It may not be the grandest event in the gaudy world of Northern California music festivals. But within its sphere of influence—which, despite its small size, happens to reach around the world—Santa Cruz’s Y2K International Looping Festival has been a major player for almost two decades.
The festival, which features three nights and two days of continuous performances, has inspired similar events in Asia, Europe and Latin America that celebrate and explore the dimensions of the art and technology of looping.
What is looping? It’s the ultimate do-it-yourself technology that allows a performer to create a rhythm or melody, record it and immediately perform over it in real time, making it possible to layer infinitely. A musician can add elements one at a time, freeing him or her to explore other sounds and textures. (On the down side, a world where looping is common would make Will Ferrell’s “More Cowbell” SNL skit obsolete).
This weekend, beginning Friday, Oct. 26, the Y2K18 festival takes over Center Stage Theater in downtown Santa Cruz with artists from around the world demonstrating just how far you can take such a straightforward technology. Around 40 performers—16 of whom come from outside the U.S.—will participate, representing a wild variety of styles and instrumentation. All they have in common is the process of looping, a brand of real-time self-improvisation.
The founder of the looping festival is Rick Walker, the veteran Santa Cruz percussionist and multi-instrumentalist who has been mounting the festival since 2000 with almost no resources. Largely because it features musicians who are pioneers in pushing the boundaries of performance, the festival has never really generated big audiences. But it has caught the attention of a small cadre of musicians from around the world who have sought to emulate it elsewhere.
“Every year,” says Walker, “someone comes to this festival [as a performer] who’s never been here before, and every year there’s at least one of those artists who is blown away by it, saying ‘I had no idea this kind of community even existed.’”
The festival continues Saturday and Sunday, leading up to its headlining concert, which this year is called Voces de Mexico and features choral director and ethnomusicologist Juan Pablo Villa, who will be creating a musical piece inspired by Mexican folk traditions and the narratives of people crossing the hostile deserts of northern Mexico in search of a better life. Villa will be collaborating with fellow looper Per Boysen from Sweden, and several guest vocalists. Also taking part in the show is visual artist Maha Jumai Taitano—who, in a first for the festival, will be creating video loops.
Walker, 65, will also be among the performers, along with longtime Santa Cruz musical partners Bill Walker (Rick’s brother) and Daniel S. Thomas. Many of the festival’s performers will also perform on an ambitious looping tour that includes dates in Singapore, Malaysia, Bali and other countries.
Walker says that after 18 years, the festival is finally becoming an official nonprofit, which could dramatically change how it is funded. Being able to accept tax-exempt donations might allow the festival to reach for higher profile artists and appeal to potential donors in the tech industry who are excited about the collision between technology and creativity that looping represents.
Walker has kept the festival alive with little funding for years and has, over the years, often wondered how to keep it viable. “Every year, two hours before the artists arrive, we’ll be tearing our hair out,” he says. “Every year when it’s over, we’ll be crying and going, ‘I’m so glad we did this.’ It really is an amazing thing.”
INFO: The Y2K18 International Looping Festival will be held Friday, 7:30-11 p.m., Saturday 1:30-11 p.m., and Sunday 1-7 p.m. at Center Stage Theater, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz. The headliners concert, featuring Lizeth Ruvalcaba, Leika Mochan, Juan Pablo Villa and Voces de Mexico, will be presented 9-11 p.m. Sunday. y2kloopfest.com.