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Moved By Music: Bostich Of Nortec Collective

Cover image for podcast episode

Braulio Lam

Ramón Amezcua is pictured working at his home studio in this photo taken in January 2021.

Ramón Amezcua, better known as Bostich of Nortec Collective, is famous for blending the classic norteña sounds of Tijuana with electronic music. But making music and touring the world wasn’t always the plan for Ramon. He studied and practiced dentistry, and he thought he'd be filling cavities his whole life. Instead, he became one of the most influential pioneers of electronic music in Mexico. In our recurring “Moved by Music” series, we explore some of the futuristic synths and drum machines that set young Ramon’s imagination on fire back in the 70s, the synth pop he we was digging for at record stores in the 80s, and the artists that inspired him in the 90s when he was playing raves all across Mexico.

Listen to Ramon’s projects on his family’s record label: www.milovat.org

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Ever sing in the shower? Play air guitar? Well when Ramon Amezcua was a kid-

He would play air ...synthesizer.

Kraftwerk plays

Ramon: I remember playing Kraftwerk, when I was taking a shower, I imagine myself moving these knobs and faders…..

Born and raised in Tijuana, Ramon frequented record stores on both sides of the border in the early 80s.

By the late 90’s...he was at the forefront

of the electronic music scene in Mexico.

Because Ramon ...is also known as Bostich, a founding member of the legendary electronic music group….

Nortec Collective.

Nortec plays.

In the early 2000s Nortec played some of Mexico’s biggest stages, toured the world, got nominated for Grammys….

And to think.

This was all happening while Ramon’s other career was thriving…

Nortec out
Dental drill sounds

Ramon: Dentistry a that time was very good here in Tijuana, I used to have a lot, a lot of work, so the electronic music was a side project…. Like a hobby.

Yeah you heard that right. He trained as a dentist and orthodontist, and he was filling cavities and wiring braces…. Pretty much the entire time Nortec was taking off.

Nortec back in

Actually, one of the main reasons he stopped just 10 years ago is cause his patients started recognizing him as that dude from Nortec who jumps around onstage in a funny hat.

Ramon: They asked me, “Hey Dr. Ramon, are you the guy who is jumping with the hat and this music, Nortec?” and I was like, a little shy.
Alan: I can’t imagine showing up to get my braces, and it’s like, the guy from Nortec. Like, wait a second…..

From KPBS and PRX, this is Port of Entry. Where we tell cross-border stories that connect us.

I’m Alan Lilienthal.

Today, we're gonna get a little taster of the music that set young Ramon’s imagination ….on fire.

Songs that inspired him to take up electronic music, eventually leading him to be one of the most influential electronic musicians in Mexico.

MIDROLL

Ramon was one of those lucky people who grew up with older siblings who had great taste in music.

Back in the late 70s, all kinds of exciting new sounds would be playing at Ramon's house Day and night.

His older brothers had a huge vinyl collection.

Ramon: They listened to all kinds of music, mostly rock.

He found himself gravitating towards records that had some level of electronic instrumentation going on.

Ramon: Bands like Tangerine dream….Emerson, Pink Floyd...

But Ramon says his bona fide love affair with electronic music began with a song called Autobahn by Kraftwerk.

Alan: how old were you when you heard Kraftwerk for the first time?
Ramon: I think I was 16 years old. I didn’t know where that sounds came from. I didn’t know about synthesizers, drum machines, only that, that that sounds like from space, mostly from the future.

Those sounds from the future, synthesizers, drum machines, weird effects, completely fascinated him..He was hooked.

Ramon: From then, I was trying to find, more music that uses these kind of sounds.

Back in high school in Tijuana, Ramon had this pretty hip teacher who played music in class to help teach English.

Ramon: He played Earth, Wind, and Fire, and bands that used to have a little bit of synthesizers but sometimes he would bring this album, Oxygene.

This is Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre.

Ramon: This album I learned the name of the synthesizer. Because in the credits of the album, in the back of the cover, you can read “Arp 2600, Arp Oddyssey, Moog synthesizers” and thanks to that album I learned about instruments, I learned about the way they compose electronic music.

Listening to music during class might as well have stopped there, but luckily for Ramon-He got his hands on a Sony Walkman.

A portable cassette player with little headphones. Now he could take the music with him everywhere. One song in heavy rotation...was this one.

Floating, by Klaus Shultze. A sound bath over 25 minutes long.

