An Unusual Weekend In Tijuana: Norte Sonoro & All My Friends Festivals

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Something odd happened in Tijuana this past weekend. The mood was noticeably different. I hadn’t felt it this way since when I first started visiting the city well over half a decade ago. Of course, I’ve known Tijuana since before I can remember, but that other Tijuana, the one that purportedly generated some of the most interesting, and arguably, the most forward-thinking music in Mexico, was something I discovered well into my late teens. It was sometime after the whole Nortec and “boom generation” phenomenon had died down. But then the city changed.

Some of the older folks got tired and left, others still remained with the same stale ideas, and very few people stayed around who were actually interested in continuing the city’s budding legacy through fresh faces and ideas. And of course, there’s all the drug violence that occurred in the past few years, which no doubt radically altered the city’s cultural landscape.

Media outlets from all over the world have started gaining interest in the city again, partly due to the burgeoning music scene, but mostly due to the persistent myth of the city as that magical place where anything goes, and where innovation and creativity flow endlessly.

Not so coincidentally, two highly buzzed-about events took place in Tijuana this past weekend. Nrmal’s Norte Sonoro was going on throughout the week and was extensively documented by photographers from The Fader and Pitchfork, culminating with a soirée that had little to do with the actual project. The All My Friends music festival, on the other end, had been generating anticipation for months from various local media outlets. Both were hyped to the degree of impossible expectations, not solely for them, but for Tijuana as well.

On Friday the 16th, the day of the Norte Sonoro showcase, a plethora of journalists had arrived, all curious to know what had everyone so hyped about the city again. For someone who’s been present from the end of the old era [Nortec and “boom generation” (2001~2006)] to the beginning of a (potentially) new one [Ruidosón (2006~present)], I found it hard to justify the hype. After all, the city is still more myth than reality, and the latter rarely comes close to the former. This was evident at Norte Sonoro, which had everyone talking about everything BUT the actual event.

Very few media outlets, in fact, were actually going for the voices of the local people who put theirs efforts into making it happen. Also, there was this whole thing about a stage being added, curated by a famous American indie promoter. Well, let’s just say, with more foreigners roaming the streets than locals (for better or worse), it felt like the old Tijuana. It’s ironic that the buzz surrounding the new cultural currents in the city –mostly the culinary scene, and yes, music as well– began with the city being abandoned by tourists, leaving the locals to do their own thing. Yet, this event seemed to spur the complete opposite.

Maybe, All My Friends had more of the local DIY thing going on, and ironically it garnered less media attention than Norte Sonoro. Surely, All My Friends is no Festival Nrmal” — a fact I’m sure many would point as a detraction, but I would argue in its favor. Though, I would agree that this year, more than the last, the festival felt like it was aspiring towards Nrmal’s standards, yet I found this to be its biggest shortcoming. Nrmal has set a high standard in terms of the indie music festival in Latin America, but it’s also a fundamentally different type of institution. Of course, Monterrey is not Tijuana.

Speaking strictly in terms of execution, All My Friends was a modest success, and it holds the potential to become so much more. But it’ll rest on the festival’s organizers to decide whether it will seek to remain a labor of love –an attribute it continues to hold– or whether it will attempt to grow in accordance to the standards of the international market. In my opinion, the city needs something more like the former. It needs to grow alongside Tijuana in order to remain true to its essence, which is providing a platform for burgeoning, mostly underrepresented local artists.

Personally, I would veer beyond the realm of its current indie rock-heavy curation, as this may attract a bigger crowd in the end. After all, if there’s one thing the city is rich in, it’s diversity, and the festival would do well to reflect this. And yeah, I forgot to mention that Los Macuanos –the band I am currently a part of– had a great deal to do with both events, but that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother article…

Reuben Torres is a member of the electronic music group, Los Macuanos. He is also a regular contributor at Club Fonograma.