Yesterday at 5am on the way to the airport, my friend (and occassional Phoenix contributor) Ali Carter and I kept laughing and wondering whether or not we are crazy people. A couple of hours later, we boarded a plane for Monterrey, Mexico where we'll be checking out Festival NRMAL for the next five days. The festival runs until Sunday, with
showcases of bands from all over Mexico, South America, the US, and
other places. Monday we’re taking a bus to McAllen, Texas, a town just over the border, for a 1-day
festival called Galax Z Fair, and then are heading to Austin for SXSW. After being here for less than 24 hours, I can say with confidence that we are definitely not crazy people.
Monterrey is a beautiful, warm city full of palm trees and surrounded by mountains. Festival NRMAL starts tonight with showcases at various locations with the biggest event being an all-day outdoor fest at a park this Saturday. Not only does the line-up rule (in addition to the Mexican and South American bands, who I will introduce you all to in future posts, the fest includes Ariel Pink, DIIV, Sky Ferreira, Mykki Blanco, Laurel Halo, and dozens more) but there also is an immediacy to a festival like NRMAL in that it dispells stereotypes associated with touring and traveling within Mexico.
Brooklyn show organizer/legend Todd P, who is involved with the booking for Festival NRMAL, had this to say yesterday in an interview with Gothamist:
There's alot of things that all I think are injustices both little and big that are propagated against the people of Mexico, or of what life is really like down there. That's in addition to the more direct injustices of the way we operate our border, you know? It's not easy to come to this country legally if you are from Latin America. And yet the people who are trying to come legally are exactly the people that the border is not supposed to be stopping.
That ends up having a cumulative effect that goes beyond just being a drag. It actually effects the economy—more importantly it effects the cultural exchange. And it serves to kind of perpetuate a lot of really ugly stereotypes people have about Mexico which causes them to just write it off as if there's nothing important going on there.
Monterrey is a very modern city, one of the wealthiest cities in Latin America. Even in its doldrums of this drug cartel situation, it's still a bustling, modern metropolis with buildings going up all the time. The architecture looks like something out of Dubai. It doesn't look like North America, it looks like another world. It's a very modern place. And I meet these people there who are more educated than me and are more aware of what's going on in music and throughout the states and Europe than anybody I know in the States or Europe. And I ask them, "So, are you going to go up the road to see South by Southwest?" which is only five hours away.
And some of them, yeah, cause they're wealthy enough that they can get visas and have attorneys and whatnot. But the majority of them, especially the ones who are middle class kids, they can't.
The requirements for getting a visa are pretty strict. You have to show a very responsible sort of lifestyle. You have to show that you have about ten grand in the bank. You have to show that you've lived in the same place, I wanna say, for six months. You have to show you've held the same job for about two years.
These aren't absolute numbers but this is kind of the average that they ask for. And these may not seem like terribly burdensome hurdles to pass but what if you're 20? What if you're 25 and an artist or some kind of creative person living a creative lifestyle? How many people in Bushwick that you know pass that kind of criteria? And this is a real thing, it's an absurdity.
The kids down there have been building their own scene and the Latin American community has it's own version of the indie—I hate that word—but indie community. And it's got its own homegrown talent but its also has the same conversation going on among the acts and bands that trend and happen here.