Titwrench travels to Stockholm Sweden for Titwrench Stockholm, which happens this weekend running Thursday June 14 through Saturday June 16 (find details here). The festival, which celebrates experimental music and art created by female identified people and LGBT folk, has been going on since 2009, usually in Denver, Colorado. The edition in Stockholm starts off with will include European and US artists including the likes of Denver’s Rachael Pollard, R A R E B Y R D $, Church Fire and Mirror Fears as well as Albuquerque artists Cthulha, Weedrat, Chicharra, Bigawatt and performance troupe extraordinaire Milch De La Máquina. The US artists in particular could use your help to defray the costs of performing at the festival and you can contribute to the cause here or to the individual artist funds linked above.
Before Titwrench last happened in Denver in August 2017, we had the chance to speak with Marisa Demarco of Milch De La Máquina, Chicharra and Bigawatt. Demarco has long been a significant artist and journalist in Albuquerque and we spoke with her about becoming involved in DIY and underground music and art and her evolution from pop/rock musician to noise and visionary avant-garde performance artist.
Queen City Sounds: You grew up in Albuquerque, is that right? Or did you grow up elsewhere?
Marisa Demarco: Yeah, no, born in Farmington, NM but lived my whole life in Albuquerque, NM.
How did you become aware of underground and DIY culture growing up?
I was performing in just like a regular pop-rock band or whatever called Ya Ya Boom since I was in high school. I was in that band a long time when I was really feeling like I wanted to stretch my ability level and my creativity a little bit. So, I saw this ad on Craigslist where they were looking for players for Cobra Game, which is a game invented by John Zorn. I’ve heard it described as somebody who’s flipping a radio really fast through the stations. I don’t think that’s totally exactly it but that’s maybe the quickest shorthand. So I joined Cobra as a vocalist, which also I didn’t realize at the time was maybe kind of odd. I don’t think there were any other vocalists in the group at that time.
From there, I just kind of met a lot of people who became big experimental players down here and the Cobra group eventually became Death Convention Singers, which is still something that I’m involved in. It no longer performs necessarily John Zorn’s compositions or John Zorn’s game, Cobra, but it does perform compositions, like contemporary experimental compositions. We also are an art collective and do installations and that’s over many years. So, I think I joined [that] Cobra group when I was 25 and I’m 36 now, so it’s over like 11 years I kind of evolved with those other performers and through them kind of found all the faces that in Albuquerque pop up for experimental noise music and performance.
For a long time, what was happening out here was like a space would open up and be around for just a little while, like maybe a year, until, I don’t know, cops start showing up or something, and then we would go to another spot. So for a while it was just a migratory DIY scene culture out here. We also did performances that were not in established venues at all, like we did this one performance on top of the abandoned courthouse in downtown Albuquerque. You know, we were just trying things in different kinds of spaces. That’s kind of how I got connected to all that stuff.
That’s really interesting, I had no idea. I remember Ya Ya Boom played up here I believe. At Glob or someplace like that?
We played at Glob. I think the first place we played was at 3 Kings and I think there’s still a sticker in the bathroom, of our band. [Titwrench founder] Sarah Slater recently took a photo in the last 5 years or something and showed me that it was still in there.
Did you know Raven Chacon from early on?
Yeah, Raven was in the Cobra group. I think he’s one of the two founders of the Cobra group or maybe the founder and he turned it into Death Convention Singers. And there’s another offshoot of that that happens periodically, called Dirty Birdies, which is this kind of long form improvisation with many players. So there’s Dirty Birdies, Death Convention and Cobra group and those are all kind of part of the same tree branch I guess.
One of the best things that happens at Titwrench every year is Milch, of course. Is that something that you kind of got going to play that, or is it something you do there, as well, in Albuquerque?
Yeah, we started it – I mean, I gathered performers together when I even just heard that Titwrench was maybe a possibility. I didn’t even know if it was for sure happening or what but Raven Chacon, who you mentioned, actually sent me Sarah Slater’s contact info and was like, “Hey, I think she’s thinking about doing a festival.” And so I sent her an email and I was like, “Hey, I would super want to come up there to that” and so I kind of got a few friends together to make a group to play Titwrench. So we formed to play the festival. And then every year since then we’ve played every single one of them. We also always do the set here at home in Albuquerque and sometimes we’ve done even more elaborate versions of the set we do up in Denver. For instance, one year Milch did a set that I think had 6 people in Denver and then we came back here and I managed to rope like 30 people into performing it. Just cuz it’s easier to travel with 6 people than it is 30.
Is it “Milsh de la Makeena,” am I pronouncing that right?
Milch de la Máquina (with emphasis on the first a in Máquina)
Pardon me for not knowing, but what’s the meaning of that name?
It means Milk of the Machine and the name is in German and Spanish. The reason is because that very first group of people that I gathered together to head up to Titwrench included a woman from Germany and also, you know, lots of people in New Mexico are bilingual and I think a couple of our members at that time spoke Spanish and English so that’s why the name is in German and Spanish, making it really challenging for just about anyone to pronounce it or understand but, you know, what are you gonna do?
Every year is a new performance and concept?
