We're heading into the summertime festival season, and while Santa Fe arts biz Meow Wolf prepares for the second iteration of its Taos Vortex, another team is gearing up to present its own inaugural fest featuring a lineup that's all about heavy tones and high-volume vibes. With headliners including icons like Om and doom legends The Obsessed among an otherwise eclectic lineup featuring a healthy number of local acts, Monolith on the Mesa is an exciting addition to New Mexico's festival options—and it's probably the most metal thing to go down in some time.
Festival founder and curator Dano Sanchez is a longtime tattoo artist and owner of Magical Tattoo in Taos. Originally from Albuquerque, Sanchez came up in the active punk and metal scenes and was drawn to bands that intersected those musical faiths, like Logical Nonsense and Word Salad. From there, he ended up in San Francisco for a time, discovering deeper and more psychedelic sounds such as The Brian Jonestown Massacre and other bands he felt captured a punk and DIY passion that aligned with his own. This lifelong journey of appreciation for heavy riff-rock eventually led Sanchez to his current passion project—hosting stoner rock and heavy psychedelic fans in a truly unique, high-desert venue.
"It's maybe just my weird idea of raising the vibrations in this particular point," says Sanchez of the festival's ethos, citing Taos as a particularly vibe-heavy location in New Mexico.
Sanchez first reached out to artists he loves, such as Om's Al Cisneros (also of stoner giants Sleep), who fully endorsed the idea. Other acts soon followed suit, from amp-worshipping heavies like Pinkish Black to bands that are heavy in a decidedly more psychic way, such as Denver-based Wovenhand, whose dark take on spiritual musicality fits right alongside much heavier bands that prefer to push the decibels.
Sanchez' eclectic curation is refreshing, with a sea of music fests that read like a stagnating formula of profit versus special experience; Coachella seems to have a more scattershot approach to its lineup, which I guess makes sense when the goal is to simply pack in as many people as possible. So, it's exciting to see Sanchez treat his own event's lineup with such considered care. Rather than seeing Mac DeMarco and 10 bands that sound like Mac DeMarco, this one's tuned to a more cerebral frequency.
Perhaps most interesting is Monolith on the Mesa's serious space and love for New Mexico bands. The lineup includes slots for Taos anarcho-punks Article 15, Santa Fe's own blackened death crew Dysphotic and evil doomsters Devil's Throne, plus more.
Turns out, the connection was an easy one for Sanchez. "A ton of the bands on the bill are friends," he says. "You've got a lot of talent in New Mexico."
He's right, and New Mexico's non-traditional music seems to be increasing in visibility on a more national scale. Just look to recent or currently underway tours for bands like Superstition or Heretical Sect's domination of the bandcamp.com charts some weeks back. As for drawing from such a pool of local talent, as well as being a draw for national acts, Sanchez says New Mexico's often magnetic appeal is vital to Monolith on the Mesa's success. This area is romanticized, sure, but much of that is in visitors' or transplants' search for some semblance of inner peace, an odd yet poignant counterbalance to the upcoming festival's metal core.
"There's a lot of people searching today for answers within themselves, answers to their place in the universe," Sanchez hypothesizes. "I think a lot of people come to New Mexico with that idea, and a lot of people find themselves here."
Such philosophical rumination fits well alongside the goals he's set for himself and his team. Monolith on the Mesa is, after all, as much a journey toward inclusive community and positivity as it is toward people who want the release afforded by heavy live music.
To that end, the rest of Sanchez's collaborators are working to provide an interactive and art-filled element to the event. Robochrist Industries artist Christian Ristow, whose robot adorns the Meow Wolf parking lot and whose work has been featured at Burning Man, and Taos-based sculptor Christina Sporrong are among those slated to flesh out the visual aesthetic of Monolith on the Mesa. An old-school liquid light show—an art form first spearheaded in the 1960s to provide psychedelic visuals at music events—provided by San Francisco's Mad Alchemy will illuminate the Taos Mesa Brewing outdoor amphitheater as well, lending an almost crucial trippiness to the fest and hearkening back to the stoner roots of metal.
"There's a lot of sun worship out here; our desert scene is not Joshua Tree. It's the high desert, extreme weather changes," Sanchez tells SFR. "It's a very harsh but special place."
Monolith on the Mesa
May 16-18. $70-$155. Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Road, El Prado,
575-758-1900; tickets here.