Collective's new Tijuana is beautiful & funky & funny
TIJUANA, Mexico 行 I recently
found myself on the road to TJ: The sun was hotter'n a bulldog's bumhole,
and the traffic was even more infernal, but no worries 行 this is what it's
like when you receive The Call. My goal: to meet and hang with the five
members of Tijuana's Nortec Collective, a group of musicians, artists and
textual provocateurs based in Baja's notorious playground for American frat
boys. Nortec have a new disc out, called Tijuana Sessions, Vol. 3 (Nacional), wherein their
streamlined Technicolor techno 行 with the oompahing tubas, tootling
trumpets, gurgling clarinets and shuffle-stomping drums of northern
Mexico's ranchera, norte杘 and banda styles 行 gets mashed into a most exquisitely funky and
funny and beautiful riot of sound that could only come from a city with a
lot of pride of place and not a whole lot to lose.
Crossing the border into Mexico, I quickly
sensed that palpable energy shift that follows the landscape's devolution
out of San Diego 行 all whitewashed bungalows, shiny high rises and
sailboats 行 into what feels like a deeper, far more complex corollary to
the human condition. Here, the streets and shops and cars and even the dogs
look well used because they're so full of life, rather than empty of it.
Vitality, you might say.
On our meeting, the five
members of Nortec are all shy smiles and a rather courtly friendliness.
Over water, Cokes and beers, we proceed to probe the whys and wherefores of
their sound/vision collaborations, and how Nortec's very existence probably
owes to fate or divine providence or sheer good luck, if one happens to
believe in those sorts of things.
Formed in 1999, the group today consists of
the "godfather" of the T.J. electronic scene, Ram沶 Amezcua, a.k.a.
Bostich; DJ-graphic designer Jorge Verdin, a.k.a. Clorofila; Pepe Mogt,
a.k.a Fussible; P.G. Beas, a.k.a. Hiperboreal; and Roberto A. Mendoza,
"The idea," says Mendoza, "was to get out of
the ideas that we had gotten from all the European bands. I wanted to just
stop what we were doing and just think of places where we were coming from.
Like drum & bass, for example 行 you know it's coming from England, and
U.S. techno, you know that it's from Detroit. The same thing with
minimalist techno 行 you know when you hear it, it's from Germany. At one
point we said, 'We have to do something so that can identify ourselves with
the music. We can say we are from Mexico, and from the North.'
"Pepe was the one who came up with the idea
of putting this music together, techno music and banda music. But when we did that,
a lot of DJs here were not interested in the whole Nortec concept, so we
fused all these other elements, regional musical traditions, with more
Why is a Northern identity so important to
these guys? "The culture in Tijuana is very different from that of Mexico City,
Guadalajara and in fact from the whole country," observes Verdin. "We are
between these two places 行 the biggest city in the country, to the south,
and the reality of the Mexicans across the border in the U.S., and that
whole different culture from us. Our particular reality is only possible in
this part of the country."
In contrast to the stereotypical view that
Mexican-Americans must by definition have a severe identity crisis, says
Verdin, "We don't feel like Mexican-Americans, who feel they don't really
belong to either culture. We feel that we belong 行 this is our land,
our country, our people, our place. We wanted to expose
what is sort of a little-known culture, the Tijuana culture. We have our
roots basically in a new thing, and it's, like, under construction."
The members of Nortec are perhaps the first
generation of Tijuana's people to recognize their essential separateness
from both the North and South. "We are the first generation to face that
reality," says Verdin, "of something new being needed 行 music and art and
The reality for young people in Tijuana in
the '80s, when the Nortec crew were at that special age of sensitivity to
new music and art, was that Tijuana was basically isolated from the rest of
Mexico. The installation of a massive radio transmitter in northern Mexico
made all the difference. "That affected us in a good way," says Pepe Mogt.
