Three stages, 35 local bands, a 2,500-capacity mansion overlooking downtown Tijuana complete with pool: bordertown indie bombs away for the second annual All My Friends Music Fest.
Held at a private residence known as the Millionaire's House, the place belongs to a business tycoon who earned his bling by supplying much of northern Mexico with the polyethylene that grocery stores here run through with little regard to its 1,000-year lifespan. (Seriously, they often toss even the toothpaste in its own sack.) He now lives in Italy and left the keys with his son, who proudly (smugly?) described his dad as a plastic bag baron. Junior now shares the eight-bedroom norteño nouveau-riche palace with just one friend and banks extra cash by renting out the yard for the occasional rave or music festival like AMF.
We knew we were in for an all-day ordeal from the get-go. Doors opened at 1 p.m. and even though the last act wasn't scheduled to play until 3:30 a.m. our people showed up at 2 in time to catch the first band, which wound up not going on until 5 or so.
So the group splintered. Some lounged by the pool in the sun; those with swimsuits toyed with actually getting in. And even though coorganizer Martha Preciado promised free beer to any gringo who did, no one made it past posing for photos on the high dive. Others killed time by roaming around the outskirts of downtown Tijuana or strolling through whatever happened to be going on in nearby Teniente Guerrero Park, a block of urban greenery that's usually the site of live impromptu homages to Selena and ongoing checkers tournaments.
The rest compensated for the lagging beer vendors by going on OXXO runs for mini bottles of Corralejo, while I found myself observing the various realms of Tijuana hipsterdom (did someone say mipsters?) as they slowly but surely strutted in. Their shoes, mostly, apparently, randomly. And the girl with cardboard sign tied to her backpack advertising she had single cigarettes for sale.
By sundown, the grounds had filled with some 1,400 bodies, according to the organizers' estimates, and the spirit of the fest finally presented itself. This was a giant house party, orchestrated by the fiesta-fiend spawn of parents who were off sailboating in St. Tropez or martiniing in Monaco or something.
Not too far from the truth, AMF fell together in 2010 when founder Argenis Garcia, a 26-year-old writer and photographer, returned from Coachella with his sister, broke and in need of money to send her back to school in Barcelona.
"I decided that the only way I could raise funds to help my sister was to bring all my friends together and throw a house party," he said.
They held it at their own place, which they were in the process of moving out of. The lack of furniture made room for three stages, one in the living room, one in the kitchen and a DJ setup in one of the bedrooms.
"We had more than 500 attendees, with bands like VisViva, El Hijo de la Diabla, a really special set by Ibi Ego in the kitchen, Jay Liquid, Machino and Al-B where there too. The party ended at 7 in the morning (when) the sun came up."
The deeper motivation for AMF was that Argenis was seeing a new generation of local bands not receiving the exposure he felt they deserved and wanted to do something about it. He describes it as a community-built festival that's not only about the acts but the family and friends who helped organize the festival from the get-go, hence the name. Even his mom was there last year selling tacos to the security guards and the bands. This year, his sis dropped in unannounced from New York, the Kanye West T-shirt he's wearing here alongside Martha in tow.
Aside from nearly tripling its turnout, AMF 2011 had caught attention from press and bloggers in Spain, Mexico City and the U.S. Not bad for its second installment. And perhaps it's a complete coincidence, what with the Tijuana haute cuisine scene apparently being the flavor of the season among New York media circles, but MTV spent a decent chunk of its summer in Tijuana recording a video series on the homegrown ruidoson movement that starred Maria y Jose and Los Macuanos, as well as spots with Nortec Collective's Bostich + Fussible, pyschojazz act Madame Ur y Sus Hombres and Sonidero Travesura (none of whom were part of the AMF lineup, by the way).
The DJ sets and smaller, intimate acts like Pek Pek and Elephant Woman happened on the balcony alongside the pool, while the more hardcore bands Hijo de la Diabla, Mae Machino and San Pedro el Cortez played in a semi-subterranean concrete bunker at the back of the property. Upstairs, on what looked to be a rooftop tennis court enclosed by barbwire-crowned chainlink (tres TJ), were shoegaze acts Loopdrop and Shantelle and headliners Bam Bam and Juan Cirerol. The bands were staggered between the two latter locales, but thanks to the lack of any sort of set list posted anywhere no one really knew who was playing when and where.
