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Jessie ReyezPhotography by Liliana Estrada

Inside Mexico City’s community-centred House of Vans hub

This month, four unsigned artists were given the opportunity to perform with Jessie Reyez and Yungblud at the new venue

Though it only opened in December last year, the building now known as House of Vans in Mexico City has long been an institution. Located centrally in the Mixcoac neighbourhood of the capital, it’s an impressive multi-storey structure detailed with ornate, colonial architecture now coated in a powdery matte black. But before becoming the multipurpose community hub it is today, it lived multiple lives. Originally owned and built by a renowned lawyer in 1903, it used to be a family home with its own extensive gardens, lake and a small train that would take you around the property. When the last of his family – the Serralde’s – passed away in the late 90s, the building was revived as a restaurant, before becoming the infamous Bulldog Café:  ‘a popular music venue that served as an epicentre for arts, culture and community through Mexico’s rock and roll boom of the early 00s.

Today, it functions in a very similar way, housing a maze of rooms and initiatives aimed at enriching the local community of Mixcoac and wider Mexico city. There’s a gallery space for local and international artists to showcase work; a pop-up cinema for film screenings; a recording studio to livestream panels and performances; multiple kitchens to incubate up-and-coming food businesses; a kitted out games room, and a rooftop kidney skate bowl. The walls are covered in vibrant art, boards, vintage Vans memorabilia and a trademark funhouse-style checkerboard hallway. All events, classes and workshops that take place in the “house” are free and accessible for everyone who wants to engage with the space in some way. Young pro-skater Itzel Granados and others run super popular all-girl skate classes at the building, and parents often fill up the rooftop area to sit and watch their kids attend workshops. 

On the wall as you enter, you’re greeted by an immense skeletal mural, splattered with blues, pinks, purples and white speckles and framed by the blue sky through the building’s glass ceiling. Painted freehand by local artist Marcos Castros, the artwork merges traditional Mexican symbolism with elements of nature on a super-sized scale. By day, this main arena functions as a skate park and venue for skate classes, workshops and practice, bordered by grey concrete curves. However, for the weekend of our visit, this space is being primed to serve as the crowd pit for the skate brand’s ‘Share The Stage’ initiative, set to see around 1,500 kids assemble for each of the free ticketed gigs. 

As part of their Musicians Wanted competition, the Vans team gave four unsigned artists from across the globe the opportunity to open for international stars Jessie Reyez and Yungblud for their headline shows. Thousands of submissions poured into the online application process and semi-finalists performed for virtual audiences via livestream. The winners were then flown out to the Mexico venue for the opportunity. 

The first day (Friday) saw Atlanta-born, London-raised rapper and producer Joe Jas energise the crowd with his assorted, genre-leaping tunes. With a lanky, skater boy charisma reminiscent of Odd Future days and a kaleidoscopically colourful aesthetic, he is 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 up was Argentine artist Lucia Tacchetti; a previous winner of the competition in 2020. Her softly sung Spanish-language tones and sweetly mournful, electropop productions entranced the young crowd into mellow sways and hands-in-the-air dance breaks. The night closed with an intimate performance from Canadian singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez, who broke into asides and jokes in Spanish throughout the set, performed a playful rendition of Calvin Harris’s “One Kiss” and stretched her biggest solo hit “Figures” into a 10-minute call-and-response moment with the totally enamoured crowd.

The following Saturday was a distinct shift of pace, with a slightly more left-field lineup. Young, Northern Irish band Lemonade Shoelace got the crowd moshing (gently) and screaming (loudly) with their hazy, psychedelic-tinged melodies and water-tight instrumentation. Masterminded by frontman Ruairí Richman over lockdown, it’s hard to believe it was their first-ever international performance. After them – hailing straight from São Paulo, Brazil – came shapeshifting vocalist Joy Sales, who flipped effortlessly between heady soulful R&B grooves and more jagged, alternative rap while adorned in electric blue box braids. But it was when Doncaster’s very own rockstar Yungblud arrived that the sea of multicoloured pastel-dyed headtops made floors vibrate and windows shake with their screams and surges for the stage. The pop-punk star commanded the room with his signature Joker-esque chaos and electricity, with the crowd screaming back every word to him like it was their job – notably even to a single released days before the show. There was a particularly raw moment when during one of his more poignant tracks, “god save me, but don’t drown me out”, he hoisted an emotional teenager brandishing a light blue, pink and white transgender pride flag up onto the stage him for the finale of the song. Both the crowd and Yungblud seemed emotionally overcome, as various other rainbow flags and signs continued to wave throughout the sea of people sang along faithfully. 

Reeling from the success of the week’s events, the team on the ground have fittingly ambitious plans to come for the future of Mexico City’s shapeshifting House of Vans. But this edition of Musicians Wanted has triumphed in taking the first steps to share the stage – not just with exhilarating, global artistic talent but with a whole range of new communities worldwide who have been as yet underserved.