When Nortec Collective emerged on the world stage seven years ago from its base in Tijuana, the group was hailed as a cutting-edge exponent of a dynamic border culture on the rise. Recently, however, the artistic promise of that teeming, edgy metropolis has been overshadowed by an outburst of shocking violence tied to turf wars between rival drug cartels. The talk of border culture as a harbinger of future trends has retreated, just as residents have curbed their lifestyles to avoid the city's wild shoot-outs in broad daylight.
Judging by Thursday's performance at the Glass House in Pomona featuring two leading Nortec members, Bostich and Fussible, the crisis in Tijuana hasn't deterred the band from its mission: finding value, even joy, in a kitschy, garish, mishmash culture. The two programmers also perform tonight at the Echo in Los Angeles as part of a tour for their new CD, "Nortec Collective Presents Bostich + Fussible: Tijuana Sound Machine," due in stores Tuesday.
Nortec is less a collective these days than a loose affiliation of projects. Two of the original six members have split, and the main songwriters, Bostich (Ramon Amezcua) and Fussible (Pepe Mogt), have released a separate CD.
The new music remains true to the original Nortec concept, a fusion of Mexico's traditional norteno music with electronic sounds manipulated on computers. But the pair continues to enhance the music's acoustics with instruments played by actual human beings.
On stage Thursday, the programmers were backed by Martin Bernal and Adrian Rodriguez on trumpets, Erasmo Salazar on clarinet and Juan Tellez on accordion. On the album, the music features an even wider range of instruments, including the traditional bajo sexto, a 12-string guitar, even a clavichord adding a classical touch on one track.
For someone not familiar with electronica, it takes a while to appreciate what these musicians actually do on stage. They stand side by side at a table facing the audience, one bald (Bostich) and the other shaggy-haired (Fussible), leaning over and peering intently into laptops. They bounce to the beat but rarely look up. Occasionally, one of them will turn and smile in approval at one of their musicians.
The idea is to let yourself go with the sonic waves the pair produces by layering digital audio loops -- of timbales, sirens, disembodied vocal snippets and eerie tones from outer space. Or just get mesmerized with the animated visuals projected on a screen in unison with the sonic crescendo, all courtesy of Ernesto Aello.
It might be getting more difficult to live up to the message in the group's hit "Tijuana Makes Me Happy," from its 2005 release, "Tijuana Sessions, Vol. 3." But being carried away in the live experience created by these two visionary border artists still makes it seem possible.