For the first in our im/Print series profiling new House Music record labels, we talked with Ryan Scannura about Deep Club’s origins and Midwestern roots, the pitfalls of legalization on the Denver scene and the challenges of starting a label in the modern age.
The joke is, if you want to kill your techno scene, legalize weed. An obvious hyperbole, but you get the idea.
Can you give me some idea of your background? Where are you from and where are you now?
I was born and raised in Springfield, Illinois. I have spent the majority of my life there. I had what you could call a pretty standard cultural upbringing in my childhood and teens for living in the suburban Midwest. Music was in no way a part of my life until I got into punk rock in high school. My parents had hardly any record collection to speak of, and the few good record they bought in their formative years went unplayed for decades. They listened almost exclusively to conservative talk radio and Christian radio. Perhaps the biggest musical influence for me pre-college and beyond was playing saxophone, which I stuck with through my college years. I went to a small private midwestern college to study biology and jazz. Although I excelled in science, I always felt like the kid that didn’t belong in the science building. I felt more at home in my music classes, in the practice rooms, and in rehearsals.
Frequent trips to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana around 2008-2009 exposed me to the burgeoning house party scene there, where house music’s influence slowly but surly trickled down from Chicago. My friends and I began taking trips to Chicago to explore this music further, eventually finding Smart Bar. My first visit there in ~2009 changed my life — I think Seth Troxler was DJing. Some other early influences for me at Smart Bar and various Chicago lofts were Carl Craig, Kate Simko, Michael Serafini, Sassmouth, and Pepe Bradock. I began to dig in my college town (in the Quad Cities) for house and techno music happening there, and I eventually taught myself how to DJ and I started a club night with a friend. I found some older guys doing cool things there that literally no one else from my college knew or cared about. I saw Andrew Emil and Justin Long come through, and before I knew it I finished my degree in 2010, had no job prospects, and was forced to move back home to Springfield with my parents. I began visiting Chicago even more and getting more into Chicago and French house and some techno.
The recession made job hunting difficult and I wanted more education, so I moved to Denver in 2011 to pursue a PhD in biomedical science. I immediately sought out the club scene, going to parties by myself and meeting promoters, partiers, and DJs. There was a lot of watered-down tech house in the clubs here, and my taste began to change, so I started inviting friends over to play music at my house and ignored the clubs. This quickly coalesced into a more defined thing that we called Deep Club, and more friends were invited to hang out. We threw small basement parties in my house that to this day are still some of the funnest parties I think I’ve ever done. About this same time, I started going down the rabbit hole further with DJing, soundsystems, and I began buying lots of vinyl. My friends that helped me throw the parties all were talented DJs and producers, and many of them are still involved with the crew today. We went bigger from there, renting warehouse space, buying more sound equipment, booking some of our favorite artists, and hopping from one location to the next when the venue sold or the landlord forced us out. The record label was just the next logical endeavor, since almost all of the residents involved had been producing music for years with no outlet to release a vinyl record. At this point, 3.5 years later, we have acquired a modest but exceptional soundsystem, brought some of my favorite US artists to Denver (nearly all for their debut performances in Colorado), collaborated with some of the most respectable crews on the Front Range and New Mexico, and released two vinyl records showcasing music from Deep Club’s resident artists.
Tell me what the Denver scene is like? Why are so many people heading out there? Legalization? Or just a growing scene?
People are definitely not moving here for dance music. Most people move here for weed or for other reasons (initially cheaper rent than the bigger cities, open space while still being urban, mountains, beer culture, etc), and they might find themselves getting involved in the techno scene, but I think by and large, most of the thousands and thousands of people that are constantly moving here will never attend an underground dance music event. Our events are still attended by many of the same core attendees that started coming out in 2013 and 2014 when we started throwing parties, and a the gay community has always been a large contingent for us. I think most of the other Denver crews would echo this sentiment.
Legalization has been both a blessing and a curse for the city, but I think for the dance music scene, it’s mostly been a curse. In the past year and a half, Deep Club has lost one warehouse space to weed, and another commercial space to gentrification. Weed has been gobbling up commercial and industrial space in Colorado since the day it was legalized. Honestly, there is not much left today. Finding affordable space to throw a DIY event is very difficult. Rent on both commercial and residential spaces has skyrocketed over the past couple of years. While you could argue rent increase and gentrification is a problem in most American cities, weed is not. The joke is, if you want to kill your techno scene, legalize weed. An obvious hyperbole, but you get the idea. A lot of my weed friends in the scene are pretty over cannabis culture. All of this, combined with the fact that stoners are usually not the kinds of people that care about dance music, has made driving this scene forward in Colorado a very uphill battle. John Templeton’s excellent RA Exchange underscores a lot of this.
It is impossible to talk about the Denver and Boulder techno scene without mentioning Communikey and Great American Techno Festival. CMKY festival ran for 8 years in Boulder, and it’s influence began more than a decade ago and still permeates the entire community. GATF lasted for 5 years in Denver. Both festivals were small, niche, mostly DIY endeavors that brought top-notch talent to the region and built up the scene substantially. Unfortunately both festivals had their last runs in 2015 and disbanded for different reasons. A few crews like Sorted and Nocturnal are holding it down for small DIY events with great talent. Furthermore, I think most people that are heavily into this kind of music avoid the clubs, even when excellent DJs are booked. They are often not fun spaces to be in, and unfortunately not comfortable or safe spaces for women. Also, everything shuts down at 2 AM, and as we all know, that’s just not conducive to getting lost in the music for any extended period of time. Unlike my friends in Chicago and New York, my friends here do not go out every weekend. We’ll spin records at home or do other things, or call it an early night and go for a hike on a Sunday. I’m not speaking for everyone of course, but I think it’s a good life balance here. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel bored sometimes. The scene has a lot of growing to do.
