Archive of posts tagged with "mexico"

January 6th, 2016

Legions of Book

As published in issue 377 of The Wire (July 2015), here’s my joint review of two recent books about soundsystem/DJ culture, each of them impressive efforts of deep documentation and deliberate framing even as each takes a rather different approach to the project. Together, they further round out our understanding of the soundsystem as global form and local culture.

Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews In The San Francisco Bay Area
Oliver Wang
Duke University Press, 232 pp

Sonidero City: Exploring Sound Systems In Mexico And Colombia
Mirjam Wirz & Buzz Maeschi (Editors)
Motto, 224 pp

The sound system has been a paradigm of musical experience for over half a century, but only recently has a global picture begun to emerge. While such legendary sites as New York, Chicago, Kingston and London boast substantial literatures devoted to the genesis and development of disco, hiphop, house and reggae, the amazing stories of how record-wielding disc jockeys and discerning, dancing audiences reshaped the musical and social lives of, say, Rio de Janeiro, Rotterdam or Cairo are only just coming to light. Oliver Wang’s Legions Of Boom and Mirjam Wirz’s Sonidero City offer welcome contributions to this emerging world history, bringing rich portraits of the San Francisco Bay Area’s mobile DJ crews, Mexico’s sonidos, and Colombia’s picós into the mix.

At a glance, the two texts provide rather different portraits of mobile sound system scenes. While one is written in academic but accessible prose, collegially situated in the domain of popular music studies, the other is nearly wordless and self-published, a collection of hundreds of poignant and telling images. But both stand as impressive, textured documents that should be of interest to anyone curious about how sound systems take on local colour and meaning.

Of all the local scenes that have gathered around the live playing of dance records, few outside the pantheon have enjoyed so detailed and attentive a treatment as Legions Of Boom gives to the Bay Area’s mobile DJ crews of the late 1980s and early 1990s, a scene centred around disco-derived, blend-oriented continuous mixing and underpinned by a burgeoning Filipino community. Wang’s account strikes a careful balance between oral history and analysis, grounded in ethnography while also working to interpret and elaborate the significance of the story. He chronicles the rise and fall of the scene, charting its course from suburban garage parties to spectacular large scale showcases to the emergence of scratch DJs who would one day play a part in the scene’s dissolution. The Bay Area has, of course, long been on the map thanks to such Filipino turntablist luminaries as Q-Bert, Shortkut, and Mix Master Mike, and Wang’s book gives their sudden appearance on the world stage crucial context, explaining how “the scratch scene’s roots grew in soil first tilled by the mobile crews”.

While narrating according to the scene’s chronology and its participants’ testimony, Wang also considers more abstract questions, such as what it means to be a scene (and not, he insists, a subculture), how the lack of mass media access encouraged peer to peer interactions, and why class and gender are often elephants in the rec room. Wang devotes two central chapters to the scene’s “preconditions” by which he refers to such “internal” factors as “the allure of social status, the aura of work as a DJ, and the appeal of homosociality” (and the consequent reproduction of masculinity), as well as to such “external” “soft infrastructure” as the social networks connecting crews and audiences: “peer-run student and church groups, middle-class parents and relatives, and Filipino community groups”. He also gives an apt amount of space to the remarkable degree of collective labour involved in producing a single mobile DJ event, never mind an entire scene.

Wang develops his account of the scene over a series of chapters, each framed with an event flier that serves as a focal point for a particular moment in time and dimension of the scene. These help to give a vivid picture of the do it yourself material culture at the heart of the mobile DJ scene. For all its crucial images, however, as an annotated oral history at its core, Legions Of Boom is a book centred on the words of the scene’s participants and Wang’s insightful perspectives as a scholar, a journalist, and a DJ.

In contrast, Sonidero City puts images front and centre in its representation of sound system culture in Mexico and Colombia. Mirjam Wirz presents herself as a photographer, a humble explorer inspired by the world of sound system cumbia to go on a “spontaneous research undertaking”: “I headed out onto the streets, talked to people, visited living rooms, courtyards, and dance events, and captured with the camera whatever the trail led me to”. Indeed, there is little in the way of framing in the book save for that of the photographs themselves. As for those, they are often powerful, ranging from documentary snapshots of audiences and sonideros in action to more intimate, artful portrayals of individuals and their cherished artifacts: luridly painted speaker boxes, handwritten signs and well worn vinyl, yellowing stationery and posters. On their own, many shots are arresting, carrying a sense of intimacy and eye for detail; in the aggregate, they produce a sensuous, variegated picture of sound system communities in Mexico City, Monterrey and Barranquilla.

Sonidero City includes a small booklet offering context and credit, including an annotated index of every image in the book as well as some suggestive fragments. Wirz rehearses a big picture history of cumbia but turns quickly to the more recent, local histories of cumbia as working class sound system culture in Mexico, where sonidos have reshaped cumbia and salsa as hip-hop did funk, reggae did R&B, and disco did soul, and in Colombia, where soukous has served as musical muse and raw material for local reinvention. The booklet effectively intersperses brief histories with interview excerpts as well as a transcription of a sonido talkover session (with cumbia lyrics in capital letters), a direct but playful representation that speaks volumes without explication: “THINKING OF YOU, THINKING OF YOU, LOVING YOU – here goes for Angelo, the Incorrigible… Curly from Moctezuma and his old lady, because Susanita is old. LOVING YOU…”

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May 22nd, 2013

Panel People, Can Y’all Get Funky?

For anyone who missed our panel last week and would like to check out our conversation, I’m happy to report that it’s been archived here. But here’s an embed for your viewing ease —

Video streaming by Ustream

Thanks again to my eloquent interlocutors, all of whom had colorful stories & trenchant perspectives to share, and to the Together panel people — especially Sara Skolnik and Ethan Kiermaier — for making it happen. And thx to everyone who attended the panel, tuned in, and/or wish to help continue the convo.

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August 4th, 2011

Interspecies Mariachi Realness

For my fellow warm-bloodeds–

h/t Monika Fabian

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March 17th, 2011

Tribal Greengo

I’m happy to announce, and not a moment too soon, that I’ve arranged some festive music for today.

When I put together my first St. Patrick’s Day mix some years ago, it was an obviously tongue-in-cheek gesture. You might recall that I began with House of Pain before bringing in the romping stomp of the Timelords’ (aka KLF’s) “Doctorin’ the Tardis” — a formula-breaking (if formula following!) ravetastic classic that seems to anticipate mashups and jock-jams alike.

Consistent with the track’s logic — and often in shuffle-step with its triple-time roll — I mushed together a bunch of iconic Irish jigs & ballads and (corn-)beefed them up with electronic dance propulsion. Not all the festive selections had the 6/8 swing that interlocked with the proto-shaffel Timelords track, so I teased it in and out of the mix. Here ’tis again:

wayne&wax, “doctorin’ the guinness” (9 min / 9 mb)

But that was then, and this is now.

