Tijuana Rocks

Musicians Pepe Mogt and Ramon Bostich peer through a hole in the
high metal wall that divides their city, Tijuana, from the United
States. On the U.S. side, three cyclone fences topped with razor
wire deter immigrants from the American Dream, while here in the
Colonia Nido de Aguilas, junked cars decompose and half-starved
dogs troll for food. A Border Patrol helicopter buzzes overhead,
and in an odd moment, the pilot waves at the musicians and they
wave back. Bostich points out a fence made entirely of
washing-machine lids that encircles the junkyard.

‘It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?’ says Bostich, admiring the
fence as if it were a piece of art. ‘In Tijuana, everything
inspires our music.’

Mogt, 30, and Bostich, 37, say they aren’t bothered that the
outskirts of their town look like a militarized zone. Spending time
in this chaotic border town of 3 million where gleaming new
maquiladoras with names like Sony and Hitachi meet crumbling
poverty is like wandering through a post-apocalyptic movie set
where the Third World meets the First. If Tijuana is like a surreal
movie, then Mogt and Bostich have created the perfect soundtrack
for this final Latin American frontier. They call it Nortec, a
hybrid of techno beats and Mexican Norteño rhythms.

On weekends, Tijuana’s Nortec music fans pack the Jai Alai
stadium on Avenida Revolucion or the clubs a half-hour down the
coast in Rosarito to dance all night to electronic groups like
Mogt’s Fussible or Ramon Bostich’s one-man trance groove- inspired
outfit Bostich. Mogt and Bostich are hesitant to call these
happenings raves, preferring instead to call them ‘parties’ where
like-minded electronic music fans meet. In the past year, Nortec
has started to grow into something more than just a musical
style–it’s become a full-blown movement in Tijuana, including art,
design, and even architecture.

A longtime presence in Tijuana’s electronic music scene, Bostich
(a.k.a. Ramon Amezcua) started playing ambient techno in 1988. (He
took the name Bostich from the title of a song by Yello, a
Swiss duo now considered one of techno’s early pioneers.) But it’s
Pepe Mogt who is credited with the idea of merging traditional
Norteño with electronic music. Nortec was born in 1998, when
Mogt heard a Sinaloense (West Coast Mexican) band at a family
wedding and wondered how traditional Norteño music would
sound mixed with electronic music.

‘I grew up listening to punk rock and electronic music–I hated
Norteño,‘ says Mogt. ‘Maybe I’m just getting older and
coming back to my roots, but that’s when I really started listening
to the rhythms in the music for the first time.’

At a music studio on Avenida Coahuila where many Norteño
bands record in Tijuana, Mogt sampled horns, accordions, and
snares, then distributed the samples among Tijuana’s electronic
musicians, including the other two members of his band, Jorge Ruiz
and Roberto Mendoza (now the man behind the electronic ambient
sound of Panoptica). He also gave samples to Bostich.

In May 1999, the Nortec sound was compiled on the Nortec
Sampler, Volume 1
and put out on Mogt, Ruiz, and Bostich’s own
Mil Records label. The sampler featured local electronic bands such
as Fussible, Bostich, Panoptica, Hiperboreal, Clorofila, Terrestre,
and Plankton. ‘Before, people said electronic music here sounded
like the mix of breakbeats and hip-hop that you hear in San
Francisco or the U.K.,’ says Mogt. ‘But with Nortec, we knew we had
something very different.’

The Nortec sampler caught the ear of Kim Buie, a senior
executive with Palm Pictures in Los Angeles, who promptly signed
the Nortec musicians to a pressing and distribution deal. A new
compilation called The Nortec Collective was released in

If music is the soul of Nortec, then art and design are the
heart and mind behind the movement. Housed in a semi-abandoned
shopping mall near Tijuana’s airport, a cramped storefront studio
called Torolab has become a creative hive for Nortec projects.

The studio, run by husband-and-wife team Raul Cardenas, 31, and
Marcela Guadiana, 29, is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Factory for
the sheer span of its creative ideas and productivity. The studio
is filled with computers, turntables, and designs for everything
from clothing to houses, all fiercely protected by the couple’s
cranky watchdog, a Jack Russell terrier named Wookie. Here Cardenas
and Guadiana work with a revolving cast of artists and musicians
who design many of the CD covers, graphics, and T-shirts for the
Nortec musicians.

An architect and designer, Cardenas, with his scratched-up
eyeglasses and frenetic work habits, has become a sort of
philosophical guru for the Nortec movement and the biggest champion
of Tijuana’s art scene. ‘It’s a city where nobody is from,’ says
Cardenas, who came to Tijuana from Mazatlan 11 years ago. ‘There
are no chains here. Everywhere you go, you can create history.’ For
the first time in Tijuana’s 110-year history, Cardenas says,
Mexico’s youth are actually viewing the border city as a place of
opportunity and creativity and not just a springboard into the
United States.

People in Tijuana are used to being outsiders who live at the
outskirts of both the U.S. and the Mexican cultures, Cardenas says.
This outsider feeling, he says, fuels the Nortec artists and
musicians. When people in Tijuana go to a bullfight, they root for
the bull, not the bullfighter.

‘I called our studio Torolab, because for me, the toro–the
bull–is the symbol of a warrior with nothing to lose. That’s the
spirit you have when you live here,’ says Cardenas. ‘Everyone
thinks that this city is Sodom and Gomorrah. But this place is
really about breaking through barriers.’

From the alternative newsweekly The Austin Chronicle
(Nov. 3, 2000). Subscriptions: $60/yr. (52 issues) from Box
49066, Austin, TX 78765.

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