The 2018 Underground Music Showcase (UMS) took over South Broadway this past weekend with multiple outdoors stages and more than 20 indoor venues. Over the course of three days the festival hosted 300+ shows — and we were lucky enough to catch over 125 of them. At any time during the festival we had four to seven writers on site scouting out the best talent that Colorado, and the national underground music scene, have to offer. Here are the 32 best shows we saw.

READ: Review – UMS Returned to South Broadway with a Vengeance

Gods of Groove

Gods of Groove was a relatively unknown entity going into UMS, but those who got to the Imagination Stage early Sunday morning were treated to a bumping day party. The duo was smooth in their transitions and savvy in the music selections, with one half DJing while the other would add drum lines via drum pad. Coming down from the stage at times, the duo would ensure you were having as best a time as they could provide, and it was one hell of a time at that. – Kori Hazel

Digable Planets

The Main Stage lit up on Friday for some true heroes of the underground, Digable Planets. The trio, originating in Brooklyn, New York, created a massive following for themselves in the ’90s due to their contribution to the underground and classic hip-hop scene. Just after their set time of 8:30 p.m., the live band joining the group took the stage and vamped the crowd. The three members took to the outskirts of the stage and Ladybug Mecca, the only female MC, remained seated, seemingly due to injury. The setback did not hinder her skills, however, as she flawlessly spit the hit rhymes of tracks like “It’s Good to be Here,” “Where I’m From” and “Nickel Bag of Funk.” The Set showcased Butterfly and Doodlebug, the other two MCs and each member of the band. The headlining performance ended with their largest hit, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).” – Denby Gardiner

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Dead Latin

Dead Latin is relentless. Last year they made our list of shows to see at UMS as well as the best shows at UMS. They made the cut again this year, easily crystalizing themselves in our 2018 best of list. This collective of local musicians, including Nasty Nachos, don’t have any recorded music released and their performances are rare. With that said, they’re still far from polished, but their live show is truly exhilarating. Combining stupefying percussions, synths, wild sounds and much more, Dead Latin turned Skylark into a synth dance party. Even though there’s nothing to sing along to — as a band with no vocals — they got the entire crowd to dance joyously. If anything, this set only made us hungry — no, — desperate for more Dead Latin. – Tyler Harvey

Funk Hunk

Local vinyl collector, producer and DJ Funk Hunk started his UMS performance with a set of lyrics that any self-respecting citizen of Denver could not hate, “Colorado… knows how to party” — riffing off Tupac’s “California Love.” Using a talk box, he spoke into the tube to create the same auditory distortion as the legendary original song. After getting the attention from nearly everyone in the packed Skylark Lounge, Funk Hunk launched into a too-short set of funk and disco throwbacks accentuated with electronic beats. Though his ability to pick the right songs to kick off a party (and the entire UMS weekend) were keen and well-executed, his ability to improvise during the set seemed to lack a little. We still split up the dance floor regardless — along with a few other disco-loving souls — and admired Funk Hunk’s disco ball decorated shoes while we did so. –Cori Anderson

KDubbs

It’s not every day an artist is bigger than the venue they perform at. But for KDubbs at UMS this past weekend, her stage was too small for her voice. KDubbs performed Sunday at Moe’s BBQ to a packed house. She began her set with Wes Wakins, blending his signature trumpet with her jazzy riffs and runs. Her jaw-dropping vocal range had everyone whistling and cheering, leaving the crowd at Moe’s BBQ on their feet and speechless. To say UMS saved the best for last is truly an understatement. Expect to see her performing to sold-out shows in venues that accommodate her remarkable and unforgettable voice. – Katie Boudreau

Classixx

There’s no arguing that UMS highlighted a more diverse lineup this year than it has in the past. Clear proof of this is the fact that electro-disco duo Classixx headlined the festival. And anyone who has seen Classixx in the past knows they put on a damn good show. They worked their way through their own tracks as well as their remixes of ones by other musicians. And the UMS crowd wasn’t disappointed — the growing audience at the main stage slipped on their dancing shoes, joining Classixx for one of the best early-evening dance parties at UMS this year.  – Tyler Harvey

