It’s hard to believe that the U.S. border is only two hours away, but that’s the magic of Monterrey, Mexico’s richest city. The conﬁ dent sprawl exerts its own cultural gravity. Closeness to the U.S. keeps it looking outward. The city prides itself on a century of bustling industry, a long legacy of bringing raw material from around the Americas, where they get transformed, capitalized on, and exported. Same thing happens with the music. Outside of Mexico, DJs like Sinden, J-Wow from Buraka Som Sistema and Nguzunguzu are starting to spike their sets with tribal guarachero. Hovering around 130BPM, the music’s syncopated street bump blends well across the house spectrum. Crowds in London or New York may hear it as quirky, catchy house with funky shuﬄ es, but back in Monterrey it’s aligned closely enough with uncool working class music that I saw Rincon and Sheeqo clear the danceﬂ oor during their ﬁ rst-ever performance for non-teenagers at the upscale venue Jaguar House. The kinetic pull of their music eventually won crowds back, shaking out class divides as everybody got crunk. In their home territory of ArcoIris, these kids are kings from start to ﬁnish.
Sheeqo tends towards percussion-heavy tracks. Rincon’s set is more playful. Simple three-note basslines pump along frisky drum patterns. The genre has gotten more synthy over the past few years, and part of Rincon’s mission is to integrate synth melodies with his beloved cumbia and pre-Hispanic. Most of the music played is his own—“Cumbia de Nuevo León Remix,” “La Bomba Remix,” “Magdalena”—and he mixes energetically. While tribal guarachero has signature sounds, the party DJs stay open: They take extended forays into reggaeton, some crunk en Español or, at the right moment, a slowed-down cumbia rebajada. When they drop reggaeton, they don’t play radio-ready summer tunes, which are big across Mexico. They play beats: danceﬂ oor edits, chopped up vocals. Dem Bow is everywhere. The signature bass/guitar lick from Chaka Demus & Pliers’ reggae classic “Murder She Wrote” is the most common sample of the day.
“Tribal Guarachero is catharsis, sonic catharsis.” —Toy Selectah
Monterrey’s love affair with bassy dance music, accordions (sampled or real), and technology goes back at least four decades, when they invented a new genre just by pitching cumbia records way down. “The music was getting too fast to dance to,” say Marquillos Colombia, the cumbia rebajada specialist, “so we slowed it down.” Marquillos has been supplying Monterrey’s cumbia fans for 15 years from a tiny sidewalk stand. On his arm, a time-smudged tattoo shows a red-eyed Donald Duck clutching a bottle of liquor as he confronts a cop in full riot gear. Three of us crowd under his sheet-metal roof to escape a tropical downpour; the fourth guy doesn’t fit and stands outside with a plastic bag on his head. Marquillos plays another rebajada at stomach-rattling volume, then resumes talking quietly. He explains that Monterrey’s obsession with Colombian cumbias goes deep, they just have to adjust it sometimes: changing the tempo, replaying it with local bands to draw the bass and grooves away from Colombian virtuosity. Everywhere else in the world, these dusty old cumbias are seen as old people’s music, but here, teenagers are some of his best customers.