Rock Mexicano, 1998: A Retrospective

Leonel dives into what it was like growing up in Mexico in the late '90s, experiencing the repercussions of NAFTA and the come-up of the Mexican Rock music scene firsthand.
By    June 5, 2023

Image via Zurdok/Discogs

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Mexican music never sleeps, and neither does Leonel.

Growing up in Mexico during the late 1990s was both incredibly exhilarating and extremely painful. The prospect of a global, connected world, which coincided with a wider accessibility of cable television (I got hooked by MTV Latin America very early on) and the very slow introduction of the Internet, offered the illusion of more possibilities for bullied misfits and wide-eyed dorks like me, more chances to be heard, validated, to actually think of ourselves as people with a future. But on the other hand, we were still crushed by the weight of a very recent upheaval of crisis and deprivation.

In these years, Mexico was in a historical and social context in which the repercussions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were beginning to be felt. Mexico had signed the agreement a few years prior, a treaty that was supposed to form a permanent partnership with the US and Canada. While touted as a beacon of economic prosperity, NAFTA’s impact was far from positive. The economic crisis that followed, often referred to as the Efecto Tequila hit Mexico hard, exposing the vulnerabilities and inequalities within the system.

The promise of having Mexico enter the First World, whatever the fuck that meant, was empty. The country faced a total meltdown that affected broad layers of Mexican society. Unemployment increased, poverty worsened and inequalities became more evident. My own family suffered from this greatly; my grandad’s store went out of business, two of my aunts lost their jobs, one of my dearest friends and neighbors became homeless. Millions of Mexicans lost everything.

In the midst of this chaos, we had some of the greatest rock music ever to come out of Mexico. This new Rock Mexicano emerged as a formidable vehicle for young people to express these feelings of disillusion, impotence, but most importantly, anger. Anger at the crisis, at the political corruption, at the inequality, at the social backwardness of Mexican adult society, at the Church, at the United States. It was our means of resistance.

By 1998, Mexico’s different rock scenes were experiencing a time of splendor. From fusions of rock with traditional Mexican rhythms to innovative sonic explorations, the Mexican rock scene became a melting pot of genres and styles. In the regions around Mexico City and the State of Mexico, the rock urbano wave that had shaped the voice of the young proletariat years prior, opened the door for two new scenes — One, a surf/garage/rockabilly movement, led by Los Esquizitos and especially Lost Acapulco, focused on recapturing the slick, sleazy aesthetics of Mexico during the swinging sixties; the other, a full on ska revolution.

Following the template that La Maldita Vecindad, and Northern stalwarts Tijuana No! and Inspector set at the beginning of the decade, groups like Los de Abajo, Sekta Core, Salón Victoria, Nana Pancha, and early Panteón Rococo took the British-born, Jamaican-rooted genre, and took it on a hard journey to Mexicanization, fusing it with música tropical, latin jazz, lounge and even space age pop (Esquivel was Mexican, after all).

But the other big explosion in Mexican rock, one that got instant international recognition, happened in the city of Monterrey, up north. Following the massive success of rap group Control Machete, and the release of Zurdok’s seminal album “Antena” the previous year, this movement, known as Avanzada Regia, was characterized by its eclectic mix of genres, including rock, ska, hip hop, and electronica. Artists like the visionary duet Plastilina Mosh concocted a particular blend of alt-rock electronic, hip-hop, disco, lounge, and even plunderphonics. Originating from the barrios, El Gran Silencio took fusion to another level, mixing cumbia regia, norteño music, chotis, polka, the attitude of punk, and the street-wisdom of Cholo culture.

The emergence of Plastilina Mosh and El Gran Silencio to the mainstream in 1998 proved the country that you can build strong cultural movements outside of Mexico City. Bands that were active in the scene but had not released records yet, like Jumbo, Kinky, Niña, Pxndx, Cabrito Vudú, Genitallica, and more, were immediately signed to big labels and released a deluge of now classic records the following years.

Mexican Rock finally had an active, burgeoning nationwide scene, the kind we had been denied since the early 70s and the fateful Avándaro backlash (that’s a story for another day). Problematic faves Molotov, the rap-rock band that served as a bulwark of freedom of speech in Mexican music, began to tour outside the country, at times with Control Machete, finding a new world of followers, especially in Europe. Café Tacvba became the most prestigious band among the music press in all of Latin America and the United States. In 1998, rock mexicano was officially a global export.

And as a grand conclusion to the most exciting year in the history of Mexican rock, on November 28 and 29, the first great experiment in massive concerts that would change the culture of this country forever took place: The Vive Latino Festival, with a line-up made up entirely of Spanish-speaking artists, of rock imaginable. And despite the natural organizational pitfalls that arise in such an ambitious event before the still incipient community of concert goers, the festival was such a big success, it sealed the fate of rock mexicano as an indivisible part of Mexico’s youth.

Growing up in Mexico in 1998, however painful and puzzling things could be, was still really fun. We had rock mexicano give us a voice and helped us on our way of seeking our place in a transforming society. And as an artistic and cultural manifestation, rock mexicano offered a deep ocean of aesthetic and discursive alternatives that nurtured my generation and the ones after.

In honor of 1998, here’s a playlist with some of the greatest tunes that came out that year in Mexican rock:


1. El Gran Silencio – “Decadencia”
2. Los de Abajo – “El Emigrado”
3. Nana Pancha – “Mala Suerte”
4. Panteón Rococó – “Cúrame”
5. La Maldita Vecindad – “El Cocodrilo”
6. Salón Victoria – “Ponzoña Surf”
7. Inspector – “Blanco y Negro”
8. Sekta Core! – “Goya (Pinche Salinas)”
9. Tijuana No! – “Nadie Dijo Nada”
10. Lost Acapulco – “Vampiro”
11. Los Esquizitos – “Santo y Lunave”
12. Seguimos Perdiendo – “Puta Vida”
13. Riesgo de Contagio – “Me Muero Por Saber Cómo Decir Te Quiero”
14. Cuca – “Electroshock”
15. Guillotina – “Uno Más”
16. Mamíferos Habituales – “Iglesia”
17. La Flor de Lingo – “Mi Familia”
18. Molotov – “El Carnal de las Estrellas”
19. Plastilina Mosh – “Monster Truck”
20. La Lupita – “Supersónico”
21. La Dosis – “Alta Tensión”
22. Jumbo – “Lo Dudo”
23. La Función de Repulsa – “Homo Chip”
24. El Clan – “La Vuelta”
25. Dies Irae – “Til Your Eyes Turn Black”
26. Valeria – “The Meeting (Demo)”
27. Hocico – “El Día de La Ira”
28. Jaramar Soto – “Palastinalied”
29. Cráneo de Jade – “No Temas”
30. Tritonía – “Magenta, Seda y Carmín”
31. Kromlech – “La Soledad de las Sombras”
32. Julio Revueltas – “Mi Santa María”
33. La Perra – “Frecuencias”
34. Titán – “C’mon Feel the Noize”
35. El Sr. González – “Escribiéndole”
36. El Tri – “Nostalgia”
37. Transmetal – “Santísimo Sufrimiento”
38. The Chasm – “A Portal to Nowhere”
39. The Zephyr – “Implored Skies”
40. Lvzbel – “El Hambre”

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