Tijuana's Independent Spirit Has Made It Home to One of Mexico's Most Exciting Music Scenes

Although it's more often the punchline of dirty jokes, Tijuana is proving there's a robust music scene in Mexico beyond the capital.

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Nov 16 2015, 2:51pm


Vaya Futuro, on their trip to record in Iceland

This article originally appeared on Noisey Mexico.

Mexico City isn’t the only place where interesting things are happening on the Mexican independent music scene. If anything, our beloved and disastrous capital is starting to lag behind when it comes to new movements and sounds or launching anything truly great. Let’s be real: If we analyzed the names that made up playlists of “Mexican bands,” we’d notice that even if 90 percent live in the capital, 85 percent aren’t native to it. They’re from cities like Monterrey, Cancún, Zacatecas, Mérida, and Guadalajara, among many others. And among those other cities and regions, there’s at least one that stands out in particular. Its presence may not be as strong yet as Mexico City’s, but it’s worth following closely to avoid missing out on what promises to be an incredible future.

I’m talking, of course, about Tijuana, a hot border city full of urban legends ( “Donkey and the Bride” anyone?), a city that many people are quick to dismiss with jokes about how dirty and miserable it is. But if you can get past the boring and worn out comedic routine, you’ll realize that it’s probably one of the most relevant scenes in the country today, with recognizable acts like Dani Shivers and San Pedro el Cortéz—each in a different and distinct lane, but both widely discussed—as well as newer set of bands that are just beginning to make noise.

To understand why the Tijuana scene is experiencing a revival, we have to dive into the early 90s, when a local band named Staura was just getting its start. Staura was made up of Gaby Spica, René Soberanis (better known as Loopdrop, another key band in this scene), and Omar Foglio, who would go on to become Tijuana’s top independent promoter and launch Swenga Fest in 1995. It was during the career of Staura and Loopdrop that the local public began to turn their heads and notice what was going on in the few venues and bars that had performance spaces for bands at the time. And it was through these initiatives and with this support that other acts like Ibi Ego and Shantelle began to come to life in the early 2000s.

Just as Staura and Loopdrop helped create a fertile ground for Ibi Ego and Shantelle, these last two help explain the arrival of the next wave of acts, like Celofán (later known as Vaya Futuro), Mint Field, Policías y Ladrones, Grenda, and even Dani Shivers. Ibi Ego and Shantelle weren’t so much a direct influence on the sound of the acts that followed as they were another sort of pioneers. Beyond giving Tijuana independent music a second wind in their own right, they inspired these rookie musicians to not just look to foreign acts like the Strokes for inspiration but rather to follow the example of Ibi Ego and Shantelle and break into the local scene by starting their own projects.

The result? A new wave that—not to discount the bands like San Pedro El Cortéz that have been doing things for years—has shaken things up in just a short amount of time, in some cases just a year after starting. These are the new acts redefining Tijuana and proving that Mexico has musicians everywhere bringing things a thousand times better than the foreigners we tend to idolize:

Mint Field

Starting in late 2013, shoegaze started to sweep through Mexico, with bands like Aguascalientes’s Bleak Boys, León’s Hexagrams, Sinaloa’s Pure Morning, and Los Mundos, from Monterrey and Mexico City. However, the sonic focus of all of these acts was somber, leaning toward dark tones that drew on punk and gave the impression that they were interested in sad and melancholy themes. Maybe that’s why, with the arrival of a band like Mint Field, things started to take a more cheerful turn. Primeras Salidas, the debut EP from the trio of Amor Amezcua, Estrella Sánchez, and Andrés Corella, shows a happier and more colorful side of this genre, along with adding a touch of noise pop.

Mint Field are a young band who are just discovering themselves, but they have a lot of talent. Their future direction is slowly taking shape, and 2016 will be an important year for seeing how their sound changes and how they become a stronger band.

Late Nite Howl

The music of Pablo Dodero, a.k.a. Late Night Howl, gives the feeling of sadness and nostalgia that comes at the end of a party, when you’ve had a house full of friends and they all begin to head home, leaving a sort of gray, empty vacuum. His beautiful folk music doesn’t lean on happy chords or sweet words, but rather aims to pay tribute to his sadness and understand it through poetic lyrics that unfold over smooth arpeggios in a deep voice. Feeling sad? Late Nite Howl is the best soundtrack to feel it, let it out, and move on.

