Meth Math: Rushing towards oblivion
Welcome to the strange world of Meth Math, the Mexican trio making club-focused reggaeton to soundtrack the apocalypse
If it were up to her, Ángel Ballesteros would have been born a stone.
Before I connect with Ballesteros – the fashion designer, visual artist and lead vocalist of Mexican trio Meth Math – El Vals de La Piedra (or, ‘the stone’s waltz’) is buzzing in my head. The song, from debut EP Pompi, is a club nightmare embellished with clinking chain rattles and wubbing electronic production. Throughout, Ballesteros’ vocals, warped beyond recognition, tell the tale of a humble rock that finds itself at a massage parlour after living beneath a waterfall. The conclusion is simple: time passed, the world moved chaotically, and the rock remained calm and unconcerned.
The concept is a far cry from the apocalyptic romance that inspires Meth Math’s sound. Still, despite their music being seemingly made for a perreo party in the underworld, the group are surprisingly down-to earth. Formed in 2016, Ballesteros and her bandmates Bonsai Babies and Error.Error met that same year in their hometown of Hermosillo, the capital of the state of Sonora in northwest Mexico. After spending the subsequent years in Mexico City, Ballesteros moved back to Hermosillo during the first wave of coronavirus, needing a change of scenery. “It used to stress me out, being here,” says Ballesteros of being back home. “It used to feel like nobody understood me until I met Bonsai and Error and started making music. The most boring, random things will inspire me. Because Hermosillo is slow, it lets things be absorbed this way.”
© Hernán Esquinca
This wholesome pace of life may come as a shock to the internet-savvy Latinx club kids that make up Meth Math’s fan base. After all, the group built their cult following in the alien corners of the internet, sporadically dropping tracks until the release of Pompi during the height of coronavirus’ initial wave. Born from an impulse to simply create together, the EP became their artistic statement, bolstered by a trippy video for El Vals de La Piedra shot in Paris, starring an aloof Ballesteros strutting around in goth club kid fineries. Though the song’s futuristic production and core rhythms are indebted to reggaeton, it would be remiss to label them neoperreo.
While Meth Math share aesthetic signifiers with the digitally-drenched underground movement, they closer resemble Berlin “devotional pop” duo Easter (who have similarly been described as “satanic”, and have even made music quoting Anton LaVey’s infamous text, The Satanic Bible).
By way of prep for their forthcoming EP – part recorded in Hermosillo, part recorded during Mexico City bedroom sessions – Meth Math embarked on a journey into the Mexican pop canon. As well as being inspired by fellow compatriot and collaborator Blue Rojo, Ballesteros, Bonsai and Error found themselves deep in late night YouTube holes which led them back to musical gems from their childhood. “We were listening to mega random songs that we’d never listen to again,” admits Ballesteros. “But then there were artists that are forever in my heart: Belanova, Gloria Trevi, Belinda… it was all mega-inspo for us.”
© Hernán Esquinca
© Hernán Esquinca
The forthcoming five-track sequel to Pompi is comparatively more pop-oriented, despite skewing on the experimental. The appropriately named opening track Fantasía Final begins with skeletal keys before growing into a minimalistic drum’n’bass moment. The Sega Bodega-assisted Tambaleo has echoes of Charli XCX’s Femmebot, although Ballesteros says she prefers SOPHIE and Arca as far as hyperpop icons go. The bouncy beat and shrill vocals at the core of Catastral are an undeniable invitation to the dancefloor. El Muro De Los Lamentos serves old school Crystal Castles as interpreted by TR/ST, its pulsing electronic keys and percussion spilling over into sparse bass, music for a Castlevania-themed rave. It’s a fatalistic, fast-paced and haunting record; these are songs you hear at the end of a party, the ones that pull you back in for one last perreo against the closest object with a pulse before stumbling out into the sunrise.
“We use reggaeton beats because they’re dope and it makes sense within our culture and the things we grew up with on the radio, but we’re not a perreo band”
“We were all confused and like, ‘What the fuck is happening?’” Ballesteros says, referring to the background hum of a pandemic that accompanied the making of the EP. “We had to start treating everything as if it were the end of the world. These songs have to do with decomposition, with final fantasies, with that feeling of, ‘It’s all good, I’m ready to go.’”
This death-drive toward creation has characterised Meth Math since before the pandemic, evident in the carefree manner in which they’ve released music, but also in the way they view themselves outside the span of genre. “We use reggaeton beats because they’re dope and it makes sense within our culture and the things we grew up with on the radio, but we’re not a perreo band,” Ballesteros clarifies. “All we do is interpret what’s there. For our next album, we’re thinking of ambient.”
As the trio garner more attention internationally and slowly return to live performances, they’re beginning to think of their music as inhabiting more than your ears. Ballesteros admits the hope to one day invade a gallery space with the Meth Math universe, to create something all-encompassing, an experience more akin to Arca’s Mutant;Faith production rather than the typically passive artist-audience interaction. This complete immersion of the senses, Ballesteros tells me, is the foundation of Meth Math.
© Hernán Esquinca
“It’s an interpretation of what is happening, what has happened, and what we think is going to happen,” Ballesteros says wistfully. “We’re just observing the world, and Meth Math is what happens when we channel what the three of us absorb every day. I think we all see something similar and try to craft that into a solitary, enveloping sound. But we don’t know the message sometimes… there are moments of clarity, but it’s also really abstract.”
My mind goes to the abstract images that have made up doomsday visions in every sacred text from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh’s flood myth to the Abrahamic Book of Revelations. I make a joke about the band being like a twisted dream to be interpreted. Ballesteros grows solemn, but a mischievous smile begins to form. From Cassandra to The Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, our best prophets have often had to laugh at their visions so they wouldn’t cry. “Sometimes, I’m scared of what the images mean,” she admits with a smirk. Then, she fixes her gaze on me, like a trickster goddess gearing up to reveal a secret. “Sometimes, I’m not ready to interpret them.”
Mortal is out soon via Real Life Music