By Carlos Metta
Vibration. There is no better word to describe Mexico City. And while vibrations literally penetrate the city streets all the time in the form of earthquakes, the city was built atop a dried lake and the entire country spans three tectonic plates, the city vibrates culturally with just as much intensity. There is always something happening, somewhere. It has a force that drags you into its corners, where art blooms, street food dictates the latest gourmet trends, and every bit of life’s detail is infused into popular culture. I’ve tried to move out the city a couple of times, but every other place I visit feels somewhat empty in comparison. Mexico City drowns my pores with excitement. It always pulls me back.
However, it’s a dauntingly huge city, so here are a handful of places that help to make it feel a bit more cozy and personal.
El Imperial is a sanctuary. Playing here is a rite of passage for any local band, and a must-visit for foreign bands. El Imperial is rock and roll through and through: They’ve got cheap beer and mezcal, velvet curtains, a grumpy but extremely efficient stage manager, and a great backline. They always present two bands, who share the same credit and importance, making it the cradle of Mexico City’s music scene.
El Centro (Downtown) is where everything exists in tandem. This is the heart of Mexico City. Its streets are witness to the city’s transformation over the course of centuries, and they portray those eras proudly on the walls of its architecture. As the years go by, El Centro remains the same, with its stoic churches and hidden, pre-Hispanic jewels. Here you can find basically everything, from computer and lighting gear to the most specific spare part for your food processor. Mexico City’s center is a huge commercial district divided into areas specific to a certain product, which are all located on the same street. There is even a street where two kilometers of music stores sit one next to the other!
Freïms is where coffee and calm come to meet. This frantic city requires places to relax, grab a coffee and focus on one thing, one smell at the time (if you’ve been to Mexico before, you’ll understand the barrage of scents that waft through the air all at once!). Freïms has it all: the best coffee in town, amazing sandwiches made out of waffles, and a carefully curated art gallery. This cafe slows down your pace — an oasis in the middle of a roaring metropolis. And they have live jazz every now and then, too!
Speaking of jazz, and beautiful, intimate environments, El Foro del Tejedor is another very special place. In fact, it’s poetic by design: It’s a venue above a bookshop. The music here is sustained structurally by culture, with sounds resonating over words and poetry. This intimate venue hosts the best national and international artists, creating a close experience that charges the air with electricity. Watching a concert here steals your breath, and only gives it back when the music is over.
Living in Mexico City sometimes makes me forget that there is anything outside of this massive concrete organism. But the Museo de Arte Popular is a concentrated drop of Mexican art and culture from outside of the metropolis, that has the ability to turn ice into a multi-coloured waterfall. It has four stories of contemporary artistic representations from all around the country, divided by topics instead of by regions, so you can appreciate different explorations of the same concepts from both indigenous and non-indigenous artisans. This place inspires and humbles my heart every time.
Casa Franca used to be a house, and although it’s now a bar, it still retains the same familial, community vibe it used to treasure. Here Mexico’s top jazz and world musicians gather and give intimate and powerful performances that feel more like a friends’ reunion than a concert. Also, their bar has a wide and exotic collection of craft mezcal and beer which has been praised in local newspapers. Casa Franca feels like your best friend’s Thursday house party, where drinks and music are just an excuse to bring people together.
Interested in hearing more about the sounds of cities from the artists who love them? Catch up on the full COMPASS series here.
Carlos Metta is a musician, producer, and sound designer from Mexico City. His current projects are Page Sounds, a band that explores mixing western rock with traditional instruments, and the recently released Middle Waters, a Mexico-Israel collaboration that takes Mexico City as inspiration for an intimate folk album. He collects sounds from all around the world and translates them into music. His feet are burning.