They might be giants

Titan is a big name for a band to live up to, but it's no easy task putting Mexican electronica on the map. These boys might just do it
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The Independent Culture

Though the music megastores now cater for almost every sub-genre, it's a fairly safe bet that "Mexican pop" isn't one of them. Using those words to fire up a few search-engines on the Web, I found little more than Los Lobos's "La Bamba" and the old Tom Jones hit, "Young New Mexican Puppeteer". As the latter finds Tom on the US side of the border, it hardly even qualifies.

Into this vacuum come Titan, a sussed and irreverent electronica trio whom the style mags are currently hailing as the tastiest Mexican export since guacamole. All pencil moustaches and exaggerated Ren and Stimpy accents, they're obviously aware that playing with a cultural stereotype or two might be good for business. Their name loses its heavy metal connotations when you discover it's pronounced Teetahn.

We meet in Barcelona, on the 30th floor of the Arts hotel. Emilio Acevedo, Julian Lede and Jay de la Cueva greet me warmly; they're amused that each journalist has been given a sheet of useful Spanish phrases such as Quieres venir a mi habitacion para tomar un Tequila? (Would you like to come back to my room for a tequila?). "Supergood!" remarks Lede.

Via a translator, Titan explain that they were formed from the ashes of Melamina Ponderosa, a cult outfit from Mexico City whose name translates as "plastic furniture that looks like wood". Between 1988 and 1991, Melamina were one of the few Mexican groups using drum-machines and samplers. Some loathed the band, some simply misunderstood what they were doing. Others championed them as pioneers of Mexican electronica in a musical climate still dominated by Sixties rock and traditional forms such as mariachi.

Acevedo (keyboards, samples), and Lede (guitar), continued their innovations in Titan, and they began to gain influential fans.Guillermo Fadanelli, editor of the Mexican music magazine Moho, would invite the band to play at private parties at his home. According to Acevedo, one of the most popular drugs of choice at these gatherings was LSD. On one occasion, the band noticed that their audience was slowly disappearing. When they finished playing, they discovered that most of the partygoers had relocated to the swimming pool. Acevedo's explanation is long, complex and punctuated by guffaws. The gist of it, though, is that "someone had managed to convince all the LSD consumers that they were alligators."

When their original bass-player Andres Sanchez left at "the very baddest time", Acevedo and Lede recruited De la Cueva as his replacement. De la Cueva, it transpires, was already something of a veteran, having served his apprenticeship with a group who sound like they were the Mexican equivalent of Hanson: "I was in Microchips since I was nine," he says. "Much fun but very weird. We sold over 500,000 records in South America, but because I was so young, I didn't realise what was going on. I never got any of the money." So what was it like to be in a boy band? I ask. "Yes, we were all boys," he replies. Some expressions just don't translate.

It wasn't until 1997 that the band made the contacts that would eventually lead to the release of their debut album Elevator. After years touring Mexico, they played some dates on the west coast of the States, meeting Beck collaborators Craig Borell and Ross Harris (aka Sukia). When Titan signed to the Tombola imprint of EMI/Virgin Mexico in 1999, they travelled back to Los Angeles to work with Sukia on four of the tracks on Elevator. They also worked with Mexican producer Paco Huidobro and Spearhead's Michael Franti. "Working with Franti was difficult, though," says Acevedo, "he produces a lot of R'n'B songs, and that can never mix with Titan."

If R'n'B is anathema, almost everything else seems fair game. "Come On Feel The Noise" isn't a cover version of the old Slade hit, but rather Titan's kitschy take on the theme tune from Starsky & Hutch. Elsewhere, "King Kong" - recorded with Paco Huidobro after a magic mushroom picnic in the rural village of El Limbo - features samples from trashy films made by the Mexican wrestler El Santos.

"He do a lot of movies very cheap," says Lede. "El Santos Against the Invaders of the Moon was a good one. The soundtracks have pretty sounds of... [he confers with our translator]... of chemicals in laboratories. When they do this [he makes a bubbling noise] we like to sample it. We also take things from American movies translated into Spanish, Bollywood movies and some records from the Sixties."

Though there's less of a hip-hop emphasis, one can imagine Elevator going down well with fans of the Beastie Boys' Hello Nasty album. Indeed, Adam Yauch and co's Grand Royal label distributed early releases by Titan in Japan. The label had also expressed an interest in releasing Elevator in America, but just four days before our meeting the band found out that this had fallen through. "They have some internal politics problems," says Lede. "We want to work with them and they with us, but we can't do nothing. It's a decision of the people who own the company."

Later that evening, we find ourselves at La Paloma, a majestic old theatre whose velvet and gold fittings suggest the Spanish equivalent of Come Dancing. Augmented by a Japanese DJ at the decks, Titan eventually take the stage at 1am. Like spacemen beamed down from the Planet Funky, they get into their grooves: De la Cueva nails huge bass riffs which tip the hat to Parliament's Bootsy Collins; Acevedo throws shapes as he coaxes fizzes and squelches from his Moog synthesiser.

Afterwards, I seek out Lede and, still clutching my sheet of useful Spanish phrases, I'm able to tell him that it was un concierto de puta madre.

"Supergood!" he says. "I'm happy you enjoy."

'Elevator' is out on Virgin Records on Monday. Titan tour the UK with Soulwax until 19 May