/ Modified oct 4, 2013 6:06 p.m.

Border Contrasts Shape New Musical Aesthetic

Academics explore how Tijuana served as the foundation for the musical hybrid of Nortec Collective


The U.S.-Mexico border can be a contentious space shaped by the contrasting forces of two cultures rubbing shoulders. It's also a place that fuels the creative impulse of artists searching for an identity -as is the case with the music of Nortec Collective.

The music of Nortec Collective was born out of the border dynamic of Tijuana. This group of musicians and artists is known for blending the traditional Norteño style with electronic club beats.

"It really became a federation of DJs and VJs that began playing and experimenting with electronic music," said Javier Duran, a professor of Spanish and border studies at the University of Arizona.

Duran said Nortec Collective offers an interesting example of the blending of cultures along the border.

"From my perspective, I’m interested in how they negotiate the contradictions that we find in the border regions… especially in a place like Tijuana," he said. "I mean… the coexistence of contradictory societal aspects like immigration… even from our own perspective to secure the border is part of the conversation."

The conversation being had here, Duran said, is one that includes the topics relevant to the communities that live at the point of contact between countries, a point of contact that creates tension which translates into the sound of Nortec Collective.

"They started sharing sounds and music...also they started playing locally," Duran explained. "They started supporting themselves with other artists in graphic design. They were sort of part of a rave culture… so that idea of being "underground" remained part of this mystique."

A big thing with Nortec is the visuals, said Omar Pimienta, an interdisciplinary artists, VJ and writer who lives and works in the Tijuana border region.

Nortec Collective was part of a border aesthetic that gave voice to the bicultural experience of people living in Tijuana, according to Pimienta.

"And most of it was bringing in lower based community elements... taxis, the donkey, all the stuff people weren't really proud of in Tijuana," he said. "It made young creative people think about their city in a more critical way...it gave them pride and the tools to unify their creative process."

The border is a place where asymmetry and tension seem to define identity and the sense of place. And, Nortec provides a window into how new border cultures evolve.

"What I find interesting is the negotiation between the local and the global… and what place the border has in this conversation," Duran said.

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