Ramon: I used to have a lot of hair at that time, like an afro. And I remember I was in my classroom, with my headphones. The hair was covering my headphones, and only listening to Klaus Schultz, and not listening to my classes. Only listening to Klaus Schultz, all my classes.
Alan: Wow. That must have been… Did the teachers every catch you? Or was it hidden well under your afro?
Ramon: No, no the headphones were very small….
Alan: Wow

Ramon: Imagine that you are in the late 70s and imagining yourself in the future where maybe cars flying, or going to space, being an astronaut. That kind of imagination I used to have when I listened to these albums.

Up until this point, all the music Ramon found was through family and friends, and school. But there was also the radio.

And living in a border city, you can often tune in to stations from both sides of the border.

So in the early 80s, he caught a documentary series on KPBS radio.

“Totally wired” intro

Ramon must’ve geeked out. I mean… Just listen to this intro!

“Totally wired” intro continued

“Totally wired” was a 13 part music series featuring artists and musicians at the forefront of electronic sound. People like Klaus Shultz, and Robert Moog, the inventor of the first commercial synthesizer.

“Totally wired” Moog clip

GIORGIO MORODER plays

Another station Ramon tuned into was based in Mexico City.

It was short lived, but it served just straight music with no frills.

Ramon: They put a lot of music, new music, but no with Djs, only music. They put the album from the beginning to the end.

It was here that Ramon discovered the futuristic Italian pioneer Giorgio Moroder and his song E=Mc2

Ramon: And I was very captured, not only with the electronic sounds, but I was captured by the use of the vocoder…..this instrument that transformed the voice to this kind of robotic style.

Once he was in his later teens Ramon started going to record stores. A lot.

Both in Tijuana and across the border in San Diego - where the selection tended to be a lot broader and he could really explore the cutting edge of electronic music.

Ramon: I crossed the border and go to Tower records and the other… this store Licorice Pizza.

Yep! Licorice pizza. It was a socal record store chain in the 70s and early 80s. And yeah if you’re as perplexed about the funny name as we were, fun fact - the owner borrowed it from this recorded bit from a folk singing duo named Bud and travis.

CLIP Bud and travis

I can’t look at vinyl the same anymore, now I just see little licorice pizzas.

Anyway... most everyone close to Ramon hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of electronic music with him. This was the early 80’s...so they were still big on rock music.

Ramon: Like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath… Kiss.

But one day in 1981, one of Ramon’s brothers gave him a cassette tape with no label on it.

He popped it into a cassette player, and was floored.

PLAY DEPECHE MODE

Ramon: I listened to that music and it was, wowww what it? What is this music?

Ramon HAD to find out WHO this band was.

His brother didn’t know. The record store in Tijuana didn’t know.

So he trekked across the border to Licorice Pizza to find out.

Ramon: They told me it was Depeche Mode but I didn’t know how to spell it at that time because, it sounded weird to me, Depeche Mode.”

The track on that blank tape was a single called “New Life.”

It was a game changer for Ramon.

He found out the producer was Daniel Miller, a fellow synth obsessed Kraftwerk superfan, and founder of Mute records, a record label that helped pioneer synth pop.

It was the beginning of a thread that led him to many more artists making pop music with the synths and drum machines he was always drawn to.

Ramon: I found ultravox,.....

Visage …..

Heaven17

Softcell

Ramon was stoked to be living in this moment in music history.

Just for fun, he picked up a cheap synthesizer and drum machine and started to dabble with making music himself.

At this point, He had no intention of playing actual shows.

He planned to be a dentist for his whole life.

But in 1989, a music venue in TJ opened up…. Called…. Iguana's.

Ramon: Bands that played LA would ….instead of playing san diego……

Yep- bands would SKIP San Diego on west coast tours and head Iguana’s TJ. You didn’t have to be over 18 to come in, so the crowds were bigger.

So we had an opportunity to see a lot of bands.We saw Ramones, Divo, OMD, Clan of xymox, Psychic TV, sugarcubes with Bjork...

The impact to me was huge. Because to see the shows, the only thing you want to do is to be a musician.

So, yeah. Seeing show after show on a stage in his hometown - it finally clicked...he started to picture himself up on that stage.

So… Once he realized he wanted to showcase his music, he needed a name.

And like most of his unplanned career in music, it happened pretty spontaneously.

A close friend had an avant garde radio show and asked Ramon to make some music for it.

So when he stopped by Ramon’s place to pick it up, his friend asked him what he was gonna call himself.

CLIP of his friend coming over and them picking out the name 42:00

BOSTICH

So here it is… the song that serendipitously named the man...