Memorable moments vary depending on whom you ask. For Argenis, it was a tie between Mae Machino's reunion after a six-year hiatus and Juan Cirerol's acapella version of "Crema Dulce," thanks in part to the lack of a sound system because the curfew for the generator had come and gone but Juan decided to keep playing.
For San Diego CityBeat editor Peter Holslin, it was Dani Shivers' "lo-fi goth pop."
"Wearing black eye shadow and a thin white shawl, she looked mysterious as she laid out warm synth chords and crude dance beats and cooed into the microphone. At once sinister and childlike, her performance was downright mesmerizing."
San Diego Reader's Chad Deal said Celofan made him "feel like a quixotic high school freshman at the Epicenter again. Reminded of Sunny Day Real Estate, Cold Weather Rescue, and 'Daydream Nation'-era Sonic Youth, I had the sudden compulsion to write fumbled love notes on Myspace to a shy brunette in heavy-handed eyeliner who smokes Kamel Reds and always wears the same beat pair of black Converse low-tops."
Personally, the evening climaxed with San Pedro el Cortez's hecho-en-Mexico melange of garage and surf rock. Not only was one of the guitarists wearing a sequined cocktail dress that resembled that which I wore behind the bars of a Tijuana jail a couple years ago, the band had taped fireworks to their guitar necks which they of course ignited and sprayed at the audience during their last song. Someone actually got it on video. A mosh pit ensued, instigated by one of Turista Libre's own, Max. ¡Ahuevo, Max!
Also among the crowd was Winston Rivas, a reporter for Austin Vida and the Latin American music corespondent for Red River Noise. He's also involved in the organization of a very significant American music festival which he asked remain unnamed. His fave of the evening was Shantelle, "a gorgeous set of shoegaze, everything from the razor sharp keyboards/synths, the funky bass line to Julio Palido's tender voice. The whole set I felt was being dipped into a glossy fantasy filled with shimmering lights and '90s romance and I never wanted to leave. This guys are Mexico's biggest hidden gem."
His favorite set, however, was Bam Bam: "A psychedelic furry of screeching synths, pounding drums and galloping guitar riffs. I knew Bam Bam was good but after seeing them live I was reassured what I already knew. They are Mexico's rock band for the next decade."
Summing up the fest in general, aside from a few organizational flaws and the somewhat awkward venue (a park would have been better), Winston felt the AMF people should be happy with how far they've come in just a year. Very few cities in Mexico can claim they have 20-30 solid indie bands, he said, and that's not even including the one's who didn't even play the festival (Maria y Jose, Los Macuanos). So this was a reaffirmation for the people of Tijuana that an indie scene does exist, and for the outsider it was a moment to take notice.
There are hundreds of festivals every year but very few capture an accurate portrait of their scene, he said.
"Does Coachella really represent Indio? Does ACL really showcase the real Austin? No. This may not have been the biggest festival but I can't recall where I've had a better time. This was a Tijuana festival made by Tijuana people for Tijuana people.
"Plus, where else can you get a big-ass cup of Jack and Coke for 35 pesos?"
Bien dicho, Winston. Bien, bien dicho.
Before the fest, the turistas fueled up on chicken drenched with Mexico's quintessential chile-chocolate sauce that's made up of no fewer than 20 ingredients, mole. Perched on the edge of a roundabout on Paseo de los Heroes in Zona Rio, La Casa Del Mole looks like a Oaxacan spin on "Swiss Family Robinson," an atrium with huge skylights, green anythings and everythings everywhere, be it paint or actual foliage, a live piano on the weekends and an actual waterfall that makes it easy to forget you're not only indoors but only a mile or so from the ol' U.S. of A.
Lineup: Juan Cirerol y Martin Del Prado, Mae Machino, Mentira Mentira, Loopdrop, Shantelle, Deck B, Vis Viva, Celofan, San Pedro el Cortez, Electric Healing Sound, Dani Shivers, La Diabla, Late Nite Howl, Perros Cobardes, El Hijo de la Diabla, Inkjet, Dasein, Krylon, Machino, Sweet Lullaby Toyland, Siete Catorce, Al-B, Elephant Woman, Santos Balcones Durango, KPTN, Pek Pek, The Kunt Set Duo.