Tijuana-based Static Discos wants to put Latin American electronic music artists on the map — almost as much as it wants to erase that map altogether.
Mexico is a big priority for us, but there is always the problem of distribution in this country.
Meet Ejival, 34 year-old music impresario, writer, Tijuana native, and master of understatement. In fact, the number of independent labels in this spanish-speaking nation of 100 million can be counted with one hand — leaving enough fingers left over to count the number of distributors.
Despite these odds, Ejival has managed to launch and grow not one but two independent music labels in just over five years. In 1997, his Nimboestatic imprint tapped into a long overlooked market for new music in the north of Mexico, recording and releasing 4AD-inspired bands like Nona Delichas and Aural with critical and commercial success.
At the time, it was all but certain that these innovative bands would have faded without a trace had it not been for Nimboestatic, but no one would have dared to predict that all of their releases would quickly go out-of-print. In just over three years, a scant catalog of five Nimboestatic albums topped sales of 10,000 in Mexico.
“I think we’re very lucky,” confesses Ejival, who at times has worked as an administrator in one of Tijuana’s many maquiladoras or foreign-owned assembly plants, “and since we’ve demonstrated that we release quality music, people want to work with us.”
Unfortunately, such prestige is hard to take to the bank. Early in the history of Nimboestatic, Ejival realized that neither he nor his artists were likely to ever see the proceeds of their record sales. Instead, the fledgling label requested that their Mexico City-based distributor agree to manufacture yet more records in lieu of payments for those already sold.
This strategy would eventually allow Ejival to wager his accumulated credit on an even riskier proposition — to create a label for experimental and leftfield electronic music.
In 2002, Ejival teamed up with veteran Nimboestatic artists and personal friends Rubén Tamayo and Fernando Corona to create Static Discos. Parlaying Nimboestatic’s paper wealth into a two-record deal, they soon released the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed albums “Resonancia” by Fax and “Martes” by Murcof.
Though Static might be the first left-field electronic music label in Mexico, electronic music, per sé, is nothing new to the hispanic world. In the mid-1980s, the very same New Wave that swept over England and the United States coursed through Madrid, Spain, eventually flooding the airwaves of Latin American capitals like Buenos Aires, Argentina, Santiago, Chile and, in the San Diego, California region, the Mexican metropolis of Tijuana.
By the late 1980s, Tijuana was home to a thriving electronic music scene which not only voraciously consumed music by Depeche Mode (UK), OMD (UK), Los Prisioneros (Chile) and Mecano (Spain) but also produced its own spanish-language New Wave bands. Though the perennial paucity of resources destined many of these inspired if mimetic groups to fade away without leaving a single recording, a handful of their members persisted through the early 90s, eventually returning as the wildly successful Nortec Collective.
By 2001, the Nortec Collective had effectively put the area’s rambunctious interpretation of techno on the global map. But Nortec’s brass-heavy, sample-based variation on house music could not — and, likely, was never intended to — enter into a conversation with the already popular sonic experimentation advanced in Europe and the U.S. by such well-known artists as the Aphex Twin, Autechre, Pole and Pansonic.
Whether a matter of taste or commercial aspirations, it would fall to Ejival and his cohorts to strike out on a more adventurous — if, presently, elitist — path. At the time that the Static label was formed, the artist Fax, aka Rubén Tamayo, had already recorded a few singles for the minimal techno imprint Traum of Cologne, Germany.
Perhaps as a testament to the lasting power of borders in an age of global capitalism, the debut of Fax’s glitchy, dub-inflected house music in Mexico — and by a Mexican label — would mark a turning point for the region’s musical culture, and, possibly, the world’s understanding of same.
Listening to Fax, you will not hear the stereotypical signifiers of “ethnic” or “folk” music. On both his first and forthcoming “Ruido de fondo” (i.e., “Background noise”) albums, this Mexicali native gently coaxes the listener into cavernous, artificial spaces that nonetheless twinkle with a warm sense of humor.
This inaugural release from Static was quickly followed and, for better or worse, eclipsed by the international bombshell of “Martes” the recording debut of Murcof, aka Fernando Corona. Previously working under the moniker of Terrestre as a member of the Nortec Collective, Corona was already well-known for his gritty, experimental departures from the Tech-Mex form. But in producing “Martes,” the wily Corona — now laboring under the name of Murcof — went off the “deep” end by combining poignant classical music samples with playful strokes of DSP invention.
Three months after Murcof’s “Martes” debuted in Mexico as Static release 002, the same album was released in Europe by the highly-regarded Leaf label. Now blessed with European distribution and the mark of presitigious imprimatur, “Martes” received almost instant universal praise from such stalwarts as The Wire UK, landing the Tijuana-based Murcof with a continuing string of gigs at international festivals like Sonar in Barcelona and Montreal’s Mutek.
Just as the Murcof and Fax records were creating momentum for Static Discos, its sole distributor, Opcíon Sonica (Sonic Option) of México City, abruptly and unexpectedly went out of business. The fiasco cost Ejival $10,000 (USD) in credit, temporarily disappeared half of Static’s merchandise, and indefinitely postponed the release of their third offering, afternuclearbomb by fellow Mexicans Duopandamix (aka, Gabriel Acevedo and Guillermo Guevara).
Yet, one year later, in March of 2003, Static’s fortunes would reverse once more, this time taking a dramatic turn for the better. After retrieving their stock of unsold records from the defunct distributor, the label managed to secure distribution in Mexico through newcomer Antídoto, finally released the charmingly low bit yet hi-fi Duopandamix record, landed a US distribution deal through Darla (the North American home of Lali Puna and Señor Coconut), as well as arranging for future distribution in Europe through the Posteverything web site.
Less than two years after its inception, the little Mexican label that could is now available throughout North America (she of NAFTA fame) as well as the European Union. Static’s fourth release, Stock, a compilation that oscillates happily between a variety of experimental and dancefloor genres, was released in July and is shrewdly priced to sell in the U.S. at a mere $8.49.
Perhaps the most eye-opening track on this flagship Static compilation is “Aún Duele,” from the fertile yet punctilious mind of Alvaro Ruíz, a denizen of Mexico City previously known as one half of the hip lounge music act Ruisort (published by the UK’s Certificate 18 label). With this initial release on Static, Ruíz manages a deft blend of acoustic instrumentation, sultry female scat and digital manipulation, leaving few to suspect that the evocative results include the participation of some of Mexico’s best known free jazz artists.
When asked about the future, Ejival responds with the disarming mix of stoicism and optimism that defines so much of Mexico’s culture. “Our goals are to keep releasing records,” he writes, from his intermittent email account, “and putting Static Discos on the world map.”
For Ejival and his band of merry mavericks, the day of Mexico’s ascent to the world stage of innovative electronic music may have already arrived.