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'Rebellion is well-known to us': inside Mexico's vital underground music scene

A portrait of J. Zunz
(Image credit: Sofía Ruesga)

I’ll start off by saying that my point of view when it comes to México's underground is probably biased, and I’m sure there is much more going on than what I see. It’s impossible to reach every corner of such a large and vast country like México. But I can talk about my 15-year experience of being an active musician in the underground scene.

México's underground music scene is a very specific niche where garage, psych, noise and electronic music – among many others genres – interact. It's inspiring that, no matter all the obstacles that we go through every day, this scene keeps moving on; reinventing itself and thriving. Of course, this comes as no surprise, because the underground is so often spurred on by acts of resistance – and what better place to live the act of resistance than in a country asphyxiated by the non-inclusive white superstructure? Rebellion is a well-known form to us, it’s a necessity we nurture every day.

Along the years I’ve seen venues, bands, blogs, festivals and record stores come and go. In the past, efforts to document these nomadic and itinerant scenes have been scarce, which in turn means that eventually, those scenes have all but faded from view. Back then, we could only trust our collective memory. Now, it's surely different, as the internet keeps track of everything. But it's still not easy for newer generations to get a grasp on what’s come before them – they have to start from scratch, with new ideals, new necessities. This isn't a bad thing – maybe it’s our way of building our history.

As with many communities over the world, the obstacles that often obstruct the preservation and continuity of these scenes are rooted in socioeconomic factors. Often, if you’re not privileged enough, the odds are you won’t survive as an active agent within the music scene (with a few exceptions, of course). This is dangerous, as it results in an otherwise vibrant scene being a place where only musicians from specific socioeconomic background can thrive, causing other voices or sides of the story to vanish. 

The enduring issues with politics and security throughout México also pose a threat to the health of the underground scene. A good example of this was Monterrey’s vibrant scene in the late 2000s. To my eyes, it was active, refreshing and confident. Playing there during those years changed my mind completely. There was such a sense of community – the venues, the music, the labels, everything. Unfortunately, in 2010, a wave of drug cartel-related violence took over the city in the middle of the most sanguine presidency in México’s history. The scene faded away as nightlife was gone, venues closed, musicians moved out or remained inactive. It’s sad how a movement like this can just disappear because of reasons completely separate to the music itself.

But, as I said, the underground keeps coming back to life with every new generation, no matter what. I’m currently very inspired by everything surrounding Tajak: a band based in Mexico City who have created their own label, Hole Records, home to a lot of new music. They started out as a cassette label, but they recently had their first vinyl release – with all the challenges that implies – and they’ve also put together their own Hole Festival in 2017 and 2019. Not far from them there’s also the prolific electronic and avant-garde scene fronted by women, and Oris, a newborn label which is a space for women and for the LGTBQ community. Both worlds interact in Mexico City, and though everything in the country is centralized, there is deeply engaging art coming from every corner. 

In the northwest corner of México, Haydeé Jiménez is an active musician and promoter who has created Nett Nett, an artistic space in Tijuana that hosts workshops, shows, lectures, and more. Due to its strategic location it has been an important meeting point between the experimental scenes from México and the United States. These examples are just a small representation of all the movements coexisting at the moment.

I’m not sure if I would be making music if it wasn’t for the underground. I’m really lucky and I had the privilege of growing up in a city like Guadalajara where moving as an independent musician was already an option thanks to past musicians who paved the way. Thanks to this, the underground has been my home and my way of life for many years. Creating music is abstract and self-absorbing to a great degree, and being part of a DIY community has given me the opportunity of thinking outside myself, of taking action and being communal. Of getting to know newer generations with their refreshing ideas and music. But above all, of resisting together. It is always an adventure and it is never boring.

The underground needs to stay as an essential option for future generations. It's a lifeline for those musicians who, like myself, can’t find their place in any other space.

Hibiscus is available now via Rocket Recordings