Readers here are no doubt familiar with tribal guarachero, the Mexican techno mutation centered in Monterrey and DF, which has enjoyed an enthusiastic, international reception among DJs, listeners, and bloggers in the last year. You might also be aware that the genre’s distinctive rhythms happen to line up perfectly with some of these jiggy Irish jams. Or maybe that’s never occurred to you. Given this tempting correspondence, I decided to cook up a little tribal irlandese for El Día de San Patricio — or, if you’ll permit an irresistible but probably awful pun, tribal greengo.

Before I launch into the backstory, let me present the 2011 version for your St. Paddy’s party pleasure (some standalone tracks are available at the end of the post, FYI):

wayne&wax, “tribal greengo” (12 min / 27 mb)

You may have heard the story, recounted here, that the term gringo derives from 19th century pop songs sung by Yankee invaders that began with (and repeated in every chorus) the words “Green Grow,” a sound that became so associated with foreign presence, it became the name for it.

John Ross, the longtime resident of Mexico (City), American activist, and recently deceased author of the epic El Monstruo (which I’ve quoted here before), tells the tale of the “greengos” in a section of the book bearing the heading, PINCHES AMERICANOS. “Of all the invading armies,” writes Ross, and he recounts a great many in Mexico’s history, “the Yankees were the most annoying.”

The US had long coveted and sought to annex, as Ross carefully puts it, “the vast, sparsely populated (except for 200,000 native peoples) northern territories of Nueva Galicia that Mexico had inherited from Spain.” In the mid-1840s, the “expansionist” President Polk began taking action. As Ross explains, despite its association with another set of conquistadors, “greengo” was not always clearly an epithet:

With his headlights set on the 1848 election, Polk promised the American people a “short war” (where have we heard that one before?) and orchestrated a Gulf of Tonkin-like provocation at Matamoros, drawing Mexican troops across the Río Bravo where they managed to whack a few Americanos. Polk wept at the death of the Yanqui soldiers — “our blood has now fallen on our own soil” (sic) — and organized a five-point invasion of Mexico. The U.S. Navy sailed into San Francisco Bay, and Los Angeles was besieged by Kit Carson and his irregulars in Alta, California. Marines landed at Mazatlán on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Zachary Taylor would swoop south from Tejas, and grizzled old General Winfield Scott landed in Veracruz and followed Cortez’s footprints to the Halls of Moctezuma.

Starting out in the spring of 1847, General Scott directed his army to take Tenochtitlán, encountering, as expected, little resistance from the Mexicans. Indeed, like Cortez, Scott forged alliances with disaffected Mexicans along the route — the “Polkos” rejoiced in the Americano invasion. As the Yankee Doodle Dandies climbed into the antiplano (highlands), the sang the popular songs of the day, one of which, “Green Grow the Lilacs Oh,” became their signature tune, and forever they would be known as “greengos.” (71-2)

Whether affectionate or pejorative initially, the term survives today, and over the years I think it’s safe to say that it has taken on some real sting. (That gringos remain perennial invaders of Mexico can’t help.) And why shouldn’t it sting? What we in the US call the Mexican-American War is remembered in Mexico as “El Gran Despojo — the Great Robbery.” Here’s Ross again, taking stock of what was settled by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (signed on 2 feb 1848), which

ceded the Americanos all the land from the Río Bravo to Wyoming, 13 western states from Iowa all the way down to California where gold had just been discovered, 1,572,741 square kilometers, a land grab the size of western Europe and fully 51 percent of Mexico’s geographical territory. Mexico got nothing in return. (74)

The story of the “greengos,” regardless of its veracity, offers a provocative opening for a little musical project I’ve been plotting. The prominence of music in the term’s myth of origins is, of course, a nice touch — not to mention the color green. But the Irish-Mexican connection, and the significance of this story (and this war), is deeper than a colorful coincidence. Irish people have been living in Mexico for centuries. (Indeed, an image search for some fodder for this post turned up a small cottage industry around “Irish-Mexicans” — with or without injunctions to kiss one.)

Perhaps the best known Irish arrivals in Mexico are a group of soldiers who famously switched sides during the Mexican-American War. These notorious turncoats, a preponderance of whom were Irish, are known (fondly in Mexico) as St. Patrick’s Battalion, or El Batallón de San Patricio — national heroes of a sort, whose sacrifices (many were ultimately hanged as traitors) are celebrated every September 12 on the agreed-upon anniversary of their executions, as well as on March 17, today: the feast of Saint Patrick, patron saint of the Irish in general and this battalion in particular.

Many reasons are given for their extraordinary act: not merely deserting, but taking up arms for the other side. Like their European compatriots in the Batallón, Irish immigrants enlisted in the US army in exchange for pay and land, many having fled the Potato Famine. Mistreated at the hands of Protestant superiors, some soldiers found themselves more sympathetic to the cause of their Catholic brethren in Mexico. (Notably, Catholic churches in Texas were terrorized in the years of provocation that became the “run up” to the war.) Indeed, such sectarian appeals were allegedly part of a Mexican recruitment campaign. They fought bravely alongside Mexican militia members — sometimes a little too bravely: a few desperate San Patricios, refusing to surrender (for it was death on the battlefield or death by hanging, perhaps after a good lashing and branding), physically rescinded their comrades’ attempts to wave a white flag, even killing a couple Mexican soldiers in the process.

While reading up on the Battalion, I discovered a felicitous fact: they “first fought as a recognised Mexican unit in the Battle of Monterrey on 21 September 1846, as an artillery battery.”

Battle of Monterrey? Artillery battery? Sounds like 3ball to me!

The foregoing isn’t intended as an elaborate bit of cultural baggage to freight some frivolous mixing and mashing. I simply mean to share some of what goes through my head as I work on such a juxtaposition and reflect on what it means for someone like me to make something like this. Far as my relation to the San Patricios, it’s not all that clear to me that we’re not already embroiled in a war with Mexico (and one with a grossly disproportionate deathtoll), but if the US ever did formally declare war on our neighbors to the south, I’m pretty sure where my sympathies would lie.

Beyond the connections I trace above, and the shared rhythmic sensibilities of jiggy & guarachero shuffles, tribal irlandese cultivates other types of possibly productive symbolic ground too. For just as St. Patrick’s Day and Irish heritage more generally (at least in the US) have been blown up into cartoonish proportions (certainly a sickly green sometimes) — in a sort of auto-essentializing practice — tribal/3ball producers in Mexico frequently play with figures of “tribal” identity whether Aztec or African (and often both, as Jace notes in his excellent profile of the scene). I didn’t go so campy on this mix as with Doctorin’ the Guinness (which includes a version of “Danny Boy” for chrissakes) but I want to note that a certain kitsch factor is unavoidable given my points of departure.

Essentially, what I’ve slapped together here is a series of mashups, in both mini-mix and standalone form. I didn’t have a lot of time to work on these (and, at bottom, it’s still a novelty act — I don’t expect these to be listened to beyond mid-March, or just today), so I went looking for relatively easy correspondences, matches that didn’t demand too much pitching around, tempo tweaking, or super-precise attention to form (though, naturally, I’ve attended in some detail to all those things).

