It’s a pretty bold statement, to be sure. But I’ll stand by it. The UMS – taking place this week from Thursday, July 28 through Sunday, July 31 in over 15 venues on South Broadway and featuring upwards of 400 bands (the vast majority of which are local Denver acts) – is, in fact, the only festival that matters. And here’s why….
I just had the pleasure of taking a class taught by none other than Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore at Boulder’s Naropa University, a part of their famous and influential Summer Writing Program (SWP). The class itself – titled “Rock ‘n Roll Consciousness” – was a mindblowing, bucket-list-kicking, poetic and musical experience I’ll never forget. It was also largely about influences, roots of some of my favorite bands, originators of punk, post punk, and more.
Some of them were poets – Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, T. S. Eliot, Bill Knott, Allen Ginsberg were all major influences for both Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine from Television, and Patti Smith, the central focuses of our class, really – but some of them were records. Not just any records, but records from that quirky, sometimes magical Holy Grail of both new, vital, world-changing music and supremely crappy pop, country, dance, and other music: the “Vinyl Cutout Bin.”
In this digital age, where so many music lovers are unfamiliar with the concept of “listening to an album,” let alone actually owning one, local music scenes, and local shows are effectively the only thing close to the Cutout Bin.
I remember sitting in the class – I myself a few decades older than most of my classmates (well, except Clark Coolidge – a regular teacher and contributor to the SWP since its inception in 1974) – listening to Moore explain to a group made up largely of millennials what a “Cutout Bin” actually was, and grinning nostalgically.
The Cutout Bin = The Holy Grail
So you know, the Cutout Bin was a place that bloated, greedy (and dying) record companies would dump hundreds, even thousands of records that they couldn’t sell, usually in supermarkets, department stores, even record stores, to allow these outlets to sell them at a deep, deep discount (like, ¢.99). For whatever reason, if a label spent the money to record and produce, say, 150,000 copies of some band’s record, and sales came up short, they’d write off the vinyl copies and deliver them to the retailers.
These retailers would usually cut out a corner, or drill a hole in the label, or slice the upper corner of the record, and dump them all into a bin – sometimes hidden in the back side of the electronics section, but just as often even up in the front of the store. Record collectors – mostly teens with very limited access to very limited funds (like myself) – often found these bins the perfect place to discover new music, and build their record collections.
Moore explained how, in his youth growing up in Connecticut, he would mine the cutout bins and found such treasures as Stooges records – something he (and we) might have never heard if it weren’t for the Cutout Bin.
The UMS is Damned Important
This is why The UMS is so damned important, fun, educational – even magical. There are bands you have the opportunity to see on this explosive weekend that you may never have another opportunity to see (unless you’re already a denizen of Denver’s music scene – in which case, you’re probably in one or three of these bands). Sure – someone may tune you into Spells if they’ve seen one of their explosive, literally-in-your-face punk rock sets, or the over-the-edge psychedelic blowout of Best Creeps, or the alt-psycho roots rock of Gasoline Lollipops – but how many friends do you really have that are that cool?
The UMS is your cool friend and is put together once a year to bring you the best of the best from the local scene, mixed with a whole pile of national underground bands that might have also found themselves represented in the Cutout Bin 40 (or so) years ago. The UMS is your opportunity to catch bands that will be the ones you’ll be introducing your grandkids to as the originators of the beats they’re torturing you with while they refuse to get off your lawn. These bands are the next Stooges, the next 13th Floor Elevators, maybe even the next Beatles.
And, for your convenience, we at DenverThread will be providing band recommendations for EACH. Hour. Of. Each. Day. Check back in every morning, before you head out into the maelstrom of hundreds of bands, and chek out our expert opinions on who we think you should see every hour. You’re welcome.