Activism and music go hand-in-hand
The connection between music and activism is historic, from Bob Dylan penning the Civil Rights anthem, “Blowin’ In the Wind,” to Broken Social Scene’s more direct, “Protest Song.” Music can be used to raise awareness and funds for a greater social cause, such as gun violence, or to directly help musicians creating the body of work.
Jason Heller, a local DJ, has held a series of fundraising events aimed at raising money for non-profits that help those who have been disenfranchised since the election of Donald Trump. The name 45s Against 45 cleverly refers to a type of vinyl record—a single track record that is played at a speed of 45 rpm—as well as the 45th president, Donald Trump.
On March 24, protesters erupted across the nation in the March for Our Lives protest against gun violence. Afterwards, the protesters in Denver were invited to continue the spirit of protest at the all-ages event 45s Against 45. Each event has a different genre as the theme, and the theme for this particular event was 80s pop.
Almost always, these events are held at Hi-Dive—a dive bar on South Broadway. However, the age limit is set at 21 due to the open bar at Hi-Dive, meaning a fundraising event supporting a protest organized by teens could not be accessed by said teens. To Savvi Smith (who has requested to stay anonymous), a local punk rocker and activist, this was a problem. “I got into a Facebook fight with [Heller],” Smith said. “The weirdest part was that he agreed with me.” Smith arranged an all-ages version of 45s Against 45 right across the street from Hi-Dive at a newly-opened restaurant called Broadway Bar and Bites.
“Look how open this space is,” Smith said. “I try to make my events as inclusive and accessible as possible, which is why I took issue with the age restriction.”
Three DJs were slotted to do a set, and each one held deeper ties to the Denver music scene. Ryan Turch, who performed a set under the moniker DJ Turch, is a member of the local pop-punk band Lawsuit Models. The closing DJ, who goes by Ross Hostage, plays in the hardcore band Allout Helter. The sets varied but for the most part adhered to the 80s theme.
“The militarization of our culture calls for an equally urgent counter-protest,” said Smith.
Smith runs the organization called Bands With Benefits, which puts together several musical fundraising events a year. She also has been operating Feed the Scene since 2014. Feed the Scene works to feed and house traveling underground musicians. “Most of these musicians are basically living out of their vans while they’re on tour. They barely make enough to cover gas, let alone food or lodging,” Smith said.
As a result, many underground musicians tend to avoid Denver during their tours because the drive is simply too far to justify the gas money spent on hauling equipment for a show that may or may not bring in much money. Through grassroots work, Smith and many others are trying to change that. The crackdown on DIY venues has targeted the most vulnerable and valuable assets to the city of Denver—music, art, and social justice. But their voices will not be silenced, and through grassroots organizations, perhaps will be restored.