NRMAL, The Weirdest Festival You'll See This Year, Fights Misconceptions about Mexico
When you speak to famed DIY promoter Todd Patrick (better known as Todd P) about Mexico, you're taken aback by his optimism. He talks about the growing middle class and its effect on the country's economy. He talks about the youth's passion for the arts, and he never fails to mention that our country's perception of Mexico is unfairly biased. "People have a deep prejudice about what life is like in Mexico that's based around the issues with the cartels," he says. "Which is unfair because you see just as much drug related violence in many major US cities."
But he's more than talk: This weekend, Patrick will help host a music festival in Monterrey that he helped found four years ago.
Patrick, who owns an art gallery in Tijuana, talks about the myriad talent in Mexico who never get an opportunity to tour in the US do to strict visa procedures. "It's very hard for many of these bands down in Mexico to get into the US to tour due to the visa process. You have to have about ten thousand dollars and detailed residency history. And frankly that's hard for many young people to pull off."
During our conversation Patrick tells me a story about a family who was unable to visit their dying daughter who lived in the US due to the visa process.
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Patrick talks about how NRMAL Fest provides attendees an opportunity to not only discover bands they've never heard of, but escape the "tired cycle" of hype that's taken over the music world. He points out that by stepping away from the hype cycle and booking to his taste he's able to highlight acts he actually appreciates at NRMAL. While discussing the line up, Patrick makes it a point to mention how he wanted to book acts that weren't making music that had become "paint by numbers."
"It's easy to sound like what everyone else is doing," says Patrick. "I like bands who aren't doing that."
Patrick has deep Texas roots. Patrick was raised in Richardson in the '90s, he went to college in Austin and his parents remain in the area operating The Old Irish Bed and Breakfast on an Alpaca farm in Denton. While in Austin, Patrick started to dabble in show promotion, staging shows in record stores and DIY spaces throughout the town. Eventually he decamped to Portland where he ran legendary spaces 17 Nautical Miles and the Glass Factory.
In 2001 Patrick made the move to New York where he quickly entrenched himself as promoter of independent shows that were outside of the nominal club circuit that dominated the City's scene. With an ear for up and coming bands, Patrick was able to find and promote acts like Lightning Bolt, the Dirty Projectors and Real Estate before anyone else was even paying attention. He also centralized all listings for DIY and all-ages events in the New York and tri-state area with his free bi-weekly publication SHOWPAPER.
Starting in 2006, Patrick organized a free all-ages show in Austin that would coincide with South by Southwest. A sort of anti-Fader Fort, Patrick's shows were often held in a parking lot and had an air of youthful chaos to them as energetic performances by the likes of Dan Deacon and Matt & Kim would work the crowds into a frenzy. Coinciding with his final SXSW event in 2010, P journeyed across the boarder to stage MtyMx in Monterrey, Mexico.
Deciding to do an all-ages festival like MtyMx in 2010 was a shock to many, given the perception of the country as a lawless place was a strong media narrative, and many thought that putting on a festival was a foolhardy endeavor despite Patrick's reputation. But an extremely strong line-up that featured HEALTH, Neon Indian, Sun Araw, the Mantles, MNDR, Twin Sister, Toro Y Moi, Dan Deacon, Das Racist, Teenage Cool Kids, No Age, Andrew Wk and LIARS along with a litany of Mexican and Latin American bands led to hype for the fest hitting a fever pitch during and before SXSW. It was hard to have a conversation in Austin during the fest without being asked if you were going to take one of the charter buses down to Mexico. The fest was the toast of the Internet as well -- several sites hyped it as an alternative to the mass consumerism that had firmly taken control of SXSW.
Unfortunately for Patrick, things didn't go totally as planned. An uptick in violence in the area led to the State Department putting out a travel warning, and the fest lost about a third of its bands. An issue with hired drivers for the shuttles from Austin led to delays for those traveling and in some cases outright cancellations. Undaunted, the fest proceeded anyway and received praise from such outlets as The New York Times.
MtyMx didn't return in 2011, but NRMAL fest did. The Mexican art collective known for its vigorous support of artist, music and their site that serves as the go-to for independent culture news in Mexico threw their own fest opposite of MtyMx in 2010. Despite the eruption of violence in 2011, the group continued. In 2012, looking to expand their fest, they invited Todd P to curate an English stage and thus Festival NRMAL + MtyMx was born. Headlined by Girls and featuring what amounted to karaoke set from Grimes, NRMAL was a universal success.
NRMAL 2013's extremely strong line-up features several acts who are on an upswing in popularity and who seem destined for big things. Mykki Blanco, Mac DeMarco, Trash Talk, Sky Ferreira and Pete Swanson are just a few of the highlights. Performers Pierced Arrows feature members of seminal Portland punk band Dead Moon, while current media darlings Parquet Courts feature ex-Dentonites Austin Brown and Andrew Savage. Headliner Ariel Pink recently played the Phillip Glass curated Tibetan House benefit at Carnegie Hall. Todd P is also quick to highlight the foreign acts that are unknown to many, like Maria y Jose, who he says does something that's like a combination of "indie cumbia/reggaeton." He also talks excitedly about an artist named Selma Oxor, whom he describes as sort of the "anti-Grimes."
Monterrey sits just an hour and a half from the Texas boarder, is just an eight hour drive from Dallas, with plane rides lasting just under two hours. For those looking for a unique opportunity to see a city and culture that's on the rise, it seems like a easy decision to make the trip down.
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