This month, four unsigned artists had the opportunity to perform with Jessie Reyez and Yungblud at new place
Although it only opened in December last year, the building now known as the House of Vans in Mexico City has long been an institution. Located in the center of the capital’s Mixcoac district, it is an impressive multi-storey structure detailed with ornate colonial architecture now coated in a powder-coated matte black. But before becoming the multi-purpose community center it is today, it lived several lives. Originally owned and built by a renowned lawyer in 1903, it was once a family home with its own extensive gardens, a lake and a small train that would take you around the property. When the last member of its family – the Serraldes – died in the late 90s, the building was revived as a restaurant, before becoming the infamous Bulldog Café: a popular music venue that saw Mexico cross its rock and roll boom of the early 2000s.
Today it operates in a very similar way, housing a maze of venues and initiatives aimed at enriching the local community of Mixcoac and Mexico City at large. There is gallery space for local and international artists to showcase work; an ephemeral cinema for film screenings; a recording studio to broadcast live panels and performances; multiple kitchens to incubate emerging food businesses; an equipped games room and a skate bowl on the roof. The walls are covered in vibrant artwork, boards, vintage Vans memorabilia, and a funhouse-style checkerboard hallway. All events, classes and workshops that take place in the “house” are free and accessible to anyone who wants to engage with the space in some way. Young professional skater Itzel Granados and others host wildly popular skate lessons for girls in the building, and parents often fill the rooftop area to sit and watch their kids attend workshops.
On the wall as you enter, you are greeted by a huge, skeletal mural, splattered with blues, pinks, purples and flecks of white and framed by the blue sky through the building’s glass ceiling. Freehand painted by local artist Marcos Castros, the artwork fuses traditional Mexican symbolism with large-scale elements of nature. By day, this main arena functions as a skate park and venue for skate lessons, workshops and practice, lined with gray concrete curves. However, for the weekend of our visit, this space is prepped to serve as a crowd pit for the skate brand’s ‘Share The Stage’ initiative, which is expected to see around 1,500 children congregate for each of the free gigs. .
As part of their Musicians Wanted contest, the Vans team gave four unsigned artists from around the world the opportunity to open for international stars Jessie Reyez and Yungblud for their big hits. Thousands of submissions poured into the online application process and semi-finalists performed for virtual audiences via live stream. The winners were then flown to the venue in Mexico for the occasion.
Day one (Friday) saw Atlanta-born, London-raised rapper and producer Joe Jas energize the crowd with his varied, genre-hopping tracks. With a lanky skater-boy charisma reminiscent of the days of Odd Future and a kaleidoscopically colorful aesthetic, he’s a true creative polymath: he films and edits his own visuals; voices and animates his own cartoon and runs his own skate brand, Fat Llama.
Next, Argentinian artist Lucia Tacchetti; a previous winner of the competition in 2020. Her softly sung Spanish tones and softly mournful electropop productions delighted the young crowd in sweet sways and hands-up dance breaks. The evening ended with an intimate performance by Canadian singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez, who made asides and jokes in Spanish throughout the set, playfully performed “One Kiss” by Calvin Harris and stretched his biggest solo hit “Figures” into a 10-minute call-and-response moment with the crowd totally enamored.
The following Saturday was a distinct change of pace, with a slightly more left-leaning formation. Young Northern Irish band Lemonade Shoelace had the crowd screaming (softly) and screaming (loudly) with their hazy, psychedelic-tinged melodies and tight instrumentation. Led by frontman Ruairí Richman during lockdown, it’s hard to believe this was their first-ever international performance. Following them — straight from São Paulo, Brazil — came shapeshifting singer Joy Sales, who effortlessly shifted between heady, soulful R&B grooves and more jagged alternative rap while adorned in electric blue box braids. But it was when Doncaster’s own rockstar Yungblud arrived that the sea of multicolored pastel-dyed headgear made the floors vibrate and the windows rattle with their screams and surges for the stage. The pop-punk star dominated the room with his Joker-esque mayhem and electricity, with the crowd shouting every word at him like it was their job – including even to a single released days before the show. There was a particularly brutal moment when, during one of his most poignant tracks, “God save me, but don’t drown me,” he hoisted an emotional teenager waving a transgender pride flag in light blue, pink and white on the stage. for the end of the song. The crowd and Yungblud seemed emotionally overwhelmed, as various other rainbow flags and signs continued to flutter in the sea of faithfully chanting people.
Reeling from the success of the week’s events, the team on the ground has ambitious plans ahead for the future of Mexico City’s House of Vans makeover. But this edition of Musicians Wanted has triumphed in taking the first steps to sharing the stage – not only with exhilarating global artistic talent, but with a whole range of new communities around the world that have yet to be served.