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J. Hoard

J. Hoard’s vocals serenaded the Imagination Stage through his “intimate set.” His range is nearly unbelievable, his voice so affecting the crowd mourned when he walked away from the mic, aching for more. It didn’t matter what was said, he would be heard as he danced barefoot across the stage. A true spectacle, his love of music was unpretentious — pure without stopping him from having a good time. The venue seeped with love, some lust and a lot of booty shaking. – Alex Kramer

PPL MVR

If you didn’t catch PPL MVR, you missed out on one of the most bizarre but entertaining sets of the weekend. Fully immersed in character and costume, the three yeti-like band members rocked out in furry bodysuits despite the beating sun at 4:20 on the main stage. But while their neanderthal antics, including abbreviated speech and chest pounding, would allude to a set of crashing cymbals and head-banging, PPL MVR proved to be more evolved in their musical tastes than their get-up might suggest. A mix of ’70s-esque hard-rock and voice decoders, the band creates a polished sound that toes the line of pop. But even if their set sucked (it didn’t), the theatrics of PPL MVR would be engaging alone. At one point the lead singer (who goes by SNWBLL) went into the crowd and made strangers hold hands as he shredded on his guitar that resembled bloody fangs. By the end of it, every single face I could see in the crowd had broken into big smiles and giggles. If PPL MVR’s goal was to entertain their audience, they surely accomplished that mission at UMS — Brittany Werges

It’s Just Bugs

Volatile and off the cuff, It’s Just Bugs rained down a tantalizing set that fully immersed the crowd in the band’s eclectic influences. Desperate raps would dissolve into guttural screams while the audience, completely absorbed in the performance headbanged or thrashed in stride. This performance caught many a wanderer off guard, but once there, it was hard to look away. – Kori Hazel

Chloe Tang

Even when masked by the never-ending Illegal Pete’s food line, Chloe Tang shown through with her understated spectacle. She wasn’t flashy, she wasn’t overdoing it — she simply played her music. The regale felt for the Denver soloist was nothing short of love. There’s something to be said for an act that can make people forget about the beer in front of them and just listen. UMS being Tang’s last show in Denver before she moves on to LA, she went out with finesse and grace. – Alex Kramer

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Retrofette

Jumping on stage clad in white turtlenecks — with full-length sleeves — while the crowd filled every possible spot inside the Irish Rover, Retrofette didn’t waste a second before launching into a fantastically groovy synth-pop anthem. Squeezed on the small stage at the back of the bar, it wasn’t the best way to experience the Denver-based group, especially when you want to shake your entire body to each separate rhythm — and the way Retrofette plays, there are multiple harmonizing rhythms to get down to. But the set was energizing and the band delivered one dancey hit after another, including the single “Lover in Japan” — a tune that many in the crowd were singing along with. They even provided a little humor, at one point saying “looks like no one else got the turtleneck memo” as sweat dripped down their faces. Even without adequate dancing room for the crowd, Retrofette brought the party their name alludes to (‘fete’ means ‘party’ in French) and proved that Denver might be the perfect place for an ’80s synth-pop resurgence. –Cori Anderson

A Shadow of Jaguar

After a long and successful day at UMS and with no sign of slowing down, the 1 a.m. timeslot held by rock duo A Shadow of Jaguar was the necessary shot of energy necessary to keep the party going. The group — consisting of Brooklyn via Boulder musicians Brian Hubbert and Andrew Oakley — brought enormously dense rock to the stage at the Hi-Dive, injecting the room with heavy tracks from their new album Raw. The chemistry between the two was immediately evident, and their distinct chops, formed from years playing local and national circuits, made the show. Their set, even against the many other great acts was rock ‘n’ roll at its very finest. – Colin Wrenn

Photo by Brittany Werges.

