Herb Alpert may have had it right.
Although his campy Tijuana Brass band put a super-hokey spin on it on their dozens of albums in the '60s and '70s, the fact remains that norteño the traditional music of Northern Mexico is eminently funky and utterly danceable. Much as American and European hip-hop and techno producers have long pillaged their own historical stock of funk, soul and pop for inspiration, Tijuana's Nortec Collective is merging the time-honored styles of Mexican music with the sounds of today's electronic music.
The Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1, Nortec's first American release, features a cast of seven different members in a variety of guises. Although all 14 tracks explore the collision of Mexican music and techno, each artist from the lurching lounge-isms of Plankton Man (born Ignacio Chavez) and hard-hitting beat atmospherics of Bostich (born Ramon Amezcua) to the organic Kraftwerk funk of Fussible (Pepe Mogt and Melo Ruiz) and the outlandish house-inflected oddness of Clorofila (Jorge Verdin and Fritz Torres) injects their own distinctive style. However, even though a cross-cultural soundclash is at the root of Nortec's mission, the fusion is so sublime and seamless that what ends up coming through your speakers is less a primer in ranchera music and more a slice off the cutting-edge of progressive electronic music.
"It's not just them saying, 'Oh, we have a banda record and we're going to put some beats under it.' That would just be silly," said Josh Kun, an English professor at the University of California at Riverside, who has interviewed Nortec several times and wrote an early story on the group for L.A. Weekly. "I think what they've done, whether they meant to or not, is they've heard the dance music and electronic music possibilities within traditional music."
Clorofila's Jorge Verdin agreed. Having been around since its outset, he views the Collective as less overarching musical philosophy and more a means for like-minded individuals in the vibrant, and vastly under-recognized, Tijuana music scene to make their presence known.
"We're definitely not the first or the only people in Tijuana to do electronic music. The scene has been there for a long time, but it's been sort of sporadic," he said. "But Pepe [Mogt] from Fussible had this idea about using norteño samples and combining it with techno stuff. I sincerely didn't think it would work. I didn't think he was going to do anything with it."
Luckily, he did. Gathering friends within the scene, both in Tijuana and Ensenada (in nearby Baja California), Mogt was able to expand his home-spun idea of combining "his parents' records" with the sounds of his generation. Having grown up in the border town of Tijuana, the cross-pollination of youth cultures was inevitable; draping their work under the moniker Nortec Collective was a natural step, Verdin said.
"The word 'collective' is just for ease of saying it's a group of people working together. It's not like we have some Commie pinko sort of manifesto," he said, laughing. "In the beginning, especially with Pepe, it was very specific about what 'Nortec music' was and what it wasn't, but as more people came into the group, the definition became wider. But there's no master plan, beyond the fact that we all want to have Tijuana put on the map as a place of culture and not as some oddity or some kitschy, Herb Alpert sort of thing. We all think it would be nice if people would realize that there's cool music coming out of Tijuana and it all doesn't come out of London or Berlin or Vienna or wherever."