When Palm Pictures released Nortec Collective's Tijuana Sessions, Vol. 1 in 2001, Time magazine declared the DJs the figureheads of Tijuana's artistic arrival, as if to say: Sure, our off-duty Navy sailors get mugged by the policia when leaving the whorehouses, but check out these creative fuckers!
Parallels could easily be made to the U.K. press discovering a band named Nirvana from the lumberjack anytown called Aberdeen.
The DJs of Nortec (a conjunction marrying "Norteño" and "techno") were the leaders of a collective that also included fashionistas, filmmakers and other artists of all stripes. Since you can't play fashion as bumper music on NPR, the media bulb flashed mostly in the DJs' direction.
Their music takes Tijuana's brass-and-accordion cantina music (specifically, Norteño and banda) and weaves it into the thump-thump music you hear pumping from the types of cars that have lovers' names airbrushed on the doors. The result is like walking down Avenida Revolución, only the drastically different styles of native music-one historical, one modern-are locked in a peppy waltz with one another.
Vol. 1 sold 40,000 copies, which alone isn't enough for co-founding member Bostich (Ramón Amezcua) to quit his day job as an orthodontist (in America, by the way, an ortho geek would be vilified as a Have trespassing in a pastime reserved for Have-Nots). But commercials for Nissan, Dell, Volvo and Fidelity Mutual and remixes for the likes of Beck didn't exactly hurt their carteras.
It's hard to believe that now, five years later, their moment hasn't passed them by. It sure seemed like it would.
Nortec finished Vol. 2 a couple of years ago and gave it to Palm. It's still unreleased and the mere mention of it is enough to make the label's marketing guys talk about quitting to go nonprofit. So for three years, Nortec diverged into solo projects. Two original members-Terrestre and Plankton Man-dropped out.
Tired of waiting, the remaining members-Fussible (Pepe Mogt), Panóptica (Roberto Mendoza), Clorofila (Jorge Verdín), Hiperboreal (PG Beas) and Bostich-released Vol. 3 on independent label, Nacional..
And whaddya know, it just topped iTunes' Latin Albums Chart, neener-neener-neenering at albums by Shakira, Juanes and Thalia. Judging from the autistic use of exclamation points on their press release, they weren't expecting that.
They just set out to create modern music that was perfectly Tijuana, perfectly home. And they did.
Nortec Collective performs at the Adams Avenue Street Fair, 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 24. Free. 619-282-7329.