My Body Sings Electric

Illegal Pete’s is a huge supporter of underground music, especially the Underground Music Showcase. On Friday, the line to get in the door to see My Body Sings Electric was out and halfway down Broadway. The five-piece group from Denver were smashed against the back of the venue, with so many fans it was impossible to see their stage setup. Some stood on the booth seats, but most attendees kept their heads down as they danced around to the pop-alternative-punk tunes. The crowd roared along with each song and the cooks working the burrito line for Illegal Pete’s sang along, showing their support of the local act. The group maintained a comical presence in between songs, teasing Carlos Santana’s “Smooth” before jumping into “Living Proof.” The venue remained jam-packed until the end of their set, and the hot night air outside felt like a cool blanket after being in the small room of dancing fans. – Denby Gardiner

Moon Hammer

I’ll be completely honest — I was only fortunate enough to catch the tail-end of this set. In true UMS fashion, my weekend was spent bouncing from venue to venue to try and scout out the best that Denver has to offer. Oh, how excited I was when I stumbled onto Moon Hammer. The band takes members of  Dandu and Other Black, déCollage, Ghost Tapes, Esmé Patterson’s band, Ancient Elk, Venus Cruz and more, and combines them all into one supergroup. The combination fuses together funk, pop, R&B, jazz, rock and electronica into one seamless sound. And one of the best things — they looked like they were having just as much fun as the crowd was with their charismatic stage presence. Though I only caught a short segment of this one, the taste has me very hungry for the next opportunity  to catch a full Moon Hammer set – Tyler Harvey

The Dollhouse Thieves

The Dollhouse Thieves are going to make it big in the indie-folk world. The five-piece band from Denver showcased their talent with dynamic, layered sound and storytelling skills at the South Broadway Christian Church Saturday afternoon. Incorporating a slew of perhaps unconventional instrument pairings such as a muted trumpet, accordion, cello and even a synth, the Dollhouse Thieves created a classic bluegrass vibe with a modern twist, making it impossible not to tap your foot along. In fact, a couple people in the crowd couldn’t resist getting up from the pews and enthusiastically dancing along. Lead singer Nikki Tredinnick took the crowd through story after story with her effortlessly smooth voice that blended perfectly with the layers of sound in each song. They ended their set with “Colorado,” a charming and catchy homage to their home state, leaving the audience elated and content. – Jenna Beutler

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The Velveteers

The Velveteers have made our list of best performances two years in a row now — and for good reason. Graduating from an indoor venue to an outdoor stage, the trio packed the larger space and delivered the same fiery show even though it was mid-day. Decked out in a catsuit, complete with black fringe, lead singer Demi Demitro has perfected her stage presence over the years. Between hair flips and expert guitar shredding, Demitro, along with her dual drummers, has cemented The Velveteers as a UMS staple everyone should see at least once. – Brittany Werges 

David Burchfield

David Burchfiel and the Fire Guild have been slanging strings around Denver for years, which made them a must see at UMS. They closed down the stage at Banded Oak Brewing to a full patio that stomped along to the catchy tunes from the acoustic and electric guitars, fiddle, drum and stand-up bass. The group played “Long Hot Summer Days,” a cover by the Turnpike Troubadours, before moving into more “sensitive material,” as Burchfield referred to a song about going home for the holidays and feeling awkward about it. Their set was one of the best of the weekend simply because of the huge sound they were able to make in such a small space, so be sure to catch them the next time they take over a larger, more appropriate stage for their abilities. – Denby Gardiner

OptycNerd

OptycNerd had the Irish Rover in a gridlock— few could get in and even fewer could get out for the duo’s pop-rap hybrids. Once inside however, the bands chemistry with each other and with the audience was second to none. Stumbling upon their set Saturday night was nothing short of surprising, but a welcome one at that. Recreating their breezy beats, chugging bass lines and their earworm vocals live, I found myself humming their tunes live long after their set ended. – Kori Hazel

Nina and the Hold Tight

Nina and the Hold Tight brought the crowd to church with their charisma on stage and Nina de Freitas’ passion for holding notes so long she could bring you to tears. It was a religious experience for anyone who worships music (i.e. most UMS-goers). The crowd could not contain their feelings, shouts tearing through their bodies despite themselves. It was the type of set that made you want to thank them for it afterwards. Through music, The Hold Tight supplies an inexplicable excitement and devotion that carries itself through your whole being. They brought their all, the crowd brought theirs and together they molded a truly mesmerizing experience. – Alex Kramer

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CITRA

Honestly, I should be getting tired of writing about CITRA. But what I’m certainly not tired of is seeing CITRA live. The great thing about this Denver rock band is their consistency when it comes to putting on a damn good show. Lasers, neon signs, crazy stage antics and more are all possible when it comes to a CITRA set. They sound well-manicured, have a mesmerizing stage presence and play music that’s impossible to stand still to. Something tells me this Denver group will only continue to give me reasons to write about them. – Tyler Harvey