Given that these contain such large chunks of other people’s productions, let me give an extra big thanks to: on the Irish side, Column MacOireachtaigh & the Irish Ceili Band, the Dubliners, and Tommy Makem & the Clancy Brothers — from whom I’ve generally borrowed whole tunes; & on the Mexican side of things, from whom I’ve borrowed a mix of loops and partial tracks, Shark DJ, Erick Rincon, DJ Mouse, an uncredited producer (on an MP3 CD I bought in DF) who made an awesome track called “Raspale” that sounds like it samples Buju’s “Walk Like a Champion,” and, last but not least, a brief bit from 3ball ambassador Toy Selectah‘s new album (which is a major banger, btw).

If nothing else, mashups always offer a ripe opportunity for playing with titles. That said, I present to you: the mini-mix (again) & three standalones (y’know, just in case you’re DJing just the right gig tonight) —

W&W, “Tribal Greengo” (12 min / 27 mb)

W&W, “Watagataroscarbury” (2:00)
Column MacOireachtaigh’s “Roscarbury” + Shark DJ’s “Toca Toca” & “Tumbao”

W&W, “Scarce O’Tacos” (1:21)
Column MacOireachtaigh’s “Scarce O’Tatties” + Shark DJ’s “El Saxofon”

W&W, “Merrily Kissed the Guarachera” (2:46)
Column MacOireachtaigh’s “Morrison Merrily Kissed the Quaker” + Unknown, “Raspale” & DJ Mouse “La Noche Es Tribal”

I could have stuck to more percussive sections of the Mexican tracks, but I wanted to represent tribal bass and melody too, so I was glad when a needling guarachero synth melody seemed to dovetail with the pentatonic heterophony of the jigs and reels. I’m not saying these things ever really match up. There’s a fair amount of strange stuff going on here, harmonically speaking. Pardon any sour notes in your doctored Guinness! Generally, I hope I’ve been able to do the main things I wanted to: 1) let you hear these two musics alongside each other, and 2) give your St. Patrick’s Day just a little extra push in the tush.

If you’ll permit me one final dedication: to San Patricio, his Batallón, and leprechaun-like dancing shoes!

Oh, and here’s a video of the mix as assembled with Ableton, just in case you’re curious as to what’s what and how I’ve chopped things up —

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January 19th, 2011

Como Se Dice Gangsta (en Mexicano)

Late last week I came across an entertaining collection of Mexican pro-w33d songs. Among them was a narcocorrido by El Tigrilla Palma entitled El Rey de la Kush (take that, Dre!). Enjoying the juxtaposition between traditional musical style and utterly contemporary slanguage / thematics, I couldn’t help tweeting that it seemed “so gangsta” in its way. (Actually, the tuba-playing alone might deserve the “gangsta” tag — listen to those runs!):

Shortly after that tweet, however, Mexican music maestro Toy Selectah let me know in no uncertain terms (via DM, tellingly) that there’s gangsta, and then there’s gangsta. He messaged me a couple YouTube links that made the Tigrillo track seem quaint. Exhibits A & B:

Suffice to say: these are amazing to mis ojos Americanos, especially how they re-imagine gangsterhood in a post-hip-hop, post-Hollywood world. Cowboy hats and blinged-out kevlar, Scarface scenes and gunhands, and a glut of straight-up gun pr0n. These guys are ballers, luxury branded blin-blineo on full display in every way. See, e.g., how El Komander styles himself “El Sr de las Hummers” —

The production values are high glossy, the music uncompromising and hard. While the instrumentation and arrangements seem to hew fairly closely to traditional models, the vocalists are spitting some hardcore lyrics. (“The most gangsta shit in Spanish I ever heard!” said Toy via DM.) Even if you don’t understand Spanish — and I confess I can hardly follow this very closely — you get the gist.

The “Carteles Unidos” of Movimiento Alterado kinda make gangsta rap look like pure theater. (More vids along these lines here.) And while these are plenty theatrical in their way — spectacular, sin duda — they also seem fairly serious. Less like Vybz Kartel, more like cartel vibes.

They also seem serious about their music industry game, and here again we see some borrowing from rap — in particular, horizontal branding and vending. They’re working all the angles of contemporary music industry, to be sure. See their slick website, including an in-house/site store, where they’ve embraced the diversified portfolio of products that hip-hop entrepreneurs first put together: direct marketed DVDs, clothing, etc. The site features a “lifestyle” tab, as well as a “fashion” tab (leading to a curious slideshow). And their YouTube game is tight: vivid videos accompanied by links to mediafire DLs as well as Amazon/iTunes stores for buyables. And in 2011, they’re coming to a House of Blues near you! If I were in direct competition with these guys, I’d be more than a little worried by their drive to “take over” —

"taking over the music industry" never seemed so threatening

The blurring between reality and theater here is, of course, at least as disturbing as in gangsta rap, and I suspect that many Mexican viewers/listeners are ambivalent about this stuff, repelling as it tantalizes. For my part, knowing that US drug users are, essentially, paying Mexicans to kill other Mexicans in order to feed our dirty, insatiable habits, I look at these videos with my own mix of horror and fascination. What a sensational mediation of the terrible, terrorized world we’ve made.

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August 12th, 2010

Etnomusicología a lo Digital

I’m happy to report that tomorrow today I’m headed to Mexico City yet again. At this rate, I’ve been telling people, I expect to be relocating there permanently sometime in mid-October. I joke, but I do feel like the place keeps calling me.

This time around my excuse is a lecture-demo I’ll be giving at a weeklong tech-crunchy event called Campus Party (#cpmexico), where I’m joining some fine company in the musical part of the program. On Friday at 2:30pm, I’ll be refreshing an oldie-but-goodie grine o’ mine: performing ethnomusicology in the digital age, aka mashup pedagogy, aka — for this especial occasion — etnomusicología a lo digital.

Cue GOOGLY español:

Si escribir sobre música es, como algunos han propuesto, el equivalente a bailar acerca de la arquitectura, tal vez “musicar” sobre la música ofrece una manera más directa de contar historias, definir relaciones, y enfocarse en características particulares. Incluso si no es exactamente más directo, tal enfoque ofrece modos ricos y evocadores de análisis y comunicación sobre música. Desde el mashup a la mezcla, el software contemporáneo de audio permite plantear preguntas sobre las obras musicales a través de la yuxtaposición vertical y horizontal, mientras que un procedimiento tan simple como la disminuir la velocidad de algo puede ofrecer inimaginables formas de escuchar y entender. En esta conferencia-demostración se ofrecen algunas técnicas y ejemplos del uso de software de producción digital para contar historias sobre la música y la cultura.

I want to thank Eric Gamboa (aka Elebleu) for extending the invitation. Along with Majadero (aka Lauro Robles), who knows the form (and has been ustreaming it up), we’ve been plotting to perhaps do another little session at some point in the next few days — more like a live mashup clustermix than anything vaguely academic.

iPad DJing, por Majadero

When I was last in town I had the pleasure of sharing a bill with Majadero, the first guy I’ve seen wield an iPad in the DJ booth. What was wild was that this was the second time I’d shared a bill with him (the time before was last November). What was crazier still was that I realized back in November, while talking to him, that I had been playing his&crew’s leftfield dub tracks in my Beat Research sets for a couple years already (having stumbled upon them looking for “Mexican dubstep” or something like that). All of these encounters happened independent of Lauro and I ever being directly in touch. Mexico City is a huge place, but it sure can feel like a small world sometimes.

