From 1989 to 1993, Tijuana had Iguana's, a live-music venue as renowned as any north of the border. Devo, Bad Religion and Social Distortion all played the club. Nirvana played there on Sept. 1, 1989.
Since it shut down, Tijuana's live-music venues have really struggled, resulting in a music scene that relies on innovative use of space and word-of-mouth. A 400-capacity club called Voodoo House opened up a little more than a year ago, and regularly holds punk and hardcore shows, including upcoming gigs by Cephalic Carnage and Death by Stereo.
"Clubs open and close; it changes all the time," Roberto Mendoza told me a week ago at Sanborn's, a department store-turned-bar next to the Jai Alai center on Avenida Revolución. Mendoza is better known as Panóptica, one of the Nortec Collective DJs.
"One of the best places now for underground music is a house on the beach at La Playa," he explained. "It's an actual house that some guy throws shows at. He doesn't have any furniture, but he sells CDs and stuff."
Another spot in Tijuana that hosts live rock shows is Multikulti, which was home to the second annual Tijuana Underground Music Festival on Feb. 4. With this venue, a cineplex's ruin is a punk rocker's dream. One block west of Avenida Revolución, you walk through heavily graffiti'd double doors and enter what used to be the concession stand. Now, an old man with Shar Pei wrinkles stands at a bar made of splintered, flimsy wood and serves Coronas and Dos Equis in Styrofoam Tecate cups.
Where once might have been huge velvet curtains is now just atrophied yellow paint, chipped and mean-looking. Where a neon popcorn sign might have glowed is now a large chalk drawing of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. He wears a sombrero and holds a big gun.
Xavier Torres, the producer and conductor of Tijuana Underground, tells us a fire scorched the Cine Bujazan and they've been using it to throw all-ages rock shows for about a year and a half. He leads us through the corridors with cinder-block walls. We emerge into what used to be the massive viewing room. What's left is a mini-amphitheater whose roof has been permanently retracted by disaster.
It looks as though an air raid was to blame. The walls are jagged, their top edges broken into uneven crags and blackened.
Today is a small show, so a stage is set up in the back half of the space. A few weeks prior, punk band The Adicts played the main stage to a crowd of about 1,000 Mexican goth-punks.
Almost all of the local kids at the Tijuana Underground Music Festival are goths, The Misfits' bilingual bastard offspring. AFI would make a killing down here. At the top of the venue is the projection room, with holes that used to stream movies by Alejandro Gonzalez or El Santo. Today, a 14-year-old kid with a black hoodie and a lip ring leans out and over the ledge, watching grindcore band Nuestra Sangre (in English, "Our Blood").
For us gringos, used to clubs that spend too much money trying to look punk rock, Multikulti is awe striking, perfect. Not having a venue of their own like Soma or The Casbah, these kids squatted on the leftovers of misfortune and made a scene.
"This place is fantastic-this is what punk rock is all about," I tell Jorge, a fan of slowcore band Low, whose members live in North Tijuana.
He looks at me as if to say, You fucking kidding me? It's a burned-out hole in the earth.
I look around, listen to the electronic space rock of Stancia en Orbita echo off the walls. I smile.
Visit Tijuana Underground at www.myspace.com/tijuanaunder ground.