From soaring Red Rocks to the thumping underground, the Mile High City is cementing its status as a U.S. dance music hub.
[Editors note: In this ongoing series, we explore the best and most buzzworthy dance scenes throughout the United States and beyond.]
If you’re fiending for a wild weekend vacation, the lonesome west probably doesn’t spring to mind. But if fewer neighbors means fewer noise complaints, Denver is prime real estate for a dance revolution.
Swing through Capitol Hill or River North (RiNo to locals), two of the city’s fast-growing nightlife districts, and you’ll see that movement is already underway. Local legends like Pretty Lights and Big Gigantic helped light the fire in the late 2000s, establishing the city as a funk-electronic haven. Now, artists like Late Night Radio, GriZ and Maddy O'Neal have run with that torch, playing pop-up sets on rooftops and small clubs on the odd nights home from globe-trotting tours.
There’s plenty to keep fans here busy while they’re away: The biggest night of every electronic artist’s tour happens just down the road at Red Rocks. The towering, 9,500-person natural amphitheater is a 45-minute drive out of town. That might seem like a hike until you consider fans travel thousands of miles to catch a show there, below the stars and above the Denver skyline. (Alison Wonderland, Above & Beyond and REZZ take over the Rocks in September.) The venue's schedule skews toward dance and creeps into fall, so if you haven't been, what are you waiting for?
But you don't have to leave town to get your hair blown back. Promoter Ha Hau’s production platform Triad Dragons throws Denver's splashiest dance parties in the heart of the city: The carnival-esque Global Dance Fest in the summer, held outside of Broncos’ Mile High Stadium, and New Year’s Eve rager Decadence, which regularly nets a who’s-who lineup on the biggest party night of the year.
You have to put your ear to the ground to find Denver's most exhilarating nights. DeepClub has kept warehouses, basements and bars throbbing with house, techno and other euro-style dance music for the past seven years, until recently in hard-to-find spots (they currently have a monthly residency at Zeppelin Station’s Big Trouble). Invisible City, a secretive collective centered around a temple-turned-clubhouse in Sloan Lake, throws playful parties that evoke the costumed fun of the Burner community. And for those who favor old-school raves, prowl the warehouses along city limits and you’ll probably hit pay dirt by way of Whirling Dervish, a 25-plus-year veteran party producer that hasn’t let the city forget dance music’s fringe roots.
Add legacy clubs and, yeah, the whole legal weed thing, and it’s no wonder Denver’s relative middle of nowhere has caught fire. Just remember: You don’t have to fit it all in one weekend. In fact, for maybe the first time in Denver’s club history, you can’t.
This 19th century church has been a mainstay for Denverites who feel holier on Saturday night than Sunday morning. (It’s still got you on the Lord’s Day, though: The venue stares down the Sunday scaries with “Sin Sundays,” colloquially called goth night, spinning industrial, alternative and forgotten pop gems.) More than a novel room, the club regularly pulls international producers like Gareth Emery and Shiba San, which makes it an easy call for your big night out.
Tucked behind a garage door in an unassuming alleyway off Broadway, Milk Bar prides itself as a club for people that don’t like clubbing. You won’t find a dress code or champagne mop in the venue’s surreal, Clockwork Orange-inspired rooms. But you will find Lipgloss, an award-winning indie dance night that whips up forgotten bangers on Fridays, when it’s not busy hosting indie-themed brunches and DJ sets from Arcade Fire’s Win Butler (who played September 10 at Bar Standard) elsewhere.
A mid-sized venue in Denver’s well-established Capitol Hill nightlife district, Vinyl is the go-to spot for work-a-day weekend clubbers. Each of its four floors typically has a different DJ playing variations of the genre du jour: hip-hop on Thursdays, Latin dance on Fridays and a melange of techno, house, Top 40 and retro jams on Saturdays. Summer Sundays is a killer day party on its rooftop, so you can tan while you twerk. In other words, if you can’t find what you want here, you need to get out more.
This small club in Denver's nightlife Cap Hill district is known for nabbing sleepers you wish you’d have seen here when you discover them a month after the gig. The venue’s well-curated Steam Wednesdays series brought The Field’s cinematic techno to the stage in August; savvy Dutch tropical house producer Bakermat plays there Sept. 11. They also put on the city’s up-and-coming producers, often for as little as a $10 cover. You won't always recognize who’s spinning, but considering the club’s rep, it doesn’t matter.
Technically a pop-up, Yeah Baby has thrown a splash of Williamsburg into the RiNo district since it surfaced. Denver took enough of a shine to the events that the club spun off into a pop-up party producer, throwing dance parties around town and spawning Neon Baby, a sister club to keep Denverites busy while Yeah Baby undergoes renovations. Come for the Insta-worthy mise-en-scène; stay for the playful, pop-forward playlists.
Denver's largest and proudest LGBTQ club holds some of the city’s wildest dance parties. On the third Friday of every month, the club transforms a neighboring warehouse into a beloved rollerskating dance party called Roll, hooked to themes like Stranger Things and Spongebob Squarepants. Make sure you get a sippy cup drink — it’s hard enough to club-skate without gliding through a puddle.
Once a beloved Grateful Dead bar, the intimate Black Box resurrected its Capitol Hill haunt into a formidable dark horse in the club scene. If its all-black facade intimidates you, maybe it should: the venue claims one of the city’s punchiest sound systems. It’s probably necessary, considering the club dips into classic dubstep, drum ’n’ bass and other styles that favor a good low-end blow.
If you like a shot of Blade Runner with your Red Bull and vodka, check out Temple. Towering LED lights and android go-go dancers set the tone for the Silicon Valley-born Temple (it has a sister club in San Francisco), which feels like being stuck in a misremembered scene from Tron. Bottle service comes at you on space ships — naturally. But the sci-fi themes end at the speakers: This Temple worships bass-y, mainstream dance.
Equal parts dance, jam and what-have-you, rock club Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom is where music scenes collide among Denver’s movers and rump shakers. Tucked away in the city’s Five Points neighborhood, it’s not unusual to find dance heroes like GRiZ and Late Night Radio break off secret late-night sets here.
A stone’s throw from downtown, this prim RiNo spot should be top of mind for coffee and brunch. The compact, monochromatic space is perfect for letting last night’s headache ring out — if you can get a table.
Come last call, Colfax Avenue’s bars and clubs (Western-tinged gay nightclub Charlie’s is a Denver institution) funnel east down the city’s infamous thoroughfare to the neon outside of Pete’s Kitchen. Any given midnight, you’ll find club kids, suits and Broncos fans blur together here, trading night recaps over Mickey Mouse pancakes and dependable gyros. It’s pure Denver; it’s also open 24 hours, so keep it in mind if you need a bite -- or a friend -- no matter what time your night ends.