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Seven New Faces of Electronic Music in Mexico

We headed to Festival Nrmal this year to get acquainted with the country's most promising new artists.
March 21, 2014, 6:22pm

Festival Nrmal 2014, Mexico City. Photo credit: Eunice Adorno

Something weird and adventurous is happening South of the Border—namely, in Mexico, where future-gazing musicians are turning the underground into an electronic music nerd's wet dream. Nowhere is this more evident than at the five-year-old Nrmal Festival, set for the first time this year in both Monterrey (where it was created) and Mexico City locations. We talked to a select group of both local and international key players to take the temperature on this rapidly heating up scene.



Photo credit: Alberto Bustamante

Born in Puerto Escondido, in the state of Oaxaca, and now living in Mexico City, Tomas Davo is the co-founder (along with Mexican Jihad) of NAAFI, one of the most renowned collectives of the new electronic Mexican scene. He has released EPs from Paul Marmota, Siete Catorce and Jamez Manuel (from the Chilean rap Band Zonora Point) and organized numerous parties in Mexico City. He is also the owner of a mischievous cat named Hector.

You strongly reject the term "latin bass," can you explain me why?
I feel that for a lot of Latin-American projects, music-wise, it's very easy to get fame and capitalize from the exploitation of their culture. As for NAAFI, we're already Latin, we're already Mexicans, we're obviously influenced by the context we grew up in, but we don't feel the need to go and tell the whole world how Latin we are. Because we're more than that. In the end, I don't want our music to be judged by our nationality, because we're not a world music act.

What's your impression of the electronic scene in Mexico right now?
I think it's growing a lot. There are a lot of labels, a lot of artists, a whole bunch of people working on this. I think what is important and doesn't exist enough yet is actual clubs, parties, and promoters dedicated to this new music. In Mexico City, most of the clubs are either tech-house or disco music, and the music we play is often considered bad taste, or "poor people music." But this is changing a little bit. It's becoming more popular, at least among the music fans.


Would you say cities like Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Monterrey, Mexico City have all their specific electronic sounds?
Well I'd say Tijuana is really self-oriented. Musicians there are really proud to be from Tijuana but in the same time really critical of their city. It's a very socio-politically involved scene. In Ciudad Juarez, artists are really creative, but they're doing everything at home, not outside with people having fun, so there's a lot of darkness implied. Then Monterrey, for me, is more club-goers music, it's really intense. And in Mexico City, it's just more weird, because everybody's coming from everywhere, it's like a strange mix of everything.


Photo credit: Damien Grimbert

20-year old Mock The Zuma makes futuristic oneiric distorted Mexican grime (or something like that). His latest EP, Replicators, is due mid-April on French label Fullfridge Music. Widely considered a promising and intriguing upstart, he's also one of the quietest and nicest dudes I've ever talked to.

When did you discover electronic music?
Electronic music in my city was limited, so with the Internet my ears opened to a completely new sound. The blogosphere, pirate radios, MySpace music, and forums were my daily input of new music. I started incorporating these new sounds with my world, and consequently gigs started to pop up for me.

How would you describe the influence the city you live in, Juarez, has on your music?
The permanent chicano influence (versus) this Internet influence made a clash in my music, in the way that anything happening in the real-time of Juarez was completely irrelevant to me. But the Internet helped me delete the boundaries between different genres of electronic music, and even add some "extras" to it.



Photo Credit: Gran Studio 3000

Along with his pals from Nguzunguzu, Fade To Mind's Total Freedom has become a regular at Mexico's underground parties, and therefore a privileged witness to the emerging local scene. He recently played a "no retreat, no surrender" set for almost four hours at Nrmal Festival's after-party, located in a warehouse in the dodgy neighborhood of Colonia Doctores in Mexico City.

You've been playing in Mexico more than a few times these last years, and seem pretty close to collectives like NAAFI and Finesse.
I've DJed around Mexico kind of a lot even outside of my relationship with NAAFI and Finesse, but I would definitely say that getting to play at events of theirs in Mexico City and Monterrey has made the experience that much more fun.

What are the particularities of playing in Mexico, from your experience?
I will say my experience playing in Mexico is extremely different depending on what part of the country I'm playing in. Years ago, playing in Mexico City was such a challenge compared to playing at the border in Tijuana. In Tijuana, I could play basically anything and not have to manicure my set to get a reaction from the audience. I could swing through RnB, house, rap, club, juke, 3ball, hardstyle, African shit—really anything, and the crowd could kinda swing with it. Every time I played in Mexico City before NAAFI I felt like there was no primer and nobody really knew what to do with what I was giving them. Like they just did not listen to American rap at all, they didn't listen to and didn't want to hear grime, they definitely didn't listen to the then-new fucked up Mexican genre of tribal. The crowds were cool though—just not musically speaking…


What's your impression of the electronic scene in Mexico right now?
I think maybe when Mad Decent started blogging about and releasing artists from Monterrey and those artists blew up and became pop, kids in Mexico that were into electronic music from around the world but kinda trapped in the mid-2000s Euro thing started to pay attention to what was happening in Mexico. I think 3ball being so shifted outside of the sound of smooth electro just shook everybody up and opened them to a larger view for what's possible.


Photo credit: NAAFI

I first met DJ Smurphy when she was playing at a small event called Prozac in a concept-store that sold houseplants, furniture, beer and homemade ice-cream. Her music was even stranger than the surroundings. The talented weirdo is just wrapping up her first album, #GEMINISS.

