“I don’t like being placed in a box. I don’t like being cast in an image Billboard created,” Lewis said. “They like things to be nice, neat and tidy, but there’s so much good music [that] doesn’t fit into a category.”
When Lewis performs, her feet act as percussion, her bass is the melody, and at times, she treats the audience and sings. She’s one of the many talented and unique solo artists who are part of Albuquerque’s fourth annual Gatas y Vatas festival on Sept. 20 and 21.
Gatas y Vatas is New Mexico’s annual solo women’s music fest, and it's dedicated to innovation, self-expression and experimentation. Performers range from noise artists to freak-folk musicians and everything in between—often mixing creative trademarks within acts. Lewis' “foot percussion” is one such mark.
Founder Marisa Demarco conceived Gatas y Vatas four years ago, after an experience at Denver’s DIY women-centric music festival, Titwrench, in 2009. Hearing about the brand new fest, Demarco collected a troupe of female musicians from Albuquerque to perform with; she and her squad, Milch de la Máquina, played a set at the fest which ended with their “turning into a bird and flying out of the room.”
“I didn’t know if people would think it was cool. I didn’t know if people would think it was dumb because I didn’t know what Titwrench would be like,” Demarco said. “We were definitely different, but we were well received.”
“It changed my world to see so many women participating in radical, experimental music,” Demarco said. “Titwrench invigorated me. And I wanted to invigorate Albuquerque the way it had invigorated me.”
Thus began the sister fest of Denver’s Titwrench, Albuquerque’s Gatas y Vatas. In 2010, 14 female artists, primarily from Albuquerque and Colorado, got together to spotlight talented, creative women pushing the boundaries of convention in song.
“The goal was to create a community of women who would support each other, jam with each other’s bands and drum up some support in Albuquerque for the many talented women in this town,” Demarco said. She said it's common to find men dominating the music scene, regardless of genre, and she dreamt that creating an exclusively female fest would “hopefully bring more equilibrium.”
While Gatas and Titwrench both focus on highlighting female artists, Gatas distinguishes itself from its muse by one significant feature. Gatas challenges all musicians to perform solo and original tunes.
Demarco herself got her start performing solo noise as Bigawatt at Gatas y Vatas, as did many of the soloists, including Lewis and “dream/witch-house/soul” artist Lady Uranium. Lewis said solo performance can be intimidating, but that condition promotes Gatas’ mission to push performers out of their comfort zones, into something new.
“In conversations with other gatas, I’d gotten the impression that most of us are performing in other groups that are all male or predominantly male, and from feminine perspective, we’ve pushed ourselves to the back,” Lewis said. “This is a great opportunity to truly shine and push to be better performers. I know I’m always trying to be in the back, but here we’re out front.”
Since 2010 the fest has evolved and grown. This year 35 performers are expected as well as a larger audience. Gatas' organization was originally done one-man-band style by Demarco. But it's now managed by a team of six gatas, and the event has expanded to include facets like visual art, live screen-printing and the creation of collaborative zines meant to be a sort of “Gatas yearbook.”
However the feature of the fest that truly keeps it growing, changing and drawing a crowd is its dedication to performers like Wychdokta and their experimental sounds. Lewis said it is important that performers be given a space “without limitations” with which to create art. Demarco added that if performers have an idea, she and the gang will do all they can to make it a reality at the festival.
And performers take her up on the offer. One artist used buckets of fake blood in her performance. Another connected contact microphones to cooking equipment; she cooked and transmuted amplified pops and gurgles into music. “In the end she served everybody waffles,” said Demarco, who once used a contact mic to amplify her own heartbeat. For the upcoming show, she's “cooking up something secret.”
One thing's for sure: Festival attendees can expect a few shattered expectations. With no single genre or art form defining the collective, Demarco hopes audiences will walk away having experienced something new, unexpected and good.
Gatas y Vatas is Sept. 20 through 21 at 7pm, at Kosmos (1715 Fifth Street NW). It's all ages, and passes go for $10 for one night or $15 for two. Tickets can be purchased online at the Gatas y Vatas IndieGoGo campaign, bit.ly/gyv2013.