What do people really know about Mexican music?
We are horrified by clichés and topics along the lines of Mexican sombreros and bullfighting capes. Other stereotypes include tacos and paella, to sangria and tequila. Though if there is one thing that really annoys Mexicans or Spaniards, it’s when their lack of knowledge is exposed through a somewhat colonial, 21st century arrogance.
What do people really know about Mexican music? The answer to this question may be summarised in a single name: Paulina Maná Alejandro Fernández. In the best case scenario, some may boast about knowing Ana Tijoux, Javiera Mena or Él Mató a Un Policía Motorizado. This notion, like in this video where a group of festival-goers are asked about a bunch of bands that don’t exist, makes us feel ashamed because Ana and Javiera are Chileans, and Él Mató is an Argentinian band.
The first thing we need to know, is that every time we talk about Mexican music we must make a clear divide between the two existing spectrums. On one side, we have the north which is heavily influenced by the Californian and Texan underground scene. And on the other side, we have the southern love for the Caribbean and the folklore roots reminiscent of the country. Above all, Mexico is the equivalent of a wild horse. It has a passionate, visceral music scene that doesn’t understand the luxury-focused, sybaritism mentality embedded within the Anglo-Saxon culture. Mexico is adrenaline and Methadone simultaneously combined.
From the highest point of Baja California, we have artists like Tony Gallardo and Juan Cirerol who have worked intensively for several years. The All My Friends Festival is also blooming, and has spawned as a result of this escalating music scene. If we take a look towards the south we find Juan Son, vocalist for the band Porter — who would have grown to be as big as Coldplay, if they endured and kept going. He was also involved with AEIOU, an ingenious electronic-collective residing in NYC. Further out from his native city Guadalajara, Mr Son is full of surprises. Just like Mexico City, he acts in similar ways to a black hole. He absorbs everything. Soaking up musical matter that was once tested, and is known to work.
What is it that makes you jump, sweat and dignified with Joe Crepúsculo, Vetusta Morla, Lori Meyers or La Bien Querida? And why doesn’t it have the same effect with Julieta Venegas, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Zoé, Los Negretes or Plastilina Mosh? Essentially, it’s in the hands of Spanish record labels and how they represent their artists. These artists are more likely to be cheque-booked into a winning radio-formula, designed to have airplay on the national station ‘los 40 principales’. Though continuous artist development will allow them to naturally reach their audience in due time.
As a compromise between the two spectrums, we can find a sound that is suitable for a wide audience yet it is still emotionally charged. This is a sound and artistry that we believe in. Artists like T’orus (Trip-hop, Hip-Hop, Jazz and Drum & Bass), Sutra (Experimental, Instrumental Rock), Sonido San Francisco (Cumbia and Synthesizers), La Santa Cecilia(Mexicans living in L.A. who mix Rock, Cumbia, Bossa Nova and Bolero), Caloncho (Pop-infused Latin with picturesque sounds. Sparking images of beaches, mountains and city skyscrapers), Rey Pila (signed by The Strokes’ frontman Julián Casablancas on his label Cult Records) and 3BallMTY (Erick Rincón, DJ Otto and Sheeqo Beat: electronic mixes of Pre-Hispanic, African and Tropical music).
So what happens in between the North and South of the country? In the centre we have Monterrey, the biggest city of the state of Nuevo León. It is a crucial connector between the two and acts as a pivotal link that merges the country together. Though artists who were internationally showcased in the 90’s would feel rather lethargic as it wasn’t until 6 years ago that it started to change. In this day in age it is the main generator of music expanding its reach across the quarry of the whole of Mexico. In similar ways to Mexico City and its mainstream appeal, it acts as a magnet that attracts new, promising releases.
This phenomenon is mobilized by ‘Nrmal’, a platform that combines aesthetics and music within its festival (homonymously bearing the same name). More so, we find other interesting agents, like the tireless weekly programming from Sergios Bar. This whole entourage of good aesthetic taste has a firm commitment towards contemporary peers and displays a fresh batch of new rising talent. A national scene in Mexico that gathers annually to showcase artists. Let’s call it the Pop-up era or Pop-up scene. This is where artists like Siete Catorce, Little Jesus, Los Románticos de Zacatecas, Hawaiian Gremlins, Clubzor Mock The Zuma, rub shoulders with Sky Ferreira, Grimes, Blood Orange, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti or Twin Shadow.