Feature Stories

Denton's Underground Rallies Around Its Inaugural Broketopia Festival

For three days in late September, Oaktopia Fest converged on downtown Denton, bringing live music to the clubs and open areas surrounding the square. But at the same time, there was another festival happening, a brand new experiment called Broketopia. 

Spanning five days and seven venues, and with a lineup showcasing 33 local bands and artists, Broketopia was the underground's rebuttal to Oaktopia. Showcasing exclusively locals in DIY locations, it's the organizers’ reaction to the squeeze being put on musicians as Denton loses concert venues. 

“I wouldn’t say the community needs ‘fixing.’ I just try to get involved with booking shows because it’s easy and fun, and I like to see them happen in Denton,” says Robinson Marlin, the front man for Denton band Jesus Chris + the Beetles and one of the organizers of Broketopia. He was instrumental in reaching out to venues to get the event off the ground. “I’ve always thought Denton has so much potential to be recognized for its DIY music scene and I want it to receive more national attention,” he says.

The perceived hardships caused by some of Denton's longest-standing music venues closing in 2016 has been well documented, even prompting one local volunteer to assemble a town hall meeting last month to address what can be done to put the brakes on the slide. Since the start of the year, Hailey's Club, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios and J&J's Pizza's Old Dirty Basement have all closed. But Charles Knowles of Glorp Studios, one of Broketopia's venues, says it wasn't hard to put things in motion.
“We really didn’t plan this out months in advance; in fact, I think Robinson shot me a message about starting the festival in the last week of August,” Knowles remembers. But the process was difficult at times: “We started out with a list of bands, then a list of spaces, and then we wrapped up the first part of booking by lining up bands based on their availability. It wasn’t easy and some bands had to drop, but I’m happy with how it went.”

Knowles says things mostly ran smoothly over the course of Broketopia's five days, which stretched from Wednesday till Sunday — the days before and after Oaktopia's beginning and ending. “I have to say the whole festival ran as smoothly as any of us could’ve dreamed. Thursday night, the police showed up, and a few of the sets ran late, but for the most part there weren’t any hiccups,” he says.

Much has been made in recent months about the Denton music scene's need to rise up on the DIY level while it faces a shortage of club venues. Knowles says he's pleased with the turnout Broketopia experienced. “The turnout for Candy’s and Glorp was about what we expected, but the Rabbit Hole show was insane," he says. "There must’ve been at least 400 people there."

Knowles admits that the process demonstrated to him that not all venues are created equal. “I personally did not enjoy the show at 1211,” he says. “Bad James played an incredible set as always, but the environment wasn’t my thing. A bunch of assholes in a tight-knit space, a shed that couldn’t hold lighting or more than 15 people, but you win some and you lose some.”
Most encouragingly, some people who were not previously involved in booking shows were compelled to turn their homes into new venues. One of those newcomers is Mason Doering, whose show with Broketopia was only the second time the house has opened its doors to the public.

“I’ve been living in Denton for over three years now. When I heard about places like Hailey’s and J&J’s basement closing down, I wanted to help in any way I could,” Doering says. “We’ve pretty much been in the same house since we moved here, and we just kind of thought, ‘Why not?’ When Robinson reached out to me to host for Broketopia, I was more than happy to help.” He doesn't expect it to be an isolated event for his house, either. “Lucky for us, we have a very positive and healthy relationship with our neighbors, so this is absolutely something we plan to continue doing in the future,” he adds.

The show at his house, now dubbed The 813, proved to be very successful, drawing a crowd of nearly 200 people. The environment was spacious and very accommodating. The roster consisted of local veterans Lassie, the Soap, Vaults of Zin and Orcanaut. The diverse crowds and lineup attracted regulars and newcomers alike to a brand-new house venue in Denton.

Another venue in its infancy, dubbed Rabbit Hole, run by Cat McCrorey and Emma Fabian, had a particularly memorable weekend. People came out in droves to see some of Denton’s finest punks, Thin Skin, Jesus Chris + the Beetles, Avery Boner and the Blonde Dicks, and Bad Beats. With the A/C broken and the crowd packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, it wasn’t long before the sweat poured. It might be a while before they can get the smell out, but with a turnout like that it’s hard to care. 
Broketopia doesn't seem poised to be the only event of its kind in Denton, either. Jagoe House, a long-running house venue, is planning to hold its own Jagoe Fest, with Band Together Denton — organized by staff members of The Dentonite — in hopes to showcase the DIY community. Broketopia seems to have given some momentum to those events as well.

Konklin is a punk band out of Denton whose members cut their teeth in the basement of J&J’s, and were mainstays at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. They played the last day of Broketopia, a more intimate show at veteran venue Sunhouse. Their bassist, Sean Enfield, feels as if this was a necessary catalyst for the local music scene.

“If they were still open, we most certainly would be playing Gloves and J&J’s,” says Enfield. “This weekend definitely proves that scene is hungry for new places and new blood. It got me energized to open up my living room to Denton punks.”
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Taylor Frantum is a music journalist based out of Dallas/Denton,Texas. He has written for various online and print publications, including the Dallas Observer, the Dentonite, ThisNewBand and Monkeys Fighting Robots. He thinks Celebration Rock is one of the greatest albums of the last 20 years, and is more than happy to trade playlists with you, unless you have Tidal.