Los Mocochetes

Los Mocochetes brought a seriously funky situation to the Sesh Stage. With an altar of various items at the base of the stage, the group exploded in a fury of Chicano funk darting around the outdoor stage with wild abandon. It wouldn’t be a Mocochetes show without political statements and urging of people to be better than the current administration, and with that, the band asked the tough questions — begging the audience to take away more than just the music. – Kori Hazel

Porlolo

Illegal Pete’s was a packed house on Friday night in anticipation for Porlolo. Backed by a talented and dynamic band, lead singer Erin Roberts is a songwriting force to be reckoned with, bringing witty and playful lyrics and danceable melodies. Their indie-folk songs sounded rougher around the edges live — most songs were led by heavy guitar and percussion, fueling the energy in the room and encouraging everyone within earshot to move their bodies. Most of the set was upbeat and fun, with a few slower anthems thrown in, including a fan favorite “Wasting Time (I Was a Fool)” which had everyone singing along by the end, whether they came knowing the lyrics or not. The best part of this performance was by far the enthusiasm pouring out of both the band and the crowd, growing and feeding off of each other after each song, making for a highly enjoyable and entertaining set. – Jenna Beutler

Rewards

One of the best things about UMS every year is stumbling across captivating bands that you’ve never heard of and weren’t planning on seeing. This year, one of those bands for me was Rewards. I had just hit nine hours that day at UMS and needed a moment to just relax. While wandering around for that place, I heard the sounds of Rewards coming from the Imagination Stage. Lured by the ambient-rock airwaves, I had found exactly what I was looking for. This ’80s-influenced alternative-rock set offered balanced vocal harmonies with enchanting, almost melancholic lead vocals. It was relaxing and invigorating all at the same time, comparable to The National with a touch of ambient electronica. If you haven’t checked him out yet, be sure to — Rewards is the solo project of previous Chairlift member Aaron Pfenning, who is now signed to DFA Records and has recorded with the likes of Solange and has been working on the project since 2003.  – Tyler Harvey

DUCKWRTH

If you’ve listened to his music, it shouldn’t surprise you that Jared Lee, aka DUCKWRTH, is also a visual artist. Rooted in hip-hop and rap, the musician paints his tracks with a fluidity and disregard for boundaries much like an abstract expressionist. On his latest album —  I’m UUGLY and the subsequent mixtape —  you’ll hear funk, soul and R&B highlighted by rock, punk and a little techno. The South Central artist marries them all with effortless swagger — which was apparent during his UMS performance. Commanding the crowd and his movements, Lee never stood still. His energy was infectious and exuded the confidence and charisma usually reserved for someone selling out stadiums. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday he does. — Brittany Werges

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Night Beats

Seattle rock group Night Beats took over the Imagination Stage on Sunday night showing off their fusion of psychedelic vocals with traditional garage-rock instrumentals. The group’s three members all played a part in keeping the crowd jumping throughout the whole set, showing off their individual skills. A key element of the group’s sound is lead singer and guitarist Danny “Lee Blackwell” Rajan Billingsley’s light and echoed voice. Billingsley lit up the Imagination Stage belting each track’s lyrics over his own incredible guitar solos. While Billingsley and Bowden on bass kept the crowd energized from the front of the stage, drummer James Traeger gave an electric performance creating the drum lines behind each track. There were few groups that captured the type of energy Night Beats brought to UMS. Combining the spirit of psychedelic rock with the energetic presence of the group, Night Beats’ show was one that will have their name circulating in everyone’s playlists. – Max Nason

Panther Martin

The easiest way to make sure the crowd has fun at a concert is for the band to have fun playing the concert. During Panther Martin’s set at the Imagination Stage Sunday afternoon they did just that. From the very first song they were all energy and smiles on stage. Everybody on stage was putting everything they had into every song and it showed. The group was not going to let anything ruin the fun excitement of the show, not even a broken string. While guitarist David Pierpoint was trying to remedy the broken string, the band invited a crowd member on stage to perform a dad joke new to most of the crowd. – Caleb Aerenson

