“It’s tough for us to play outside in the daylight,” says Nortec member Fussible. “We perform with all these LEDs and lights, and our tabletop screen uses colors to cue changes. In the sun, it’s tough to figure out what color the cues are. We’ve done it before, but don’t be surprised if we’re shading the screens and wearing sunglasses.”
Fussible and Bostich, part of the team that creates music for the Tijuana-based group, headline the side stage at this weekend’s free, daytime event. Delta Spirit, the Skeletones, Fake Problems and Beatmo will also rock the side stage, while Common, Ben Lee, Wale and reggae singer Pat Kelly hold court on the big stage. The Spring Splash organizers, who made sure everything’s environmentally friendly, are even letting a campus battle of the bands winner kick start the day as the first live act.
Since Nortec must perform under the still-bright rays of a 4:30PM set, they won’t have the big visual effects of their club shows, but they will deliver a taste of the live music fusion that epitomizes their albums. Fussible and Bostich, working the electronics, will be backed by accordion, tuba and trumpet players, a bajo sexto guitarist and a DJ. In fact, it’s just this type of acoustic-electronic blend that helped 2008’s Tijuana Sound Machine land them their first Grammy nomination.
“We made The Tijuana Sessions, Vol. I with samples and loops and then incorporated more live musicians on Vol. III, but Tijuana Sound Machine is a whole other story,” Fussible explains. “On this album we used a Japanese instrument called a Tenori-On. It creates music on a geometrical app that you can rotate or move to make a melody or rhythm. We made the music on it and then gave it to the band so they could recreate all these interfaces with their instruments. After that, we went back into the studio and blended it all together to create a hybrid of electronic and acoustic elements. We even let the musicians do solos on the accordion and other instruments without any editing.”
This type of fusion is instinctual for a group steeped in the cultural diversity of Tijuana. It’s an urban city filled with dance clubs for rowdy college kids coming across the border and local spots for the popular regional sounds of Norteño, a style from northern Mexico that was influenced by European polka rhythms brought to the area a century ago. The name Nortec itself is a linguistic hybrid of Norteño and techno, and the group lives up to its name by blending these elements into a sound that transcends the geographic limitations of pop culture. In fact, it’s the group’s lack of defined boundaries that inspired many music supervisors to use Nortec songs in television spots, including an Edwin Jeans’ commercial with Brad Pitt.
“At the beginning, we thought, well, maybe someone will put our music in a Taco Bell commercial,” Fussible laughs. “Instead, people use our music for brands I never imagined. For example, there’s this Fidelity Mutual commercial with a serious guy talking over Nortec and a Volvo commercial with a big car driving down the street to our music. They seem so serious and square with this festive music in the background. The commercials don’t seem to have any relation to the music.”
Though surprised by how the music’s used, Fussible thinks he understands why it works.
“We could be called ‘border music,’” he remarks. “We have this electronica that’s heavily influenced by the U.S. and Europe, fused with this northern Mexican music that also has European roots. If we used something like strict mariachi and electronica, it would be different, but we use sounds that have a much greater global appeal.”
And these global sounds should incite more Spring Splash dancing this weekend than dollar tequila shots on Revolución Avenue.
Nortec Collective, Common, Ben Lee, Delta Spirit and others at Spring Splash 2009, UC Riverside at the Belltower, 900 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 827-1012, www.springsplash.ucr.edu. Sat., May 2, 11AM-6PM, Free!