Pepe Mogt

“You Have to Know When to Let Things Die”: Pepe Mogt Talks Life After Nortec

Pepe Mogt is a busy man. On the day we met for our interview, he was about to give a talk on his weapons of choice lately (modular synthesizers); a few days later he was slated to play at Mutek along with many exponents of the Mexican and international electronic scenes. To top everything off, he’s on the eve of retiring the Nortec Collective name, dissolving his partnership with Ramón “Bostich” Amezcua and retiring the tuba and accordion from his palette of sounds. With that in mind, the man known for his work as Fussible and Latinsizer took a few minutes to talk about everything that’s been on his mind lately.

You’re giving a talk on modular synthesizers in a couple of minutes. Can you explain a little bit about it?
It’s about explaining the basics. How to build your own, what modules are available on the market. It will also be about how the modular synth really is the heart of electronic music. When you use one you can create any sound you want, and do things you wouldn’t be able to do with another synth. It’s device that teaches you.

What made you interested in modular synths?
I started playing electronic music some 25 years ago. I learned everything about synthesis from reading instruction manuals. Back in the day, manuals used to talk about everything, even the history of music; and they talked about modular synths. They were some synths I had that you could patch like modulars, only digitally. The first modular I got was very basic, I bought it secondhand and it wasn’t in the best conditions; in fact, it didn’t work well. It was 2001 when I built my first one from scratch, then I bought an analogue sequencer, and I stayed in that world.

Pepe Mogt adjusts a TR808 sequencer in the studio. Photo by Nathan Gibbs.
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I wouldn’t want to do Nortec for another 30 years. I see myself working in a more academic direction.

Do you prefer analogue to digital?
I have always used both digital and analogue. I understand it’s trendy to go all analogue these days but I don’t think you should be so anal about it. I use both because I have use for them in the live setting. [On my set for MUTEK] I don’t know exactly what I’m going to play. They want me to play stuff from Latinsizer but I was thinking of doing something along the lines of [Wendy Carlos’ classic synth record] Switched On Bach but with a more “acid” sound. Do an intro, and then party.

A few months ago, I spoke with Ramón for Remezcla about his project Point Loma which is also based on analogue equipment. Did you both get into this type of gear at the same time or do you talk a lot about the subject?
We’re very different. Ramón doesn’t like to use a computer onstage. But if you listen to what I do with Latinsizer and my songs in Nortec, I’m a little more musical, there are more melodic progressions. If I were to do a 100 percent analogue show I would need four people to play all the instruments and harmonies. We both have an affinity for analogue synths, we know them very well, and even though we say that Nortec is this fusion between norteño and electronic, we put a lot of modular stuff in them, those synths that jump out at you.

You were recently booked to talk and play at MUTEK. What has been your experience with the festival so far?
I played on the first edition in Tijuana. I remember playing there with Latinsizer when I released my first album. Since then, I have played in many MUTEKs with my more electronic side. Although once they invited us to Vancouver with Nortec, with the live band and everything. MUTEK is either very techno driven or experimental and serious. When we played, everyone was dumbfounded, all the Canadians. It was very weird for them to see a tuba or an accordion on “Tijuana Sound Machine”. Everybody got up and danced, a Mexican party broke off, and even the cops took me off the stage. There’s video on YouTube of all of this. People got very excited and were screaming for another song. I’m happy they invited us to close the festival on the big stage.

[MUTEK Mexico] is a great showcase because not everyone can travel to Montreal, but I think this edition is bigger now, there are more artists and more venues involved. I think it’s going great.

Ramón & Pepe jamming somewhere in the mountains.
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It seems like both of you guys are getting deeper with the electronic side of Nortec.
We had some negative comments when we played in Montreal, but at the end of the day we are electronic musicians. Nortec has been a phenomenon in Mexican music. Before that we used to play in [Mexico City clubs] La Perla and el Colmillo, and then it grew to something else, big festivals and such, things we never imagined. And now we’re stopping, but we will continue to do stuff that perhaps won’t be as massive, perhaps we’ll go in a more academic direction. Actually, I’m part of the national system of art creators. We are doing the Motel Baja tour, but afterward I see myself working in this other type of situation. Having a bigger presence in something that’s a little more electronic, which I like more.

I understand it’s trendy to go all analogue these days but I don’t think you should be so anal about it.

Now that Nortec is winding down, have you had the chance to reflect on your career?
Me and Ramón, we experienced everything we had to with Nortec. How many records do we have? A lot. At first, with the Tijuana Sessions, we were the curators, but also producers and composers of the music of the other contributors. There’s always people who over romanticize things, they say “it was different back then” and “it was better when all the guys from the collective were involved.” At the end of the day…I once asked somebody who tweeted us something along those lines, I asked him “what songs are you talking about?” and he told me “‘Tijuana Makes Me Happy’, ‘Tengo La Voz’, ‘Polaris’, ‘Bar Infierno’” and I told him, “those are Bostich + Fussible” [laughs]. It’s very funny. It’s something like my friend Ángel Sánchez Borges once said, about living in the past decreases the present. You have to know when to retire and let things die. We have played in many festivals and we have seen hundreds of bands, sometimes very good ones, but then others who are rehashing the same thing over and over, they don’t go outside their box, and you see how they are falling down. We’re very happy with Motel Baja, and I think there’s another good Nortec album in us, but we have to move on. That might lead us to play in smaller places, maybe even clubs and that’s perfectly fine with us, or maybe we will do better. I wouldn’t want to do Nortec for another 30 years.

That’s happened to me before. I was in Artefakto before Nortec, it wa a very big band in the Nineties, we released three albums, many compilations. We were signed to a German label, our records were available in the US, and we worked alongside bands like KMFDM. Around 1995, I started helping Ramón out when he played Bostich live; so I left Artefakto, even though they wanted to make another album, and other people also wanted us to go on. That cycle with Artefakto ended forever.

I’d rather have people remember us 20 years from now fondly.