This isn't Tech-Mex, it's Nortec!
May 4, 2011 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Born in the border city of Tijuana, Nortec is an audio and visual style that digitally alters the local music and images to make something unique. The sound of Nortec takes the acoustic sounds of norteño (sample) and banda (sample), cut up and re-arranged into something new, with influences from electronic music broadcast by San Diego radio stations. Before too long, the Nortec sound would leak back north, and create divergent paths. More sounds and stories below the break.

An early precursor to the Nortec sound was the compilation Motivos del sitio 29, named for the fact that Baja California was the 29th territory to be made a Mexican state. The compilation featured largely unknown local artists, and was inspired in part by samples of norteño, narcocorrido and Sinaloan bands that were given to the artists by the head of the Nimboestatic label (1997-2004).

But the Nortec sound really took off with the loose formation of the Nortec Collective: Bostich (Ramón Amezcua), Fussible (Pepe Mogt), Clorofila (Fritz Torres and Jorge Verdin), Hiperboreal (Pedro Gabriel Beas with others from time to time), Panoptica (Roberto A. Mendoza), Plankton Man (Ignacio Chavez), and Terrestre (Fernando Corona).

There were also designers, VJs and other miscellaneous artists: Torolab (Raul Cárdenas Osuna), VJ Sal (Salvador Valzquez Ricalde), Piniaman (Ivan Diaz), Mashaka (Jose Luis Martin, Huicho), and others (some listed here).

The first release as the amorphous Nortec Collective was the Nortec Sampler on the Mexican label Mil Records (who later relocated to San Diego, CA). That compilation was re-sorted and released in 2001 on the fairly young Palm Pictures label as The Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1.

Selected tracks:

Bostich - Polaris
Fussible - Casino Soul
Panóptica - And L
Plankton Man - Elemento N
Terrestre - Norteño De Janeiro
Fussible - Trip To Ensenada
Terrestre - El Lado Oscuro De Mi Compadre
Hiperboreal - Tijuana For Dummies (fan-made video)
Terrestre - Tepache Jam

Between the first and next Tijuana Sessions compilations Terrestre and Plankton Man released a split album that wasn't directly associated with the Nortec Collective. The split album was first released in the US in 2002, then with a slightly different arrangement in Mexico in 2004.

Selected tracks:

Terrestre - El 13 Negro (animated video)
Plankton Man - Lazer Metrayeta (video)
Terrestre - California 70

A second Tijuana Sessions compilation was in the process with Palm Pictures, the band was working on changing labels and the demos to date weren't impressive enough, so the remaining group skipped ahead to Volume 3. This new Nortec Collective album/complilation was released in 2005 on Nacional Records, a newer US label focused on Central and South American artists.

Selected Tracks:

Bostich - Tengo La Voz (official video)
Fussible - Tijuana Makes Me Happy (official video) (see also: trailer for the film by the same name)
Clorofila - Funky Tamazula
Hiperboreal - Don Loope (audience recorded clip of a live remix, including Fussible)
Clorofila + Panóptica - Olvidela Compa
Hiperboreal - Dandy Del Sur
Clorofila - Almada (live clip, with Banda Agua Caliente)
Fussible - Colorado (music video)
Fussible - Bar Infierno (music video of sorts)
Panóptica - Revu Rockers
Bostich - Tijuana Bass (official video)
Hiperboreal - El Fracaso

Over the next few years, the group splintered further, with Roberto A. Mendoza (Panoptica) forming Nortec Panoptica Orchestra and registering Nortec as his own trademark in 2007. The remaining group members found out months later, when both P.G. Beas (Hiperboreal) (Google translation) and Pepe Mogt (Fussible) (Google translation) voiced their anger and confusion. It seems that Mendoza scaled back his use of Nortec in his branding, though he still seems to be making a Nortec reference, with his NPO Music group/label, and seeing as Panoptica Orchestra's album is titled NPO.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Bostich + Fussible released an album as: Nortec Collective Presents Bostich + Fussible - Tijuana Sound Machine in 2008, and Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich + Fussible - Bulevar 2000 and Clorofila released a new album under an equally wordy title: Nortec Collective presents Corridos Urbanos - a Collection of Songs by Clorofila. And as to not be left out, Hiperboreal jumps in with his forthcoming album entitled Nortec Collective: Hiperboreal - Border Revolver

Sadly, there is still some really bad blood between some former members: Roberto A. Mendoza (Panoptica) physically attacked Pepe Mogt (Fussible) last November at Tijuana's A.L. Rodriguez International Airport.