Also, apropos of nothing but my own vanity, I want to take the opportunity to thank Eric again, a bit belatedly, for taking some of the coolest photos of me, like, ever.

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July 13th, 2010

Post Postopolis Unpacking, Part 3: Reggaeton en DF

I don’t have as much to say about reggaeton in Mexico City as I do about hip-hop and graffiti, though it has often been an elefante in the room. Also, you don’t have to understand much Spanish to read this sort of writing on the wall —


There are other kinds of reggaetony writing on the walls too, however, and so reggaeton’s status in DF seems to me, at best, ambiguous. For instance, though I didn’t get any shots of them, when I was in DF in November 2009 I saw several brightly-colored, professionally-rendered, wall-sized paintings advertising upcoming shows from Wisin y Yandel and Ivy Queen.

And while visiting the city last month for Postopolis, I did happen to get a snap of this:


This curiosity — which I’m guessing must be a few years old now — announces a concert from Don Chezina, billed here as hailing “from the island of the gangsters”! (Way to go, Puerto Rico!) Interestingly, the poster itself declines using the term reggaeton. I’m not sure how deliberate that evasion was, but it’s interesting that instead Chezina is referred to as “el maestro del perreo boricua.” As I’ve discussed before, reggaeton sometimes seems to travel easier as a dance form — as perreo — than as a musical style.

Given the ongoing popularity of Latin Caribbean dance music in Mexico, this may not be too surprising. I’ve bought cumbia villera and reggaeton romántico CDs from the same vendor. As Deborah Pacini Hernandez details, this embrace is central to cumbia’s story of transmission and transformation. And I witnessed this affinity registered on other posters in the same neighborhood —

Viva la Salsa

Still, from what I can tell, save for pockets of popularity (about those in a moment), reggaeton is pretty much genre-non-grata for participants (and gatekeepers) in DF’s hip-hop scene. Mirroring Tego Calderon’s story in PR, Big Metra, once among the DF’s most revered and popular MCs, was shunned by many of his peers after embracing that ol’ dembow and aiming at pop crossover. (Despite collaborating with the likes of Jadakiss and Twista.) Consider, then, the following account of opposition to reggaeton within Puerto Rico’s hip-hop scene, which, as Marlon Bishop relates —

split ways with the reggaeton scene in the mid-90s and went down a more conscious, political path.

I spoke with rapper-scholar Welmo Romero about this difference. Welmo grew up in Puerto Rico of Haitian and Dominican parents, and was on break from studying to defend his master’s thesis when we got together.

“One of the most important things about hip-hop to me, it’s way of being ‘in your face,’ of using poetry to talk about a very crude reality,” said Welmo. “So until reggaeton went mainstream, it maintained this spirit of defiance, of questioning inequality, poverty, the lack of resources…

“Reggaeton, I think, is a genre that had its moment. Once the major labels came in, it began to lose that defiance, and the image and music of the rapper was softened, and even the environments in the music videos changed. The ghetto disappeared and became the mansion, the cars, and the bling bling.”

Then watch this Big Metra video:

An antipathy to reggaeton came through loud and clear in the conversations I staged at El Eco with some of DF’s important hip-hop purveyors. During his talk, in an aside akin to spitting on the ground, Tomás Álzarez Brum called reggaeton “mierda” — a common charge, especially among a certain set of “underground” torchbearers. My other guest, 2phase, agreed in so many words, though I confess that I can’t recall the particular phrasing. (Any recollection, Camilo?)

It’s the sort of objection that keeps rearing its head in places like this 15 second YouTube video I posted a few years back. It’s actually rather surprising — or, I suppose, revealing — how often the mierda (i.e., shit) is applied to reggaeton (see also, basura / trash). It’s a form of diss implicating matters of taste and value. As I’ll explain, however, it’s not so easy to say that reggaeton is rejected either because it is seen as “low” or, alternately, as some sort of foreign import for the local jetset. Ironically, reggaeton in DF is (dismissed as) both of these things. Naco y fresa.

At one end, we find reggaeton used as a stylish signal of metropolitan fashion, a globally-circulating symbol of cosmopolatino cool, the sort of thing you’re careful to put on your flyers and email-blasts if you’re, say, promoting “LUXURY HIP HOP” at a super-swank club in one of the schmancier parts of town (h/t Daniel H) —


Given the way that reggaeton figures into fresa fantasies, you can understand why some might revile it. But interestingly, the disgust and dismissal of the genre also feeds into animosity toward the poor kids (literally) who make up reggaeton’s other main constituency in Mexico City. Camilo Smith has an excellent post on the intense anti-reggaeton sentiments he encountered when pursuing more information about the so-called “cult” of San Judas (a phenomenon recently profiled in the NYT). Here’s Camilo’s take —

The anti-reggaeton sentiment, I think, is more classist than anything. The reggaetoneros are viewed as thugs and neardowells, when in fact, most are just young kids among the desperate and needy whom San Judas is supposed to protect. Albeit with airbrushed and rhinestone caps.

One Facebook fan site, is filled with pictures tagged with racist and mean captions and comments. Odiamos a todos los reggaetoneros ke van a la iglesia de San Judas los 28′s (We hate the reggaeton fans who go to the San Judas church on the 28ths) has over 4,000 fans.

You can see a few of its mocking portraits below, and after the jump. There tends to be special distaste for reggaeton’s doggy dance or perreo that the kids do.

Go over to Camilo’s blog to read the whole post and see the pics (he really dug up some digital gems), but I can’t resist sharing this mashup of San Judas and Yandel —

And since I stay steady scratching the surface of what reggaeton means in Mexico City — how it figures in DF’s noisy, charged soundscape — I’ll have to come to a close with a few telling jokes culled from Camilo’s web wanderings. I’m not sure about the particular provenance of these (i.e., was the author posting them writing from DF?). But the way they simply cut-n-paste several classist cliches suggests that reggaeton, despite its uptake in places like Polanco, remains strongly anchored to images of poverty, crime, and lack of education:

Que le dices a un reggaetonero con trabajo? / Me puedes dar mas papas fritas?
(What do you say to a reggaetonero with a job? / Can you give me more fries?)

Que le dices a un reggaetonero en traje y corbata? / Que el acusado que se ponga de pie porfavor.
(What do you say to a reggaetonero in suit and tie? / Will the defendant please stand.)

2 reggaetoneros en un auto, no se oye musica a todo volumen. Quien conduce? / Un policia.
(2 reggaetoneros in a car; you do not hear music at full volume. Who’s driving? / A cop.)

Bringing it back home, this page, which includes the jokes above, even offers a list of places “where you can encounter a reggaetonero” in Mexico City:


Given such an evocative map, I clearly need to return to DF once more and see what I can hear while riding a minibus or getting robbed on the street.

