The reach of electronic dance music seems limitless, and considering Tijuana’s proximity to San Diego, it’s no surprise that the city’s clubs have been chockablock with jacked-up beats for years. Yet while techno may be a universal language, not everyone speaks it well: on the Tijuana duo Fussible’s 1999 album, Fono (Opcion Sonica), the squelchy bleeps and squiggles and shuffling drums sound strewn about like the detritus of an American rave circa 1990. Around the time Fono was released, though, Fussible’s Pepe Mogt hit upon something that would not only transform his music but put the Tijuana scene on the map. Like most of his techno-loving pals, Mogt had little use for popular Mexican styles like norteno and banda (norteno, also known as Tex-Mex, sets topical lyrics to pumping polka-style accordion, while banda uses blaring brass to similar effect; if you’ve ever spent an hour on a sidewalk in Pilsen, you’ve heard both). Looking for a snare drum sound to sample, he was digging through a Tijuana recording studio’s collection of rehearsal tapes–mostly by obscure local norteno and banda groups–when inspiration hit. He passed out a few of the tapes to his DJ buddies, asking them to use whatever he’d handed them as raw material for a new track. Within days a new genre, nortec–a contraction of “norteno” and “techno”–was born. Far from stopping with a single drum sample, Mogt’s friends mixed in massive tuba puffs, rocking accordion, and punchy brass riffs with their own concise synth melodies and relentless club beats. A superb compilation released earlier this year, The Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1 (Palm Pictures), introduced the phenomenon to audiences north of the border with work from seven acts in the Nortec Collective–two of which, Fussible and Terrestre, debut in Chicago this week. Fussible borrow relatively judiciously from Mexican pop, merely spicing their dense, throbbing techno with an occasional piquant sample, but Terrestre goes much further: “Norteno de Janeiro” interweaves horn blasts with samba grooves, and “El lado oscuro de mi compadre” upends ambient techno with mariachi licks and explosive snare rolls. This concert is a fund-raiser for WRTE (90.5 FM), the noncommercial radio station operated by the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum. Thursday, August 23, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Greg Bojorquez.