Festival NRMAL 2017 Turns Out Another Year of Local Cool

Girl Ultra. Photo by Alan Lopez for Remezcla

NRMAL is a festival’s festival, the type of event that’s eclectic enough to attract everyone from rockeros to hip-hop heads. Be it legendary cult acts or underground curveballs, NRMAL is one of the few festivals whose promise continues to be one of music discovery. It has so much to experience that it’s hard not get psyched by the opportunity to witness something out of the ordinary.

On Saturday, March 11, Remezcla headed to the Deportivo del Estado Mayor to witness the first of two jam-packed days of NRMAL 2017. Veteran instrumentalists Sutra, psych upstarts Pirámides, and R&B hopeful Girl Ultra hyped up early attendees for the weekend’s festivities. Things picked up speed with Chilean producer Tomás Urquieta, whose set of frantic and fractured beats had the crowd swaying at the Red tent. Meanwhile at the Reverberation stage (co-curated by the Austin festival of the same name), Trementina played their take on throwback shoegaze, which could do with a more personal touch, though the band is young, and a sonic evolution is likely.

Girl Ultra. Photo GIF by Zai Nájera
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Clubz seized the opportunity of their early evening slot to prove that they’re worthy of any festival stage. Their modern synth pop works perfectly on crowds, who surrender to their expansive choruses and soaring rhythms. Coupled with an effervescent stage presence, jaw-dropping visuals, and clever use of lights, we’ll surely see the band appearing higher on festival bills soon. Over at the Red tent, Jesse Baez showed the crowd everything he’s learned in the year since his emergence, and in turn, dominated the stage with R&B slow jams. A little later on the same stage, N.A.A.F.I.’s Oly proved that she’s the collective’s real MVP, giving the crowd a caffeinated mix of club mutations that threw them into a frenzy.

As always, international acts continue to draw big crowds at NRMAL. Circuit Des Yeux was intense and quiet, noisy and melodic, ebbing and flowing as they pleased. Dorit Chrysler‘s theremin vocal set would have been better served at a smaller stage.  On the psych side of things, Holy Wave gave us straightforward guitar rock, while Moon Duo paid homage to krautrock’s most frenetic side. Not every act was a winner; Porches played tepidly and headliners The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s set dragged on. Fortunately, the day concluded with raging performances from Ikonika and Santos, who showed off two different ways to get down.

Jesse Baez. Photo GIF by Zai Nájera
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Sunday began with another showing of Latin America’s diverse musical landscape. Colombian group Las Hermanas delivered vibey, minimal beats, while Brazil’s Rakta gave us dark visions of fast guitars, true goth stylings, and plenty of noise. Later that afternoon, Camila Moreno stunned audiences with one of most memorable sets of the day, in which she rearranged her folkish tunes and turned them into detailed and show-stopping performances.

Playing one of the highest profile sets in their career, Lorelle Meets The Obsolete took us on a journey from their first album to their newest, playing their measured The Jesus and Mary Chain worship music. Mueran Humanos commanded the attention of a massive crowd of cheering fans, turning down their punk drive and upping the synths for a more danceable rendition of their sound. Later that evening, Guadalajara’s Par Ásito played their noisy, high-octane set to a small crowd, since their slot ran parallel with Tortoise, but the band was more than capable of holding their own.

Wherever Psychic TV goes, there’s always a flock of devotees following, eager to listen to their chosen prophet Genesis P-Orridge. This time, their set was all about kindness and love, reflected in the set of 60s covers and originals cut from the same cloth. Right after, Tortoise turned the volume down a notch, playing some of their gentler, slower material before picking up the groove. Bassist Doug McCombs addressed border tensions between the U.S. and Mexico in the only political statement I heard all weekend long. “All Mexican citizens are welcome in America anytime,” he said. Finally, France’s Black Devil Disco Club gave a great send-off with a set of soul grooves, evil synths, and Detroit techno.

Throwing a festival is complicated business, especially one with a history of eclecticism and a desire to accommodate distinct tastes. In a world where festivals are now about big business, even independents might experience some shortcomings. NRMAL remains a staple of the Latin American festival circuit, with an annual following of loyal attendees – a feat that deserves applause in this, the age of hype.

All Photos by Alan Lopez for Remezcla