Through the fogged-up windows of the RiNo bar Fort Greene, the sun sank behind the silhouette of the Rockies. Inside, a party raged on.
Chicago-based DJ Sold visited for the weekend and was in the midst of delivering a furious and grooving three-hour set. Sold bounced from hard-hitting Chicago house to raving electro and choppy breaks, heating up the crowded bar on a chilly afternoon. Fellow Chicago native Kris Kuta hosts the daytime party series Sunday Laundry every-so-often at Fort Greene, importing the best DJs the Midwest has to offer to Denver’s dance floors.
Sold rifled through crates filled with records, flitting between turntables and fist-pumping to the beat at brief respites.
Sold, who is nonbinary, now resides and DJs in Chicago, where they hold a residency at Smart Bar and are part of the party series Hugo Ball. Eris Drew, who is trans, founded the Hugo Ball party, taking the lead in reserving space for queer bodies on the dance floor. Dance music, club kid culture—whatever you want to call it—has always belonged to the queer community. The gritty, underground clubs serve as a sanctuary, a safe place for all orientations and identities.
“Dancing is just communicating with your body,” Sold said. They studied linguistics and writing and compared dancing to writing, in that both are art forms meant to communicate to the world at large, as well as to oneself: I exist.
“I lived up near Sunnyside, right off of—I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing it right; I could never tell while I was living here—Osage,” Sold said. They were living in Ohio when one day, “My boyfriend at the time was like, ‘Hey, wanna move to Denver?’ and six months later, we moved out here,” they said. Two months after arriving in Denver, Sold ended the relationship. “I was working three jobs to pay rent, and he was just playing video games all day. I mean, I like video games and weed too, but I was earning the brunt of our income,” Sold explained.
It was here in Denver that Sold began messing around with DJing. “I was into more U.K. funk and garage—that kind of music was big here. I started out doing stuff with TheHundred and was doing a series at Norad called ‘Momentum,’” they said, referencing the frequent bookings that took place in Denver circa 2012. “Back then, I was DJing under a different name: Tina Pizza.”
They looked back fondly on events thrown by the now-defunct techno collective, Communikey. Communikey, based in Boulder, held their final party in 2015 and was the main provider of techno music in Denver with a variety of different events and parties across the Front Range. They operated the Great American Techno Festival, bringing top-notch techno artists from around the world to Colorado for a weekend of raving parties and transcendent DJ sets.
Describing Communikey’s Gemini party as the rave of all raves, Sold explained that the collective was an introduction to the spiritual experience of underground dance music. Held in the Rockies, right outside of Boulder, Communikey’s parties embodied the spiritual experience that inevitably arises on the dance floor.
After two years in Denver, however, Sold decided to move closer to their home state of Ohio.
They were reluctant to leave at first, but Denver became nearly inhospitable toward the end for Sold.
“It was a weird and dark time for me. I ended up having to get a restraining order against one of my best friends. It was a whole, f*cked up thing. He manipulated me into a sexual relationship, and he was being gross and weird about it, so I cut it off, and he assaulted me because of that. I starting coming out and telling people, and he started stalking me—I started getting all these weird and vaguely threatening emails.”
Sold filed for a permanent restraining order, but lost the case. Instead, they were granted a temporary restraining order, which expired after four months. Sold left for Chicago before the restraining order could run out.
However, Sold’s memories of Communikey parties lingered, even after the move, even after they stepped away from DJing. “When I moved to Chicago, I was really homesick for the mountains,” they said. Chicago, the birthplace of house music, had daunting expectations in terms of booking gigs.
“When I first moved to Chicago, I didn’t even think I would be able to DJ. I just kept thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going to be too hard. I have to quit.’ But, I just couldn’t.
“I was a digital DJ with Traktor [a DJ program for PCs] and my laptop. I was told by, like, three different promoters, ‘We don’t book laptop DJs; you have to play on either CDJs or records.’”
Sold didn’t have the financial means to buy the industry-standard CDJs. Instead, they bought a pair of “really cheap, sh*tty Numarks [a DJ controller for a laptop], like, bottom of the barrel,” for $100. Sold arrived in Chicago with a couple records they picked up from Twist and Shout during their time in Denver. Their collection quickly swelled to more than 2,200 records by their most recent count.
“I was like, ‘’Guess I’m mixing on vinyl now,’ literally because that was what was affordable,” they said. “Definitely, over time, I’ve spent probably at least $10k on records. I could never go back. There’s just nothing that compares to playing records. There’s a whole concept I was introduced to via Eris and Justin of Hugo Ball. The idea is, with each use of playing them, practicing with them, carrying them, each record accrues a sort of mental or spiritual energy.”
With each play and experience, the record becomes more intrinsically connected to the listener. The physical record becomes representative of the liberation the dance floor provides for so many trans, queer, and gender-noncomforming bodies.
In a sense, the record itself serves as a symbol of all the spiritual experiences taking place through the art of dance.
Sold’s set proved that the dance floor is a sacred space for self-expression, and as Sold gingerly danced behind the decks, the crowd danced the Sunday afternoon away. Flushed and sweaty, dancers grinned as they let go of insecurities and grooved to the sacred energy carried in Sold’s records. Through dance records and movement, pain melted away into ecstasy as the dance floor raged into the night.