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June 29th, 2010

More Writing on the Walls: Graffiti En DF Addenda

A few things to add to my recent post about graffiti in Mexico City


First, Said Dokins, one of my guests at Postopolis, writes to share some supplementary materials — in particular, documenting the role played by women in “arte urbano”:

También te mando unos links de los libros que nuestra editorial tiene actualmente sobre arte urbano hecho por mujeres, haber que te parecen, ahí también viene textos míos sobre el arte urbano en México y su relación con problemas de género.

Desbordamientos de una periferia femenina:

y La calle es de nosotras. La participación de la mujer en el arte urbano:

And while we’re on the topic of awesome online flip-page book scans (check that first URL above), this is a fine time to share a link to a flippy version of Tomo, the art/architecture/design magazine edited by some of the same DF denizens who were crucial in making the event an event (or a series of them). I’m happy to report that my post on graf en La Ciudad has been translated & excerpted to run in the latest issue of the magazine, devoted to Postopolis DF. Looks sharp!

Click on the picture below to view it flip-book style, or read selected articles right on the Tomo site, including mine.

my graffiti excerpt in tomo's postopolis issue

Finally, I want to append to the discussion another resonant passage about all the writing on the walls in Mexico. This comes from John Ross’s “phantasmagoric” history of Mexico City, El Monstro (p. 145-6):

Painting walls was a Mexican art even before the people had a name — ancient caves from one end of the country to the other are enlivened with prehistorical glyphs. The Toltecs embellished the walls of their short-lived empire with painted images of the gods. The Mayas decorated the chamber of their dead emperors with messages to the future. The Aztecs daubed the snake wall that fortified their sacred precinct with fantastic serpents. The messages advertised on these rough canvases often depicted the gods’ predilection for the peoples who had painted them and the peoples’ heroic supremacy over their hapless enemies.

Obregón needed walls to get the message out. He would turn them into billboards for the revolution. José Vasconcelos, his secretary of public education, had those walls.

Armed with Obregon’s largesse, the secretary of education contracted a trio of hotshot young muralists to stipple the walls of public buildings with revolutionary icons: Diego Rivera, just back from Paris; the stern and doctrinaire Marxist David Alfaro Siqueiros; and José Clemente Orozco, an explosive visionary. Of the three, Rivera was physically and temperamentally the most prominent. Over six feet tall and close to 300 pounds, with bulging eyes (his beloved Frida referred to him endearingly as mi sapo — my toad), Diego would cast a ham-fisted shadow over Mexican art for half a century.


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June 18th, 2010

Post Postopolis Unpacking, Part 2: Graffiti en DF


Since my first trip to Mexico City, I’ve been struck by graffiti in DF — the amount, the quality, the style.

From everyday tags to stencil ads, grand pieces to snarky jests, locally steeped and globally conversant, the ubiquity and diversity of graffiti in DF is quite stunning, as a few flicks from last week attest–

as seen on the street in la roma

Of course, the stencils above, especially the Upper Playground logo at the end, show how graffiti as hip-hop practice shades into what increasingly travels under the banner of “street art” / “arte callejero” as it dovetails with explicitly or hybrid commercial ventures (including DJ Ali’s promotions as well). Along these lines, it was interesting to notice that UP also puts up wheat pastey posters around town (or at least around “las zonas super nice” como La Roma, where I spotted this). Given these emerging practices, future studies of graffiti in Mexico will no doubt need to reevaluate the degree to which these techniques are inherently “transgressive” or exist outside of the market.

The convergence between graffiti, street art, art worlds, and commercial ventures — an increasingly contemporary phenomenon in cosmopolitan cities worldwide — offered a frame for the 2nd session I arranged at Postopolis! DF. I invited the people who run Upper Playground DF / Fifty24MX Gallery, Liliana Carpenteyro and Arturo Mizrahi, as well as two of the artists with whom they’ve worked, Saner and Wendell McShine, to come and talk about what they do and how it fits into the larger institutional matrix for art in DF (which is, of course, HUGE — Mexico City is brimming with galleries and museums). I liked the idea of hearing from both Saner and Shine, since they represent the gallery’s professed desire to exhibit both local and international artists, more or less equally — or “50/50” in Lili’s words.

By bringing this hybrid venture momentarily into the center of our discussions, and including artists/practitioners as well as curators, I hoped we might dig into some pressing questions about how DF functions as an incubator for innovative art and how transnational commerce (increasingly?) fits into the picture. (Watch the panel here.)

lili carpenteyro talks about upper playground
Lili presents as Saner (in plaid) and Shine and Arturo (right of picture) look on

In her presentation, Lili emphasized the ways that UP/Fifty24 supports local artists while boosting their profile by bringing in talent from abroad. She also foregrounded the degree to which their projects took place in public, outside of the gallery/store space, such as the painting of a bus by Seher, Sam Flores, et al. en la plaza Luís Cabrera.

I would have liked to hear a little more about how Upper Playground DF, and its location in La Condesa, specifically served to reach a certain (and perhaps new?) clientele / audience. For as with DJ Ali’s parties in Polanco, UP/Fifty24 seeks to invite young people into art (including hip-hop’s artistic forms) through the draw of hip urbanity (or as the parent UP website puts it, by “representing progressive urban lifestyles”). Upper Playground DF — and Upper Playground more generally — is clearly betting that the “naco es chido” renewed appreciation for Mexicocity (if you will) will continue to stimulate contemporary art and commerce in the City.

Such an approach, not coincidentally, also manages to appeal to big international brands, and hence helps to fund such efforts. Obviously, introducing such a commercial angle is not uncontroversial. Some ideologies of authenticity in the art world and in certain schools of hip-hop strongly privilege economic autonomy and disdain corporate involvement or commercial success. (Notably, while discussing his own work and trajectory, Wendell McShine offered an interesting perspective on the question, pointing out that he had started in the more mundane and commercial world of animation but has sought to “crossfade” his work in that realm “into the art world.”)

Lili’s response to a question about this quandary was straightforward. As reported by Tomo (and edited/translated by me):

Question to Lili: What would the scene be without corporate support?

Lili: Well, it is seeking support from all sides. The money may come from the State or from trademarks. A billboard on Masaryk [the chic commercial strip in La Condesa] can cost up to 90,000 pesos a month. It is better supporting artists.

Like graffiti itself, the presentation about Upper Playground DF raised some contentious questions about how to make art public and “free.” An interesting addendum is that Lili’s partner at Upper Playground DF, Arturo, told me later that selling spraypaint is the big money-maker for the store, suggesting that graffiti in DF remains as much about on-the-ground practice as anything:

spraycan commerce

For some observers, Mexico City presents “a limitless canvass of concrete awaiting artistic reform” and today’s graffiti artists join a long line of critical practitioners of “el gesto primitivo,” including 16th-century dissidents who taunted Cortes with carbon etchings on the white walls of his palace in Coyoacán; for others, it is simplemente illegal, a sign of urban blight and disrespect. The latter camp view graffiti artists as the ubiquitous visual equivalent of squeegee men at stoplights — public molestations that should be cleared from the streets (as Giuliani Partners recommended to DF back in 2003 — though, clearly, DF’s anti-graffiti unit is making little progress). But as reviled as it is in some quarters, graffiti has also occasionally — and prominently — received official sanction from the city, such as for the work of Neza Arte Nel (fotolog | youtube) or the repainting of the boundary walls around el Estadio Azteca.