Who owns Deep Club (the label)?
Three of us partially own and run the label. Jacob Wood (Bocaj) and myself do almost all of the operations, and Stephen Ganser (Occidental) does the mastering and cutting. The dubplates and masters are cut on an old Scully lathe in Denver at Aardvark. I am excited to have this excellent local resource at our disposal, and proud that all our records are mastered and cut in-house.
Who’s in your crew?
The crew is quite large and has morphed over time, but current members are:
Ryan Scannura, Jacob Wood (Bocaj), Miles Hurwitz (Lone Dancer), Pete Nyvall (Ponyrok), Stephen Ganser (Occidental), Dean Inman (Dream Hike), Drew Daugherty (DJ Drew)
Gant Johnson (LA) & Justin Cudmore (Brooklyn)
Artwork and design:
Almost all of the residents are also producers, myself not included.
Give me an idea of what your philosophy is with Deep Club. What music, A&R, personal principles & motives guide you?
Deep Club is a party above anything else. For the parties, we aim to bring top-notch talent to Denver that has never played in Colorado. We have booked some big acts, but we definitely like booking less well-known artists that you might not often see on other lineups. We don’t pay much attention to trends, just artists we believe in. You’re just as likely to walk into a Deep Club party and hear disco, house or techno, often all in the same night. I think Deep Club parties have also earned a reputation for showcasing live performances, both by the residents and sometimes the headliners. There is usually at least one live performance at every party. And we like our parties to be DIY, raw, a little dirty and gay.
For the label, the aim is simple: release quality 12-inch dance records consisting of our residents. However, once we push out a few more records, we will start to include some friends of Deep Club and past party guests. Like the parties, the records will be varying styles of house and techno mostly. No one resident sounds too much like another, and no one record is going to sound like another. The label will not have a specific sound. You might love one record and not like the next. That is fine. We all like variety in music and we want the label to reflect that.
So are you vinyl for life?
All of the residents buy tons of vinyl. I think maybe two or three of us have ever even used a CDJ. I have nothing against digital music. My digital library is massive. All Deep Club releases are available digitally on Bandcamp. If that is your thing, do it. But I think I speak for the entire crew when I say playing and collecting vinyl is a lot of fun, and I would not have it any other way. This is partially what helped the group coalesce into a unit a few years ago – our passion for vinyl; in the Denver scene this is kind of a rare thing.
Starting up a label, what do you wish you knew then that you know now?
So many things. I knew it would be difficult, but not this difficult. It’s more expensive than I thought. If you want custom jackets, which we have, that is a major cost, and learning ways to get that cost as low as possible has been stressful. Having great tracks ready to go is actually not that difficult for me. Design, artwork, and money is always the bottleneck, but all of those things are dependent on money, so I get it.
Lastly, probably how important the PR machine is in running the dance music industry. Deep Club does not pay a PR agency to disseminate our music. I myself am the PR machine, with some help from Jacob. It’s a LOT of work, and sometimes a little soul-crushing, trying to force my music out there. In the end, I like to think people prefer getting promos directly from me rather than a random person that has nothing to do with our crew and is just doing it for a paycheck. I am realizing I might never be able to significantly ramp up the number of copies of each record that I am pressing, or the number of releases coming out per year, but as long as the few that I am pressing sell and are being played, and as long as the label can float itself, I will be happy.
Tell us about the two records so far, and any forthcoming ones?
DC-01 (released 6/1/15) is a 4-track Various Artists release from four of the residents: Occidental, Falling Into Places (which is Bocaj + Dream Hike together), Bocaj, and Justin More (Justin Cudmore). I wanted to start with a VA and just kind of show off a lot of the diverse talent in the crew. I think Occidental’s “Move U” and Bocaj’s “Everything Must Change” have been getting a lot of play, and that is exciting to see. And the others still hold their own.
DC-02 (released 4/22/16) kicked off a run of solo EPs that we are going to do. Bloomington, IL born and raised Occidental has been producing and DJing for many, many years. He’s one of the most talented DJs I know, and anyone that has browsed his Discogs seller page probably has an inkling of his taste and knowledge of records. It was due time he had his first vinyl record to his name. Pariah Dreams contains “Let’s Play” — an extended sexualized acid house track, and “I Have Always” — a deep techno track. Each one is almost more of a song than a track, and I love that. I recently heard Derek Plaslaiko play each of them out at two different parties in Detroit; that really made my weekend and made me feel like all the work that Stephen, Jacob and I are putting into the label is worthwhile.
Lots of music in the pipeline! A 12-inch from Bocaj will be out in a few months. It’s more of a deep, moody house record that sounds nothing like 01 or 02. DC-04 will come from Lone Dancer, and covers jacking techno and ambient. That dubplate is being cut right now. Ponyrok will step up for DC-05 with a broken-beat sort of UK bass-inspired sound with techno offerings as well. Nothing planned past that right now — I think after that we’ll get other friends in on the fray. I’d love to do a split with some of my favorite Proper Trax artists — some of my best friends doing some of the coolest things in dance music right now. And maybe start reaching out to previous party guests for tracks or remixes. I would do all of this more quickly if I could, but again, money. But I am content focusing on releasing high quality records, even if there are only two per year.
Originally published inside 5 Magazine Issue #133 featuring Vincent Floyd, Karizma, Tony Humphries, David Marston, Doc Link, Deep Club Denver and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full access to everything House Music – on sale for just $1 an issue!