Punk Safe

Aug 16, 2018

At Denver’s Seventh Circle, punk roots lay the ground for free expression

Nothing says punk like Seventh Circle, a music venue and DIY space in Denver that has transformed the lives of young musicians and participants since 2012. “It organically evolved into a spot where a lot of our regulars are teenagers looking for direction in life,” says organizer Aaron Saye. “They’re finding it through the punk scene.”

Which means kindness, acceptance, and an open door.

Seventh Circle has been a pathway for success, and not just for punks. “Bands go from playing their first shows in front of five to ten people here, and then they get to the point where they’re being courted by bigger theaters in town,” says Saye. “We have punk and hip hop kids hanging out. Collaborating,” he adds. “There’s a genre-less inclusivity.”

Aaron Saye of Seventh Circle music collective

With five shows a week, run by a cadre of volunteers, Seventh Circle is also just a place to hang out, and a safe one. For many of the participants, it’s the one place they are themselves. “There are people who are dropped off by their parents at a show expressing one gender, then they change in the bathroom, and change back before they get picked up,” says Saye.

The kids changing gender in the bathroom are not alone. “It’s a community hub for a lot of the marginalized, disenfranchised kids who have nowhere else to be,” says Saye. “We have people who hang out every night because it’s their second home. We’ve become a crucial safe haven. That wasn’t intentional, but it’s welcome.”

Part of being a safe and all-inclusive space means building a culture of tolerance, and that happens through new intersections. “People who have never dabbled in punk will come to a show and realize that despite the abrasive look, underneath the spikey jackets and mohawks, are the nicest people,” Saye muses. “It’s nice to see those bonds form and stereotypes drop. People’s ideas about subculture disappear when they meet individuals.”

What develops is a culture of inclusivity. “Punk in its ethos is just so focused on equality and being inclusive, because it’s made up of people who feel outside of normal society,” says Saye. “But punk rock historically is about being unapologetically yourself. That helps band kids together.”

The culture-blending nature of the DIY space speaks to its freedom: were Seventh Circle running for profit, it might cater to populations with cash and cache. As is, they charge a sliding scale, and it’s just enough to pay the bands and barely keep the place afloat. But this way, the only capital is social.

“DIY spaces give people an alternative to the mainstream and to the giant, corporate concert experience,” says Saye. “It’s a space where people can freely express themselves without worrying about ticket sales, where musicians can figure themselves out.”

The Wheelz perform at Seventh Circle in Denver.

Seventh Circle was preceded by Blast-o-Mat, a punk house and music venue space that existed for about six years before Saye picked up leadership in 2012 and kept the venue space going when others left.

For Saye, it’s a passion project, and what keeps him going are the bonds that form along the way. “Some of the best friendships I know I’ll have for the rest of the life are because of this venue,” he says.

Seventh Circle is gearing up for their 6-year anniversary festival, which kicks off during the fall equinox on September 21 and lasts three days. The show will have six to ten bands a day and will be run by volunteers, many of whom are in the line-up. In the meantime, the doors are always open.

Seventh Circle was a recipient of Meow Wolf’s 2017 DIY Fund.