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Perusing old demo tapes in a Tijuana recording studio in May 1999, Pepe Mogt came across the key elements of a new electronic border sound: forgotten recordings of the traditional Mexican tambora and norteño music. Mogt quickly alerted his friends Jorge Ruiz and Ramon Amor Amezcua. "Pepe called me to say he had the sounds he was looking for," recalls Amezcua, "so the three of us began to experiment at the same time. We would call each other really excited to talk about our advances." A week later Fussible (the duo Mogt and Ruiz), Bostich (Amezcua), and Panóptica (a fourth friend, Roberto Mendoza) burned a three-song EP. The Nortec Collective was born.
"It was born in the very bellybutton of the world," the Nortecos clarify, referring to the extremes of their native city. Caught between Mexico and the United States, Tijuana hosts tourists and desperate would-be immigrants, corrupt officials and patriots, prostitutes and tight-knit families, filthy-rich drug lords and street children covered in filth. The world's largest manufacturer of television sets, Tijuana is home to a high-tech electronics industry. At the same time, the city has a rich musical history. "In Sinaloa there was a port where many German boats would dock," recounts Mogt, "bringing in their polka music. Then the polka music began to mix up with Mexican rancheras, so it became Mexicanized, and from there tambora music was born." Now the tambora's tubas, horns, and marching snares are being mixed again to create Nortec, a sound that owes as much to the traditional northern Mexican music called nor(teño) as it does to the tec(hnology) industries of the border town.
Before turning to traditional Mexican music, Tijuana dance DJs had looked to Europe for their inspiration. For fifteen years Mogt and Amezcua ran for the musical border, raiding San Diego's record stores to catch the latest dance music from the continent for that night's DJ set. The Nortec Collective set out to nourish the Tijuana avant-garde by creating a support system of musicians as well as graphic designers, architects, writers, poets, and filmmakers.
In conjunction with Nortec's first U.S. release, The Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1, this month the collective created a night called Nortec City at Tijuana's popular Jai-Alai nightclub. Mogt calls the event (which offered a night of food, visuals, and performances by more than ten Nortec DJs) the city's largest dance-music event to date. "It was a party where many artists came together in one space to re-create the city of Tijuana by combining it with this music," he says.
While the Nortec Collective was focusing international attention on Tijuana, producer Chris Allison (The Beta Band, Coldplay, and Plastilina Mosh) invited Fussible and Bostich to the London and New York La Leche club nights hosted by his record label, Sonic360. The crowds lapped up the Mexican beats. Allison, who formed the London-based Sonic360 specifically to support innovative projects, will release the Nortec track "Odyssea 2000" worldwide this May.
"Nortec is perhaps the most important of new music genres in the world right now," Allison says. "Its power is not just in the music but in the visuals, artwork, fashion, and videos that go so well alongside it."
Nortec flirts with a wide range of genres established outside Mexico -- breakbeat, jungle, house, down tempo, and jazz -- but always grounds the borrowed forms with those invented by the cosmic race. "What I sample comes from the tambora and norteño music bands that are playing in Tijuana's bars," explains Mogt. "The sound is much purer that way: low tech and dirty." On Fussible's "Odyssea 2000" synthesizers duel with Sinaloense horns, mediated by a norteño ambiance. On Bostich's "Unicornio" a cowbell sequence with low tapping snares and a gut-busting bass line leaves you riding horseback on the dance floor.
This year's Winter Music Conference will be Miami's first opportunity to hear Fussible and Bostich live as they share a night with Roni Size and Richard Hawkins. "It is very important to us that Nortec music is being recognized at the conference," says Bostich, "because it is becoming known on a global level already."