Now that we have all that out, here are more music samples:
Nortec Panoptica Orchestra - Complejo de Amor con Javiera Mena (official video)
Nortec Panoptica Orchestra - TJ Tango (official video)
Nortec Panoptica Orchestra - Time Ends (live video)
... many more on the Panioptica Musica YouTube profile

Clorofila - "BabyRock" Rock (official video)
Clorofila - Discoteca Nacional (live video, and super bassy)
Clorofila - Arriba El Novio
Clorofila - Llantera

Bostich+Fussible - Tijuana Sound Machine (official video; TITLE TRACK)
Bostich+Fussible - Akai 47 (official video)
Bostich+Fussible - The Clap

Bostich+Fussible - Bulevar 2000 (TITLE TRACK)
Bostich+FussibIe feat. Kylee Swenson - I Count the Ways
Bostich+Fussible - Radio Borderland
Bostich+Fussible - Must Love
... more interesting clips on Pepe Mogt's YouTube profile, including Before Nortec Collective was Bostich and Fussible, some lost footage of Ramon Bostich and Fussible experimenting with old equipment in an abandoned warehouse.

More reading:
This video is a series of chopped up interviews, providing an overview of Nortec Collective, for the vivid, bilingual book Paso del Nortec: This is Tijuana!

Google books preview of Nor-tec Rifa!: Electronic Dance Music from Tijuana to the World
posted by filthy light thief (28 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
Obviously I haven't had a chance to listen to all of this, but so far it's calling to mind Uwe Schmidt/Atom Heart.
posted by jack_mo at 6:18 PM on May 4, 2011

Dude. Nice post.

Banda is essentially identical to German and Austrian oom-pah except that it swings just a little better. And therein lies the world of difference.

As far as Nortec, it's unfortunate that the name sounds like some military-industrial-complex corporation more likely to produce unmanned drones and missile guidance systems than music. Looking forward to checking out this wealth of links, though. Many thanks!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:19 PM on May 4, 2011

Wow, always wondered what happened after the first volume of the Tijuana Sessions. I still have a Planktonman 12" somewhere.
posted by mkb at 6:25 PM on May 4, 2011

Sweet! I finally got Tijuana Sound Machine a month or two ago after hearing it when it came out. This shall give me much much more to pursue.
posted by Diablevert at 6:30 PM on May 4, 2011

Oh, awesome. I'm going to print this out, just so I can rub it in suchatreat's face after her laughing about my love of this kind of music last night at the fake Mexican chain here in New Hampshire.
posted by yerfatma at 6:53 PM on May 4, 2011

Nice post. I suspect I'll be writing code to this for the next couple of hours.
posted by brennen at 7:00 PM on May 4, 2011

I usually cannot stand norteno and banda. I know there's good stuff in there, but so much of it is dripping in so much machismo it makes mainstream gangster rap look emotionally evolved, and the audio quality is just generally so insanely harsh and loud you can effectively only listen to it after a six pack or two.

I want to hate this but I can't. It's like someone mixed up a bunch of really funky old dub with some klezmer, Balkan brass and polka. Or maybe some samba.

The Atom Heart reference is pretty spot on. Much of this sounds like Lisa Carbon Trio without the weird twee noises.
posted by loquacious at 7:01 PM on May 4, 2011

As J.J. would say, this post is not good, it's "Dy-no-mite!"
posted by puny human at 7:03 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heh. I think I just heard a polka/banda beat slide right into a proper breakbeat for the first time in my life. And it didn't make my head explode. Respect.
posted by loquacious at 7:08 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

¡Me gusta! .
posted by birdherder at 7:20 PM on May 4, 2011

This was my follow-up of sorts to puny human's Cumbia post.

I'm hoping Dr. Curare will provide some 1st hand insight, like he did in the Cumbia post. Most of the really good information is in Spanish, and I don't trust auto-translations to add more information.

Also, I'm sure there are more Nortec artists, but these are the primary ones. And it's a shame I can't find even a tracklist for Motivos del sitio 29, for more artists to find. Earlier there was a nice page for the artist/group Ford Pronco, but damned if I can find it anymore.

