Audio/video artist Albert Mathias headlines the Y2K Live Looping Festival as stRiCtLy AlBeRt. PHOTO: George Wilshire
“I never would’ve become a multi-instrumentalist if it wasn’t for looping,” exclaims Rick Walker. “Every year I continue to add a new paradigm.”
The talented and eccentric artist is discussing his Y2K Live Looping Festival, which runs from October 17-24 throughout Santa Cruz from the Felix Kulpa Gallery to the Center Stage Theater behind the Food Lounge and Hoffman’s Bakery. Now in its 17th year, the Looping Fest features 45 artists from 11 countries playing odd beats, melodies and instruments through a pedal which continuously loops whatever it records. Everything from guitars and synths to the hurdy-gurdy—a medieval string and hand-crank instrument—and even vibrators (yes, you read that right) are recorded and looped as the musician continues to build a song in front of a live audience.
“Oddly, it has to be really simple if you’re doing unusual sounds,” Walker says. “I really like simplicity so looping was a magnet for me.”
Not only is the lifelong Bay Area resident celebrating Y2K’s 17th year, but he’s also recently celebrated his 64th birthday, a feat he jokingly claims turns him “into a Beatles’ song.”
As a child, Walker grew up playing the piano and clarinet. While he was good at both, it wasn’t until he was sent to a Methodist summer camp in 1965 when he heard a Rolling Stones cover band playing in the valley below. Although none of the other campers wanted to sneak away to see them, Walker was enchanted with the sound and sneaked into the house party. That’s when he discovered “his” music.
“It was the nastiest, sexiest, non-suburban, non-my parents’-thing I had ever seen,” he remembers. “So I asked my parents for a drum set.”
In 1995 he bought his first looper and immediately fell in love with music all over again. Six years later he decided to throw the first official Looping Fest. Originally called the Y2K2 Looping Fest, it was a one-day extravaganza at the newly renovated Rio Theatre.
“Nobody knew who they were then, so I asked them to give it to us for free in exchange for us publicizing the hell out of it,” says Walker. “We had about 500 attendees throughout the day and did nothing but bass looping.”
Since then the Loop Fest has continued to grow throughout town, featured in venues from Pearl Alley and the Felix Kulpa Art Gallery to the Church House, a private residence on Pennsylvania Ave. Many of the international artists featured at the festival come from around the world to play and leave with a desire to build their own installments back home. As a result, the Y2K Live Looping Music Festival is now featured in 57 cities across 21 countries with offers for continuous growth.
“Ego would dictate that they were inspired by what I did, but I’m a hippy,” he states. “Everything was created with the community.”
That community has bloomed this year to include a Board of Directors to help Walker run the day-to-day tasks like securing lodging for artists, transportation, and other details. Not an easy task, since the festival features musicians from Paris, Berlin, Helsinki, Prague, Dubai, Guadalajara and many, many more. Martin Janicek, stRiCtLy AlBeRt, Phillippe Ollivier and Entertainment for the Braindead all headline at the Center Street Theater featuring a cornucopia of sound that ranges from structured melodies to experimental music. This year will also highlight a special lecture series at Cabrillo College and the University of California in Santa Cruz with Walker and other artists on the history of looping along with live looping techniques and aesthetics. The talks are open to the public and anyone interested can find the schedule on their website, Y2KLoopFest.com.
Yet, despite the festival’s established nature, Walker is finding it more difficult to keep it going. Not because of a lack of artists but from an unlikely source: Donald Trump.
“It’s sad because people are starting to have a difficult time getting visas into this country, even for artistic reasons,” he sighs. “We’ve never had that before.”
However, that’s not detouring Walker, or any of the musicians, from throwing one of the most unique and quirky music festivals in the Bay Area.
“I always leave it up to the performers on how they want to do it,” Walker says. “And every year I insist on people new to the scene to give it their first try. It’s always great seeing some of the best loopers in the world show up to cheer on an 18-year-old kid’s first gig.”