Still from Una Mañana Feliz by Pepe Mogt
Some of the best and most original music to come out of Mexico over the past ten years has been produced by the Nortec Collective in Tijuana. When they released the
Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1
in 2001, they blew everybody’s minds with their previously unheard-of mix of norteño and electronic music.
Last year, Pepe Mogt (aka Fussible) and Ramón Amezcua (aka Bostich), two of the collective’s founding members, released
Tijuana Sound Machine
, and they’ve been touring the world playing their laptops, tubas, accordions, and Tenori-ons, with a live show that seems like a cross between Daft Punk and Los Tigres del Norte. A bunch of Nortec’s songs are named after bars, cantinas, and strip joints in Tijuana, so we gave Bostich and Fussible a call to get some suggestions.
Vice: Tell us about some of these bars you’ve written songs about.
The best known is El Dandy del Sur, a very old, very traditional cantina. Ten years ago, it was basically the office of the Nortec Collective. That’s where we would meet for drinks, but also to talk about contracts and make important decisions. But since about a year ago, there’s a line to get in on Fridays and Saturdays. There are other options, though. Across the street, they just opened a bar called La Mezcalera, and that’s where we go now. There’s other good bars like El Nelson, which is in a hotel. Very chill. There’s also El Dragón Rojo, a small cantina next to some very seedy strip clubs.
There are places that maybe we never even went in but have been in Tijuana for over 40 years and that we walked by every day, like La Cueva del Peludo. Those places have so many stories.
On the beaches of Tijuana, just feet from the border, right where the metal wall disappears into the sea, there’s a great seafood restaurant called Terraza Vallarta. We go there a lot these days. You’re drinking beers and eating marlin tostadas looking at “the line” while US Border Patrol helicopters hover above you.
There’s another song called “Don Loope,” about a bar that Jacques and Pedro of Hiperboreal opened around 2003, but it’s closed now. That was a place they opened for electronic music. I think they had to close it down because all the patrons were their friends, so nobody paid for the beers. It wasn’t a good business.
Are you planning on writing songs about any of these other places?
I think we’ll make a song about Terraza Vallarta. We’ve made songs for other bars too, like “Mi Casita.” That’s a very sketchy place. We’ve been there a few times, but just to check it out. If you go to places like Mi Casita, the number one rule is not staring at anyone for more than five seconds. Same thing at Kin Kle Futurista, which there’s also a Nortec song about.
What about Bar Infierno? There’s a song about that one.
That’s a great bar too. It really looks like hell inside, it’s all red and very sad. It’s usually empty. There’s a devil’s face by the bar and the bartender has a sour face. And there’s usually two or three drunk guys passed out. It’s open 24 hours.
Still from Buscando la Norteña del Sur by Pepe Mogt
A 24-hour cantina?
Actually, the Dandy was 24 hours too for many years, but now the laws changed and they close sometimes, but only for like three hours a day. There’s supposed to be a smoking ban too, but I still see people smoking everywhere. Across the street from Bar Infierno is Adelitas, and that’s a very old and famous strip club. The girls are all beautiful Mexican girls. We usually go there with a group of friends and even girlfriends to have fun, not just to see the girls. What’s funny about that place is the DJ, who you never actually see because he’s inside a booth with mirrored glass. He plays music, but he also insults everyone through the sound system. If he picks on you, you have to put up with him all night.
What kind of stuff does he say?
We went once with Jacques, our tour manager, and as soon as he walked in, the DJ started calling him Osama bin Laden, asking him why he was there looking at girls instead of fighting in a war.
I think a lot of people abroad have an idea of Tijuana as a very sketchy, violent place where you go to party and buy drugs. Is that image true?
Tijuana has changed a lot over the years. About ten or 15 years ago, Revolución Avenue was full of bars for gringos. There were ten blocks of strip clubs, cheap beer bars, and hip-hop clubs where American college kids would come to party. In its heyday, there were probably up to 60 thousand people drinking there on any given day. After September 11, when they closed the line because of the gringos’ paranoia, Revolución died. The bars and clubs are abandoned. Some of them have turned into pharmacies. There’s no tourism. But there are streets like Calle Sexta where the Dandy del Sur is and where they recently opened La Mezcalera and a restaurant called Cielo, where the local people go and it’s really cool. There’s the idea of “No matter what bad things are going on around us, let’s create a place for us to hang out,” and I think it’s working.
I think the image of Tijuana has changed a bit too. Those images that were grotesque or embarrassing were reappropriated in the music by Nortec, but also by graphic designers and video artists. The images of cantinas, people who dress like drug dealers without even being one, now they’re somewhat cool.
Still from Buscando la Norteña del Sur by Pepe Mogt
But are you happier now that there’s less tourists and drunk gringos around?
Well, the city has been affected economically by that, and then there’s all the violence because of the wars going on between the different drug cartels and the kidnappings. I do miss the more festive Tijuana. The gringos in town were something normal for us. In the 80s, lots of bands that sometimes wouldn’t even stop in San Diego or Los Angeles would come and play here. Nirvana when they were just starting, the Ramones, Devo, Front 242. There was a place called Club Iguanas where 18-year-old kids could go see them. I remember when I went there to see Psychic TV, and for us it was a shock—we had never heard the synthesizers they were playing.
For all that you’ve said, I gather you love Tijuana, right?
Of course. Of course.
There’s a pride that comes with the identity of being from a place that is so unique in Mexico. Tijuana is an amalgamation of all the cultures of Mexico, mixed with American culture, the radio, the TV. There’s definitely pride in being from Tijuana.