Category: Culture

NXNW, MX

December 13th, 2012 Permalink

             After a dark spell of catastrophic drug violence sparked a do-it-yourself cultural response that ruptured the old ways of doing things, a unique cultural climate has emerged in Tijuana in recent years. With little support from the city that gave rise to its sounds, Tijuana has become an epicenter […]

"Tijuana" "Tijuanalandia" "Jason Thomas Fritz" All My Friends" "Norte Sonoro" 
"Tijuana" "Tijuanalandia" "Jason Thomas Fritz" All My Friends" "Norte Sonoro" "Maria y Jose" 
"Tijuana" "Tijuanalandia" "Jason Thomas Fritz" All My Friends" "Norte Sonoro" 
"Tijuana" "Tijuanalandia" "Jason Thomas Fritz" All My Friends" "Norte Sonoro" "Venus X" 
"Tijuana" "Tijuanalandia" "Jason Thomas Fritz" All My Friends" "Norte Sonoro" "Tijuana" "Tijuanalandia" "Jason Thomas Fritz" All My Friends" "Norte Sonoro" 
"Tijuana" "Tijuanalandia" "Jason Thomas Fritz" All My Friends" "Norte Sonoro" 
After a dark spell of catastrophic drug violence sparked a do-it-yourself cultural response that ruptured the old ways of doing things, a unique cultural climate has emerged in Tijuana in recent years. With little support from the city that gave rise to its sounds, Tijuana has become an epicenter of avant-garde music in Mexico, with some of the world’s most influential music makers are eyeing what’s happening here. Emerging Tijuana’s ‘moment of truth’ came recently, during three days of loosely coordinated music and art events that signaled that Tijuana is a place that can attract cutting edge international acts, but more importantly, it’s a city recognized around the world for producing them. You can read about the rise of Tijuana’s new musical vanguard here, in a piece I wrote for the Los Angeles public television station KCET’s Artbound website.

Death Becomes Him

February 14th, 2012 Permalink

  Baltazar Hernández, better known as El Muerto—or Death—has been a fixture in Tijuana’s Parque Teniente Guererro for the better half of last year, where his brand of digital deathrock over default keyboard beats has entertained the decidedly normal mid-afternoon park going crowd of gossiping elderly women, children running about, and men deeply involved in […]

Jason Thomas Fritz Tijuanalandia Tijuana El Muerto 

Baltazar Hernández, better known as El Muerto—or Death—has been a fixture in Tijuana’s Parque Teniente Guererro for the better half of last year, where his brand of digital deathrock over default keyboard beats has entertained the decidedly normal mid-afternoon park going crowd of gossiping elderly women, children running about, and men deeply involved in their respective chess matches.

It was sometime in early fall of last year when I stumbled across El Muerto. My friend Ximena and I had just hit a thrift store downtown, when we suddenly heard his music reverberating off the surrounding buildings. It had to be coming from the park. But this wasn’t the mediocre, albeit spirited, singers giving it their all, doing renditions of ranchera classics and the occasional Mexican pop number, like you normally find at the park.

This was different. Even muddled, and from several blocks away its genius could be heard—a bastardized cross between dark punk’s early era, droning witch house, and lo-fi out-of-left-field cult sounds in the vein of Canada’s Tonetta. Ximena and I hurried to catch up with it. The music became more defined as we rounded the gazebo that obscured him. I expected to find some hipster teenage internet beat-making wiz, cool beyond his years, but too young—or not connected enough—to be playing the bars along Tijuana’s nightlife corridor, La Sexta, with the park being the only venue available.

It was the exact opposite. El Muerto, it seemed, came straight from a script, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Well into the third stage of his life, tall, with stringy chin length white hair, there he sat behind a beat up keyboard, dressed in all black with a leather trench coat, and a silver crucifix adorning his neck. Think Bela Lugosi playing Dracula, only during the Ed Wood period, with a more storied face covered with caked-on white make-up and painted-on eyebrows that equally evoke María Félix, the starlet of Mexican cinema’s Golden Age, and 90s Southern California chola culture. My friend and I found the nearest patch of grass, sat down, and watched the rest of his short set in amazement.

Afterwards, we quickly introduced ourselves, asking where we could see him again, or hear his music. He went by San Baltazar then. No webpage, no soundcloud, no facebook. ‘I just came down from the mountains,’ he said, remarking on his lack of savvy in all things internet. His live sets at the park were it. Over the course of the next few months, I would head to Parque Teniente Guererro to hear him play.

Recently, during a private show at a dingy pool hall off an alley in Tijuana’s downtown, El Muerto talked about his music, and the theological underpinnings behind it. The scene was surreal. Against the cosmic backdrop of a skeleton in an Aztec headdress, beneath a disco ball that hasn’t spun in years, El Muerto tapped out his song ‘Satánica,’ with glitter orange nails, for an audience of a few. He had clearly developed more confidence since his early shows in the park, with a new, more flamboyant stage presence, that included genuflections, the stations of the cross and Gene Simmons’ Kiss-like tongue acrobatics. While religious imagery in the form of Christian crosses, the Star of David, and pentagrams were part of his early performances, I hadn’t realized how deep his faith was until we sat down and talked after his performance.

