Minimalist Frontier Beauty

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Few indie labels in Mexico manage to stay afloat for very long, but in the border city of Tijuana, where there is a deep-seeded DIY creative attitude, a DJ and music critic known to his friends and the music world as Ejival has given life to three small but solid record labels over the past ten years. The labels, Nimboestatic, Static and Verdigris, have become blueprints for the alternative distribution of experimental music throughout Mexico. Furthermore, through hard work, dedication and taking plenty of economic risks, Ejival has become not only a central figure in Tijuana, but also an obligatory reference for anyone interested in experimental electronic music in Latin America. As if coordinating three music labels and making DJ appearances was not enough, Mr. Ejival has been a contributor to publications such as Wired, La Banda Elástica, and Urb, manages electronic music blog “Electrónica en tu idioma,” and hosts a radio show on Tijuana-based internet radio station Radio Global called Static Radio.

Until Nortec Collective emerged from Tijuana as one of the most successful Latin-American music projects of the late 1990s, the border city was considered a significant, if not central place, for rock and punk music, but few people were aware of its pivotal role in the development of Mexican electronic music. Ironically, this lack of interest in the region and relative isolation from the Mexico City electronic-music scene encouraged a generation of musicians, producers, DJs and writers to look further than Latin America and the United States, and to develop a taste for the more experimental and minimalist electronic projects associated with German labels from Cologne such as Kompakt or Traum.

Ejival developed an interest in electronic music in the mid-1980s when he discovered Kraftwerk and later became a fan of British electronic music. He has also been spinning minimal techno since 1999. Ejival has followed the development of electronic music through its industrial, rave, house, techno, electronica and idm phases.  As of lately, Ejival has developed a taste for the more edgy dance music coming out of France. And, while he still loves minimal techno, he feels that now everybody plays it and thus, looks for music that no one else is playing. “Right now my favorite label is Dial from Hamburg,” he tells me.  This interest in electronic music was something Eival shared with those who would eventually become members of the Nortec Collective. “When things finally started happening in Tijuana—thanks to the exposure of Nortec—we decided that it was time to set up an electronic music label to release the music that started to emerge.” Hence the birth of Static Discos in 2002, the first Mexican label based on minimal electronic dance music. “We were the first ones to get international distribution and the first ones to have digital distribution as well”.  Pondering the geographical advantages of a city like Tijuana, Ejival adds, “Being close to the border has helped all of our goals”.

Ejival remembers having a set of wonderful records by his friends and fellow Static Discos founders Ruben Tamayo (Fax) and Fernando Corona (Murcof) and wanting to release them any way they could.  “We knew they were good, but we did not expect to receive so much attention and become trendsetters in Mexico”.  The Static team published the records in Mexico and, upon meeting staff from California-based Darla Records (U.S. exclusive distributors of Elefant and Labrador) during the promotion of one of their acts in Tijuana, a working relationship that resulted in international distribution began to take shape. “Like everything we have always done, we acted on impulse and sheer enthusiasm.  If it were not for Darla,” Ejival continues, “we would probably have disappeared long ago.  They have been able to put our records [in] stores and have been supportive of all of our crazy ideas”.

But Mr. Ejival’s first venture—Nimboestatic—was founded in 1997 and its focus was not electronic music but rather 4AD style rock bands from the state of Baja California. When I asked Ejival to talk about the promotional and distribution possibilities available to bands he promoted through Nimboestatic such as Sonios or Aural he replied—“there was no independent label that was recording the music of the bands you mention. They were probably the best bands in Mexico in terms of music, style, concept and design at the time, and yet we were met with a harsh [response from] the mainstream rock media.” Indeed, had it not been for Ejival’s visionary effort, few people would have ever known of the creativity and innovation taking place in Baja California during the late 1990s.

At the time, international awareness of the Mexican rock music scene was growing, particularly in the United States. However, such interest turned out to be a double edged sword; on the one hand, in an effort to capitalize on the growing interest in Mexican rock bands, American labels used to promoting salsa, pop and Mexican regional music flattened the differences among bands and sub-genres and selectively picked a few representative projects to arbitrarily produce a genre called Rock en Español.  Within this framework, musical fusion was all the rage, yet bands exhibiting more ethereal or subtle approaches were largely ignored.  Meanwhile, as Ejival points out, the Mexican rock establishment was “all bonkers with hip hop and Julieta Venegas.” Hence, despite the quality of the music put forward by Nimboestatic, Ejival and his bands found that not everyone understood what they were doing and that it was very hard to get-the appropriate distribution or gigs outside of Tijuana.  “Still,” Ejival adds, “I think we were able to put a dent in the establishment.”

The man who, because of his enduring taste for vinyl, unassumingly describes himself as “an old geezer DJ who plays these strange round artifacts that spin” has a new project: It’s called Verdigris and it’s dedicated to “the beauty found in the small details of the everyday.”  Ejival has always followed his instincts when it comes to music—when DJing and with his approach to his record labels—focusing on what he likes, rather than what the “market” calls for.  If he continues like this with Verdigris, he is very likely to beat the odds and succeed once again.