Tijuana: Beyond Body Shots, Peep Shows and Vomit

Frontier Life exposes the musical genius of Mexico's most notorious border town.

To most Americans, Tijuana means young drunks, scary cab drivers and clearance-priced sex acts. But in recent years the borderlands have incubated a vibrant indigenous avant-garde movement, with a music collective called Nortec as the catalyst.

Nortec (the name mashes norteño, a regional Mexican music genre, and techno) began when a group of Tijuana DJs started grafting sounds and rhythms from Tijuana's stew of traditional Mexican music to volcanic electronic dance beats. This slice-'n'-dice aesthetic reflects the subterranean culture documented in Frontier Life by San Diego filmmaker Hans Fjellestad.

"Tijuana never really had its own regional style of music," Fjellestad says. "People imported music from all over Mexico as they came to work or cross the border. And now Nortec is fusing that fusion."

Frontier Life looks at the improv technology that drives Tijuana's waste-water treatment system and obsessional car culture. It also delves into Nortec itself, which Fjellestad sees as a key to understanding Tijuana culture. Visual artists, designers and architects have all rallied around the music collective.

"Music is still at the center of it, but Nortec is practically a way of life now," Fjellestad says.

Fjellestad is taking Frontier Life on tour, band-style, through the western U.S.; Tuesday's showing at Berbati's Pan will also feature a live performance by Titicacaman, a South American musical act perhaps better seen live than described here. It's a somewhat unorthodox approach for a filmmaker, but then Fjellestad's topic is unique, too.

"Tijuana is kind of a strange little island," he says. "It's isolated from the south, and alienated from the north. Its own culture is just now emerging. It's the kind of environment where everything is a little bit louder and brighter." Zach Dundas

Frontier Life shows Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. Titicacaman performs, or something. 9 pm. $7. 21+

Triumph of the Machines
Experimental electronica + avant-garde classical + really weird gadgets = NWEAMO.

Since music prof Joe Waters and some Lewis & Clark College students started it in 1998, the Northwest Electro-Acoustic Music Organization has mapped the common ground between avant-garde classical and wacko experimental electronic music.

Esoteric? Why, yes. But Waters and company are part of a fast-burgeoning world, where the borders between DJ culture, radical composers and music-driven mad science dissolve. NWEAMO's annual festival of experimental performances, now in its fourth year, has attracted international attention from fringe artists. Last year's NWEAMO fest included eerily beautiful pieces performed with reel-to-reel tape decks, cobbled-together plumbing, laptops and even a cactus.

"There are all these people now who are coming to music in nontraditional ways," explains Waters. "They didn't start playing violin at the age of 5. They may have started out playing in rock bands or, these days, making music in their bedroom on their computer."

Waters has since moved to San Diego and started an electro-acoustic music program at San Diego State University. But rather than simply move NWEAMO to San Diego, Waters decided to stage the festival in both cities. NWEAMO San Diego takes place a week later than its older Portland brother.

"I set up this whole organization in Portland, and I've been around long enough to realize that you just don't let things go," Waters says. "It's your life's legacy."

This year's festival, which emphasizes music incorporating performance-art elements, attracted hundreds of would-be entrants. The resulting crop is rich and odd. CMAU uses amplified homemade instruments and found objects. Milena Iossifova plays the VoiceMutator, a computer-aided instrument of her own design based on the human voice. Michael Theodore and Terry Longshore combine tabla with computer processing. And Maxime de la Rochefoucauld turns his performance over to machines: an ensemble of automatons that play "oddly organic polyrhythms."

So, if you're looking for throbbing techno beats, this isn't the show for you. But with 14 eclectic, electro-acoustic acts from seven countries playing over two days, there's plenty for the more adventurous listener to get excited about. Ben Munat

B Complex, 320 SE 2nd Ave., 235-4424, 8 pm Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4-5. $10 per night, $17 for both nights. All ages.



Aesthetes young and old who love the head-on SMASH! between rock and roll and visual art are in luck this week. First, there's the Paper, Scissors, Rock show at Pacific Northwest College of Art, a gargantuan showcase of Northwest rock propaganda featuring work by such household names as Mike King, Frank Kozik and Sean "Craphound" Tejaratchi. The show, culled from the vaults of Seattle's Experience Music Project, opens with a First Thursday gala at PNCA Central, 1241 NW Johnson St., from 6 to 9 pm. We heartily endorse this cultural opportunity.

The very same evening, if you can brave the marauding art-mobs, features an opening at Chetwynd Stapylton Gallery with work by John Van Hamersveld and Mark Mothersbaugh. Van Hamersveld, one of the defining graphic minds of the '60s (who also boasts a distinguished body of work thereafter), made his mark with Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane album covers, not to mention his blazing poster for 1966 surf-culture flick The Endless Summer. Van Hamersveld will be on hand at the opening.

Mothersbaugh--of DEVO, the L.A. soundtrack shop Mutato Muzika (Royal Tenenbaums, Rugrats, etc.) and many other pursuits--can't make the trip. But H&V reached the man from DEVO via phone at Mutato's flying-saucer-shaped headquarters. With a brief interruption to deal with an "exotic flutist's" arrival ("He's going to add a little Tahitian elemental beauty to this romantic comedy we're working on"), he filled us in on his painting career.

H&V: Painting. Soundtracks. DEVO. Where, how and why do you find the time?

Mark Mothersbaugh: A long time ago, I found what worked for me, what allowed me to remain a visual artist in spite of all the other work I had going on. We were all visual artists before we had DEVO--my brother Bob was making little movies long before the DEVO movies. It was the early '70s, and we were very influenced by the artists of the time who were blurring the lines between disciplines, between high-brow and low-brow and between commercial and fine art.

When I was younger, I said to myself, I want to live a life like Andy Warhol--he's a photographer, he paints, he produced the Velvet Underground. He's, y'know, a bon vivant. And I thought that was great. Who wants to be pigeonholed as a guitarist?

What sort of show will we see at Chetwynd?

The thing all these pieces have in common is they are, or originally were, postcard-size. It's easy to work with that size when you're on tour, when you're on a plane, on a break on a soundstage, wherever. The oldest piece, I think, I started in 1977 when I was living on a houseboat with Richard Branson. He wasn't a billionaire then--in fact, I don't think he was even a millionaire.

Do you confuse the hell out of people sometimes?

Somehow I've managed to invade deep into a lot of different territories in the course of my...not illustrious, but certainly industrious, career. I get people coming up to me, very confused, asking me to sign a DEVO hat for them and a Rugrats doll for their kids, going, uh, "I'm not sure how this fits together."

Mothersbaugh + Van Hamersveld: Chetwynd Stapylton Gallery, 615 SW Broadway, 223-3024. First Thursday opening 6-9 pm.

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