Vaya Futuro

Of all the bands that are currently hanging around Mexico City and, for that matter, truly succeeding on a national and international level, Vaya Futuro is probably the most important reference point for Tijuana.

Remember earlier when I mentioned the importance of Ibi Ego and Shantelle? Luis Aguilar, the vocalist of Vaya, was one of those early fans who saw them live and was inspired to reach their level. Inspired not only by foreign acts but also by these local favorites, the group made up of Miguel Ahuage, Aldair Cerezo, Armando Aguilar, and Lou Ross has since had many unanticipated successes, including a trip to Finland to record in the same studio as Damon Albarn and Björk with the incredible Ben H. Allen, producer of Deerhunter’s Fading Frontier.

Vaya Futuro is a band that has the potential to end up as more than just a cult favorite. They could make a true international breakthrough on the level of Lorelle Meets The Obsolete. Until that happens, immerse yourself in their recently released album Perro Verde y Triste, one of the best things to come out of Mexico this year.

Grenda

One of the other interesting things about the new wave of independent talent in Mexico is the early age at which many producers and musicians are starting not just to dabble in music but to actually achieve big things and become widely known.

Grenda, whose real name is Eduardo Amezcua, is one such example. At just 17 years old, he’s managed to grow step by step from small gigs at audiovisual series MEEP (Música en el Patio) to the CyberWitches anniversary gig in Guadalajara to this year’s MUTEK Mexico festival.

His music mixes a range of rhythms and sounds that, although they don’t quite fit into in one concrete concept, definitely hint at a progression toward a more mature Grenda. Listening to him feels like being part of his journey of self-discovery. Maybe the most exciting thing is that he offers a completely professional live show. As with artists like Guadalajara’s Norbert Duke of Forecast In Rome, it’s a must-see in order to fully understand his sound.

Policías y Ladrones

There are two sides to garage music in Mexico. There’s the old school of bands like Los Explosivos, Los Chicos Problema, Mustang 66, and Los Monjes, which established themselves as the forefathers of the genre in the 60s. And there’s the new school of bands that head out on tons of different branches within the genre, like Los Blenders, O Tortuga, Dinosaurios Surf Club, and many others.

Policías y Ladrones are about 70 percent in this new wave, but the other 30 percent finds them floating around looking for a better concept, which isn’t exactly the classic touch of Los Monjes or Los Explosivos, nor is it the fast, accelerated strumming style of Los Blenders and O Tortuga. Geography may help explain it: Their location has provided them with lots of sounds that have arrived from across the border. There’s a vague punk quality in the way they use heavy distortion, but they don’t set aside the sweet pop nuances that make you want to play their songs over and over again.

In the end, this group made up of Alonzo, Iván, Luis, and Andrés Corella (who also is part of Mint Field), offers a return to a dirtier punk sound, which many of the acts on the list tend to be less interested in. Alongside acts like San Pedro El Cortéz, they bear the responsibility of creating mosh pits and blowing out the speakers of the improvised stages of Tijuana.

Entre Desiertos

On the other end of the spectrum from these other bands and their distorted sonics (whether they be garage, noise, or shoegaze) are Entre Desiertos, who lean more toward agreeable pop tendencies. But that doesn’t mean that we should consider them less experimental.

This young group hasn’t been together long, and their music tends toward alternative rock. But they aren’t opposed to playing different instruments to give life to slightly more conceptual songs. They recently released their first studio recording, and it saw a rapid rise on Bandcamp. That project showed us what Entre Desiertos sounds like, but it also prompted us to ask what Entre Desiertos could sound like. Each song seemed to hint at a distinctive sound that the band could achieve if they chose to follow that path, but right now we only have a small taste of what that could be. I have a feeling that Entre Desiertos has a lot more to prove, but, as far as first steps go, they're not off to a bad start.

Ramona

Take an afternoon, press play, and don’t pay much attention to what’s going on around you. Ramona gives you the feeling of hearing something you heard in another place a long time ago. They’re not necessarily offering anything too new, but they’re another one of Tijuana’s notable projects that has made the move to Mexico City and is taking steps to make it big.

Jesús Guerrero and company were part of a series of bands like Jandro on Roberto Orozco’s Discos Intolerancia label that were able to attract some media attention. I’m not sure why, in the time since, Ramona haven’t managed to have more of a breakthrough, except that it seems clear that the tastes of people in the capital’s scene tend more toward noisier projects. Their cheesy songs have not exactly nailed it with popular opinion. But still, as I said, they are continuing to take small steps forward and there appears to be no plan of stopping.