[Editor’s Note: The following guest post is by Ryan Muir, one of NYC’s most hardworking and talented photographers. After spending the better part of five days lugging his camera equipment all over Austin on our behalf, he waited for hours in a parking lot for a bus to Monterrey, Mexico to attend NYC promoter Todd P’s MtyMx festival. Here’s Ryan’s report in photos, videso, and words.]
Last week Stereogum sent me down to Monterrey, Mexico to experience the inaugural Todd P/Yo Garage DIY music festival. While many things went wrong on the trip, many things also went so right. Chalk it up to event fatigue, but in some ways the tiny Mexican musical outpost taught me more about new music and cultural community than any experience the days previously at SXSW. In spite of the relative successes and failures of this ambitious and experimental mission, it’s difficult not to dwell on the obvious logistical complications (and implications) which set the festival back. From an outside perspective, it would be easy to consider MtyMx a failure by the measure of any typical music festival, especially the way it has been covered so far as nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe, but from the onset, both in design and execution one should have expected that this was not promised as a usual music festival. This is a Mexican Todd P DIY-festival. There are no VIP lines.
The goal as I understood was not to appease brands and make the big cashola, but to bring American bands to new audiences south of the border off the tailwind of Austin’s SXSW festival, and introduce adventurous American audiences to Mexican bands unable to to secure expensive and elusive work Visas. As far as I know, nobody was hurt, shot, killed or kidnapped . Otherwise, I can think of two other unfortunate incidents: One careless MtyMx filmmaker was indirectly threatened for exploring a filming location on an adjacent mountain, and a group of hipsters were mugged after walking under the mountain in a storm drain … Stupid antics aside, the local population does not live in fear, and those who were able to seemed to have a pretty good time. True, many American bands did cancel, but the pervasive attitude I observed on the bus, and through speaking to several bands after the fact, was that it was for logistical purposes. Very few (and there were some) cancelled due to safety concerns crossing the border. I’ll abstain from naming names here.
It was perhaps because of my perseverance that I really wanted to enjoy the festival. But what struck me most was the local population could not have wanted to have a good time any less than I. Slam dancing along to Sunday night headliner Andrew WK (who had just started his set as our bus pulled into festival grounds), or crowd surfing for Liars on the last night. The Mexicans knew how to party better than most Brooklynites over 25. Notable headlining performers like No Age and Fucked Up were surely missed, but you would have a hard time telling from the smiling, shouting faces in the Autocinema Las Torres movie lot.
After the fist-pumping enthusiasm of the AWK set, my true introduction to the Monterrey music scene for me was spending time in the DIY venue Garage with the locals in between the extra-late night sets of Brooklyn’s Das Racist (a crowd favorite), Baltimore’s Teeth Mountain and DJ Dan Deacon (3am, 4am, and 5am respectively). In many obvious ways, the location reminded me of many of Brooklyn’s finer DIY establishments, but with a cheaper bar, more expensive backline equipment, brighter stage lights, and more comfortably chosen interior decoration. But also striking was the lack of cross-armed cynical hipster snobs and an abundance of cross-dressing, beer-sharing, crowd surfing, and appreciative Mexican music lovers. After taking in a few sets, and saying hello to some familiar faces most of my ill-conceived impressions of the trip had been blown away. I was already having a lot of fun.
At the start of the third festival day I would return, in light of day, to an unusually sparse yet idyllic and wholly unique environment at the base of the Sierra Madre Orientales — all of which had been essentially invisible during our late night arrival. I made a vow to catch every set and soak in as much as I could with band both familiar and unexpected. My alternatives being: drink lots of cheap Indio Beer and eat tacos, or smoke Mexican dirt-weed joints in the shade and make some new Mexican friends. It was pretty easy to do all of the above if one so chose.