A different performance every year. There’s some people who’ve done most of the sets. I think I’m the only person who’s done all of them and I actually randomly just listed all the sets today, which I’ve never looked back and considered what each one was but I did it today because I was hunting around for some photos for something else like, “Oh I can see what all the different sets have been through all the 9 years,” you know?
You had a characterization or an idea or a concept behind all the performances you’ve had?
I was just even trying to remember all the things we’ve done and built and who was in it, what we were working into, what was going on that year. I think a lot of times Milch is sometimes intentionally and unintentionally informed by whatever’s happening in the city. There was one year, the one that’s the dress piece, the great big dress.
I remember that, at the Mercury.
Yeah, all these areas around Albuquerque were on fire. There were big wildfires and we were in the middle of this super intense drought and then at night the smoke would settle all over the whole city as if the city was on fire and the moon was this crazy red color, you know? And we just ended up writing a lot about drought. Initially, not on purpose, like not in a really intentional way but in more of a subconscious way and then as the smoke continued for weeks we were writing about it pretty directly. So that dress piece I always think of as having a lot to do with water and drought and fire. Everybody remembers the dress but there were also waterproof microphones that we had in these big jugs of water that we were using to generate a lot of the sound.
Oh yeah, okay. I didn’t make that connection when I saw that back then. I remember the frames, like the illuminated picture frames or whatever they were from another year.
Yeah, the light frame pieces, yeah.
The Living Bird thing from Titwrench 201. I don’t know if you want to call it that but the performers were wearing hoods or something, and I had the impression you were simulating taking off in flight.
There was a big parade puppet, the Albatross, that’s the first one I think.
Milch is not necessarily a musical thing, it’s more like an experience in sound integrated full with a visual component.
Yeah, and it’s not like we’re like, “Hey let’s do a sound piece that includes a giant puppet” or something, it just all kind of came together that way. And I remember we were at Titwrench, the first Titwrench, and I was just like, “Aw man, did we bring something totally weird that no one’s going to understand or like?” You know what I mean? As it was getting closer to our time to perform I was like, “Did we just, like, venture way out there? Like, go too far?” You know? So I was nervous as heck that first year that we were just in some other – just not on the right trip, you know? And then we did it and it was great and everybody was really great about it. We kind of flew that really big Albatross puppet out of the building, and I remember people followed us! And I was just like, “Okay well let’s keep going until they stop following us” and we were walking down the street and it was cool, it was one of those really cool experiences, and formative for me for sure.
I was really surprised by how interesting it is every year. I don’t really see anybody doing anything like that. I don’t know about you, but maybe that happens in Albuquerque a lot but around here, no, not at all. Nothing like that.
No? I don’t really see stuff like that out here too much, either. Although, a lot of really creative people perform all kinds of different ways, you know?
Had you done anything like that before, even remotely, performance-wise?
Like the first Milch set that happened at Titwrench?
Yeah, that kind of performance art.
Yes, the set I was telling you about the show that happened on this rooftop of this old courthouse in downtown Albuquerque. So it was supposed to be, I think, everyone performing a really quiet piece. Albuquerque’s experimental noise community worked toward really small quiet pieces and I built this rig where I was wearing all hand-built little microphones and I put my sister in all these, kind of, speakers, and theoretically the idea was, and I don’t know how successful it was ultimately, but the idea was that when we were closer together we would be feeding back and then when we were further apart we wouldn’t be. So we developed this whole choreography and system around our proximity to one another and wore these robes and face paint and did it on top of the roof and I think I was just kind of inspired by the idea of being on a roof. That was before the first Milch set and I think Raven, who you mentioned earlier, kind of considered that to be the first actual Milch set, was the one that popped out on the rooftop before I had even ever heard of Titwrench or anything.
You and your sister Monica are in Chicharra together and somewhere the band is described as insect metal or something or other?
Glam insect metal.
That’s great. It’s pretty difficult to describe something like that.
Yeah, it sure is. I super hate describing things, which is funny because I’m also, like you, a writer and a reporter, you know? I find music to be so challenging to describe. I feel like we have a million adjectives that are about visual concepts and relationships and we have like, I don’t know, about 30 about sound. I’m just hazarding a guess again but sound is so hard to put into language so glam insect metal is imprecise.
It evokes a creative image that kind of fits the music.
Yeah, so mostly I just describe [it by saying] that the instruments are all basses so they’re all using low frequency and then we organize more intricate vocal harmonies up top. And then we have either two drummers or one drummer. For Titwrench this year we’re just going to have one, unfortunately. We thought we were going to manage to get them both up there but somebody has a work conflict. But our single drummer, Chris Newman, is amazing and does the job quite nicely. We’re going to play tracks from our album [Let’s Paint This Town in Craters] that’s coming out in October  so it’ll be a lot of newer material that is different from what we played last year.
You have a solo project called Bigawatt. Is that something that you haven’t done in a while or is that something you do pretty regularly?
I did a Bigawatt set on Friday night. It’s the name of my solo project, which has always been really heavily influenced by R&B and hip-hop and also noise. But I interpret that quite a bit differently than a lot of the things that I’m hearing right now that are defined also as being like noise hip-hop. So, sorry to say I don’t know if those are great descriptors for Bigawatt now, either.