Four years ago, the Tijuana-based Nortec Collective revolutionized Latin music with a daring new sound that merged electronica with exotic samples lifted from traditional Mexican genres such as banda and norteno.
The big question before Nortec's concert Friday at the Knitting Factory was whether the collective (now pared from seven DJs to five) could still sound vital and exciting even though its innovations have become an accepted part of the Latin alternative spectrum.
The answer: a resounding yes.
From the moment the group (augmented by a live guitarist) stepped on stage, it generated a variety of dazzling moods, all relating to the concept of Tijuana as a mysterious border town where so many cultures collide.
Some of the music, which comes chiefly from synthesizers and computers, evoked the inviting darkness of a film noir through its muted trumpets and sharp drum and bass. Other tracks were more joyful, seeped in Nortec's trademark accordion licks and bizarre sound effects.
There's such a goofy, good-natured quality to most of this stuff that it's hard not to smile when you're dancing to it.
The key to Nortec's renewed vitality lies in its decision to record its latest album, "Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3," with several live musicians. Bostich, the group's unofficial leader, says that he would like to bring some of the musicians on tour with him but that it would be a logistical nightmare. Too bad, because their presence would definitely enhance Nortec's performances.
Visually, Friday's show was all about watching a bunch of guys fiddling with their laptops and synthesizers while Tijuana-inspired imagery was projected on a screen behind them.
Music of such energy and cinematic qualities deserves a better presentation to go along with it.