El Muerto sees his dark apocalyptic pop compositions as soapbox street preaching in musical form—lo-fi deathrock proselytizations for his unique theology—a ‘new religion,’ he calls it—of egalitarian social Christianity that incorporates liberation theology and its tenants of decentralized worship, with new age metaphysical traditions, gay liberation, and a belief that Jesus is already among us, and can be found in everybody.

This year looks like it will be El Muerto’s. He’s been garnering a small buzz around town, which will no doubt lead to bigger things. While it’s exciting to see his rise, for a very brief but magical moment, El Muerto represented all that has been lost to the internet era. Uncontrived and unaware of the in vogue lo-fi dark wave of the moment, El Muerto is the last of pre-Googleable music underground, where only the adventurous and interesting discover music’s treasures. One of Tijuana’s most exciting music acts was all but unknown, save for park goers who met his brand of musical evangelization with curiosity, and the small group of fans he seduced there.

There is no doubt that the internet era has spawned one of the most interesting and innovative periods in music history, but as the collective identities that produced subcultural scenes are replaced by easy accessibility and early virtual adoption, El Muerto’s brand of goth gospel—steeped in convictions and the do-it-yourself ethic—represented the last of the punk rock underground. Some music can’t be discovered behind a computer screen and can only be found during random strolls downtown.

La Guadalupana

December 13th, 2011 Permalink

Jason Thomas Fritz Tijuana Virgin Virgen de Guadalupe

Day of the Walking Dead

November 2nd, 2011 Permalink

      Zombies by the thousands took to the streets of Tijuana last Saturday as part of the city’s first ever Zombie Walk Tijuana. The event’s organizers were hoping to attract 300 participants. To their surprise, 4,000 zombies of every age came out to participate, braving a citywide weekend water outage to apply makeup they weren’t […]

Jason Thomas Fritz Tijuana zombie Jason Thomas Fritz Tijuana zombie Jason Thomas Fritz Tijuana zombie Jason Thomas Fritz Tijuana zombie Jason Thomas Fritz Tijuana zombie 

Zombies by the thousands took to the streets of Tijuana last Saturday as part of the city’s first ever Zombie Walk Tijuana. The event’s organizers were hoping to attract 300 participants. To their surprise, 4,000 zombies of every age came out to participate, braving a citywide weekend water outage to apply makeup they weren’t going to be able to easily get off. The zombies, and a small contingent of zombie killers, wound their way through Tijuana’s Zona Rio district on an hour long march to the Palacio Municipal Antiguo downtown, where they mingled with hundreds of onlookers at an impromptu street party for the walking dead.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Radness

June 20th, 2011 Permalink

   Scouring the weekly neighborhood flea market for castaway keyboards with her dog Tou Tou in tow, You Schaffner—the Tijuana songstress behind her wistful toy-pop alter ego Dani Shivers—opted, on this day, for an ice cream cone instead of an instrument. Prior visits to Tijuana’s sobre reudas—as the city’s roving secondhand markets are known—have proven […]

Dani Shivers Jason Thomas Fritz Tijuana witchhouse drag Dani Shivers Jason Thomas Fritz Tijuana witchhouse drag 

Scouring the weekly neighborhood flea market for castaway keyboards with her dog Tou Tou in tow, You Schaffner—the Tijuana songstress behind her wistful toy-pop alter ego Dani Shivers—opted, on this day, for an ice cream cone instead of an instrument. Prior visits to Tijuana’s sobre reudas—as the city’s roving secondhand markets are known—have proven much more fruitful. Walking its aisles, Schaffner bragged slightly about how little her Clapton-of-cheap-keyboards like collection had set her back.

It all started when Schaffner, the singer and one of the principal song writers of indie band Ibi Ego, set out to record a headful of fleeting melodies that often escaped her. Describing herself as, ‘very forgetful,’ Schaffner used a simple formula to remember potential songs by: a cheap Radio Shack microphone, toy keyboards, and her mother’s virus-ridden PC. She started recording in the DIY studio that doubled as her bedroom. But the disconnect between the song constructions that Schaffner imagined and the constraints of shoddy instrumentation produced unexpected results. She started exploring the possibilities within its limitations. ‘The songs are built with layers. It allows me to play a lot with the sounds, the forms,’ Schaffner said. And while her intentions were more polished, the low-fi, serendipitous ends she captured in her sonic note taking became the inspiration for her solo project, Dani Shivers.

‘The sound in my head is very different,’ Schaffner admitted. ‘The songs of Dani Shivers are more of an 8-bit version of what is really in my head.’ But the simple, imperfect versions of the scores in her imagination are a thing of beauty. Dripping with the nostalgia that only the toy Casio keyboards ubiquitous to childhood can evoke, Schaffner’s melancholic numbers capture perfectly those uncomfortable spaces between life’s transition where innocence fades and the heartbreaking truths of this world become apparent.