Tuesday, February 23, 2010
An Interview With Todd P. Regarding the MtyMx Festival (WNYU, 2/22/10)
New York DIY concert booker Todd P. stopped by WNYU's New Afternoon Show on Monday to discuss the details of his upcoming MtyMx All Ages Festival of Art and Music from March 20th—22nd in Monterrey, Mexico, which will bring indie rock acts from the U.S., Mexico and abroad to a 5,000-capacity drive-in movie theater three hours from the U.S. border.
download: Todd P. Talks MtyMx on WNYU's New Afternoon Show 2/22/10
For the past four years, Todd P. has coordinated legendary all-ages/unofficial showcases in Austin, TX at the South By Southwest festival — but this year, his Southern shows are totally separate. He admits that the festival will “prove to be a bigger undertaking,” but expects a more satisfying festival than “what commercial indie rock offers the world.”
“I’m excited to prove [with MtyMx] that DIY doesn’t equal half-assed,” Todd said on NAS. “We want to prove that we can do something hard.”
The main difference between Todd’s MtyMx fest and his previous SXSW endeavors is the audience. “We’re not banking on a huge amount of, let’s say, gringos, crossing the border,” Todd said. “It’s a festival in Mexico, and it’s for Mexicans.” According to Todd, there’s an enormous demand for such a festival in Mexico, where music fans are blocked from crossing the U.S. border for music festivals like SXSW, Coachella and ATP.
“Kids are kind of losing their shit,” he said of the Mexican response thus far. “To say that this is some kind of cultural imperialism is pretty insulting to Mexicans,” he added. “There’s a huge scene for this stuff.”
Todd also discussed the difficulties of being in a Mexican indie rock band today, American misconceptions of Mexican cities, and a lot of other really interesting details about what to expect in Monterrey and how the festival has come to fruition — including how he got Monterrey government funding and met his Mexican co-promoters at Yo Garage. After the jump is a transcript of the 35-minute interview; you can also download an mp3 here. And for more details, be sure to check out ToddPNYC.com/mtymx.
download: Todd P. Talks MtyMx on WNYU's New Afternoon Show 2/22/10
((note :: the interview looks massive, but it's a quick read!))
Todd, can you start off by just giving a little bit of background about how you came up with the idea for the festival, and how long its been in the works for and stuff?
I’ve been doing sort of a side festival during South By Southwest in Austin for about four years. It’s been organized by myself and Fiona Campbell, who is in Coasting and going to play later. We did it at this dive bar in the east side of town. It was pretty awesome, I’ve always loved it, but I sort of wanted to do something different. I kind of got wind that South by Southwest was planning devious things to stymie us this year. And so I decided why give them the pleasure of that, and instead started thinking about something better.
I’ve been going to Latin America for many, many years. I know what that place is like, especially Mexico and Northern Mexico. I sort of thought about it, and I was like –what’s the next coolest city within a short drive of Austin where somebody could take advantage of all those bands that are drawn to Austin for South By Southwest? And sort of put them all together in one place in a way that isn’t possible without the kind of magnet of South By. So, I happen to know people in Monterrey as well, and we had this beautiful venue, and it’s real close to Austin in touring terms.
Can you tell me around when you started planning it? And what were the South By people planning on doing?
The South By people routinely, let’s just say, inform the authorities in Austin about things that they think are of dubious legality. And that’s very much in the eye of the beholder, obviously. But what we’d heard was that they were going to do everything they could to block our permits. So I didn’t really want to go out that way. That seemed like a real tacky way to end my run of doing what I did down there.
And I thought—why not take South By Southwest out of the picture, for me anyway. And still sort of take advantage of the magnetic effect they have on all the bands around the world going there. Bands have to get away from South By Southwest, they have to tour somewhere else afterwards. So why not send ‘em somewhere way cooler than the place they’re probably going to play on that Monday night or that Sunday night. Monterrey, Mexico is a lot cooler destination than El Paso or Little Rock, Arkansas. So, we decided to send ‘em that way.
I had some friends who live in Monterrey who run an all ages club there, kind of similar to the stuff I have here, and I went to visit them after South By Southwest last year, and kind of just got to thinking about it. And eventually – I kind of put it out of my mind for six months or so – and then, for some reason it crossed my mind in about November of this year that South By Southwest was coming up. People started asking me questions about it. And I thought, you know what? Why don’t I follow through with this and really make it happen.
So you just started planning this in November?
Wow, that’s really fast, to get it off the ground.
Me, Fiona and Madison, a couple of other friends of mine, flew to Monterrey and sort of scouted spots in December.
My next question was going to be, why Monterrey? Was it mostly because you already had the connections there? Were there any other cities in Mexico you thought about having it?
It’s location. You know, it’s right near the border. It’s not a border town, but…
It’s about four hours across the border?
Less than that. It’s less than three hours over the border, and really, if you take the new freeways, it’s even less than that. The whole ride from Austin to there’s about six and a half hours. So it’s close enough to be somewhere where you could conceivably stop on the next night of your tour, you know? So that’s why it works.
It’s a really wealthy city for Mexico. It’s really modernized. It’s got a lot of clued-in people who, you know, are on the Internet and listen to MySpace all day and find bands. So a lot of the people there are really aware of American bands, and bands from all over the world, really. But they get very little chance to see them because they can’t cross that border.
I remember yesterday Madison [of Coasting] was telling me that Coasting went down there a few months ago [Todd: That was that trip] and they had tons of people come out to their show just because it was a band from America going down, so, I thought that was really interesting to hear.
The fact of the matter is that people from there, no matter whether they’re the kind of people who would, quote, want to cross our borders, to, quote, steal our jobs, or whatever …it is that the laws in this country are in place to stop [them]. The fact of that matter is, whether you’re one of those people or not—and I’m not even going to get into the ethics of those laws existence to begin with—but, the laws we do have keep out everybody. Everybody who would want to cross legally is blocked out. And the fact of the matter is everybody who would want to cross illegally is going to cross illegally, so our laws don’t actually work.
But they do keep people [out] who would be interested in the kind of music I’m interested in, people who are interested in the kind of art I’m interested in—it keeps those people from crossing the border, and [from participating] in the same level culture that we all have going on. As far as they’re concerned, these people are very aware of the bands from here, and from Britain, and from Australia, and New Zealand, Japan and Mexico and other parts of Latin America. They barely get to see them unless they’re from Mexico because they simply cannot cross the border to go to Austin or go to Dallas or go to Houston or anywhere. If we don’t go to them, they’ll never get a live show.
It’s cool, because I think a lot of people, when they hear, ‘oh a music festival in Mexico,’ they might think, ‘It’s Spring Break! So people are going down to Mexico!’ But it seems as though the festival has more of a purpose.
This is a festival in Mexico. It’s for Mexicans.
So you see the festival as drawing more Mexican fans than American fans?
…and European fans, too? Have you guys been able to track who’s buying tickets?
Yeah, yeah. We get an address with every ticket, and they’re from all over the world. But the majority of the people—you know, if you search on Twitter, for “MtyMx” or even search the Internet on blogs, like 95% of the things are in Spanish. And it’s because that’s who the audience is for this. I hope more people from the States cross and come to it, because I think that the fear that a lot of people up here have towards Mexico is based on a lot of ignorance, and people who think that Mexico is this dangerous, lawless place—that it is not. But, ultimately, that’s not what’s going to make the festival sink or swim. We expect Mexicans to come. It’s a festival in Mexico.
Just in terms of Americans coming, I remember I read on the website that you were kind of trying to change the way Americans think about Mexico. But…Monterrey is the richest city in Mexico.
You know, you gotta start somewhere.
Yeah. Considering the wealth of Monterrey: when you’re at the festival, it’s going to be at this like…abandoned movie theater?
It’s not really abandoned.
What can people expect when they go there? Will they be seeing the wealth of Monterrey, or is it kind of isolated?
I love the site for that reason. It’s up on a hill, and that hill has a really good view. So they’ve started to build high rises all around it, right? But then what it looks out onto is actually another foothill, which has an old shantytown crawling up it. So right in front of you, you get to see – in and off in the distance are the real mountains, the Sierra Madres.
And so, just sitting, looking at the band, you just turn around and look around you, and you see sort of a story about Mexico. You can see La Silla which is the sort of like, the symbol of Monterrey, it’s the mountain that looks like a saddle. And then you see this shantytown. And then behind you, you see all these gleaming, modern skyscrapers. And then down on the road below you see a major road with fast food restaurants and 7-11s. And that’s a story about Mexico. Like, both of those things happening simultaneously. The past and the future.
That’s super interesting—because when I heard, ‘the richest city in Mexico,’ I was like, well is that really going to change they way people think about Mexico?
I think it will—I think it’s good that we’re starting here because I think it’s an uphill battle, to change those caricatures people have of Mexico, as only being this sort of backwater, poor place where you can’t drink the water. And that’s just not accurate. It’s just not what the place is. And so, I’m hoping that by starting with somewhere that’s—okay, it’s not the most teaming slum in Mexico City but it’s not Cancun either. It’s a real place where real people live their lives.
And it shows that Mexico is a place that people should be taking more seriously as a cultural center. I mean, it’s one of the top twenty economies in the world. It’s kind of a shame that just because it’s next to us, it’s become the butt of a lot of jokes. And it’s honestly a leader in the region. Of all the Latin American countries, Mexico has more going for it than a lot. It’s a huge country with a sort of vast depth of culture and history and cuisine, and art and music and all of those things. It is kind of criminal, the way that we laugh at it in this country.
So kind of focusing on the culture in Monterrey, can you talk about how you got linked up with Yo Garage?
Yo Garage is the promotion company in Monterrey, they run a place called Garage, which is in Monterrey, and it’s like…it’s kind of like, let’s say, the Market Hotel. But down there that’s considered to be very…to have all of its shit together. (Sorry I didn’t mean to curse.) But regardless, it’s a place that runs four nights a week, they have a lot of shows, they bring out a lot of people from the States, they do shows with people from Europe, they do shows for lots of bands from Mexico. They’re just cool kids with good taste and good ideas.
Basically I met them because…the only people I knew in Monterrey were bands, they were bands that had toured the States. And so when I was going to go down there this past year after South By just to kind of chill out and be somewhere else, kind of wash that South By Southwest out of my hair, I contacted my friends who are in this band called Los Llamarada. And they couldn’t hang out because they all have professional jobs. Which is kind of an interesting story in and of itself—the reason I’d met them is because they’d toured the states. But the only reason they could tour the states is because they have really serious, professional 9 to 5 jobs. Because that’s what you need to have to get a visa if you’re Mexican. So to come to the States you have to prove that you have a serious job for the next several years, that there’s no chance you would abandon to move to the States. And it’s hard, it’s hard to be a musician or an artist and pull it off.
It must be kind of a detriment to the time that you can spend actually writing music and practicing and stuff like that.
Yeah. So it means that most bands that are good don’t leave. They can’t come to the States because you have to prove that you are…not living a very, like, bohemian lifestyle, if you want to try to visit the States. So, these were the only people I knew, and the reason I knew them was because they’re doctors and engineers and lawyers. So the people they put me in touch with were the people who ran the club in town, cause those were the only people they knew who I guess they thought I would find interesting, but who also didn’t have 9 to 5 jobs. And so Ricardo and Lela who run Garage ended up being my tour guides. And they were really sweet people and sort of put us up and showed us the whole city – we saw the club in action, it was just an awesome place.
So it’s called Garage—are there any other venues around?
There’s a bunch of little spots, I mean Garage is the main one. It’s not a huge city, it’s 4 million people. So it’s about the same size as, say, San Francisco, or Houston. And the scene in Mexico is kind of growing, it’s young. It depends on the middle class, which itself is growing in Mexico. And so, it’s not like it has a scene that’s commensurate with [that of] a 4 million-person city in the States, but it has a big scene and a lot of excited kids. And it’s growing every day. And I hope that this festival helps to make it grow.
A third of the bands playing are from Mexico, right? This might be a really difficult question to ask, but is their music comparable to the music coming out of the scene in Brooklyn here?
Oh absolutely. I mean, it’s different, it’s a little bit apples to oranges, but it’s good. There’s some really great stuff, and some of it definitely is completely part of the same conversation as bands on indie labels here. And a lot of them, like Los Llamarada, are actually on indie labels here. They’re on Siltbreeze. But there’s a lot of other ones on there too. It’s really all across the map, like everything from like what would be kind of commercial indie rock stuff here, to like some pretty out-there instrumental stuff, to some pretty raw punk stuff, it’s a lot of different stuff.
So, just for like, someone who can’t go to the festival, who are your favorite bands who are playing it who aren’t from America?
I really like Los Llamarada, I like Ratas del Vaticano who are playing, they’re also Mexican. There’s bands from all over the world that are playing. I really like Fucked Up. I like So Cow, they’re Irish. I like Los Fancy Free from Mexico. It’s a really wide spectrum. You know, it’s the first year of the fest, really wanted to kind of like hit a lot of different sort of subgenres of the kind of music I like to try and sort of get as much interest as possible in the festival for the first year.
Are you planning on making it an annual thing after this?
That’s awesome and super exciting. I think I kind of just asked this, but, most of the international bands you discovered with the help of Yo Garage?
The Mexican bands, yeah. Basically Yo Garage curated all of the Mexican bands. Some of them were people I knew and some of them are people I don’t know. And then we together curated the international bands, and then we pretty much curated the U.S. bands.
But its not just going to be music, it’s also going to be art…
There’s also a lot of art, yeah. The whole thing is surrounded by a chain link fence—like a seven-foot high chain link fence. So we’ve commissioned a lot of artists.
I also publish Showpaper, so in the last few years I’ve kind of made some connections with art people, trying to learn a little bit more about that universe. And the idea of that publication has always been to kind of bring art down to regular people. In a sense that like, the same people who make art should be the ones who consume art. Because the way that that market works is of course that only very rich people have anything to say about art, and control that world.
So, in the same spirit, we asked a lot of people who are…let’s say, endorsed by the art industry by Chelsea. We asked a lot of those kinds of artists, people who are really good, to actually—you know, for free, essentially—paint a canvas. We actually purchased 7 foot by 14 foot, or 21 foot, canvases, and shipped them across the country to about 20 different artists as well as some artists in Mexico. And they’re shipping them back to us, or shipping them directly to the site. And what we’re going to do is put those up on the chain link fence, sort of decorating the site with different visual pieces all by some fairly highbrow artists.
And we also have—you know, it’s a drive-in movie theater, so there’s a huge screen and a big projector, as well as some other spots that you can project on to. So we’re going to be having sort of avant video pieces being projected all over the site for the whole period of the festival. So the idea is kind of to bring art and music together, and of course all of the artists, just like all of the musicians, are from Mexico and from the States. So the idea is to put them on the same stage and have everyone present their work together. It’s all curated by Jesse Hlebo, who publishes a pretty well respected art zine these days called Quarterly.
It seems like there’s just so much stuff to coordinate in such a short period of time, only since December.
And we’re doing like, buses from Austin, we rented a hotel, I had to buy 300 tents. It was a lot of stuff, and we had to keep track of reservations on all those things.
So people are going to be able to camp on the site.
Yeah, we’re renting more fences and building a little fenced off zone that’s like the tent city. It’s going to have 300 tents in it. A row of 18 by roughly 18. I don’t know the square root of 300 anymore, but…that’s basically it. And then, we bought these military surplus tents, we’re going to set them all up and rent them all out.
We’re going to have like a bag check where you can check your backpack for security and all that kind of stuff. And then we have these school buses that we rented, where we’re going to be driving people down from Austin to the border. Having guides walk people across the border on foot. And then we have a different bus system in Mexico that picks people up on the Mexican side, and takes them the remaining distance. So it’s a lot of convoluted and complex logistics.
But one of the things I’m excited about, in this fest, is it gives me an opportunity to prove that DIY doesn’t equal half-assed. We want to prove that we can do something hard. And I’m fully aware that any flaws, any errors, any delays, any hitches of any sort, are going to be, you know, trumpeted around the world as a failure and blah blah blah. But that’s fine, to me I’m up for the challenge. I’m going to do everything I can to make this work smoothly, and you know, ultimately I think this will prove to be a bigger undertaking, but also a more satisfying one than what commercial indie rock offers to the world.
So it’s not exactly feasible to stay in Austin and attend the festival?
It’s six and a half hours each way. You could go for a night. Monterrey’s a big city with an airport of its own—you can just fly into Monterrey and fly directly out. It’s close—we should think of Mexico as being part of the same thing. We’re all North America. We shouldn’t think of this one part of the world as being this dead zone that just can’t be traveled to by land. It’s another part of the same. We don’t think twice about going to Canada. Why should we put Mexico in this situation where we think of it as like…
I guess because of drugs and shootings and stuff.
Well people have seen too many movies. Honestly, the crime rate in Mexico is by and large lower than the crime rate in most American cities. And the crime that does exist is largely limited to the world of organized crime, related to smuggling drugs not into Mexico but into our country. Most of what drives up any crime rate Mexico has is drug cartels that exist solely to sell cocaine in the United States. Why would that violence in any way affect you as a tourist? These are high level goons killing one another in their own hideaways. Even with that very sensationalized drug war that you hear about in the news, the crime rate in Monterrey is actually lower—and I mean this by the murder rate, and the violent crime rate—than it is in New York City, or in Los Angeles, or in Dallas, or in Houston.
I guess people hear the one or two stories about tourists who were captured and tortured or something.
The limited amounts of kidnappings that have happened have been of very, very wealthy Mexicans. As a dirtbag indie rocker kid crossing the border, you’re not going to stand out from all of the like, frat boys crossing to buy pills and get drunk underage. The hysteria is just out of control. This is a sane, contemporary, modern, sophisticated place. It is not this backwater places full of banditos and people shooting each other in the streets. People don’t look like Pancho Villa. The stereotypes, the caricatures you’ve heard, are wrong. And I hope that enough people come. Honestly, we’re not banking on a huge amount of, let’s say, gringos, crossing the border. But if they do come, that’s great. What I do hope is that enough people come, and enough photographs get taken, that it proves the point. That the visual image we have of this place—which informs a lot of how people feel about a place—that that’s wrong. That the place is more interesting, more sophisticated, more modern than most of us think.
This seems like it must be so time consuming.
At this point we’ve got about five or six people sitting in various living rooms across Brooklyn, everyday Monday through Friday for like five or six hours a day. Just fielding emails, talking to bands, now we’re taking all the reservations for all of the bus stuff and the hotels. The hotel is basically already sold out, dealing with tickets…it’s a lot of logistics to worry about.
How many tickets have been sold?
Not gonna say…it’s a lot.
But the capacity is 5,000?
A little lower ‘cause we’re fencing off parts of it to make a tent city.
So you’re…not exactly expecting it to sell out this year? Or…
I don’t know. It could, I mean, the fact of the matter is like, credit cards are a lot less wide spread in Mexico than they are here. Even among middle class people, just because they have laws to protect you there, like they do in Canada to protect people, to protect basically predatory credit card companies. What that means is people like ourselves often don’t have credit cards in Mexico, unlike here where we all have a thousand credit cards because we went to college. So for that reason it’s hard for kids down there, even if they have the money, it’s hard for them to buy it on PayPal. So we’re selling tickets in person in Monterrey now and they’re going fast, but more importantly, if you follow the Internet response, it’s just through the roof. It’s something like ten Twitters an hour at this point.
The fact of the matter is kids down there are psyched. It’s easy to, like, make a lot of uninformed judgments and think: Oh, it’s a bunch of Americanos going down and like telling kids how to do it. But no, actually, this is something that there’s a demand for. These guys down there, just because they’re in Mexico doesn’t mean they want to listen to Salsa…or maybe they do. But they also like modern music, they like indie rock, they like new genres. And they make it themselves as well.
And to say that this is some kind of cultural globalism, or cultural imperialism…it’s pretty insulting. To Mexicans, frankly, because the people down there…there’s a huge group of kids down there, a huge scene I should say, for this stuff. And they’re just disenfranchised most of the time—they can’t go to South By Southwest. They can’t cross the border. They can’t go to Coachella. They can’t go to ATP. They can’t go to any of that stuff. They are basically kept out of this conversation even though they listen to this music on the Internet, and they follow it.
So kids are kind of losing their shit. We’ve got kids coming up from like Guadalajara, coming from Mexico City, people from all over the country are coming up to this thing, and I’m really excited to be part of it. And I’m glad that our partners are an organization from Mexico—this is not just us coming in and doing this, bringing it upon people. And I’m looking forward to this being a yearly thing. And hopefully including more Spanish language and Latin American bands as the years go by.
That’s awesome. Can you just talk a little bit about the other people who have helped you out with it? The other people who are behind it?
Usually my partner in crime and booking coordinator is Fiona Campbell. This year it’s Fiona Campbell working with a guy named Ric Liechtung, who I think used to work at the radio station at WNYU. So Ric and Fiona together are kind of the artist liaison and the email jockeys. We get a lot of email. Also, Emilia Hunt, who is also from New Zealand like Fiona is. She’s kind of like…she’s done a lot of tour managing of bigger bands and she’s kind of helping us out with dealing with the big headliner people who have different needs than everybody else does and you’ve got to do what you can to keep them happy. We’ve also got a team of people that are kind of first-time working for me. A guy named Andrew Spalding is helping us a lot with a lot of the reservations, a guy named Griffin Graham has helped us with booking of the Texas bands, and also Kevin Diamond and a guy named Carl Hines are all working really hard. And also Alaina Stamatos, who writes the horoscopes for Showpaper. These are all folks who are going to go down to Mexico, too. So it’s a big crew.
So you’re bringing people, but in terms of the people who are going to be working…are there going to be people from Mexico working there, too? I guess my question is, in what way is the festival going to contribute to the economy in Monterrey as opposed to just like…
Well, it’s going to be a lot of people gathered in one place. People from all over the world as well as all over Mexico renting hotel rooms, buying lunches, taking taxis…We’ve got about 26 people who said they’re going to go down to help us at the festival. And then on the Monterrey side, Ricardo and Lela have recruited more than that. So we have a staff of mostly volunteer folks.
Oh so it’s mostly volunteers?
Well, it’s the first year, so it’s very much like a by the skin of our teeth situation. We’re lucky to have a little bit of funding from the Monterrey municipal government, which is really nice. It’s like, basically we were able to go in there with a pile of press clippings from myself and from Ricardo and Lela at Yo Garage, and put them in front of the people who are in charge of funding cultural things, and they were into it, and they said this is something we would want to be involved in. It’s inspiring, especially given that…I have a hard time imagining the same experience if I were to march into the cultural office of somewhere here in New York City.
Do you think that’s because you are an American concert booker [in Mexico] or…
I think it’s because they respect all art forms equally. It’s not just that you have to be this “fine arts” or “high brow” art thing for it to deserve public funding. I think they realize that this is a segment of the population that likes this stuff, and it’s something that enriches the culture of the whole city. And I think they’re excited to get the international attention, frankly. Monterrey’s a big, modern city that almost nobody in this country knows exists. So I think they’re looking to spend their cash on what they can do to help tourism and help raise the star of their city, and I’m glad to help ‘em.
That’s awesome. So that money just goes to help pay for the space?
It goes towards paying for a lot of the logistics, yeah. I mean, it’s a big budget. It’s a lot of stuff to put on the line before this happens. We’re hoping we don’t totally lose our shirts. [laughs]
At the space, what kind of events do they usually have there?
It’s a big drive-in movie theater. It’s really enormous and they usually use it for raves. There’s actually never been a rock show there. I wanted a spot that would be really beautiful, that was kind of memorable in a way, but that also had done loud stuff so that we wouldn’t have to worry about our loud stuff annoying somebody unexpectedly. That was kind of my biggest criteria—I need to make sure this is a place where we can get away with this. We’re getting all of our permits and whatever, but an angry neighbor is an angry neighbor, no matter what country you’re in. So they’ve done big raves that went til like 6 AM. I’m pretty confident that this place is proven its medal.
So at the festival the music will go until like…midnight, I read somewhere?
It’s really going to go until about 2. We may put it on the calendar as midnight but that’s sort of a goal. You expect things to run a little…when you have 28 bands in a day, you don’t expect everything to run exactly on schedule. But we’re going to try to schedule around how things run off schedule if you can do that. But we’ve done the same number of bands, if not more, at Ms. Bea’s in Austin for four years, so we’re kind of down with how to keep things stage-managed.