What's your musical background?
I was born in Mexico City in this east zone called Ixtapalapa, a pretty ghetto place. My musical background is strictly pop. I used to listen to late 80s house and tons of Eurodance. I started to make music around nine years ago, when I was in college. I created this synth-pop band called Post-Pastel with my best friend. Then, the band disbanded and I started another project beside Dr. Dude called Supermad. At both bands I used to write songs and play instruments, but my development as a producer was with DJ Smurphy.


How would you describe the influence Mexico City has on your music? 
This city is crazy and bold, and I think my music has much of it. I consider myself a street person. I know my city very well, and love to go here and there. One of my favorite aspects of Mexico City is the surprise, the unpredictable. You never know what to expect, and I like to do that with my music.

How would you describe your sound?
Smurphy's world is a place of magic, peace, love, future… It is totally a dream world. I've always loved to get myself out of reality, so Smurphy is exactly that: me leaking out from the real world.

What's your impression of the electronic scene in Mexico right now?
I really admire and respect my pals of NAAFI. And I also love all that urban shit that is growing so wildly and fast, like cumbias rebajadas, reggaeton, Mexican hardstyle and stuff. I love Mexican electronic music because it's rough and brave.


Photo credit: Elizabeth Cacho

One of the original founders of Nrmal, Pablo Martinez Villagomez was born and raised in Monterrey. He's been promoting shows of all sizes since he was 17 years old, but doing the festival is his real passion.

What was your main incentive for creating this festival?
I guess it was two things: appreciating festivals all around the world, including bands that really excited me and didn't play in Mexico, and wanting to create a festival for my city—giving a place to Mexican and Latin-American artists. As we focus on the underground and Hispanic music instead of popular or commercial things, we take a lot of risks in the booking, but it's always been worth it.


How has it evolved with the years?
It has grown in size basically. Right now, I think of Nrmal as some kind of a baby monster. We're able to position ourselves as a new emerging DIY underground festival. I think it's just a couple more years until it becomes more popular and international.

What are your objectives in terms of booking?
We're a team of four people who participate in booking bands. Everyone has different tastes so in the end, it makes a very diverse and interesting line-up. We're very open to all genres and really try to dig what's upcoming and what's next in the underground scene. One of our goals is to make 50% Hispanic or Spanish speaking bands, and 50% of international bands.

What's your impression of the electronic scene in Mexico right now?
Well, the first artists that come to mind are Siete Catorce, Mock The Zuma, and the other guys from the NAAFI label. Tony Gallardo II too. There's a lot of interesting electronic music happening around inspired by local music but with an international projection. I guess what we need now is more exposure worldwide.


Photo credit: Mariana Garcia

Living in Mexico City for the last year, but born and raised in Monterrey, David Oranday is the founder of Finesse Records, an upcoming label created in 2012 that includes local artists such as 10010 , Adrian Be, and Cruz Lee. He hosts parties in Mexico City and Monterrey and is a DJ/producer under the moniker Teen Flirt.


What's your impression of the electronic scene in Mexico right now?
I think this underground scene started from everybody getting tired of making money for other people, like big club promoters and stuff. We just don't care about the money anymore, and prefer doing free and weird stuff that we're really into. I know that's what happened in Monterrey and I guess it went the same way in Mexico City.

How would you describe Finesse Records?
Finesse is like a tiny family of four or five producers that are related in time, space and frequencies. It's definitely not club or commercial-oriented. We're really into weird music, like garage/future/slowdown beats. It's more like B-sides projects. The idea is definitely not to make money out of it.

Would you say the sound of the label is specific to Monterrey?
Definitely. Monterrey is a big city because it has a lot of money in it, there's a lot of industries, but very few people, so everybody knows each other. It's very "hoodish," people would rather cook and drink instead of going clubbing. So I think you tend to appreciate tracks a little bit more because you have time to digest them. In Monterrey, you can listen to a whole album, not like in a fast city, where you can't even digest a single track.


Photo credit: Damien Grimbert

At 22 years old, Pablo, can be considered as a Nrnml Festival regular, as he's been present at all the editions of the festival since its creation. As he's primarily a photographer, I was quite embarrassed to show him the poorly executed pictures I had taken of him. But after a quick look, he told me they were all fine, and I could select whichever I wanted. To say he was one of the kindest guys I met in the festival would be an understatement.

What do you think of Nrmal Festival?
Well I really like it a lot, I think it's a really good support for artistic creativity, and music-wise, it's by far the best thing we have here in Monterrey. Even in Mexico in general, it's one of the top festivals.

How would you describe the crowd that goes to Nrmal?
I think it's always a good crowd, it's a mixture of people that don't really know the music, and that are coming because it's like a cool thing to do, and people that actually enjoy the music and the culture that we have here. So that's cool, because these are people that you wouldn't meet if it wasn't for the festival.

What are your favorite bands playing this year?
Well I'm not going to say Kelela because that's what everybody will answer. So this year, I think my favorites are Hydrogenesse, who are from Spain and are really great. In Mexico City, they also had Blood Orange, which I really love.

Want more? Here are some other new, weird, and Mexico-based labels and artists to check out:
Lowers Records
Cocobass Records
Extasis Records
Pyra.MD Records
Maligna Records

Teehn Bwitches
Los Macuanos
Tony Gallardo II