Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Mariachi bands move over for Nortec Collective

REUTERS , Tijuana, Mexico

Five years ago, Nortec Collective gave the industrial city of Tijuana on the US border a unique musical identity with its foot-stomping fusion of so-called norteno rhythms and dance music.

Norteno is a style of music popular in rural Mexico known for its snappy snare drum rolls, accordion riffs and tuba bass lines, exemplified by Stetson-wearing artists like the Tigres del Norte and Los Intocables.

The Tijuana-based group Nortec Collective wed that sound to a thumping techno beat and won a following in hip clubs from New York to Tokyo.

Having sold more than 80,000 copies of their first album, the Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1 released in 2000, the group is now experimenting with more organic sounds and plans to release a follow-up recording later this year.

"At the beginning it was a new sound, but now we are looking for the next step, and it's a challenge," musician Pepe Mogt said in his recording studio perched above the Pacific Ocean on the western outskirts of Tijuana.

"Before we were just sampling instruments, but now we are working with real norteno musicians here in the studio. The new sound that we are making is still electronic, but also more organic," he adds.

Warmed with the sound of a clarinet, and together with trumpet blasts and a swinging accordion, the sound is "definitely more soulful," Mogt said.

"I wouldn't say we are close to finding Tijuana's musical soul," he said, "but I hope that we can do that."

MUSICAL FRONTIER

With rock, pop and dance music from across the US border filling the air waves, and foot-tapping norteno ballads blaring out of its cantinas, Tijuana straddles a musical frontier.

Long forced to balance Anglo and Latin rhythms, the group, which includes musicians and video artists from the industrial city of 1.2 million, created their unique style about five years ago.

The musicians -- known by their club nicknames Bostich, Fussible, Hiperboreal, Panoptica and Clorofilia -- began sampling the sounds of traditional norteno instruments, adding synthesizers and drum machines to create a new sound.

During their performances, they flash on giant video screens snatched images of the city's shantytowns, its fleet of "collective" taxis and the ever-present border fence.

The dozen-strong combo of musicians and video jockeys has gone on to win over a club following in countries as far afield as the US, Brazil, Britain, Spain and Japan.

"When we started playing in Tijuana, the word spread and ... that's when it exploded," musician Ramon Amezcua recalled as he drove along the fence dividing the city from the US.

Christening the hybrid sound Nortec -- in a nod to its roots in norteno and techno music -- the bass-heavy mix crept out onto the Internet in 1999, becoming a sleeper hit on music sites Napster and

Audiogalaxy.

ONLINE BUZZ

"The Internet really helped get us known worldwide, because before they carried our tracks no one had heard of Nortec," says Amezcua, who is a dentist by profession. "Napster had one of my tracks, Polaris, and it became a top-10 download."

Attracted by the growing online buzz, the government of Mexico's then-President Ernesto Zedillo chose tracks by Amezcua and Nortec colleague Pepe Mogt for millennium-eve celebrations in Mexico City.

Commercial success

followed for the group as Swedish car and truck manufacturer Volvo licensed Polaris to headline a global advertising campaign, and New York-based record company Palm Pictures signed them to a record contract.

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