"A lot of radio stations had special shows, playing nothing but electronic
music, so that was the main influence for us." This, and the subsequent
opening of the Iguana Club 行 where San Diego promoters brought in big-name
touring acts from the States and Europe 行 literally changed the face of
music in Tijuana.
Too much talk, though 行 rather
collectively, the group and I decide to take a little tour of their
favorite watering holes, places that served as inspirational hot spots
during their conceptual development. In other words, we go bar-hopping.
In the fantastic Dandy del Sur 行 a moodily
dim and narrow room stuffed with curios, candles and a crude mural of a
pimp wearing huaraches 行 we discuss
the group's widespread influences, and why the group isn't bound by them.
(By the way, Dandy del Sur's also graced by the continuous sound of "New
York, New York" from the jukebox, pumped out about six times an hour. One
of the regulars there plays it pretty much all day, every day of the week.
If you don't care for Sinatra's "New York, New York," better stay away from
the Dandy del Sur.)
We talk about old faves like Chrome, MX-80
Sound, the Residents,
Cluster and Krautrock in general, and this guy Steven
Brown, the ex-Tuxedomoon guy who's been resident in Mexico for a number of
years, making his peculiar brand of art music with locals. All of the
group's members are deeply knowledgeable about electronic music, especially
from the late '70s through mid-'80s: Kraftwerk, Ultravox, Depeche Mode,
Aviador Dro from Spain. In the early '90s, their tastes hardened with the
arrival of heavy industrial stuff like Ministry and Pigface and the rest of
the Chicago weirdos. Apparently there were electronic bands from Mexico
City, and even in Tamaulipas, but they were superunderground. Then came
rave music in the mid-'90s, which really catapulted the electronic scene in
Tijuana, and inspired what was to become an original electronic sound from
At the famous La Estrella, a legendary club
where you pays your money and a nice woman will dance with you (or, if you
come accompanied, someone else will steal your partner), the DJ has been in
his little booth for 30 years; he doesn't read, picks all his stuff by
memory from the covers. The Nortec guys are telling me that places like
this have come back strong in Tijuana, and that as a result there aren't as
many places for DJs and electronic types to play. Recently, however, they
did good business at the massive Las Pulgas, the most impressive of the
large trad-Mex music halls. A vast complex of four huge rooms, it can and
does hold 6,000 people who come every weekend to stomp and swirl to ranchera and norte杘, and imbibe very cheaply
Las Pulgas' supremely atmospheric vibe of
high ceilings and walls painted black, oceans of tables, huge sound systems
and stages and bars were perfect for the group's hypnotic barrage of electro-banda and technote杘. While the owner of the
place insisted that they do the show on a weeknight, because he didn't
think it would draw, it did in fact pull in the masses, via radio spots and
a massive flier campaign around town.
Tijuana is about 117 years
old, and that's still relatively young. The population has grown from
250,000 two decades ago to more than 2 million residents today. That, the
Nortec fellas tell me, is because of a particularly nasty myth that still
circulates in poorer areas in southern Mexico, that the border is easiest
to cross in Tijuana. In fact, it's the most difficult. The most frequently
crossed border in the world, it's doubled-walled for miles in this region,
with numerous patrols occupying and defending the ground between the two
walls. The result is that the migrants end up stranded here, and stay; they
end up working at one of TJ's over 700 maquiladoras, foreign-owned factories
that employ more than 150,000 workers here, most all of them cheaply paid
A few other tidbits strewn in the maze:
Someone once referred to the "emergency architecture" of Tijuana. That's
rich. Nortec emphasizes that Tijuana is accurately seen as "on the edge of
the Latin American world; outsider by nature, a city of mixture and
opportunities." Though it's often viewed as "the world's longest bar," a
dark pit of drug traffic and prostitution, some locals here say that the
real Tijuana is off-limits to tourists 行 the real Tijuana is where regular
people carry on their business in a non-scandalous way.
They also say that Tijuana is apparently
ugly but at the same time very marvelous.