an insider's guide to the underground music of tijuana
Apocalyptic techno, futuristic reggaeton and trippy shoegaze are just a few of the genres you'll find in Mexico's dangerous desert metropolis.
A still taken from "Ojos En El Carro" by Mint Field.
On February 15, US President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to bypass Congress and free up billions for a border wall between the US and Mexico. The alleged national emergency? A migrant caravan of several thousand people that arrived at the border fleeing violence in Central America. i-D travelled to Tijuana in December 2018 to report on the situation first-hand. The result was i-D's latest documentary Tijuana: A Mexican Dream, which you can watch here.
Tijuana is a desert metropolis with a big reputation. California Sunday Magazine writer Daniel Duane recently called it “the original Sin City” and a “drug cartel battleground”. But it’s also a place of immense creativity in the arts; a DIY town with a carnivalesque feel. This is a town where anything goes and rules are bent; where bands who can’t play in the US due to prior felony convictions will book a show to lure their American fans across the border.
“There is no money in Tijuana, and almost no venues,” says Ejival, one of the founders of Static Discos, a thriving electronic record label in the city that has been championing homegrown music since 2002. “But still we’ve produced a lot of interesting music throughout the years, from the early 60s to the present. Everything here has to be improvised; we are in the middle of the desert, literally. And this nothingness breeds incredible artists and talent.”
In the past, Tijuana has produced everything from Latin pop megastars like Julieta Venegas to authentically Mexican electronic music in the shape of ‘nortec’ (a combination of traditional norteño and hard techno), which was birthed from the notorious Zona Norte red light district of Tijuana. There’s ruidoson too, a dark and apocalyptic mixture of folk, cumbia and post-tropical electronic sounds. And in 2017, we saw the rise of futuristic reggaeton led by the Afro-latin rhythms of Chico Sondido.
Now, the city’s music scene has diversified and expanded, buoyed by an internet age in which artists don’t need to move to Mexico City anymore to make it: they can stay and create in Tijuana. So, to get a feel for the sounds of Northern Mexico, we asked Ejival of Static Discos to talk about five of the best acts around.
San Pedro El Cortez
This drunken and revelrous rock band have become a notorious fixture on Tijuana’s live music scene. Their sound is an intriguing mixture of garage rock and frantic psychedelia that makes your brain sizzle like a fried egg. “These guys are amazing to watch live,” says Ejival, “they truly epitomise the chaos of rock and roll in a beautiful and absurd way.”
Residing somewhere on the sound spectrum between modern classical, post-rock and ambient, Gaspar Peralta makes music that feels at once uplifting and weirdly chilling. “He comes from the rock and progressive worlds,” explains Ejival, “but is also a great pianist and splendid modern classical composer. All those music worlds come together in his deeply affecting debut album.”
This Tijuana shoegaze duo make eerie and nostalgic tunes that are filled with vivid imagery, smells, colours, people and weather. “These girls have been able to travel and tour worldwide,” says Ejival, “bypassing the centralism of the music business that many Mexican artists have to go through, and they are very dynamic and blissful live.”
If you want to get a feel for the Mexican flavoured techno sound that became so prominent in the early 2000s, then Ejival reckons this is the album to get blasting in your cans. “The Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1 is probably the most emblematic memento of an electronic music scene that caught the attention of the world,” he says.
Murcof (real name: Fernando Corona) isn't a new artist, but he is legendary. He's basically the Mexican Aphex Twin; a man so ridiculously talented in a range of electronic genres that his influence has crossed into the arts, film and TV in Mexico, and his live shows can include trumpets, tablas, pianos and pulsating 4/4 beats. “He is a world class musician and one of the few Mexicans to truly cross borders and audiences,” says Ejival.
If you would like to help or find out more about the crisis in Tijuana please visit: www.borderangels.org
- San Pedro El Cortez
- zona norte
- Mint Field
- Static Discos
- Julieta Venegas
- Gaspar Peralta
- “the original Sin City”