The early ‘90s are back in Tijuana.
High-waist bloomers, felt boater hats, “Goo” Sonic Youth tees, lacey long-sleeves, cat-eye liner beneath buggy shades, jean shorts, atnd red, red lips dominate hep vogue in “the most visited city in the world.”
Five models (they looked about 17) demonstrated the TJ mode by striking blasé poses around the pool at the Millionaire House, a 2500-capacity mansion/venue maintained by the son of a plastic-bag mogul on a hillside overlooking the nightlife nexus of Revolución and Sexta. It was all part of the second annual All My Friends music festival, which saw over 30 bands from Tijuana, northern Mexico, and San Diego playing on three stages from early afternoon until around 4 a.m.
Four-year Tijuana resident and Turista Libre tour guide Derrik Chinn lightheartedly likened the mansion to “Brenda Dickson’s Mexican getaway,” a reference to the abode’s nouveau riche aesthetic as evinced by opalescent windows, an aqua-bottomed living room moat, and a high-dive board over a near-Olympic-size swimming pool.
Seeking access into the manor’s esoteric corridors, I met owner Pato Tangassi, who sported a furry traptper hat in cool defiance of mid-day heat. Pato told me he throws parties about twice a week and gave me a quick tour of the house — an eight-bedroom, largely vacant complex maintained by him and a friend.
Harkening back to the emo late ’90s, Tijuana natives Celofan made me feel like a quixotic high school freshman at the Epicentre. 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.
A half moon crested the east hills, and the crowd reached hundreds as whimsical Tijuana four-piece Loopdrop evoked Joy Division, Kraftwerk, and early Stereolab on guitar and an array of vintage keyboards. Vendors cleared out until only a few artists selling fresh toast with Nutella, PB&J, and slices of caramel remained.
Alejandro, a tijuanense, asked me rather out of the blue if I knew of Ken Kesey, the central figure in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Alejandro said he wanted to be the Kesey of Mexico — to rewrite Mexico’s drug story, a saga desperately in need of a new author. The irony, of course, is that Kesey briefly flew the proverbial cuckoo’s nest to Mexico in order to escape persecution for marijuana charges. That and, ya know, Kesey ultimately gave up LSD altogether in a theatrical Acid Graduation celebration complete with diplomas for his Merry Pranksters.
Later, Tijuana shoegazers Shantelle closed with their hit single “Unamonos.” The music video is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen and captures (and probably informs) the Tijuana aesthetic perfectly.
I caught up with filmmaker Dominik Daoust a few days later. The Montreal native has been living in Tijuana for the past ten months and filmed much of the Turista Libre outing as part of a documentary.
“I got the idea by seeing how far people’s perception of Tijuana is from reality,” Daoust said. “I’ve never felt in danger in Tijuana. I feel safer here than in Los Angeles.”
The as-of-yet-unnamed documentary, which includes interviews with doctors, teachers, media figures, and “random people on the street,” is expected to go online within about a year.
“I want to show reality,” said Daoust. “I want people to judge for themselves. I don’t want to impose a vision. I hope it’s going to open people’s minds about Tijuana.” ■