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Pon Pon Displays Art of Mixed Tapes


When thinking of a really “hole in the wall” place, Pon Pon Bar immediately comes to mind. Listing their opening hours as “4 p.m. to ???,” the quaint bar is located in a strip of revamped warehouses on Walnut Street. The space has been recently introduced to the RiNo strip and still has the underground, enigmatic element that makes this bar so exciting.

On Feb. 16, Pon Pon and local Denver musicians Ben Donehower and David Castillo hosted the second-ever Tape Night at the inconspicuous watering hole. Though hosted by Castillo and Donehower, the evening’s inception was of the mind of Laura Conway, Pon Pon bartender and local artist.

“I came up with the idea sort of in reaction to the traditional DJing I have been doing at the Meadowlark,” said Conway, who DJs every second Thursday at the Denver hotspot. “Around Denver, we the DJs dictate the music and, in doing so, have total power over the room. As DJs we stand above the audience, separate from them, trying, in essence, to will them into dancing. My friend Trevor always compared DJs to fascists and, well, sure he’s exaggerating, but not in the wrong direction. I wanted to experiment with a night that was more egalitarian.”

Pon Pon is not a typical bar, but it was also not a typical DJ night. “So the initial idea was that people would just bring in tapes of local music that they picked up at a show or made and then our Tape DJ would play them for everyone,” Conway said.

The central seating area displayed an expanse of local artists’ tapes for people to shuffle through, for purchase and trade. With huddles of Denver locals chatting about music—their own or each other’s— Tape Night seems like a terrifically convenient way for Denver artists and musicians to not only display their talents and hard work, but to simply meet one another.

Referred to as a “TDJ” as opposed to a “DJ,” Donehower took the helm of the cassette player, playing songs from Richard Hell while local Denver bands traded homemade tapes of their own music.

David Castillo, the man behind Denver’s well-known and loved band, Pizza Time, offered mixtapes of his own creation featuring bands from other Denver Locals like K!lld By, Cop Circles, and French Kettle Station, among others.

“Basically, tape culture in general is very accessible because cassettes are so low cost to make—very few have the resources to press vinyl, but anyone can make a cassette,” Conway said. “All you need is a tape deck.”

The night was certainly not like a typical vinyl DJ night one would expect. Tape Night at Pon Pon bar had more of the ambiance of meeting in a best friend’s basement and sharing favorite tapes with each other. It felt homey, revolving simply around getting to know like-minded people.

Pon Pon Bar

2528 Walnut St.


Mon-Sun: 4 p.m.-???

—Sarai Nissan

Above: Tape Night attendees converse over their shared craft.

photo: Sarai Nissan • CU Denver Sentry

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