Until then, I'll toss this out: Nopal Beat, the Guadalajara-based label that is somewhat similar to Nortec Collective.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:30 PM on May 4, 2011

So call me an ignorant fool, lord knows I am; But to me this just sounds like Norteno music run through a Gotan Project filter. Someone get Thievery Corporation on line one, SAT!
posted by Keith Talent at 7:44 PM on May 4, 2011

I catch a lot of shit from my neighbor for pulling up with the oompa-oopma cranking, but I love me some Nortec Collective. Really disappointed to find out about the bad blood, but considering the cultural roots and relative success, not surprising.

Thanks for the post! This will keep me busy for a long time.
posted by letitrain at 7:45 PM on May 4, 2011

Don't forget murcof

Here's a track:

and my favorite (with it's pizzicato intro and little alva-noto-esque glitches):
posted by symbioid at 7:52 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Su-weet! (Or perhaps, dul-ceeeeee!)

Tijuana Sound Machine is playing here all the time; following the links and then buying the music in this fpp may get expensive...
posted by Forktine at 8:49 PM on May 4, 2011

Heh. I think I just heard a polka/banda beat slide right into a proper breakbeat for the first time in my life. And it didn't make my head explode.

like this?
posted by at 8:49 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

This made me laugh. If I were younger and higher, this is all I'd listen to.
posted by sneebler at 9:33 PM on May 4, 2011

A friend of mine from Mexico introduced me to them. I was hoping to run into some more of their music at some point - thanks!
posted by one little who at 11:13 PM on May 4, 2011

posted by LMGM at 11:34 PM on May 4, 2011

Panoptica did a tribute song to my fave band, Tuxedomoon. sorry, i can't find an online version to share but it is available on itunes and amazon, for purchase, under the title "Variaciones a Tuxedomoon". it's a remix of "In a manner of speaking". some of you may be more familiar with the Nouvelle Vague cover version.

while not madly in love with the Panoptica mix, it was a pretty delightful moment when i first heard it - worlds colliding, y'know?
posted by lapolla at 2:41 AM on May 5, 2011

That is horrifying. It is just Esquivel with different instruments loaded into the MIDI deck.
posted by gjc at 5:38 AM on May 5, 2011

Re-reading this, I now understand why I never found Tijuana Sessions, Volume 2. Thanks again.
posted by yerfatma at 5:55 AM on May 5, 2011

I understand this isn't for everyone, but if you've only checked out a track or two, the sound is not homogeneous. Where B&F's Tijuana Sound Machine is dance-floor banda, go back to the first Tijuana Sessions and you'll get the downtempo jazzy sound of Plankton Man's Elemento N. Terrestre's California 70 is in the realms of deep house, and jumping back to the brand new stuff, Bostich+Fussible's Bulevar 2000 is something of a sad ballad, including English vocals over some oompa and accordion.

Still, if none of this fits your ear but you like Latin-influenced music, Nacional Records covers a lot of ground.

Update: the first 10,000 downloads of Hiperboreal's new album are free on Bandcamp.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:58 AM on May 5, 2011

Thanks for such a thorough post. For those of you who say "horrifying" or "meh," it makes a difference for me to remember that this came out right at the cusp of the late-1990s, early-2000s. Sometimes when I listen to it now, it feels a little less earthshattering than it did to me back then.

It's funny how other music breaking afterwards can now retroactively make a development like nortec seem derivative. I remember when rap-metal coming out a few years after Chico Science and the Nação Zumbi made it harder for me to 'translate' to my U.S. friends why Chico was really innovative and worth listening to, even though the two styles sounded completely different to me.

Alejandro Madrid's book is definitely worth checking out. It is incredibly thorough, like this post. The book is readable for most of it, and admittedly dense and academic in spots. Alejandro has formidable chops for both analyzing musical sounds and for situating them through theories usually found in cultural studies/performance studies/lit-crit.
posted by umbú at 9:34 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Good music is timeless. If it needs context, it is more culture/fashion than music.
posted by gjc at 7:37 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree in part, but there are some counter-examples I can think of. If you don't know about the technology involved in some productions, the music may not make the same mark. Perhaps this is more a case of praising the technical chops of electronic pioneers than music appreciation, but I think you can't completely divorce one from the other. The magic from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop can be generated quickly by a smart kid on a home PC now, and reel-to-reel tape manipulation is downright archaic, but in their times, Delia Derbyshire and Ron Hardy were magicians.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:33 AM on May 6, 2011

SO, what's the new sound coming out of Tia Juana nowadays?
posted by ruelle at 12:59 PM on May 6, 2011

Tia Juana know? Tia really Juana know?*

*actually, those guys have been around forever...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:01 PM on May 6, 2011

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