It’s no coincidence that Tomás Brum’s magazines are centered on graffiti, as opposed to MCing, DJing, b-boying, etc. Or that TT Caps carries a nice coffee-table book on the history of graffiti in Mexico —

DF rap/graf books

During his presentation at Postopolis, Brum asserted that “El brazo más fuerte, visible y que más me gusta del hip hop en México es el grafitti.” (“Graffiti is the strongest and most visible branch of hip-hop in Mexico, and the one I like most.”)

As a student of hip-hop’s global diffusion, this is not exactly a revelation to me. It’s remarkable how often graffiti (or breakdance) is the form of hip-hop that first seems to take hold in places outside the US (which suggests that visual / non-linguistic forms are more easily embraced and localized). Films like Wild Style and Style Wars have clearly left their mark in Mexico and continue to inspire, even, oddly, when they inspire people to tag their titles around town using rather little style at all —


Interestingly, many of the histories of graffiti in Mexico I’ve come across point to Tijuana as the first frontier for the form in Mexico, as Tijuana quite literally serves as the northern frontier, the border to the US. This is an interesting point, as it implies that graffiti was transmitted more strongly (and quickly) person-to-person rather than via the flow of media. If that’s the case, the paths of hip-hop in Mexico differ in some interesting ways from the more common global hip-hop trajectory whereby films such as Wild Style or Breakin’ provide the first artifacts (and de facto instruction manuals) in places outside the US. Of course, such a narrative — as opposed to one that situates graffiti in the broader local contexts of Mexico’s great muralistas and the Tenochtitlanian taunters of Cortes — allows the practice to be viewed, and dismissed, as a fully foreign import.

Given this discursive backdrop, it was not surprising that most of the questions for Saner revolved around whether or not he was a vandal or a criminal. Before meeting Saner on Thursday, I was pleased to actually spot a few of his tags around town. Despite his success in galleries, he clearly remains active on the street:


To the question of how he labels himself and what he does, Saner responded: “Solamente hago lo que me gusta, no me etiqueto. Ni tampoco quiero etiquetar.” (“I just do what I do. I don’t label myself, nor do I want to label.”)

saner takes a question

Some considered this (reasonable and commonplace) answer a copout, an evasion, or worse, some disingenuous deception. In the halls at El Eco, I encountered some strong, if whispered, opposition to Saner’s embrace of the mantle of the underground artist. I was told that his commercial success (including a sold-out series of pricey vinyl toys for Kid Robot, exhibitions at Pictures on Walls in London, and invitations to paint in Europe) belies any real commitment to being underground (regardless of the gestures toward ephemerality and unobtainability represented by burning his work at the Border Gallery).

Obviously these are complicated questions, but grappling explicitly with them — and thinking about the economic and institutional ecosystem for young artists (especially those steeped in street art) in DF — was precisely my point in organizing this session. The same questions could easily be posed to another talented local artist, Seher, a sometime collaborator with Saner, and another favorite of Upper Playground DF, who has also enjoyed some commercial success tattooing vinyl toys and partnering with companies like Volvo.

One thing I feel the need to say, however, regardless of this vexing (but inescapable?) imbrication with commerce, is that the work these guys do is, to my eyes, just utterly fantastic, captivating, provocative, and rich. I know there’s not really any way to bracket issues of enmeshment in commerce, but somehow a consideration of aesthetics, of form and content and zeitgeist, too often gets sidelined when we attend to such “contextual” factors as $$$. It would be better — and a more truly holistic aesthetic approach — to somehow bring the two into dialogue with each other. I’m afraid we didn’t have the time in our session — 15 minutes is but a blink — but another reason I wanted Saner and Shine in on the conversation, is that I was hoping we could speak to issues of form and style and why it is that graffiti-related art seems to resonate so strongly in the arenas of high art as well as in the hybrid world of art & commerce that seeks to market “urban progressive lifestyles” even as it makes crucial space for young, contemporary artists.

said dokins shares his art
Said Dokins discusses his Avionazo intervention at El Eco

My final guest at Postopolis, Said Dokins, brought some trenchant thoughts to bear on all of this. Said has been praised in global street art circles for his work, but he is no Banksy-come-lately. Said has long been deeply engaged with the local graffiti scene, among other efforts producing a book about female graffiti artists in DF, and he also places his work in the storied tradition of anarcho-critical muralists in Mexico City, some of whom are his mentors and teachers.

He is also rather thoughtful — and self-consciously so — about the work that he does, and the work that it does (culturally and politically). For his presentation at Postopolis, Said delivered a strong statement about his art and how it expresses ideas about urban space, dystopia, power, subversion, and, among other specificities, how the omnipresent symbol of the skull in Mexico might represent the tragedy of history. (I quite like the idea of Benjamin’s angel of history wearing a máscara de calavera.)

Allow me to quote a passage that seems particularly relevant to the central questions of this post:

Desde que hago graffiti mi relación con lo no autorizado, con el acto ilegal ha marcado muchas formas en las que opero, trato siempre de salirme con la mía, de hacer lo no esperado, de estar en el límite de lo legal. En el caso del avionazo, no había una intención de acción directa contra del sistema hegemónico y el poder en un acto de choque, si no más bien aprovechar para que desde el sistema, es decir de los mecanismos de validación establecidos, ya que el proyecto en sí mismo fue apoyado, actuar como agente que de alguna manera señala problemáticas políticas y sociales, a través de la burla, infiltrando el desorden.

Since I do graffiti, my relationship with the non-authorized, with the illegal act, has marked many ways in which I operate. I always try to get my way, to do the unexpected, to be on the edge of legality. In the case of the plane crash, there was no intention of direct action against the hegemonic system and power through an act of shock, but rather to benefit from the system, from established mechanisms of validation, since the project itself was supported — to act as an agent that somehow fingers problematic political and social issues, through mockery, infiltrating the disorder.

Given Said’s indisputably radical, if practical, attitude about his art, it’s worth noting that the first comment on Saner’s post about his Kid Robot success is from Said himself:


And while it’s tempting enough to stop there, I can’t resist adding yet another pregnant pic to the pile:

portraying the workers

This is painted on the wall outside the HQ of the Partido Popular Socialista (PPS) on Avenue Obregón, portraying the work of portraying the workers! It’s quite an image, especially the way it leaves one to imagine what on earth might fill the thought bubble beside the graffitero’s head.

Clearly, despite several valiant attempts to do so, the story of graffiti in Mexico City and Mexico more broadly is still being written (whether in books, at blogs, or on walls). The form and practice has undoubtedly been Mexicanized even as it continues to be influenced by waves of worldwide wild style and street art, and it is inspiring to see how Mexican artists continue to navigate local structures of support and opposition as well as opportunities abroad for the sustenance of their work and their lives.

Whether the trend toward a kind of commercial hybridization exemplified by Upper Playground DF makes a greater impact on graffiti in DF than, say, post-Guiliani anti-graffiti squads, sin duda, remains to be seen. (Or is that unseen?)

