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A New Pulse in Electronica

The border sound known as Nortec sets the beat at La Leche, held at Club Sugar.

November 08, 2001|HESEON PARK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nortec, the new breed of border music in heavy rotation among Tijuana's deejays and dancers, is a revolucion , in the best sense of the word. This wholly original amalgam of norteno and techno has been embraced as the newest movement in electronica and dance music as far away as Japan and London.

It took the long way around, but Nortec has finally arrived on the club scene in Southern California. Its showcase: La Leche at Club Sugar in Santa Monica.

Characterized by booming tuba, dissonant brass and bass of ranchera and Tex-Mex samples, Nortec is a circus-like fusion of traditional Mexican border music and progressive electronic break beats. The Nortec Collective-musicians, graphic artists, architects, fashion designers, remixers and producers based in and around Tijuana-have been making the migratory rounds from clubs along Tijuana's Avenida Revolucion to raves and clubs in Tokyo and London since 1999. But the new sound really took off with the release last February of "The Tijuana Sessions Vol. I," a compilation of mixes by the Nortec Collective and others, and gathered steam at the first Latin Alternative Music Conference last August in New York.

Enter into this circle a club promoter, the London-based sonic360 record label, which started a music and dance club called La Leche, first in London and New York. In April, sonic360 started bringing La Leche to Sugar as a monthly showcase for Latin electronica grooves and guest deejays from the Nortec Collective.

Last month at Sugar, dancers and Nortec fans surrounded deejay Terrestre, a.k.a. Fernando Corona, who followed sets by La Leche's two resident deejays, International Playboy Zen and Josh Kun. A pretty diverse crowd mixed inside Sugar, abuzz with excitement and curiosity mostly generated by pre-show radio promotions on KCRW.

Amid a tangle of fans and followers, Corona broke out ritual bass beats. Some dancers snaked and moved while others engaged in what you'd call psychedelic salsa. As he broke out "El Lado Oscuro de Mi Compadre" (roughly translated: "the dark side of my best friend"), a dark cacophony of dissonant beats, chants and melodies, the audience cheered. Corona's set built up to a momentous carnival of hypnotic bass, interjected by steel drum and hyper-brass notes.

Taking a break from the heat inside Sugar, Corona, whose background is rooted in rock, jazz and ambient sounds, recalled the origins of the Nortec phenomenon. In 1999, Corona received an e-mail invitation to collaborate on an initial Nortec recording from deejays Fussible and Panoptica. They sent that demo to deejays and radio stations around the world.

"We started out with 1,000 CDs in 1999, and got attention from a deejay in Japan, who took notice. Then Palm Pictures signed us and released the 'Tijuana Sessions Vol. I,' and now there is a 'Vol. II' coming out next year," said Corona.

KCRW's Nic Harcourt was one of the first disc jockeys to introduce Nortec to L.A. radio. Demos from Nortec deejays Plankton Man and Terrestre caught his ear about two years ago-it's "a unique mix of organic and electronic sounds that makes you want to dance," he says-and since then he's had both deejays on his show "Morning Becomes Eclectic."

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For Corona, the four-hour journey from his coastal hometown in Ensenada, across the border, and up the 405 Freeway to Santa Monica, is a form of trailblazing.

"We started doing the music just for fun, as independents. The acceptance was good all over the country, in Mexico City, in Guadalajara," he said. He had no way of knowing that the ripple effect of the Nortec Collective would advance Tijuana's reputation beyond that of a typical party-hearty border town, and break down borders in the electronic music world.

Sonic360 has just established a fourth La Leche location, this time in the city where this musical manifesto started, at club Don Loope on Tijuana's Avenida Revolucion.

In January, club-goers can expect a second La Leche venue to open in the downtown Los Angeles area.

Viva la revolucion.

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La Leche, second Friday of every month at Club Sugar, 814 Broadway, Santa Monica. $10. 21 and older. (310) 899-1989. Information and discounted guest list at http://www.sonic360.com. Guest deejays this Friday: Hilo and Omus from Sumosound.

Special La Leche Lounge night, Saturday at Star Shoes, 6364 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. No cover. 21 and older. (323) 462-7827.

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