The caguama – or cawa, as some people refer to it – is the staple of any young, blue-collar Mexican’s social environment. It’s not hard to see why – it’s cheap (the bottle is reusable, which saves you the container deposit) and it’s big (roughly 32 oz or 940 ml of beer). Rumor has it that the caguama was named after its namesake, the loggerhead sea turtle. If you’ve ingested enough benzos and smoked enough blunts, the turtle can start to resemble the bottle’s plump and curvaceous figure. Depending on how much you’ve taken, it might even start to move like one.
It’s fitting, then, that Lowers, an electronic netlabel based in Ciudad Juárez, should adopt this as their logo, mascot, or metonym. Maybe it’s a generational statement, the symbol for an entire era of broke young bros who grew up locked in their rooms, curled next to their laptops, churning out half-baked beats while smoking blunt after blunt, sippin’ on cawa after cawa. Maybe the bottle’s shape is just aesthetically pleasing.
Maybe “generational statement” is too far-reaching. There’s no grand commentary being made in the 22 tracks that comprise High and Low. It’s simply a collection of works by some of the most original, obscure, and talented producers working in Mexico today.
You’ve probably seen or heard them scattered all over. OMAAR and Mock The Zuma are notable NAAFI affiliates. HEXORCISMOS has operated for years under DJ NOMBRE APELLIDO and Los Macuanos. Error.Error ran the legendary underground netlabel LALALA4E, which would serve as a template for many future off-kilter electronic imprints in Mexico. Some artists, like Dvrvnt and Siete Catorce, have performed at high-profile events like MUTEK. However, unless you are the most diehard of SoundCloud scavengers, you’d never notice a tangible relationship between the lot. Maybe signaling that tenuous relationship is the statement.
Most of what you hear in the compilation has its genealogical roots in the dance floor, but is far too bizarre and mutated to ever function there. Take Fonobisa’s stab at kuduro in “Voce Nao Pode Dancer” (#KuduroMX ?), which is interrupted by intermissions of abrasive noise looming in the background. Elsewhere, Siete Catorce’s “puesqueoquesimonarre” functions as an intermediary point between a soothing guitar jam, busy footwork, and an IDM headtrip, sometimes at different points, sometimes all at once. This fittingly leads to HEXORCISMOS’ sound-sculpture “PALIMPSESTO,” whose hauntological pre-Hispanic winds serve as a prelude to an aggressive dubby beat. The heady raveslime of Moth’s “Ni Madres Güey” and OMAAR take the compilation into more dancefloor-ready (or ready enough) places.
The latter part of the compilation – where the label’s crew is most prominently featured – takes the whole thing to weirder, more ambient, and more unsettling territory. Meth Math’s (let’s start with that name) hypnagogic, synth-heavy cover of “Blue Velvet” sounds like the soundtrack to an overdose. I don’t know what Nesstrak and Mock the Zuma’s “Smoke Screen” is supposed to be, but it’s not something you wanna hear in the middle of your LSD trip. 9999 CRITICAL HIT’s “MATERIA” hits all the ethereal notes, as its slips you ever so gently into the void.
On a compilation this eclectic, it’s strange that any track should stand out, but that’s exactly what happens with Pajaro Sin Alas’ number. It’s a fantastic, soul-warming piece that feels at odds with the cold, beat-heavy detachment of the rest of the tracks. Even the Danny Brown remix seemed to strip the track of its humanity in favor of some aggressive deconstruction of hip-hop, which is maybe what a large part of this compilation is.
In a sense, Lowers’ labor in High and Low is just as curatorial as it is promotional. The minds behind the imprint (Mock The Zuma, Wyno, Crocat, and Nesstrack) aren’t just showcasing the music of their peers, but rather, they’ve demarcated an aesthetic line for a lost generation of producers that continues to exist and evolve outside the sphere of hype, at the very margins of the industry and, at times, the country as well. Most of the artists featured live and work outside of Mexico City, in places like Ciudad Juárez, Mexicali, and Guadalajara. These cities are usually omitted in articles from international media outlets, which hail the rise of a “new electronic music scene in Mexico.” Fuck that shit. These are the real peripheral rhythms of Mexico.
Editor’s note: The author of this review is a member of Los Macuanos, a band mentioned in this piece.