NORTEC COLLECTIVE on the Harbourfront Centre Concert Stage (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday (July 22), 9:30pm. Free. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
I enjoy the idea of Mexico's Nortec Collective - the beatsmith consortium that made its name electrifying and crunking up Tijuana's norteño folk vinyl - all meeting up for a round of Xbox Fifa World Cup 2006. You'd play a video game if your song was in it, right?
It's easy to see why game designers would pick Pepe Mogt's jam, Tijuana Makes Me Happy, from Nortec's second album, 2005's Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3 (Nacional). (The new sound was such a progression, they skipped Vol 2.) The song is recognizable in Mexico as the theme from a Mexican film about Tijuana with the same name.
And the song is accessible enough not to distract from gameplay. Like most of their works, the production is a shiny, progressive, lush, cut-and-paste folk excursion. Ideal summer music, too.
So when Collective members Ramón Amezcua and Roberto A. Mendoza admit they don't play the wildly popular video game that features their song, I'm blown away.
"The thing is, every one of us is not into video games. That's really weird," laughs Mendoza on the speakerphone from their NYC hotel the day after playing a Brooklyn park (their best New York show yet).
It seems like favouring the buttons on drum machines and samplers over those on console controllers hasn't gone so badly for any of the group's five members.
Vol. 3 is their best release, mainly because they've refined their production style and added a dimension by recording live players playing new Latin folk breaks, then sampling that. The mixes, rife with accordions, horns, clarinets, violins and warm acoustic guitars, are powerfully melodic. Unfortunately, no members of the group have considered hiphop production, they tell me.
"At the beginning, when we needed to play the sample songs, we invited musicians with us to play in the live shows. Then we invited them to record demos. We didn't plan to do a totally different record, but it happened in a very natural way. As we started working with them, we invited them to record the new songs," explains Amezcua.
Tex-mex-influenced indie band Calexico are the only featured guests on the album, and the fit on Esa Banda En Dub is as good as Nortec's work on Beck's Guero remix album, Guerolito (Interscope). Mendoza also worked on the song Roka from Calexico's Garden Ruin (Quarterstick) album, and remixed their song Güero Canelo (from Feast Of Wire). Both groups have also played together a number of times.
"Basically, Calexico asked some friends if they knew us," he recounts, "and of course they did, so they were the ones who first approached us."
"They'd heard the first record and really liked it, and that began a relationship by e-mail between Joey Burns and me that resulted in our making things together."