Titwrench director Sarah Slater: "Women are creating their own paths in music"
As the director of Titwrench, Sarah Slater is a staple of the Denver music scene. No, not a staple -- more like a three-ring binder that holds together a massive catalogue of civic talent, a human Rolodex of artists past and present. Beyond Titwrench, Slater keeps herself busy year 'round with a number of miniature projects that highlight a vast number of artists, musicians and filmmakers.
For the past month, she's been co-hosting the Mid Winter Punk Film Festival at Growler Records. And this Thursday, March 15, you'll find Slater hosting her monthly Surfacing event, with Mistress of Magic, Piper Rose, Kendall Perry, Mano, and Sarah's sister, Julie Slater, debuting her project, Cardinal Veil.
This month's Surfacing will be a fundraiser for Titwrench 2012, which begins at GLOB on Friday, July 27, and continues through Sunday, July 29, at Mercury Cafe. We recently caught up with Slater to discuss the previous successes and failures of Titwrench, as well as her perspective on women in the music business today.
Westword: Looking back on the last three Titwrench Festivals, which stand out as some of the more memorable performances?
Sarah Slater: Honestly, it's very hard to choose specific performances ... and I think Piper Rose and Sarah Chung and the many people involved in making the fest a reality would agree that each year has felt like birthing a different child.
I'd say a highlight for many of us has been our friendship and artistic collaboration. In particular, we've been inspired by the noise/weirdo music scene in Albuquerque, New Mexico -- the kindest and most talented people, many of whom are classically trained musicians who also perform noise, ambient, experimental and performance art and are curators and zinesters and bloggers, too.
One example of the phenomenal talent and creativity there is the group Milch de la Máquina, which has become a hallmark act of the festival -- a troupe made of a revolving number of ABQ musicians led by musician/writer Marisa Demarco that creates the most surprising and thrilling sort of performance art I've ever seen in my life.
The first year they performed at Blast-O-Mat, they transformed into a bird and flew out the garage door after their set! Marisa also started a festival called Gatas y Vatas in 2010, which features solo female performers; several of us involved with Titwrench have driven down to perform and participate. I was really inspired by the art community and diversity of sounds and performance that I witnessed there.
Some of the acts I have had the honor of booking over the years were really just mindblowing to see play at Titwrench -- which I think has a more intimate feel than many festivals. The Coathangers put on a crazy energetic performance last year and got everyone dancing up a storm. The Mariner Variations was a performance piece by Marya Errin Jones that really blew my mind; it combined seafaring stories and accordian so perfectly. I have a soft spot for anything relating to the ocean, so I was just in awe of her performance.
Watching Piper Rose keep the energy going is truly amazing every year. We added "showga" to the lineup last year, wherein she led a yoga class accompanied by live flute and sitar. She also led the most spontaneous dance party of all time at last year's fest, with a Soul Train-style dance line and everything. She is truly the best emcee in the world, and her energy and spirit really keep everyone going all weekend long.
2012 will mark the four-year anniversary of the Titwrench Festival. How has the event evolved over the years?
I'd like to think that the festival continues to get better every year. The focus is still on female-identified musicians from the Southwest, but we have had musicians from Canada and all over the U.S., too. We started incorporating workshops in the second year on topics like building radio transmitters and contact mikes, and this last year, Katie Taft led a panel on noise music that was really wonderful.
I think I've learned a ton about what does and doesn't work, depending on the space and time we have available. Our first year we moved venues every night for three nights; it was exhausting and ridiculously difficult.
Moving into the Mercury Cafe last year was a huge blessing. As much as I love Denver's DIY spaces, the Mercury Cafe was just a much more comfortable and accessible venue for an all-ages festival like Titwrench. Access to more facilities like a bar and a kitchen is HUGE when you have hundreds of people coming in and out of the space all day and night. Not to mention the wonderful staff there, who really embraced and supported the festival and made our lives much easier.
I think the perception of the festival has evolved in Denver, too, and more people realize that we do our best to create a welcoming environment for anyone who wants to participate. The collective itself has grown more loose-knit every year, but I am always amazed at the people who come out of the woodwork to help make it happen. It's a community effort on a million levels.
Titwrench has become an ingrained institution for Denver in the summer; how long do you plan to continue the event?
That's very kind of you to say, and I agree that Titwrench has become pretty crucial to many people all over the place. I would love to continue Titwrench forever and even open a venue at some point, but a lot of that is dependent on attaining funding of some sort. It would be nice for the festival to reach a more sustainable way of existing, so that it can grow and expand and perhaps happen abroad at some point, too.
How can people support Titwrench?
Come check out Surfacing and get an idea of what the festival is all about. Look out for an upcoming Bandcamp with live compilations from the past three years of the fest, recorded by Lance Stack. Downloads will be available for sale and will help raise money for this year's fest. There will be fun volunteer opportunities available coming up in the next few months too.
It seems that in the last fifteen or twenty years, there's been more emphasis on women in rock; do you feel that things have improved for young girls today?
Of course. Things are definitely so much better than they were fifteen years ago. More women are making music, going on tour, starting labels and getting out there in the world. More women are creating art and media, but they need to be louder and more visible for their voices to be heard.
If you had asked the ancient Greeks, they would tell you that music is "the technique of the muses." Women have always made music; that's nothing new. But I've found that women -- and people who identify as women -- who make music outside of the mainstream are often looking for more community and kindred spirits. That is what inspired Titwrench to come into existence.
For me, the question has always been more about creating spaces, support and community for femme and female-identified artists. I would love to see more women producing events, operating venues, booking shows, running sound -- taking on those kinds of roles. At the same time, the music industry is completely changing, and the old rules often don't apply anymore. I think many women are figuring out ways to circumvent the paths that so many have been treading for years as the "right way" of doing things, and creating our own paths instead.
What new female Denver bands and projects are you excited about?
My sister has a new project called Cardinal Veil, in which she combines electronic, improv and her classical violin training. I'm also excited to be helping my dear friend Rachael Pollard with a live EP that will be released soon. I love what Kate Warner is doing as Mirror Fears, and her album is really great! I'm always interested to see what Serena Chopra is up to; she's such a dynamic artist, writer and dancer.
Also really psyched to see [Titwrench collaborator and Damn Gurl organizer] DJ Narky Stares play -- I love that Damn Gurl has become a Denver staple in such a short period of time. I'm especially psyched about Lady Wu-Tang, whom I have yet to catch live, but I love their videos and can't wait to see them blow up even bigger!
Surfacing will feature Mistress of Magic, Kendall Perry, Mano and Cardinal Veil at Ironwood this Thursday, March 17, at 7 p.m. Suggested donation of $5, but no one will be turned away. Ironwood is located at 14 South Broadway.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.