Musically, I noticed several Mexican Bands. Mentira Mentira was a manic playful jokester guitar maverick named Gaby. What he lacked in sonic clarity and precision he made up for with scaffolding climbing, compulsory audience interaction. I pity the poor cable wrangler who (on request) strived to keep Gaby’s guitar cable plugged in. Alexico, a Mexican new wave duo, who on the surface reminded me of playful and more coy Sleigh Bells, and eventually did some interesting things with vocal chord modulation, and even impressively switching instruments mid set. It was hard to ignore the singer’s lithe charisma and she tended to make herself at home lounging on her keyboard table or writhing on the stage. Jovenes y Sexys, who I overheard one concert-goer describe as a “Mexican Broken Social Scene” were an unusual acoustic outlier in the mostly electric themed afternoon. However their serene crooning was an appropriate fit for the dusky evening skies. At that point in the day, I had started to feel the toll of the hot unrelenting sun. Also on the Sunday bill: Sr. Amable and Mr. Racoon, Mockinpott, Bam Bam, and Ratas Del Vaticano, a Mexican hardcore band.
America made a strong showing as well: I was impressed by the newly improved live performance of Lemonade, who were visibly enjoying themselves on stage. For a time the dusty lot turned into a dance party. Indian Jewlery, who were previously scheduled for the lineup a day earlier, persevered on our lost border bus. And I’m glad they did, they truly impressed. An excellent live presence with persistent tom-tom heavy jams under rhythmic, driving krautish-riffs. Visually they utilized a strobing flash on stage and on spectators as cameras popped away. This was my first experience with Indian Jewelery and it wont be my last. Neon Indian marked the point in the the night where the crowd really began to swell, and it was one of the most upbeat and colorful acts of the entire day. The chilled out, reverb-soaked Neon Indian recordings took on a near pop-noise live, making it less unusual that they would open for HEALTH and Liars.
HEALTH is a band I am always very excited to see, and the new more accessible direction the band has decided to take may mean for a larger mainstream breakthrough soon. Liars, too, performed an impressive set punctuated by always captivating frontsmanship from Angus Andrew. Several times between songs, Angus thanked Todd P for putting together such a wonderful festival for the Mexican fans, drawing attention to the “weird and awesome festival”. Can’t argue with him there. During the set closing Sisterworld LP track “Proud Evolution,” Angus dedicated the closing refrain of “You should be careful” to a “all the fuck ups who couldn’t make it to Mexico because they were too fucking careful!”
The true festival afterparty, also at Garage, was promised to include an encore of Menitra Menitra, Mexico’s XYX and Brooklyn’s Coasting, which I had every intention of attending, but when arriving back at the hotel I almost immediately passed out, sleeping through the whole thing. Based on everything else it was probably a blast. I rested enough so that the next day (after the music, by which time most had already left for home) to explore the local historical district, as well as some of the surrounding neighborhood, and found the people friendly and tolerant (if bemused) by my lack of Spanish proficiency. I’m disappointed in retrospect that I didn’t have more time to explore but relieved I was able to dispel some of my own prejudice about the safety and vitality of the city.
Truthfully, I had it as bad as anybody in terms of transportation snafus: What was initially advertised as a 6+ hour trip stretched into one that took nearly 24 hours from initial departure time. So I was only able to experience one day (characterized by the most, but not entirely, complete line-up) of the scheduled three. Despite that, however, I heard a bunch of good music in an unusual and eye opening setting. The musical curation was certainly more consistent than many of the stew-pot sets I had caught the week previously in Austin. Its just a shame that more people hadn’t braved the same path, as at I would say at its peak the crowd never breached 500, and at its lowest … well sometimes it seems like ONLY my bus had made it.
The overarching anxiety on both sides of the border was the mismanagement of transportation, which is one thing that festival organizer Todd Patrick would be first to admit went very badly. Was the bus trip across the American/Mexican border complicated? Yes. Arduous? Yes. Discouraging? Yes. Necessarily so? Also yes. I could list the ways the process could have been simpler if , but there’s no way around the fact that border crossing between the two countries at present is not as simple as passing into America’s friendly neighbor to the North. It should be said that I was beyond impressed with the professionalism and temerity of the MtyMx volunteers both at Cheer Up Charlies (the bus pickup in Austin, TX) and on site in base-camp Monterrey. The delays I was subject to were due to flaky or unstable drivers. It’s telling that once I arrived most of my time at the fest was relatively stress free and I was able to soak in the otherwise good vibes. However for many bands and fans both, transportation continued to cast a shadow over the proceedings. Hopefully my experience would be more typical at next year’s fest assuming MtyMx 2011 does come to fruition. Thank you Todd P, and Yo Garage for inviting us to Monterrey, for putting on a good party, and doing so with smiling faces.
Some video to take you there.