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//Nicole Cacciavillano, owner of The Black Box in Denver, stands in the pool room of the music venue on May 11. Photo by Ali Mai | alimai@msmayhem.com

Ever since she first got into underground drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep, Nicole Cacciavillano wanted her own venue. A place where the music took on a life of its own, thumping and warping its way through the sound system and out into the venue and the street. A far-flung dream in costly Denver, to be sure, but Cacciavillano was determined. 

Then, in 2016, her dreams became a reality. She took over the old Don Quixote spot on 13th Avenue and turned it into The Black Box, a haven for bass heads everywhere. She had already been active in the local scene for some time, booking local and national shows through venues like Cervantes’ via her booking agency and promotion group, Sub.mission. But the ultimate goal was always the venue. 

While running a venue is never easy and underground bass music is a niche interest, The Black Box thrived in Denver. By expanding the umbrella to all kinds of dance music and occasionally renting out the space for various functions, Cacciavillano was able to run the club successfully and create plenty of space for international acts, many of whom she represents through her agency, and local performers to find a home. 

And then, the unfortunate but familiar happened—COVID-19 hit, and a sweaty, intimate dance club was no longer a viable option to make a living. In addition to shows stopping in their tracks at The Black Box, international bookings for her clients dried up as everything paused.

“At first, when they shut everyone down completely, that was the moment, for me at least, when I was just devastated,” Cacciavillano said. “We weren’t some giant corporation that has all this back revenue in case something like this happens. But then, I decided to apply for every grant there was under the sun, tried to get a personal loan, looked into things like, ‘Can I sell my house? Can I refinance my mortgage?’ I was looking at how much money I had access to, and how much debt I was willing to get into to make sure The Black Box didn’t close down.”

During those scary months, Cacciavillano slowly realized how to pivot to keep the business afloat. She began to set up outdoor shows during the summer, partnering with other businesses to provide food and deliver a different form of entertainment. And although she’s been abiding by all the rules, and is currently afloat thanks to the changes she made, she still can’t wait for an old-school night on the dance floor. 

“On a personal level, I’m just excited to see my friends,” she said. “I want to stand on the dance floor with my friends, my international friends. I just miss my people. It’s different right now at events; it’s seated, so people can’t get up and dance. We want to lead by example, so we’re not up [and] dancing. We’re not going around hugging everybody, so to me, that camaraderie and what music does to bring people together, that’s missing.” 

Until that can happen, however, Cacciavillano can see an upside to the predicament for many of the fresher faces on her roster of artists. Dubstep and underground bass music are generally bigger in the U.K. and Europe. As such, the scenes are dominated by non-local names. For the first time, local artists are able to step into the spotlight alone and truly shine. 

“I feel like this is their moment,” she said. “A lot of the electronic music world is monopolized by international artists, and now we’re in a place where they can’t come over here at all. I’ve been using this as an opportunity to curate shows in the main room for the locals as well as on the smaller stage. We’ve definitely found ways to focus more on the local scene. I think it’s going to be awesome when we can finally come together again, because everyone will have their own personal sound.” 

She also used it as an opportunity to make some improvements to her sacred space. By renovating and fixing things up, Cacciavillano keeps her spirits high about the days to come of COVID-free partying. 

“When else would we ever have time to redo the bathrooms?” she said. “We were always open, and we never had a chance to make changes.” 

In addition to weathering the storm that is COVID, The Black Box also took advantage of its location near the Capitol this summer to help protect protesters. 

“A lot of our staff was pretty active in a lot of the protests, so The Black Box was being used as a kind of home base for people who needed milk or water or snacks and things like that if they were protesting,” she said. “We’ve also done several charity events where a percentage of the profits went to different organizations that needed help.” 

While COVID has shaken things up in a major way for The Black Box, they continue to push forward, and Cacciavillano is sticking with the mission of keeping bass music in the Mile High City. 

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