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An ambitious undertaking that collected small- and medium-size indie-rock bands from the United States, Mexico and elsewhere and planted them on this little-used stretch of land for three days, playing for fans from Brooklyn and Guadalajara, Denver and Mexico City, MtyMx hoped to make an argument about the exportability of the D.I.Y. ethic.
Depending on the perspective, it was either a catastrophic failure or the essence of a do-it-yourself success. Before the festival, Todd Patrick, better known as Todd P, the primary, Brooklyn-based organizer, had assured potential attendees and bands that Monterrey was safe. But in the days just before MtyMx, drug cartel violence in and around the city experienced an uptick. Besieged by logistical difficulties and band cancellations, the festival often felt like a long string of indignities with a progressive soundtrack. Yet even though the festival didn’t nearly live up to its advance billing, there was a certain sublimity to its ramshackle shortcomings.
This was out of my comfort zone,” Mr. Patrick said on Sunday afternoon. “We could have done better.
Mr. Patrick, who in recent years has helped build a network of independently promoted events throughout Brooklyn that have nurtured an impressive generation of young bands, conceived of MtyMx as a cultural corrective, sharing American indie talent with a savvy, if small, Mexican audience and exposing American bands to new avenues for touring and to like-minded artists south of the border. The festival was organized in concert with Yo Garage, a collective of promoters who put on shows at Garage, a long, narrow, unfinished performance and social space in the Barrio Antiguo that is one of the city’s centers for independent-minded bands. (The two partners also promoted an unofficial showcase at the partly concurrent South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Tex.) MtyMx had no corporate sponsors, and promised logistical and financial support from Mexican governmental agencies, including the Instituto Mexicano de la Juventud, never materialized, Mr. Patrick said. Ricardo Ramírez Franco, one of the Yo Garage curators, said his initial hope for MtyMx was to make Monterrey, in the state of Nuevo León, “a viable stop for touring bands.” But almost half of the acts that were scheduled to play didn’t appear, including No Age, Thee Oh Sees, Liturgy, Washed Out and Beach Fossils, helping to seal the narrative of the festival as one of unmet, and possibly unreasonable, goals.
Ricardo Ramírez Franco, one of the Yo Garage curators, said his initial hope for MtyMx was to make Monterrey, in the state of Nuevo León, “a viable stop for touring bands.” But almost half of the acts that were scheduled to play didn’t appear, including No Age, Thee Oh Sees, Liturgy, Washed Out and Beach Fossils, helping to seal the narrative of the festival as one of unmet, and possibly unreasonable, goals. Grabbing a fistful of ice out of a beer cooler to improvise an iced coffee at a nearby 7-Eleven, Mr. Patrick acknowledged that “it’ll be hard to get the big players to think of this kind of thing again, but hey, they weren’t thinking about it before.” Just before Mr. Deacon began his refreshingly intimate and cathartic performance, Mr. Patrick took to the microphone to address a crowd frustrated but surprisingly unbowed by the festival’s myriad problems. “They all thought they were going to die,” Mr. Patrick proclaimed, talking about the no-shows. “Now, I don’t know, but I’m looking around: you all seem pretty alive.” These were not light words. On Friday morning, trucks, buses and cars were commandeered by armed men and used as roadblocks on several highways here, some of them set ablaze. The same day, the Mexican Army announced that it had killed two gunmen outside the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, then later said that they were students who had been killed by accident. Mr. Patrick played down the violence: “How different is that than hearing about protesters rioting in other cities? It’s terrifying but isolated.” The festival site sat at the intersection of many Monterreys: behind the stage, set into the hills, was an impressive apartment complex; just up the road was a luxury mall; across the highway sat clusters of distressed residential buildings, some of them abandoned.
The festival lineup, even in greatly diminished form, was less a statement about the vitality of indie-rock culture on both sides of the border than a patchwork of who showed up. (The lightly packed crowd was about 80 percent Mexican.) The disorganization proved to be a boon for some smaller bands: Explode Into Colors, a female trio from Portland, Ore., played stunning, jerky dub-punk, and the Coathangers, another female band, from Atlanta, delivered tart, jagged rock in near-freezing weather. After a joyous set, the multiracial New York rap trio Das Racist received one of the festival’s most enthusiastic responses: shouts of “Otra! Otra!” (“Another! Another!”) from the crowd.
“I’m glad they booked us — the way the locals are interacting with us is cool,” said Das Racist’s Himanshu Suri. “It’s notable being somewhere where we’re not the three brown weirdos.” For Das Racist and several other bands, who traveled by chartered bus from Austin to Monterrey, getting to MtyMx was a chore. Some buses took upwards of 12 hours for a trip that was advertised as 6 to 8 hours long, owing to several hassles at the border. Some bus trips were canceled with no warning. The site’s sole indoor facility became a command center, exacerbating tensions between the American production team and its Mexican hosts. “It’s becoming an Austin embassy,” said Gustavo Castillo, who was volunteering with Yo Garage. Mr. Patrick didn’t arrive until after midnight on Sunday morning, having spent most of Saturday across the border, wrangling the tents for on-site campers who were cold and shelterless. The indoor bathrooms had clogged toilets, the promised wireless Internet access was sporadic, and the cold, whipping winds led fans to build small fires around the site. Worst of all, security was lamentably thin. On Sunday, one of the tents was robbed; that night, some attendees were mugged after crawling through a storm tunnel from the performance site into the surrounding mountains. Ben Schechter, a filmmaker making a documentary about the festival, was accosted by an individual with a shotgun while gathering footage in the slums that faced the site.
For many, the mood was grim. “I put a lot of hopes in it,” said Elvis, a D.J. on Reactor 105.7 FM, an alternative rock station in Mexico City. “If this is it, we have to improve on it.” Still, many attendees were sanguine about the problems. Lilian Maló, a college student who traveled 11 hours from Guadalajara, could barely contain herself after snapping a picture with Mr. Deacon. Still, she said she was “really scared” about recent events in and around Monterrey; many of the friends she had planned to make the trip with didn’t come. (Last month, there were reports of a rave in nearby La Huasteca that was held hostage and robbed by a drug cartel.) By Monday, MtyMx had achieved something approximating a rhythm, the “Mad Max”-like Autocinema Las Torres field even emptier than before, sapped of exuberance but also stress. People had a survivor air about them. The accompanying calm proved to be an ideal setting for the cerebral noodling of BamBam and the rough-hewn power rock of Ratas del Vaticano — Mexican bands both — leading up to a pleasantly narcotic set by Neon Indian, the psychedelic electronic-soul band fronted by the Monterrey-born Alan Palomo. In the small hours of Monday morning, at an after-party at Garage, Das Racist reprised its set in slightly more manic form. One of the rappers, Victor Vazquez, tossed a bottle into the crowd. A man in a wedding dress crowd-surfed, then jumped onstage and hoisted Mr. Vazquez, still rapping, onto his shoulders. The sound man said that he’d have to keep the noise level down to avoid neighbor complaints and that beer sales were about to end. It felt a lot like Brooklyn.