Mexico City locals like to joke that they live in “a small city of 20 million people” because it’s easy to run into familiar faces even in the western hemisphere’s largest metropolitan area.
The sprawling megalopolis—usually referred to as D.F., or Distrito Federal—boasts as wide an array of musical cliques as any other global city, and within the world of electronic music the same rule holds. House tends to have the strongest presence in the city, and there are plenty of ultra-classy and exclusive nightclubs scattered across its glitzier districts, but you can find crews dedicated to everything from industrial techno to ambient music and drum and bass, as well as patently Latin genres inspired by regional party sounds like cumbia.
D.F.’s more underground pockets tend to be small and tightly knit, and sporadic parties take place in sweaty, DIY basement venues, rugged warehouses and nondescript bars in and around the Downtown area. Each boasts an enormous wealth of artists who are deeply committed to their craft, and since—at least compared to New York or London—less money gets thrown at out-of-town headliners, the movement depends heavily on its homegrown talent. I learned all this during a recent six-month stay in the Mexican capital, during which time I encountered the ten compelling artists I’ll introduce below. This list is by no means comprehensive, and despite my best efforts it skews toward male representatives from the scene, but it’s enough to get you started if you’re interested in digging deeper.
Smurphy is a producer, singer and performer who lives somewhere between Mexico City, Los Angeles and the Internet. On a Friday night out you might see her floating around a rave wearing face jewels or four-inch platform boots and a bright orange bob cut. Her live audio/visual show connects the dots between her music’s warped, hyper-surreal textures and the glossy, post-Internet aesthetic that’s all over her much-loved Tumblr page. Her second album, A Shapeless Pool of Lovely Pale Colours Suspended in the Darkness, touches on trip-hop, techno, noise, and trippy astrological motifs, and it’s out now via Leaving Records, although she previously released records with the local NAAFI collective.
Vaasdna EP by schez
Jorge Sanchez technically lives in Guadalajara, though I first encountered him during Mexico City’s MUTEK festival in October, where he shared a lineup with Smurphy. As Schez, he makes melancholic music with beautifully textured hi-fidelity field recordings and arranges whispers and rustles into abstract rhythms that tickle at the nape of your neck. His new five-track EP, Vaasdna, emerged in March via the Tijuana-based label Static Discos, and it’ll make you feel like you’re wrapped in a warm blanket.
If you feel like striking a pose to some chunky post-disco ’80s sounds, then these synth-y throwback tracks are for you. The Disco Ruido trio dropped their newest 12″, Vox Humana Vol. II, in March via the Electrique Music imprint. They’ve been kicking around Mexico City’s electronic music scene for a decade in various iterations, and you can still find them representing the home team at major festival lineups across the country.
White Visitation, born Nicolas Guerrero, is one of Mexico City’s top (and one of its most famous) techno selectors. His DJ sets skew towards no-nonsense, muscular machine music, while his own productions tend a little more towards the ethereal, with subtle broken beat rhythms and occasional moments of soft dissonance littered throughout. I once saw him play a 5 a.m. set on a Monday morning at a house party in a rented summer bungalow just north of Mexico City that had a drained swimming pool and vines creeping over everything. He kept the dance floor going until 7 and the living room was trashed when we drove home at 8.
AAAA has a way with synths; you can hear it in his chord progressions, arpeggios, lead melodies, and basslines. I first encountered the young modular synth wiz rocking an impressive hardware-based set at Boiler Room Mexico in December, where he shared the bill with Ñaka Ñaka at a derelict, crumbling mansion in the city’s uber-rich neighborhood of Las Lomas. He’s been in high demand since then and recently returned home from an eight-stop tour of Germany sponsored by the Goethe Institut. Check out the music video for his recent single “Blackfish” here.
Alan Aguilar is a new face on the Mexico City scene, and his music, which touches equally on mutant strains of UK bass, ambient music and avant-garde techno, proves that he’s paying careful attention to current events. He’s also one-half of the project And The End Of Everything, who dropped their first four-tracker on the Mexican imprint Finesse Records.
Mexico City has a heavy-duty goth presence, and like Tijuana, which has its own thriving and deeply experimental electronic movement, many of the city’s dance acts crawled out of industrial and darkwave circles. Selma Oxor makes DIY goth pop with raw bedroom electronics. She sings mostly about sex and death, and cites Miss Kittin, Three 6 Mafia, and cheeseball Euro pop as her primary influences. “Goma de Mascar” is a single from her album Fantasias de Tocador.
Siete Catorce is a former star of the NAAFI collective, and they pretty much run shit when it comes to the artsier side of Mexico City nightlife. He was born in the US/Mexico border town of Mexicali, raised in Oakland, California, and recently relocated to the capital, where he has become something of a local celebrity. His music tends to warp typically triumphant Latin-influenced party rhythms into something more sparse, paranoid, creepy. I recently caught him DJing a parking lot rave in a dark, industrial neighborhood just outside of Downtown Mexico City, and it all made sense hearing it in that context.
I saw AntiGravity at the one-year anniversary party for the local promotion crew Ensamble, which took place in a classy basement club Downtown called Salon Bach, where many of the city’s best electronic events go down. Though his tracks vary widely in terms of genre, his set at Salon Bach touched on the new hybrid jungle sound associated with artists like Om Unit, Machine Drum and Etch. The hard-hitting “Ronin” fits into that continuum, though I recommend checking his Soundcloud page because his extensive discography varies widely.
Ñaka Ñaka, real name Jerónimo Jiménez, trades in far far-out, fuzzy techno and cosmic synth music. Hailing from Mexico City and now based in Brooklyn, he’s best known for releases on the cultish Opal Tapes imprint, and if you live in New York you might be lucky enough to see one of his hefty live hardware sets in a mold-encrusted basement with a bunch of techno punks. He’s also about to embark on a European tour put on by the Brooklyn-based Bánh Mì Verlag label, so Europeans should check for updates about September and October dates.
Umor Rex is a record label from Mexico City, but admittedly little (if any) of its discography comes courtesy of Mexican musicians. Focusing on the continuum of noise, ambient, contemporary classical and musique concrete, the label’s roster includes the LA-based psychedelic explorer M. Geddes Genras as well German duo Driftmachine and French sound artist Félicia Atkinson. They’re famous for the lovingly designed packaging on their cassette tapes and CDs.
Cover photo taken from Selma Oxor’s “Do It” video. Watch it here.
Published June 10, 2015.