what’s hot and Denver can’t even manage to compete. Denver is the biggest city in four states, and has thus far failed to make a musical scene. However, thanks to two labels and a few local venues, this is all set to change, and SXSW 2005 may just be the jumping off point.

Started almost two years ago by Tim Garvey and Ben DeSoto, Public Service Records has proven to be the label rooted in the idea of musical unity. A long time Denver DJ and friendly face at Twist and Shout Records, Tim Garvey has seen the local rock scene bubble up with amazing acts, only to see it fizzle from underexposure. This is where his label has decided to come in.

“When we set out to start a record label, we thought that there were a lot of good bands in town, [but they] were unfortunately just lost as far as the rest of the world was concerned. So, we thought it would be great if someone would step up, and do something about trying to get some music out there to the masses.”

And this is exactly what Public Service Records did. In 2003, the label released PS1, a compilation of some of Denver’s best local bands. At only five dollars a piece, the first PS compilation gave Denver bands like Landlord Land and Bear Vs. Larger Bear a chance to get farther than the Rockies, hitting listeners even as far as London. Additionally, the low-priced LP was an opportunity to for these bands to have something to sell to potential fans, especially if they had no other music released.


In 2004, Public Service brought even more Denver artists to the forefront on its second and equally well-received compilation, PS2, throwing bands like The Swayback and Hot IQs into the mix. While both of these bands have recently released full-length projects, Public Service’s involvement in their success locally has been substantial to say the least. This year’s SXSW is the perfect place for these Denver bands and labels to take all of this success to the next level.

“SXSW is good opportunity to expose The Swayback to the music world,” says Eric Halborg, one-third of ultra-hot Denver trio The Swayback. “Not many people know of us outside of Colorado, and it’s time they had a look-see and a listen. We want to get the new sounds into people’s ear holes.”

The Swayback, an act that has virtually ruled the Denver scene for over two years now and opened for the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and International Noise Conspiracy, is almost there, but is somehow still hanging in the balance. They are any label’s wet dream: they have a killer sound, the perfect look, and tons of attitude yet they remain unsigned. SXSW may just be the final push they need. In preparation for this appearance they’ve been burning candles out of every orifice, recording a new 8-song demo, getting new merch produced, practicing for not only the Austin showcase, but a tour that continues through to the east coast.

This new Swayback demo (dropped off late Wednesday night, fresh off the presses) rips open the next chapter for the band, taking a hypnotic journey through rock ‘n’ roll heaven, heavily laden with psychotropic symphonies enough to cause Hendrix to rise from the dead, and on “Forewarned,” breakbeat meets electro whipped cream is made possible by reeling in one of milehighhouse’s producers, DJ Ilk.

Denver’s two local venues known for supporting local music while pulling in the hippest of the underground, Hi-Dive and Larimer Lounge, will host send off parties this weekend and into next week.

Hi-Dive, the buzzing Denver bar that blew up the scene in November of 2003, is doing something virtually unheard of in this town to help the bands out. At this weekend’s Hi-Dive SXSW Tour Send Off, all of the money made at the door on both Friday and Saturday night goes to the bands to help them get to Austin. At $8 a head, this weekend’s events at the Hi-Dive could be just what these bands will need to survive and hopefully make an imprint.

On Friday the line-up is Atlas, Matson Jones, and The Swayback, who will have all their sparkling new shirts and demos. Saturday it’s VAUX, Hot IQ’s, The Symptoms and Porlolo.

Larimer Lounge will follow with their two send off parties, the first being on Sunday, March 13 where their infamous daytime BBQ will feature Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots, Black Lamb, and Nightingale at 1pm. Then on Tuesday, March 15 Call Sign Cobra, Rabbit Fight, and The Black Haloes will pull up the second SXSW session.

Once in Austin and at the festival, Matson Jones, DevotchKa, The Swayback, Born in the Flood, Hot IQs, Porlolo, Atlas, Vaux and Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots will be playing a Denver showcase called Mile High Fidelity. This Denver-specific showcase will hopefully prove to be a genius maneuver and open many eyes to the Mile High area’s growing capability to produce noteworthy bands. Mile High Fidelity will be sponsored by The Public Service label, the Hi-Dive and another up and coming Denver-based label, Morning After Records.

Morning After Records, another blooming Denver label on the scene, has already made its mark by signing the Hot IQs and pop gems Filmstrip Series (known for many years as Tinker’s Punishment.)The Hot IQs will be heading out on tour after SXSW in support of better way to start things out than with some national exposure? Having ridden the national CMJ charts, scored #1 Album of the Year by Boulder’s Daily Camera and Westword’s Favorite Album of the Year, this follow up tour and appearance in Austin is the logical next step for the Hot IQs. Dan Rutherford, the label’s owner, also feels that Denver as a whole and its relationship to SXSW may change with 2005.

“We’re nearly wetting ourselves in anticipation for this year’s SXSW. Being a start-up label (less than six months old), we are absolutely flabbergasted at being invited to participate in this year’s event. Last year I presented a SXSW day showcase and tried countless times to get Denver acts to participate…sadly, nobody was able to be a part of the event. This year, Matt (LeBarge, co-owner of Hi-Dive), Ben (DeSoto, co-founder of Public Service Records), Tim (Garvey, co-founder of Public Service Records) and myself spent several months planning out how to present a party that was beneficial to all parties involved.”

Kaffeine Buzz is also presenting the showcase for Outlook Music Co., another Denver local label owned and operated by Trevor Pryce (yes, the same DT for the Broncos) for the past few years. On Saturday, March 19 at the Chuggin’ Monkey (206 6th Street) they’ll feature three of their label stars 33hz, Daphne Loves Derby, and Roman Candle. 33hz is gearing up to release their label debut in April, and will definitely please crowds who have Scissor Sisters and Franz Ferdinand in their iPod.

Hopefully, the bands that will represent Denver for this year’s SXSW will channel Rutherford’s optimism. Denver may get it right this time since labels and venues are supporting their bands, and the bands representing Denver in such a pivotal festival couldn’t be more diverse. Optimistically, the outcome will be successful and turn Denver into the music Mecca it has longed to be. Through great talent, endless backing and support, and newly born unity, Denver is ripe for the picking and more than ready to show the music world that it is truly the bigger than it’s cow-town-ski-bum reputation.


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