"The process is more important than the end result," Carlos Santistevan says. "We're just trying to keep the process moving."
It's the kind of thing a collegiate art teacher, a good one, is likely to say—process before results. Santistevan is the program director at Santa Fe's High Mayhem, a record label, recording studio and performance space that grew organically in a little house accessible via a strange gravel road.
It's hard for Santistevan to pin down when High Mayhem, as it exists today, really came into being. The first solid festival the collective put on was in October 2002.
Before that, there was a house.
Max Freidenberg lived there. Bands began renting the studio space for rehearsal, and Freidenberg, who is today the program’s director, moved next door. The musicians built a stage and painted the place, adapting and adopting it. These days, there's a room for live performances and a recording studio, and, like every good home, the kitchen remains the hub, a place for recording bands and traveling acts to hang and be nourished. "The space has a homely sense to it," Santistevan says.
The 10 or so people who run High Mayhem bring in all kinds. "What we're really trying to do is present art and performance, but really pushing the boundaries of what is the normal paradigm," Santistevan says. There's flux and turnover from show to show, from production to production, he adds. "Each show is a unique experience in itself. Sometimes that makes it difficult for people to understand what we do."
High Mayhem's website (www.highmayhem.org) explains it pretty succinctly: "If artists are being true to themselves in what they craft, if they have removed societally imposed obstacles to fashion an expression of their own, we embrace them."
Loose translation: All kinds.
Documentation is key, and musicians are often paid in recordings of the live show they put on, mixed or as raw tracks. The three-day High Mayhem Emerging Arts Festival on Oct. 6, 7 and 8 is recorded, compiled and sold on the collective's label. It takes about 50 volunteers to put on the festival, Santistevan estimates. The recording makes the event pretty tech-heavy, too, which means it's usually just a sole stage. Acts are curated entirely by submission and come from as far as Lithuania and France.
Given the diversity of artists, it's pretty clear that you will probably never see the same show twice at the venue. "We have people coming to shows regularly for a year, and they still don't know what we're about," says Santistevan. But that's OK. This is, after all, mayhem.