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Albuquerque-based performance art troupe Milch de la Máquina performing at the 2017 Titwrench festival at Glob.EXPAND
Albuquerque-based performance art troupe Milch de la Máquina performing at the 2017 Titwrench festival at Glob.
Aaron Thackeray

Titwrench Returns With a Winter Solstice Surfacing

It's official, and we have it on the record straight from Titwrench organizer Kate Warner: The community-oriented, volunteer-run and proudly queer, feminist and experimental music and art festival will make its return in 2020.

Titwrench was notably absent from Denver this year, in part because the organizers needed some time off after a massive effort holding a 2018 satellite festival in Stockholm. Warner says that the 2020 installment — and tenth anniversary — is likely to be the biggest Titwrench yet in terms of headliners, vendors and performances. , Along with a team of volunteers, she and founder Sarah Slater are already at work planning the event.

“I think we know what we’re capable of now, and we also know what is realistic,” says Warner. "I think there are some of us in this group who are realists and some of us who are dreamers, and it’s a good combination for creating something like this."

Warner started attending Titwrench in 2010; she played a solo set as Mirror Fears in 2012 and at the Stockholm satellite festival in 2018. For the 2016 festival, at the Brighton Boulevard warehouse space Glob, she performed as Shriek Salad, which involved a multi-colored bodysuit that covered her face — "Nobody was supposed to know it was me,” she says — and a backpack rigged with speakers and synthesizers. She then walked around the festival and “made horrible noises.”

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“I took so long making that suit that I didn’t actually rehearse anything I was doing, so it didn’t necessarily come across the way I wanted it to. But it was still fun,” Warner recalls. Regardless, her performance spoke directly to the kind of left-of-center creativity Titwrench has made a point of embracing. The festival’s modus operandi has always been to bring your wildest idea — unsuited to more conventional venues — and see what happens.

In recent years, Warner has volunteered to run sound and organize backline equipment for the festival. Now she has her fingers in every available pie: engineering, curation, merch and planning. She took charge of the winter solstice edition of Surfacing, a series of Titwrench-affiliated one-night happenings named after the 1972 Margaret Atwood novel and intended to raise awareness around the festival.

Warner planned the upcoming winter solstice show with Rhinoceropolis coordinator Madeline Johnston (a former Rhino resident known locally for her experimental projects Sister Grotto and Midwife); she booked Bell Mine first, after hearing the artist play as one of the "lunch bands" that performs mid-day sets for Girls Rock Denver campers while they eat. “We’d never heard it before, and we were like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s really beautiful,” she says.

Also on the lineup: Ea$$ide Lupita, a member of local MC collective RARE BYRD$, who writes dark, self-described “hoodrat jams,” and Kahoku Williams’s industrial techno project, $addy. “It’s really fun stuff, but heavy and danceable,” says Warner.

Headliner Esmé Patterson offered to play songs from her new solo freak-folk project, Mirror of Truth, and Warner enthusiastically agreed. “She’ll get a good amount of people [in the door] and bring the complete opposite side from these three artists, who are heavily electronic, by doing something that’s more folk-based and a lot more lyrical,” she says. “It’s going to be a nice mix.”

Warner and the Titwrench volunteer team are planning more Surfacing shows between now and the festival, aiming to make it a monthly event, with concerts celebrating the spring equinox and summer solstice.

“The genres are always going to be different," Warner says. "There are always going to be new artists who are performing for either the first time or are very early on in their stages of development, and then some seasoned artists,” she says.

As for Titwrench 2020, Warner says the festival’s ethos is unchanged. The event remains entirely run by volunteers. Paying performers a fair wage is still of the highest priority, as is centering marginalized identities and showcasing experimental artwork.

"I think it's really important for women and LGBTQ-identifying folks to feel like they have a space that's theirs, a place that is there to amplify their voices. We would never say 'We want to give these people a voice' — because they obviously have a voice. We just want to hand them the mic," she says.

In order to further ensure a welcoming atmosphere for all ages, organizers avoid pursuing alcohol companies as festival sponsors.

“People really appreciate the fact that there aren’t beer sponsors all over everything,” Warner says. “Alcohol has never been super-centric in what we’re doing, so it feels more like a safe space for that reason.

“People come back for the uniqueness of it, the community, and to feel part of something that is a little bit bigger that they create with their own hands,” she adds. “Anyone can be a part of it. Anyone can contribute.”

Mirror of Truth, Ea$$ide Lupita, Bell Mine and $addy play the winter solstice edition of Surfacing at 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 21, at Rhinoceropolis. There is a $10 suggested donation at the door.

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