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June 16th, 2010

Post Postopolis Unpacking, Part 1: Hip-hop en DF


The great irony of Postopolis!, as fellow blogger Nicola Twilley observes, is that the intense, consuming nature of the event itself tends to preclude much blogging about it. Add to the 60 or so presentations packed into 5 days the bewildering and inviting charms of Mexico City, and you’re lucky to make a virtual peep tweet at all. (To their credit, the Tomo folks made a valiant effort at live-blogging.)

But 140-char chunks hardly do justice to the immersive experience of Postopolis DF & el Districto Federal. So I’ll be taking a few posts to recap of some of the best things I heard, saw, and ate. And I heartily recommend checking out similar efforts via los blogs de mis colegas queridas: e.g., Regine, Daniel, Jace.

This antinomy, if I may, between realtime and online is somewhat appropriate given that Postopolis, despite its bloggy roots, seeks to recognize the importance of asynchronous internet discourse while creating a temporary space for material experience, immediacy, and the face-to-face sociality that the blogosphere generally lacks. This goal was achieved last week in DF, with bubbly success I think, and it was unlike any sort of event I’ve even been a part of. (“Conference” wouldn’t begin to describe it.) This is due in no small part to all the local partners of Storefront and Domus, namely Tomo, El Eco, and all the awesome architects, artists, students, y toda la gente who stopped by.

postopolis at el eco

The other thing that Postopolis does well — again mirroring the blogosphere’s criss-crossing modes, media, and methods — is to offer, as former Storefront head and now Domus editor Joseph Grima put it on the first night in DF, “a transversal reading of a city.” Having held Postopoles in New York and Los Angeles, Mexico City seemed a fitting and exciting choice for such a project. It’s an immense city, a “megacity” as they say, and, without a doubt, an American capital with few peers (São Paolo and previous Postopolis sites, New York and Los Angeles, spring to mind). If one finds David Lida’s recent chronicles of Mexico City persuasive, one might go so far as to call it “the capital of the 21st century,” given that, as Lida argues —

Mexico City isn’t so much loaded with poor as it is brimming with people slowly struggling to scratch their way out of poverty. The improvised and informal nature of the community is emblematic of the way a megalopolis functions. Most people in Mexico City — indeed, most people in the world — live in a place much like it. (53)

Crucial to our grand endeavor of producing such a “reading,” of course, were the 60 or so invited local guests who offered up the grist for our bloggy mill. From architects and photographers to sewer divers and human rights activists to experts on the history of grain and water in Mexico (City), I think it’s safe to say that the bloggers curated up one hell of a transversal portrait of DF’s diverse dynamism, of el Monstruo‘s seemingly unending series of distinct but overlapping worlds — as well as its imbrication with other worlds across space and time.

Indeed, when my own guest, 2phase, a DF-based rapper and producer, invoked Tlaloc as the sky threatened to open up on us, it seemed a poignant gesture to the wider worlds we inhabit. Mexican rap? Sho nuff —

2phase performs (as Camilo looks on) at Postopolis! DF

As I’ve explained previously, it was my aim, given the awesome power of invitation, to assemble a slate of guests who might help sketch out how hip-hop makes space for people working in its forms in the City, how it helps to constitute a scene or set of scenes, how it enters into commerce and local institutions of various sorts — basically, how it manifests and represents, to employ some apt rap parlance. Mi colega Regine Debatty, of We Make Money Not Art, is being generous when she asserts that I “drew a picture of Mexico’s hip hop and street art culture.” But I do feel that, together, mis invitados and I — with the constant & indispensable assistance of Camilo Smith — were actually able to scratch through some surfaces over the four sessions I presented.

The first discussion I hosted was maybe the liveliest, thanks in particular to the entertaining riffs of Tomás Álvarez Brum, a local hip-hop impresario who publishes two graffiti magazines, Rayarte and BlackBook, and perhaps more importantly, runs TT Caps, a hip-hop shop in El Centro Histórico that sells pertinent books, magazines, spraypaint, t-shirts, CDs and DVDs — often on consignment for the artists producing them — and includes a tattoo parlor to boot. The store also hosts readings (incl for this, which I picked up) and live performances. Clearly, TT Caps — and Brum more broadly — is central to the scene in many ways.

TT Caps

Brum is a total character, and I’m sorry I don’t have the video to share (or review) at the moment; I’m hoping they’ll all be viewable soon thanks to Domus. I’m also sorry that so much of his talk went over my head, as he was speaking some rapidfire and at times rather chilango Spanish. Take this bit conveyed by Daniel Hernandez, for example, which, significantly, seemed to receive more laughs and RTs than anything else Brum said:

Discussing the hip-hop subcultures of Mexico City with Wayne Marshall, Tomás Brum Alvarez of Rayarte, a D.F. graffiti magazine, broke down the lack of public space and media outlets in the city for hip-hop nacional. While doing so, he made a pointed dig at the old guard at El Chopo, whom he argued are resistant to incorporating hip-hop into the scene there. He referred to himself jokingly as a "choposuario," and then said, no, he's an "artesángano."

Couldn't help laughing out loud. "Choposuario" is a compound slangism that describes the graying old rockers who still guard El Chopo like it's some kind of countercultural holy grail (which it is), but also connotes a kind of nostalgic delusion for the old days of the tianguis — which is now almost 30 years old. But artesángano was totally new to me. Sángano is another slangism that describes a lazy figure who leeches, or hooks others into doing his will. So what's an artesángano? An artesano, artisan seller, who hustles without shame? Whatever its intended meaning, I'll definitely be using it when inspiration strikes.

Brum was joined on stage by DJ Ali of Masare Records, who I wanted to bring into the conversation as someone using hip-hop to tap into other sorts of commercial channels — among others, sponsorships by the likes of Rane and Serato, not to mention local brands and institutions, and residencies en las zonas “super nice” como El Polanco o La Condesa. Importantly, while Ali may in some ways leverage hip-hop to support his commercial efforts, he also quite clearly leverages these efforts for the sake of local hip-hop. I was told by several locals that Ali is a stalwart booster of the scene, constantly shining light on local MCs and creating opportunities for them to perform.

As an interesting contrast/complement to Brum’s daily grind, Ali promotes hip-hop in DF by staging grand events such as the I <3 Hip Hop concert he put on last November, for which he brought Jazzy J all the way down from Brooklyn. The event, as noted in my walks around La Roma, continues to enjoy some “street team” style promotion —

I &lt;3 HIP HOP

Since Brum and Ali were able to speak to a certain level of institutional scaffolding for hip-hop in Mexico City, I was hoping that a second session on hip-hop, involving practitioners at the level of performer/producer, would help to flesh things out further. And I think that 2phase and his Poblano labelmate Lil T’ko — in conversation with Camilo — did so with panache and detail.

