Just last week, Denver’s annual Underground Music Showcase, a 4-day music festival featuring the likes of Cloud Nothings, Big Freedia, Atlas Sound, and Class Actress, raided the streets of South Denver for a weekend of live music like Denver has never seen before. It was hot, it was sweaty, and with the help of photographer Scott Kaplan, we captured every last drop. With that said, read on as Scott takes us on a behind the scenes tour of UMS ’12:
Originally inspired by Liam Goslett’s off the beaten path documentation of Paris Fashion week in GQ magazine, I set out to capture the weekend of UMS in a similar light. I wanted to try and get a glimpse beyond what normally stands out in our minds as we recall the weeks events. I often find that we come to associate our own memories with the published images of the people and the music, and that our own recollection of the events (through the haze of beer and narcotics?) can in some ways become usurped by this distorted or one sided view of what actually took place.
We photographers too are bound in a way, by the limits of what we place in front of our lenses. interestingly, I often find that others by way of this are bound to this rule as well; by way of being subjected to the imagery we chose to show. Most photographers (I will not excuse myself here either) focus so heavily on what takes place on stage we lose out on the other important stories that are happening all around us. People will of course make their own associations to the moments that happen during a show or festival, but in the context of a music festival our memories might tend to take retrospective shape around those powerful images we create through witnessing the moments on stage.
My attempt was to be able to find a balance between seeing and capturing the events on stage and what happened on the sidelines.
I found it challenging to step outside my comfort zone completely, as being up front in the press pit has an infectious draw and can honestly be somewhat addicting…after all, you’re the closest to the band, and that gate that separates you from the rest of the flock represents some kind of unspoken coolness. You start to feel elite, special, and part of the action by the fact that you’re here and well, “they” are back there. But honestly, it’s a fallacy. And for me As a photographer it takes away from participating in the full experience of the music itself. I sometimes feel like a fake when I’m up there, surrounded by the other photographers taking almost the exact same shot. “Why bother?” I ask myself, “why am I here?”. Almost any asshole these days with an iPhone or basic SLR can get those shots we’ve seen hundreds of times before of an artist performing on stage. Personally, I’m pretty over it. I’m bored by shooting it, and I’m bored seeing it. There have only been a handful of remarkable rock concerts where I’ve been there to see something special unfold on stage.
I realize that these music festivals are simultaneously both all about the music, and not about the music at all. Most of what I find interesting and fascinating (as far as images go too), and why I go (and why I think you go) to these events, is what happens just off stage. The conversations and interactions we have with one another. When someone gets to meet and talk with their favorite artist. When you make out with some rando on the dancefloor, or when you look around and appreciate simply sharing the same space with strangers who might have nothing more in common than rocking the fuck out to the music we’ve only listened to on our shitty Macbook speakers, or better, music that we’ve never heard before.
As we all know, there’s a lot (and I mean, A LOT) happening just off the sidelines of “where the magic happens”. I ask myself, what about the power that lies in the audience?
I learned that Denver is a lot smaller than I imagined, that the music scene is bustling and vibrant, and that there’s a culture of creativity that is hungry to express itself in more ways than one.
I re-learned through this experience to trust in the poetic statement the photograph begs of the viewer: to pause. As someone who thought of this piece as an “assignment” I realize that it’s a balance too, between trusting your gut to follow or chasing after an image and the necessity to pause, to stand still, get out of the press pit and wait for the image to come to you. I think these photos represent that attempt.
Want to see more? Head over to Scott’s Facebook page for an extended batch of festival photos.
Also, here’s a short video recap of the mayhem that ensued: