Now in it’s seventh year of operation, NRMAL serves as a Mexican feeder fest to Austin’s SXSW. Given it’s proximity and annual timing, NRMAL is able to attract bands from all over the globe south of the border prior to heading to Texas. While there were some parallels to a small American city festival – the cuisine, budget-friendly ticket & food/beverage pricing, dog-friendly nature and tightly-curated lineup at NRMAL gave this one a distinctly inviting character and allure, one that is becoming increasingly hard-to-find stateside. Despite taking place in one of the largest cities in the world, NRMAL seemed pretty cloistered from the outside world, tucked in a wooded area within the Campo Deportivo del Estado Mayor Presidencial (an equestrian / sporting complex) just off the southwest corner of the massive Bosque de Chapultepec park (map link for reference), the surroundings felt surprisingly remote.
The most compelling sets over the course of the weekend were delivered by international bands that generally play mid-sized clubs and small theatres around the world. Many of the sub-headliner acts at NRMAL are obscure to even learned music fans, yet respected and influential within the artist community. Reading up on bands like Kreidler and Follakzöid following the festival, it was hard to believe they’d flown outside my radar, but seeing acts of that caliber with no preface like we did on Saturday is always 10x more exciting and 100x more long lasting than stumbling upon an album online. While the weekend’s few headliners (Deerhunter, Low, Slowdive and Battles) all delivered big as expected, it was the unknown acts on the lineup who left the biggest impact. Chalk it up to the thrill of new music discovery. This was the reason we came to Mexico.
BEST OF NRMAL
Los Pirañas (Colombian psych trio || RIYL: moe., Primus and Battles)
Föllakzoid (Chilean trance psych pop trio)
Kreidler (krautrock / post-rock from Germany)
Aloa Input (German band RIYL Peter Bjorn and John, can, Animal Collective)
San Pedro (garage psych rock from Tijuana, Mexico || RIYL: The Stooges)
Jaako Eino Kalevi (Finnish indie pop || RIYL: Wild Nothing)
Mitú (Colombian high intensity trance, cumbia, meringue, techno || RIYL: Bomba Estéreo, SBTRKT)
– Low’s set-closing sunset rendition of “Landslide” from their amazing 2015 album Ones and Sixes brought chills and near silence across the festival grounds on Saturday, capping off a full set crescendo that built towards an emotionally stirring and beautiful conclusion.
– Seeing Atlanta, Georgia’s Deerhunter play in Mexico City was a treat (and big part of the draw to make the trip). Bradford, Lockett and Co.’s too-short set was strong considering the set time limitations, and included the first three tunes from their new record (“All The Same”, “Breaker” and “Living My Life”) and closed with two personal favorites (the headswimming and atmospheric “Helicopter” and always-sprawling “Nothing Ever Happened”).
– Saturday’s dawn to late-night run of musical fantasia that started with Low and ran through Los Pirañas, Kreidler (possibly the set of the weekend), San Pedro El Cortez, Follakzöid, Deerhunter, A Place to Bury Strangers and HEALTH was a full-blown sensory overload and left me with a long list of new favorite bands from around the globe.
– The crowd was respectful, well-behaved and seemingly knowledgeable. Notably I didn’t see any spunions, wastoids or zombies that generally dot a festival landscape nor did I come across anyone barreling through the crowd trying to move up as is often the case.
Hope to return again some day, I could get used to this NRMAL life.
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