If you’ve spent any time hanging out in boutique hotels, high-end salons or groovy lounges in the past two decades, odds are you’ve been exposed to Thievery Corporation, the Washington DC duo whose name is synonymous with hip downtempo music that’s perfect for wining, dining and shopping. But while most “chill” music disappears into aural wallpaper, Eric Hilton and Rob Garza have establish a a fan base that can fill festivals.
Lately, the later of the two has been stretching out on his own, traveling the globe to DJ and delivering a slew of remixes for artists as diverse as Gogol Bordello, Tycho and Miguel Migs. And he’s collected 14 of them onto a new CD entitled Remixes, which he released on May 28. URB got a few moments with Garza for an update.
Thievery Corporation is a pioneering electronic act, normally associated with a more downtempo electronic music beat. What would you say distinguishes Rob Garza as a DJ from what Thievery Corporation does?
The music that I’m djing right now is predominantly nu-disco and deep house so the sound is a bit more upbeat and electronic. On the solo tip I feel like I’m embracing my electronic roots.
With Thievery Corporation you play live. When you DJ do you feel the process requires as much musical knowledge? Do you feel like you get the same level of satisfaction from a DJ set?
I really am enjoying DJing right now. In a way it’s more fun, maybe because I’ve been touring with the band for so long and it feels light. When we travel as Thievery we have a crew of over 20 people. I also enjoy playing other peoples music and searching for new music.
What’s the strangest story you can tell about how you go to know one of the artists included on the remix album?
A lot of people who I’ve remixed on this record are personal friends. One song on there is from one of great friends Kalani (Sunwolf) who has worked for us for 17 years. He played me a demo of “Cherry Crush” and I did the mix on the back of a tour bus when we were touring with Massive Attack. So that mix was totally unexpected and is one of my faves on the record.
How long have you been DJing for? When did you decide that you wanted to start playing out more often solo?
I really started off more as a producer, and Me and Eric got asked to do a DJ Kicks release back in 99. After that we were asked to do a bunch of DJ gigs and I kind of got thrown into that world. Some friends asked me to DJ by myself outside of Thievery a few years ago, so I was spending more time in clubs and really starting to feel what was happening musically within the electronic scene. I felt re-inspired to go down the rabbit hole and start really following new sounds. I think it’s one of the most exciting times right now what is happening with music.
There’s a lot of people jumping into the electronic music world at present – particularly with more pop orientated EDM. Thievery has had mainstream success but remained on the fringes, and your DJ sets are far from mainstream EDM. What’s your take on the electronic landscape at present?
There’s always going to be mainstream music that is horrible and annoying, that’s the nature of the mainstream. That’s why fast food restaurants are popular, not because of quality. I remember us (Thievery) being in an issue of URB around 2000 when it was saying electronic music was the next big thing, so that next big thing is over a decade late.
I feel very fortunate to still be making music almost 20 years after we started. The beauty for me with Thievery is that we’ve flown just below the radar and when you meet people who like your work, there’s a real genuine respect. I am so happy to be a no-hit wonder than a one-hit wonder. Imagine if you’re one of the dudes from A-ha and everytime someone meets you that annoying song starts playing in their mind.
You own some nightclubs in Playa del Carmen, where BPM takes place. Has that festival been an influence on you at all? Has there been an evolution musically in Playa as BPM has grown?
The scene in general down there been a major influence, We have had so many great DJ’s come and play our spots, and after a while it was like damn, I’m really feeling this! I was feeling this renewed enthusiasm. The BPM festival has grown into something really exciting and we host some great events with the festival, so our relationship with BPM has been very symbiotic.
What have been your best and worst DJ experiences of late? What do you imagine the perfect DJ gig to look like, and who would you invite to play alongside you?
I really enjoyed playing Shambhala, that’s a great festival. And playing the Robot Heart bus at Burning Man, the sound was sick and the audience was great. The worst gigs are being sent to play somewhere where you don’t jive musically. I played at this festival with all these mainstream EDM cats and held my own, but was like praying to get the hell out of there. Listening to Gotye and Adele remixes 20 times in one day is some Guantanamo Bay type shit.