We spoke with owner Matty Clark about the history of the venue, the effect of his ownership over the past year, and some of his all-time favorite Hi-Dive moments:
What was your initial involvement with the Colorado music scene and the Hi-Dive?
"I have been playing in the Denver scene for over 10 years in too many bands to name. My old band, Grace Like Gravity, played I believe the third or fourth show ever here at the Hi-Dive. [Hi-Dive co-owner] Josh’s old band, Machine Gun Blues, was a staple of the Denver scene for years and years. They broke up in 2008. Josh and I started a band together a few years before we bought the Hi-Dive, called ZEBROIDS, which still is Denver's premiere “worst best band.”
I worked here from 2007-2010, and then I moved over to the Lost Lake, which is also owned by [previous Hi-Dive owner and current Sputnik owner] Matt LaBarge, but I still spent a lot of time in these walls. My bands played here, all my friends worked here. Even though I was in a weird self-imposed exile out on East Colfax, I still thought of myself as a South Broadway kind of guy."
What was the inspiration for the previous owners to open the Hi-Dive ten years ago?
"Matt LaBarge and Allison Housley moved to Denver from New York City (both being from here originally) and could sense that the burgeoning local music scene, as well as the Baker neighborhood, needed a hub to gravitate around -- somewhere where new bands could get their feet wet, and where local musicians, artists and creative types could share information over a couple of rounds."
What effect has the Hi-Dive had on the local music scene, and why does the venue continue to be a vital part of it?
"The Hi-Dive (and Sputnik too) helped cultivate and nurture our creative collective. There have always been great bands in Denver, but the scene is light years ahead of where we were ten years ago. There are now huge national acts that call Denver home, in a wide variety of genres. We get pigeonholed as a folk-rock town mostly due to the success of the Lumineers and other prominent Denver acts like Nathaniel Rateliff and Paper Bird. But people forget that there is a massive dance music and hip hop scene, and that we are home to plenty of big metal acts making waves around the country such as Speedwolf, Call of the Void, Havok, Primitive Man, etc. We do a little of everything here at the Hi-Dive."
Hi-Dive is celebrating 10 years since opening, as well as the one-year anniversary under your ownership. Over the past year, have there been any changes to the overall vision and purpose of the venue?
"We haven’t changed all that drastically since Josh and I took over -- a lot of cosmetic stuff mostly, as well as sound system upgrades and general improvements. We still try to be an "artist first" kind of place. We go out of our way to be hospitable to touring bands as well as keep our costs low so local bands can actually make a buck or two from the door. One major difference between Hi-Dive then and now is that we are open at 4pm every day, and stay open regardless of show content until 2am.
Now we have become that neighborhood hangout spot again, with most of our clientele and regulars living or working in the immediate area. It reminds me of my first Hi-Dive experiences, coming in the front door with the little window and seeing a bunch of my friends. I loved catching up and hearing about what new projects people are working on.
I love the Hi-Dive: I got the old logo tattooed on my skin years ago. And so it seems like fate that Josh and I were passed the torch. It is our job, and our duty, to keep this place going strong, and we will."
What are some of your favorite or most notable memories at the Hi-Dive over the years?
"The infamous "Off the Wall" days [the legendary 80s DJ night that Jason Heller pioneered and helped to launch Hi-Dive]...Liars playing here I think in 2006, on the "Drum's Not Dead" tour. The temperature in the room had to have been in the high 90s too. I'm surprised no one passed out from the heat. Maybe they did. I was too stoked to notice...I was working here in 2007, or maybe it was 2008, when Vampire Weekend came through town and only around 20 people paid to get in. I think their guarantee was $100. During the show I drank a bunch of tequila with the drummer and told him that I didn't care for the name and thought it was gonna be some goth band. Which shows what I know...The Spits played here earlier this year and they are one of my favorite bands. It was cool to host those guys, even though they set off fireworks and lit their drum set on fire which set my nerves going a bit."