Gatas y Vatas is an all-volunteer DIY music festival for solo female / genderqueer experimental musicians, taking place at the Vera Project Sept 18th and 19th. It’s been a mainstay in Albuquerque, N.M., for quite a while, and now it has migrated to Seattle and Oakland as well. Marisa Demarco, festival founder and musician, answered some questions for STACKEDD on the festival and its expansion over the past years.
What inspired you to start the festival?
The on-stage gender gap. My sister Monica and I have been playing music our entire lives, and we’ve been in bands since we were teenagers. Monica is also a music teacher, and she noticed that almost all of her young students are female, while at the shows we were playing, most of the performers were male. We started wondering what happens over time so that women don’t feel comfortable taking up public space on stage.
I knew several women who we’d see at shows who never performed, and when I asked, it turned out they’ve been playing forever—just at home. Of course there’s nothing wrong with making music only at home. But I think most of the people I was talking to did want to be on stage, but there was some kind of barrier there.
So for the inaugural Gatas y Vatas in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2010, many of us (myself included) were doing a solo set for the first time. That’s key to Gatas y Vatas: Everyone performs original material, and they do it solo. It’s a chance for women to compose work and present only themselves on stage.
We found in Albuquerque that many of those performers go on to form bands or even keep performing solo and playing all year long. It really changed the dynamic of who was on stage in Albuquerque over the course of its five years here. Now a lot of those same women are booking and promoting shows or recurring events, so I think that makes a difference in lineups here at home, too.
But on a national scale, we still see that most major festivals lack female performers. So there’s this thing right now where the mainstream is talking about “the rise of women” in music and entertainment, and everyone is talking about feminism, but that’s maybe not translating directly to festival lineups. Have you seen this illustration?
Experimentation is a huge part of Gatas y Vatas, too. People take all kinds of radical approaches to what they perform solo, and there’s a lot of bravery at the show. It’s a time to be fearless. Anything can happen at the fest. I love it.
And it’s always all-ages, in both audience and performers.
How has it grown over the years?
It got really big. The first year was one night, and I was trying to do it all by myself, which is a hilariously bad idea, looking back. But over five years, there’s a whole team that formed up around the fest. Albuquerque really supports the fest, too. We had performers come to New Mexico from all over the country. And now, thanks to Sara Century and The VERA Project, we’re heading to Seattle! And we’re also throwing a GyV show in Oakland right after the Seattle fest. So in 2015, the whole party is traveling. I really can’t believe it.
We also started making merch. As of year 2, we started putting out a compilation album, a zine, T shirts, tote bags, and there’s a yearly logo. They’ve all been great. You can see them here.
I’d say over the last couple of years, the fest has learned to be explicitly inclusive of transgender and genderqueer performers. To be honest, I didn’t even know there was a problem with women’s festivals not accepting transgender performers until someone wrote me who wanted to play Gatas y Vatas, and made sure to tell me that she was transgender, because there’d been problems with that at other fests. So we tried to be really welcoming this year, and we made sure to say so in all our marketing and mission statements and stuff.
What have been your favorite performances from the festival in past years? Favorite acts that got their start at the festival?
Damn. There are so many memorable performances. People have done really extreme sets, where they do acrobatics, or create beautiful visuals, or get in audience members’ faces, or bounce dozens of glowing rubber balls through the crowd, or beatbox the house down, or quietly and poetically cast a spell, or set up an entire universe on stage, or build giant marionettes, or use shadow boxes, or built boats out of paper live and sailed away. I’m into that sort of thing as a performer, too. A big, massive sound and a big, massive visual.
It’s hard to name a favorite or some favorites, but often the set I can’t stop thinking about is one that just floors me musically and surprises the hell out of me. I don’t know why I love what I love, but sometimes someone just lights me all up.