Camilo Smith talks cholo rap w/ Lil T'ko

Because he grew up in Chicago, I was able to follow 2phase a lot better than Brum or Ali. Several years ago 2phase relocated to Mexico City (if I recall correctly, he was born there), to attend audio-engineering school, picking up some skills that have been instrumental in his success as a producer and as someone now running a studio that aims to serve a clientele beyond the local hip-hop community. His own transnational experience is typical of the “cholo rap” scene in which he participates, connecting Mexico proper to trans-border Mexican sites such as Chicago, California, and Texas.

2phase and Lil T’ko, before closing with a rousing rap that may have been an energetic high for the Postopolis! stage, discussed the ins-and-outs of running modest record labels, putting on shows, and sustaining their careers as artists and producers. Camilo did a fine job of interviewing, asking 2phase to elaborate, at one point, on what he meant by “mainstream” in Mexico/City. (He meant: on radio or TV.) Among other things, I was thrilled to hear 2phase talk — without any prompting — about DLing music production software and watching how-to’s on YouTube, especially since these very activities keep cropping up in my present project on music industry in the age of internet. Although they spent more time discussing local, material efforts than those in the virtual realm, they’ve clearly got their MySpace game on full-blast (note that 2phase’s page lists DJ Ali and TT Caps as friends). To wit: even the mixtape they handed out at the end of their presentation has its own page.

One interesting question from the Postopolis audience was concerned with how some of 2phase’s peers from the same audio engineering school he attended can’t seem to get jobs doing punk or rock work, and yet, 2phase has managed to sustain a career and build a burgeoning label, studio, and production company around hip-hop, which is by all accounts a smaller and far more marginal scene than rock or punk (indeed, the words underground or subteráneo got thrown around plenty in our discussions). Interestingly, this suggested to Camilo that marginality may have its upsides. As he wrote to me via email, “hip-hop is marginal in the D.F. music scene, but at least these guy can carve their niche, thanks to that.”

Margins are spaces of their own — & it can be easy to lose sight of that.

But if hip-hop still remains in some ways marginal or underground or subteráneo in Mexico City, graffiti is quite the opposite. Graffiti is everywhere. It transcends hip-hop, tattooing toda la Ciudad —

just another graf-filled wall in DF

My next recap will build on this post to discuss how graffiti relates to and departs from the local institutions of hip-hop in DF. Hasta entonces —

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June 3rd, 2010

Plans to Postopolise My Time


Next week’s Postopolis! DF happening is shaping up to be super stimulating and utterly exhausting. The schedule has been posted, and it boasts an array of guests that range from art/design-world titans to a dude who’s been diving DF sewers for three decades, and pretty much everything between and beyond.

The diversity of participants is really quite stunning, and I’m especially looking forward to encountering perspectives and practices well outside my typical spheres of interest. Should be a mind/myopia-blowing event in that way. But I’m also excited, obv, about some of the guests that strike closer to home, such as those invited by Jace, to whom readers need no intro, or by Daniel Hernandez, a DF-dwelling journalist who writes an excellent blog and is just finishing up a book, which I’m keen to read, about the “emo riots” that went down a couple years back. (In fact, I think I discovered his blog because of his coverage of anti-emo violence in Mexico.)

I’m very interested in the way that something like “emo” (especially broadly construed) or, closer to the heart of this blog, tecktonik or jerkin find their way to Mexico, not to mention how or why they resonate and what kind of cultural work they do. I would have loved to find the right person to represent TCK MEX or even some Zócalo flaneurs to come down to El Eco and, come se dice, baila bn chidO xD

I didn’t have much success there, however, maybe because, basically, TCK has already come and gone. (Ah, the ethnography of ephemera!) Also because YouTube mirrors are not great gateways to actual people. And perhaps p/q this too: despite bloggy appearances, I still really need to work on my chatroom Spanish. At any rate, I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears out while there, and I can’t wait to pick Daniel’s brain about how the discourses and practices of “emos” and “tribus urbanas” in DF might shed some light on how YouTube dance culture is itself received and reshaped in La Ciudad.

That said, as I reported in a previous post, I did manage to find a great group of people to come and share some of what they do with us. Allow me to recap and expand on that initial announcement, complete with dates & times for those of you who will actually be in town.

  • Tues 6/8 (7-8:30) — At some point during the kickoff evening, alongside my fellow blogger-curators, I’ll talk briefly about my blog and how it relates to what I do. Among other things, and speaking abstractly, I plan to highlight my interest in local institutions and translocal exchanges, the interplay between material and virtual cultures, and how various kinds of architectures and arrangements support and constrain the work my guests / collaborators / consultants are doing. More concretely, I’ll likely show some screenshots and YouTubes and talk about floggers and hip-hop.
  • Wed 6/9 (6:30) — In the first of two local hip-hop related panels (mil gracias to my man on the ground, Camilo Smith), I’ll be talking to DJ Alí, who puts on a lot of shows around town and runs Masare Records & Tomás Brum Álvarez, who puts out a rad hip-hop mag called Rayarte and is responsible for producing and releasing DF hip-hop.
  • Thurs 6/10 (4:00) — I’ll be talking to two visual artists, Wendell McShine and Saner, both of whom mix media and Mexican iconography (among others) in distinctive and provocative ways, as well as Lili Carpinteyro, one of the people behind Upper Playground Mexico, an interesting instantiation of an international venture that collides curated, contemporary art with cool commerce.
  • Fri 6/11 (5:30) — In the second DF hip-hop session, Camilo and I will chat with longtime local (but Chicago deportee) 2phase about making hip-hop happen in Mexico City, with a focus on spaces and access to resources and such, but also aesthetics no doubt.
  • Sat 6/12 (12:00) — My final guest is definitely one of those last-but-not-least guys: Said Dokins, among other things, makes public interventions in the shape of giant paper airplanes admired abroad as “street art at its best.” He’ll be talking about his recent piece el Avionazo of course, but also about something he calls “La máquina distópica de habitar,” along with some thoughts about graffiti, calligraphy, and calaveras (namely, how skulls stage death for the establishment of political regimes), or so he tells me.

If that’s not enough, I’m also going to be playing music no fewer than 4 times over the course of 5 days. Sounds nutso, no? But when you’re asked to warm up rooms (or calentar motores) for DJ /Rupture at various clubs in and around Mexico City, alongside other good friends who are great DJs, you just don’t say no. At least, I don’t. So here’s how that’s breaking down, FYI —

  • Tues 6/8 — Postopolis! opening party hosted by Noiselab at Rhodesia, w/ Rupture & local guests
  • Thurs 6/10 — I’ll be joining DJ /Rupture and N-RON, again at the pleasure of Noiselab, at the CCE (Centro Cultural España)
  • Friday 6/11 — A non-postopolis party in neighboring Toluca w/ Rupture, N-RON, and Dutty Tally
  • Saturday, 6/12 — After all is said and done at El Eco, where some of us will throw down some tunes for the closing party, I’ll be playing a later-night party alongside Rupture, N-RON, and Taliesin again, this time in DF (place TBD)

And that’s it. ¡El fin! Not sure that I’m going to be able to do much of anything else, much as I’d like to explore new corners of DF once again. Oh, there’ll be some fieldtrips for breakfast and lunch and such, but, man, this is gonna be one tight schedule. ¡Vámonos!

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I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

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