Boulder likes to think of itself as a tolerant community. Local musician DJ Chive would — respectfully — disagree.
“I don’t think there’s a place in Boulder you could go out in drag, comfortably,” Chive says. “I don’t think there’s a place you could go out and make out with your girlfriend [as a queer person] and feel comfortable.”
It’s enough of an issue that Chive, who is transgender, asked to be identified by his stage name.
“I would love to have my name on it,” Chive says. “But the world we live in, although it feels safe, hate crimes do exist and being trans-identified, I am a target.”
That’s a big part of why Chive is spearheading a new all-inclusive but queer hosted dance night that launched this week, The Alphabet Club. And in what might be the biggest surprise for all those tolerant Boulderites, it’s the city’s only dedicated queer night in a fixed location.
“What we do have is Prop Gay, but it’s not really a space of our own,” Chive says of the flashmob-style gettogether that has been held monthly since 2009.
“Part of what their message is, ‘we’re here, and we’re going to prove that we’re here and that we can take your space,’” says Chive. “This is slightly different in that we are hosting a space for the world to come embrace.”
Boulder has been without a dedicated gay bar since 2006, when The Yard of Ale closed after 19 years in business. Another gay-owned but not gay-dedicated bar, the b.side Lounge, had doors open from 2008 to 2009. But Chive says even if either were still open, it doesn’t really address the gap.
“If you have a bar that’s open seven days a week, it’s hard to get people in because we’re not just gay,” says Chive. “We want to go to other bars.”
And Chive says that’s a part of the appeal of The Alphabet Club’s location: downtown Boulder’s biggest celebration of alcohol-fueled heteronormativity, Absinthe House. The cavernous, multi-level dance space can fit more than 700, and has a demographic best marketed to with the rally cry of, “Spring break!”
“We [at Absinthe House] were definitely cognizant of [the demographic],” says Petey Helm, with Absinthe House, and a DJ who has been organizing club nights in Boulder for 15 years and is mentoring Chive through the process. “I wouldn’t say it was something we were actively trying to correct.”
But Chive started regularly bringing in his demo-tape right about the same time that Helm was given the task of filling Tuesday nights at Absynthe House. They got to talking, and Helm, ever the tolerant Boulderite, was a bit shocked to learn that Boulder didn’t have a dedicated queer night. Helm says he definitely saw it as a potential new customer base on a typically slow night, but also something worth doing.
Helm, Chive and other members of the queer community, including Out Boulder, spent the next month planning for the launch on June 17.
Like so many first nights, June 17 was not a line-out-the-door success. But it was enough that Helm felt good about the turnout. Around 200 people danced to hip hop and dance tunes spun by DJ Chive and socialized on the rooftop patio. Part of Chive’s goal was accomplished in that at least two attendees were in drag.
“Part of the reason I wanted to do this night is because I felt there was the need for an alternative space,” says Chive. “It happens to be queer, because that’s how I experience the world, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be queer or gay, just different.”
Both Helm and Chive also told BW that the lack of a queer night was, to some degree, an extension of Boulder’s lack of diversity in its music scene.
“I think there’s not a lot of, I don’t want to say, niche, but varying different nights,” says Helm.
Boulder’s homogenous musical culture is a failing repeatedly attributed to the lack of an appropriate or dedicated — and above-ground — alternative or “spaghetti” venue in which all manner of strange, noisy, terrifyingly new and different acts are thrown at the wall to see what sticks, but Chive is pretty excited about The Alphabet Club’s setting none the less.
“The other reason that Absinthe House worked for us is that I want this night to attempt to pay homage to the gay nights of the ’80s and the ’90s,” he says. “House music came from the gay scene.”
The Alphabet Club’s debut night was centered around the music of DJ Chive, who got his start working the party circuit of Smith College in Massachusetts. He started out just mixing pop songs, but has been working in his own material over the course of five years. Still, he is as hesitant to pin down his musical style as he is to pin down gender.
“Do we want this night to be about defining people?” he says. “I’d say open format is the best way to describe this night in total.”
When pressed, Chive calls it computer music, and says he’s fine with mixing up jams like The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” with Kanye West.
For future events, DJs Chive and Petey say they will seek out DJs from the queer community to perform at The Alphabet Club, but it’s not required.
“The idea is that we’re also trying to present something new and different,” says Chive. “So if you’re a DJ that plays UK house, you might not be gay, but UK house is not something you can currently experience in Boulder.”
And Chive thinks that bringing people together for those new experiences, showing them there’s nothing to be afraid of, and mixing in the communal experience of dancing is how you break down barriers to shift culture.
“While Boulder is very open-minded, I think that what’s happened is that everybody has been open-minded in their own self-centric way,” says Chive. “And what’s happened is it’s disjointed the community a bit. The goal is to bring people together and expose them to other ways of experiencing identity.”
Maybe that’s a long shot. Maybe The Alphabet Club won’t change Boulder’s outlook enough that DJ Chive would feel safe enough to use his name in an interview or for the Pearl Street Mall to become a comfortable place to go for a stroll in drag. Maybe it’s idealistic to cast The Alphabet Club as anything more than a fun thing that’s happening on Tuesday nights. But to put it in a musical language Boulder is more acquainted with: “some may say DJ Chive is a dreamer, but he’s not the only one.”