Erick Rincon is only 16 years old. Level-headed and soft-spoken, the teenager radiates preternatural calm as he and some of his friends fold into a tiny studio in the back of his parents’ Monterrey, Mexico apartment. “I’m crazy!” interrupts one, who immediately starts beatboxing. “I wasn’t learning anything, so I dropped out of school two years ago,” Rincon says. The young producer doesn’t own a microphone but the MCs come by anyhow. Rincon squints at his computer screen through shaggy hair, wearing a day-glo T-shirt, skinny Smurf-colored jeans, and white Chuck Taylors. “What month is it?” He ﬁ nds his latest project ﬁ les, boots up FruityLoops, and his overworked PC speakers burst into life. A steady house kick-drum gets crosshatched by rootsy percussion swinging hard in a different time signature. Electro synths repeat a staccato riff, but the bassline dreams of Mexican tubas playing polka. Right before the track starts to makes sense, it downshifts into a cumbia break. At tomorrow’s party, this is the precise moment when over 3000 kids will scream and throw their hands into the air, but tonight Rincon’s tweaking sample settings with sound libraries nabbed off tribalero chatrooms, prepping for the quinceañera he’s DJing later. His mother sticks her head in: “They get so into the music! Sometimes they don’t leave this room, they just sleep on the ﬂ oor.” The music is tribal guarachero—clubbed out sounds that draw on regional folk songs and post-emo culture, cholo attitude and electro-house to create the distinctly Mexican sounds of the 21st century’s newest music.
Five years ago this music didn’t exist. Today, tribal guarachero soundtracks tough girls’ sweet 15 parties. Rincon’s cowboy brother skips through north Mexican tunes as he drives us to Royal Diamond function hall for the quinceañera. KFC, Starbucks and cheesy Tex-Mex chains can all afford to keep signage blazing after closing hours, so illuminated logos of American brands dot Monterrey’s nightscape. But the only places to get food at this hour are bare-bulb taco stands, and those sparkling lights clustered in the hills mark rough barrios like La Independencia, home to next-level cumbia wizards and gangsta foot soldiers rocking Ed Hardy gear.
Security guards let us in. Wearing a skimpy electric-blue tutu, birthday girl Nalleley dances with her father as mariachis play “The Last Doll.” Everybody knows the words, everybody knows the moves. Their strummed guitars start to resemble sped-up guaracha—the scraper percussion rasping out cumbia’s telltale shuﬄ e. The more local Mexican music you hear, the more you’ll catch structures and rhythms which tribal guarachero has cannibalized.