//Rebelles Denver co-founders Rachel Ellis, Brittany Mahoney and Zoe Van De Voorde chat at the Nurture: A Wellcare Marketplace in Denver on Jan. 18. Photo by Ali Mai | firstname.lastname@example.org
Rebelles began in true riot grrrl fashion. Brittany Mahoney and Rachel Ellis watched with huge smiles as fellow co-founder Zoe Van De Voorde recounted the group’s origin story.
“It started with Brittany and Rachel, and then sort of exploded in 2019 when we all met at a show at Lion’s Lair, where Brittany got up on the mic like, ’Girls to the front!’ and I was on a really bad date, so I was like, ‘Fuck yeah!’ I went up there, and we all just started dancing, then realized we had this connection and Rebelles took off from there.”
Mahoney, Van De Voorde and Ellis followed that initial meeting with a number of conversations, discussing what they wanted to see in the Denver art and music community: a Colorado-based group focused on celebrating female energy, hosting events to empower women in music and creating a supportive network for all artists in Denver. And Rebelles was born.
Reminiscing over those early conversations, they noted the egos within the scene, with all genders and underrepresented communities alike embracing competition with one another, rather than collaborating and lifting one another up.
“We were like, ‘We really want a space where we see women supporting women, artists supporting artists and just people supporting people,’” Mahoney said. “That was our mission statement.”
It was around that time when Rebelles began planning their first big event, which took place Feb. 21, 2020. The event featured performances by Mahoney and Ellis’ band Girlfriend Cult, Eleanor Nash & The Ramblers, The Patient Zeros and a silent auction. All proceeds from the show and auction went toward The Blue Bench, a Denver nonprofit that helps survivors of sexual assault.
Returning to the roots of Rebelles, they fittingly held the event at Lion’s Lair.
“Women often don’t feel safe at Lion’s Lair because it’s male-dominated, [there’s] pushing—[it’s] kind of aggressive,” Mahoney said. “That’s why we wanted to choose Lion’s Lair as a place for an event because we wanted to redefine the space.”
And it seemed to work. They recalled the owner’s excitement, who commented after the show that it was the first night in some time that a fight didn’t break out at the venue. The event itself, and simply setting a new tone, offered a totally different environment for Lion’s Lair.
“There was another time we were at Lion’s Lair—it wasn’t an event we had put on—but we just tried to take up more space and redefine the vibe. We just started hysterically laughing throughout,” Ellis said.
“In the bathroom!” Mahoney interjected.
“It was a little bit contagious,” Ellis continued. “People started laughing, and it became more fun. It’s amazing how much you can do when you do take up space and when you kind of say, ‘I’m calling in humor. I’m calling in positivity. I’m calling in safety.’”
Of course, we know what happened after February 2020.
As COVID-19 raged on, the live music and art scene shifted dramatically, and Rebelles accordingly had to take a step back. Part of their mission is promoting safety, and they didn’t feel like they knew in those early days what that looked like in the pandemic environment.
It also shifted the way they focused on creating change in the community.
Rather than taking the lead on Rebelles-specific events, they’ve helped with online marketing, fundraising, community support efforts and assistance for other artists and groups to coordinate their own events. Van De Voorde recalled a specific instance when Ipecac guitarist Aridnee Ziady reached out to Rebelles for assistance, looking to organize something similar to their Blue Bench event, but not knowing where to start.
“Even if we’re not actually performing or part of that event, anyone that wants to create spaces like that, create shows like that—We’re happy to guide them to help promote what they’re doing,” Mahoney said.
In an ever-changing time, when it was challenging to plan ahead, Rebelles expanded their scope and helped others to create the same change they were after.
“Because that’s part of like the foundation of us, making sure that this community knows each other, has each other as a resource and is lifting each other up,” Van De Voorde said.
Ellis cited that metaphor of climbing up a ladder and taking the rungs up with you, whereas Rebelles always try to climb up the ladder and ensure the people behind them have the means to make their way up as well.
Things have changed since those initial 2019 days for the Rebelles co-founders, too.
Following a pregnancy and new child, Mahoney plays in a wedding band around the state; Van De Voorde has been hard at work throughout the pandemic in healthcare and Ellis has relocated to Summit County. Though, they’ve seen this transformative time as an opportunity, expanding their strategies and network beyond Denver, moving forward into 2022 pursuing growth despite circumstances.
As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 lingers, the future is uncertain. But Rebelles are looking forward to this summer, hopeful that they will be able to hold more unmasked, in-person outdoor events.
They encourage anyone interested in learning more, finding resources in the Denver music scene or creating inclusive spaces themselves to reach out. While creative spaces are improving, and the response to Rebelles has been largely positive, the journey is far from complete.
“If we wake up tomorrow, and we don’t feel the need for this platform anymore, we’ll do something else,” Mahoney said. “The fact that [we] keep waking up, and we still need to elevate women; we still need to elevate people of color—this is needed in the Denver music scene, and you can go pretty much anywhere, and eventually, you’re going to see that.”
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