It’s been two decades since Ramón Amezcua and Pepe Mogt, better known as Bostich and Fussible, first collided the polka-soaked folkiness of Mexican banda and norteño with the exploratory possibilities of electronic music. The resulting mélange was dubbed Nortec: a portmanteau of norteño and techno, it became a sound, and later an entity. Under the name Nortec, the two friends paid homage to the diverse musical influences that soundtracked their Baja California upbringing, as well as a sobering looking glass through which they examined the complex cultural landscape of the U.S.-Mexican border. “Nortec has always been a projection of border life, and Tijuana has lived many constant, sudden changes,” Bostich tells Rolling Stone over breakfast at the city’s charming Telefónica GastroPark.
As Tijuana’s unofficial cultural narrators, Nortec cast light on the gritty intersections of immigration, narco violence, political corruption and nightlife excess unfolding across the city. By welcoming additional producers such as Murcof, Plankton Man and Panóptica, the expanded Nortec Collective deconstructed and reimagined regional Mexican music in their own unique and insightful ways. Coupled with colorful pop visuals, they transcended the kitschy appeal of their evocative fusions, evolving from quirky local experiment to ubiquitous global phenomenon.
Although the Nortec Collective officially dissolved in 2015, founding members Bostich + Fussible have remained the crew’s standard bearers and most active members, performing live at such globally renowned events as Coachella, Glastonbury and Cirque du Soleil. Their vast catalogue includes Grammy- and Latin Grammy-nominated albums Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3 and Tijuana Sound Machine, as well as their most recent release, their first-ever Greatest Hits compilation, out now via Nacional Records.
Your new Greatest Hits compilation marks the 20th anniversary of Nortec Collective’s groundbreaking debut. How did this adventure begin?
Bostich: Nortec was born in 1999 from an idea Pepe had to sample some norteño and banda demos he had found. We deconstructed those sounds and individually created the first Nortec tracks: Pepe produced a track called “Ventilador” and I made one called “Polaris.” Afterwards, we invited more musicians to join us because we found tremendous potential in this new sound, where it wasn’t just a fusion, but an opportunity to create something completely original. We also felt the music connected with very specific aspects of our Tijuana identity; reflecting the banda and norteño we grew up listening to and integrating the electronic music playing on the radio.
When did the two of you meet and when did you decide to start making music together?
Bostich: We met in the 1980s, back when the scene was really solid because it was small, so we all knew and influenced each other. I met Pepe when I had already been working on my Bostich project for a few months. It was a friendship that blossomed naturally. Later, in the Nineties, we would run into each other at raves and other big electronic music shows until we eventually decided to get in the studio together.
At what point did your creative process evolve to incorporate regional Mexican music?
Fussible: That wasn’t until ’99. We’d been making electronic music for years, but Nortec was an experiment we didn’t expect to grow in such a crazy way. By 2000 we were already on tour and playing around the world. That was until about 2005 when the whole collective was still performing together. We all had different goals and agendas, working at different speeds, so in 2008 the two of us decided to sort of take back the Nortec banner and start releasing records as Bostich + Fussible. That’s where you get albums like Tijuana Sound Machine, Bulevar 2000 and Motel Baja, and later the soundtrack we did for Cirque du Soleil. The Greatest Hits record is exclusively comprised of tracks by both of us.
There is no doubt your music resonated with a global audience far beyond a Mexican or Chicano context. Why do you think Nortec became such an international sensation?
Fussible: Nortec has a distinctly Mexican sound, and by colliding banda, norteño and electronic music it can elicit a morbid interest from people who can’t fathom those combinations. But on first listen, most people realize we’re not making kitschy music or a joke. It’s musically solid and explores a regional context. You can hear a song like “Bar Infierno” and be transported to a night at the famous Tijuana bar, or maybe be depressed by something like “Bulevar 2000,” which was inspired by the string of decapitated bodies hung over Bulevar 2000 [in the mid-aughts.]
That’s what caught people’s attention on the outside. The work we’ve put into the project is serious, experimenting with new equipment, rediscovering regional music, telling real stories. Visual collaborators like Jorge Verdin and Fritz Torres, who worked on the design end, loved the idea of melding visual folklore with new technology. Artists like Checo Brown, Sal Ricarde, Iván Díaz and Angeles Moreno, also created festive pieces with a rave feel, highlighting realities like immigration, factory exploitation, precarious living conditions, narco culture and the narco state. All those intersections gave Nortec a unique charisma.
As you mentioned, Nortec is the product of many cultural, social and political intersections meeting in Tijuana. Why has Tijuana become such an intrinsic part of your artistic identity?
Bostich: Nortec has always been a projection of border life and Tijuana has lived many constant, sudden changes. Before the Eighties, Tijuana sustained itself largely on tourism and immigration. Politically, Baja California was the first state where an opposition party defeated the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) after about 50 years in power. Our generation also grew up in the early Eighties, where music was coming in from all sides. Club Iguanas opened with the idea of attracting acts passing through Los Angeles and San Diego, so all these cool bands started coming into town; I’m talking Nirvana, The Sugarcubes with Björk, Devo, Psychic TV and Mano Negra. That shaped our tastes and we became a very demanding audience. Nortec reflects that context, which gave us a lot of credibility and made us an unofficial soundtrack of the city.
In 2015, Nortec had officially dissolved. What led to that decision?
Fussible: We’d been touring for years, practically non-stop from 2008 through 2016, so we wanted to take a break and spend time with our families. But we’ve remained active. I released a solo album [titled Cuatro Cuarenta] last year and Ramón put out his own record, so it was by no means the end.
Bostich: There was a certain creative commitment we wanted to fulfill individually. When we announced Nortec was over, in 2015, we were able to look back on our achievements, collaborating with members of Kraftwerk, touring the world, the realization of so many of our dreams, but those creative opportunities don’t mean you need to divorce yourself from your passion. Soon after we announced Nortec was ending, Cirque du Soleil came knocking and we were thrilled to work with them. Yes, we’re on a break, but if an exciting creative opportunity comes up tomorrow, we will gladly take it.
Greatest Hits is now available on all streaming services.