Dayton Stone and the Undertones

Dayton Stone and the Undertones put on a refreshing old-fashioned rock show that barreled down Banded Oak Brewing Company. The tiny stage almost couldn’t support the band’s solos and rambunctious pop vocals. With night rolling in for the performance, Dayton Stone and the Undertones were a precursor for the rowdiness to come, but one who’s impression outlasted the long weekend. – Kori Hazel

3 Kings. Photo by Brittany Werges.

Maya Bennett

Maya Bennett — a local artist hailing from northern Colorado — stole hearts during her set on Friday night at Baere Brewing. The intimate setting along with Bennett’s singer-songwriter sound resembled a coffee shop open mic in the best way possible. The brewery was full of people enjoying a drink with friends and hanging out, and Bennett’s Tash Sultana-esque sound was a perfect compliment to a chill atmosphere. She piqued interest as she poured her heart out to listeners, her lyrics full of emotion. She joked that all her songs were sad, saying, “Maybe this next one won’t be as sad. Maybe not.” As her set went on, the crowd congregated around her and began gently swaying with her raspy yet velvety vocals. – Jenna Beutler

 

Andy Immerman

Local house and techno DJ Andy Immerman’s set of uplifting and dirty dance music was the perfect soundtrack to the unforgettable sunset that blessed the festival Saturday night. His brilliant display at the Irish Rover was great transition music, as the heat of the day finally subsided and allowed for greater fervor in the evening’s dancing. Between him and the following act Aaron Bordas, UMS got a much-needed dose of the deep and heavy sounds that have been starting to be the rallying cry of the Denver underground dance community. – Colin Wrenn

MILKY.WAV

The first time I experienced MILKY.WAV (Jordan Nickerson) was at our very own 303 Music Fest and it was with headphones on in a silent disco room. I turned the volume up nearly all the way and grooved to his live DJ set, watching his calm demeanor from a few feet away. His set at UMS on Sunday afternoon at the Imagination Stage was a lot different from that first experience — mainly, it was during the day, outside and on speakers — but it still hypnotized me like it did the first time. His music is like a love child of ambient electronica and O.G hip-hop and it delivers equal parts groove and chill. It’s the kind of scene that might breed a crowd that both hula hoops and breakdances and I hope I’m there to witness it. – Cori Anderson

Escort

Yes, Brooklyn’s disco-driven group Escort played UMS this year. Perfectly reflecting the diversity on UMS’ lineup, this early-evening show had dancers, DJs and a bad-ass front-woman. Sporting sex appeal and simple, but fun choreography, the set was entertaining for both the ears and the eyes. The group worked through their catchy hits like “Barbarian” and “Cocaine Blues” while the crowd shimmied and swayed, crafting up funky choreography of their own. By the time rain began dropping on the crowd, no one interpreted it as a bad thing — if anything it was like Escort had pulled the shower string in Dirty Dancing, dropping water on the already feverish crowd. From there on out the main stage was drenched in an unforgettable disco dance party. – Tyler Harvey

Bud Bronson & The Good Timers

If there’s one band that epitomizes the UMS experience for me, it has to be Bud Bronson & The Good Timers. The garage rock band combines that gritty, rough around the edges sound you’d equate with underground music along with the nostalgia of your best friend’s band in high school. Every show feels like a massive reunion and a return to the good old days when you could drink and dance all night and not suffer from a three-day hangover. And to be honest, it’s more of the atmosphere this band creates rather than the music — although they always churn out a similar and reliable set. Because of their shows similarities, I didn’t expect to include them in this list — that is until all hell broke loose. Playing a 1 a.m. set at Illegal Pete’s, it was pretty obvious the night was going to get rowdy. However, no one expected the fire department to show up. The band’s new smoke machine had set off said alarm, which at first seemed to be the end of the show. But after unsuccessful pleas for the crowd to move outside, the Good Timers lived up to their name and gave the people what they wanted. As mosh pits began to form and crowd surfers went overhead, it was clear that not even the fire department could extinguish the spirit of UMS. – Brittany Werges

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Note — 303 Magazine was the media partner of the 2018 Underground Music Showcase. 

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