Bostich by Yello.

Bostich up

Throughout the mid-to late 90s, Ramon, now better known as Bostich, booked a lot of gigs as the rave scene gained traction in Mexico. At the same time, electronic music continued to branch into many new dance subgenres.

I started listening to electronic music from the 90s’ I listened to a lot of drum and bass, with very fast rhythms, like Goldie,

GOLDIE

and photek.

PHOTEK

Then Ramon came across a track called 4 by Ahpex Twin. And it sorta blew his mind.

Aphex twin, he took all this uh, drum n bass sounds and mix with classical music not to dance, only to listen.

APHEX TWIN

Yeah, this wasn’t your average rave material. This was something you had to sit down and really digest. Just listen to the complexity of the drum arrangement. For 1996, this was WAY ahead of its time.

I didn’t know how to program these complex rhythms and sounds, I don’t know what technology he used to do it. Trying to find out the way he compose his music is a way to learn. To me it was a very very big impact to my life.

Despite all the shows and new music he was composing, Ramon didn’t think quitting his day job as a dentist would ever really be an option.

But one day, his homie Pepe Mogt called him up with an idea.

Mashing up electronic music with recordings of traditional Nortena sounds.

At the beginning... I didn’t believe him because we’re always kidding and joking.

Polaris

But he was for real- and once they met up and shared their work to each other, they knew they had something special.

Here’s Ramon’s contribution: A track called Polaris.

Polaris up

To me it was like, uh, something that express, very honest. To be in a border city, Tijuana, to growing up listening to electronic music in the radio stations, so we were really excited and the first thing that came to our minds was to share. Share these sounds.

So thats what they did, and Polaris blew up.

From there...it changed everything for me…

Polaris up

This song change the way the world… see Mexico.

Historically, Electronic music has largely been Europe’s thing…..

But Polaris helped put Mexico on the map.

It was in movie soundtracks, a worldwide ad campaign for Volvo…. it was even selected by Mexico’s federal government...to be the official song for millennium celebrations in 2000.

Nortec song

Ramon and Pepe essentially created a new style of electronic music... they dubbed it Nortec.

Nortec song up

They teamed up with other artists and musicians and formed Nortec Collective in 1999, and it wasn’t long before the group took off.

ARIES

But After touring the world and getting some grammy nods, Nortec Collective decided to end on a high note in 2015 to work on other solo projects.

Ramon’s newer compositions are released under his full name, Ramon Amezcua. It’s a return to the fully electronic instrumentation that he fell in love with, before the era of Nortec Collective. This one is named Aries, after the synthesizer it was composed with.

It was also a spontaneous collab with one of his kids, Eduardo.

Here in my house it’s kind of a laboratory. My younger son Eduardo came to my studio and said hey what are you doing? And uh, he started singing with this track, and I record very fast while he was singing

ARIES VOCODER PART

Lately, all the extra time at home has helped Ramon remember not to overthink things when it comes to making music.

I think the good thing about this pandemic season is like uh, I realize that, I don’t care about… I not going to release this album because it’s not perfect….I like the music that I do. So I decide to share the music, even for free in some places…. The good thing, I have a lotta time, and I have uh, doing a lotta music too.

Ramon is currently building a record label with his family, called Milovat. They want to release all their music independently, while also being a home to other musicians they believe in and want to support. You can find them at milovat . Org or on any social media platform.

This episode of Port of Entry was produced by our director of sound design, Emily Jankowski. Special thanks to Kurt Kohnen for helping track down that intro to “totally wired”

This program is made possible (in part) by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people." I’m Alan Lilienthal, thanks for listening.

Now on Port of Entry

I didn’t know where that sounds came from, only that that sounds like from space, from the future

A taste of the early electronic music that shaped Bostich, of Nortec Collective. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.

A little taste of the early electronic music that shaped Bostich, of Nortec Collective. Get Port of Entry wherever you get your podcasts.

We travel back in time for a little taste of the early electronic music that shaped Ramon Amezcua, aka Bostich of Nortec Collective. Get Port of Entry wherever you get your podcasts.

Port of Entry podcast branding

Port of Entry

These are cross-border stories that connect us. Border people often inhabit this in-between place. From KPBS and PRX, “Port of Entry” tells personal stories from this place — stories of love, hope, struggle and survival from border crossers, fronterizxs and other people whose lives are shaped by the wall. Rooted in San Diego with tendrils reaching into Tijuana. Hosted by Alan Lilienthal, produced by Kinsee Morlan and sound design by Emily Jankowski.