Electronic music duo
Although they hail from the nation’s capital, the Washington D.C. duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton—otherwise known as Thievery Corporation— hardly seem ail-American. They dress in swanky duds, run the coolest club in town, and incorporate a broad range of international influences into their music. For example, The Mirror Conspiracy, released in 2000, “is a warm slippery-stream of techno tropicalia, dub-lite, and 21st -century lounge, “summed Spin magazine’s Pat Blashill. To accentuate their global sound, Thievery Corporation, beginning in the mid 1990s, carefully cultivated a jet-setting, cosmopolitan image. They wear custom-tailored suits, drive expensive cars, and take on lucrative offers to remix tracks for the likes of Stereolab and West African singer Baaba Maal. “Our name is tongue-in-cheek, “Hilton said before relating the duo’s best ironic gesture: ordering credit cards that read THIEVERY CORPORATION.
But while they play the game of putting on airs, Thievery Corporation take their musical experiments more seriously. Garza and Hilton span the globe for flavors, taking in everything from Brazilian and Jamaican to European and Indian. All of these sounds are then mixed with beats and vocals to create Thievery Corporation’s distinct sound—a sort of dub/bossa nova/techno concoction that has won over critics in Europe as well as the United States. Also apparent in the duo’s craftwork are portions of 1960s and 1970s soundtracks and the work of composers, such as John Barry, set alongside snippets of jazz and pop. “Soundtracks are interesting because they incorporate so many different types of styles … anything from classical elements, to African, to Brazilian, “explained Hilton, as quoted in an interview for Virgin Megastore Online. “You hear it all and it makes for interesting music.”
In tune with a growing number of electronic musicians whose work transcends and/or meshes an array of genres, Thievery Corporation resists music industry labels. Reviewers have called their music everything from acid-dub to jazzy-lounge, yet such terms fail to fully describe the music they actually produce. “There really hasn’t been an applicable genre developed for our music, “noted Hilton. “It’s natural that people would try to put it into one … it would be more convenient for sure. It’s not trip-hop, people don’t use those words too much anymore, but it really isn’t that anyway. I think that downtempo is used sometimes, but that’s such a horrible genre because to me it means slow music. There just aren’t any good classifications.” Finally arriving at a somewhat appropriate description, one borrowed from his partner Garza, Hilton suggested the term “other world” music. Still, “You have to hear it to understand it, “he concluded.
Prior to meeting and cornering the global/techno scene, both artists dabbled in music and were brought up in typical, middle-class families. As a child, Hilton, born in 1967, was an avid record collector who loved Kiss and Parliament until the 1980s, when his tastes turned to classic British mod: 1960s ska, Northern soul, and a bit of rock. By the age of 17, he was already deejaying at teen clubs around Washington, D.C. A self-described “idiot savant who can’t play an instrument but knows which sounds [I want], “as quoted by Julie Taraska in Billboard, Hilton nonetheless desired a career in music. He began recording as early as 1990 by hiring a cast of musicians to help him create a mix of funk, acid-jazz, and bossa nova which he released under the name Exodus Quartet on the New York label Instinct.
The son of an ex-policeman who worked for a private security firm, Garza, born in 1970, grew up in Frederick, Maryland, and suburban Connecticut. Formally educated in music and later becoming a proficient engineer and producer, he listened to big band orchestras as a child and studied both classical and jazz piano. In his teens, Garza’s chief influences were punk, industrial and experimental music, and by age 16, he had built his own home studio. Previous to hooking up with Hilton, Garza recorded tracks under the names Dopamine and Jedi Mind Trick.
After Hilton had some initial success promoting parties in Washington, D.C., he began searching for a home base. Then in 1995, he found a loft above a mattress store where he opened the club Eighteenth Street Lounge, also the label name Thievery Corporation would soon record under. Opening that same year, the
Members include Rob Garza (born in 1970), DJ, producer; Eric Hilton (born in 1967), DJ, producer.
Hilton opened the Eighteenth Street Lounge and met Garza, 1995; released full-length debut Sounds From the Thievery Hi-Fi, 1996; released The Mirror Conspiracy, 2000; the duo have remixed tracks for groups including Stereolab and Gus Gus.
Addresses: Record company —Eighteenth Street Lounge (ESL), 1212 18th St., Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 342-1611; website: http://www.eslmusic.com.
club, which Hilton co-owns, never needed to advertise to attract crowds. The Eighteenth Street Lounge is elegant, yet its atmosphere is relaxed. The club occupies the top three floors of an old Washington mansion and offers three tiers of music, several bars, an outdoor patio, and music five nights per week. Although an integral part of the club, Hilton and Garza do not serve as the club’s resident DJs. Rather, they like to make room for others, playing only sporadically themselves. The record label aspect of the venture came about in 1996, and after setting up offices in the back of the club, Thievery Corporation became Eighteenth Street Lounge’s first signing. Within five years, the label grew to house acts such as the drum ’n’ bass group Thun-derball and funk/breakbeat artist Ursula 1000.
If not for the Eighteenth Street Lounge, Thievery Corporation most likely would not exist today. It was in 1995 that Garza came to the club soon after the opening, and while discussing music over drinks with Hilton, the two discovered that they shared some of the same ideas as well as an interest in the works of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and singer/guitarist Joao Gilberto, the man credited with inventing bossa nova. “We met through a mutual friend, and started talking about music, “Hilton recalled, as quoted by Virgin. “We bonded over Brazilian music, talking about ’60s bossa nova and how much we liked it.” Once they hit the studio, it was just a matter of experimenting with style before they were ready to record. “We found music in local, used record shops. Instead of looking in the rock bins, we’d look over in the ones with soundtracks. We grew up with rock ‘n’ roll and were looking for something a little bit different. We’d scour easy listening and soundtracks to find the most interesting music.”
In just a few short years, the duo built an impressive discography. In 1996, they released their full length debut, Sounds From the Thievery Hi-Fi, which sold over 100, 000 copies worldwide and garnered international acclaim. Melody Maker’s Mark Roland described the album as “a whole mess of influences hewn from the mine of music and polished into a whole set of unique diamonds. Superb.” 1999 brought forth two more Thievery Corporation projects. They remixed a DJ Kicks compilation (issued on the K7 label), then released Abductions and Reconstructions, a collection of remixes the pair had produced for DJ Cam, Stereolab, and Gus Gus, among others. Worldwide, these records sold approximately 75, 000 and 35, 000 copies, respectively. The Mirror Conspiracy, released in August of 2000, was considered the duo’s most advanced work thus far. This time out, the duo relied more heavily on instrumentation, using Jamaican reverb, Far East psychedelia and sitars, and bossa nova horns. In November of that year, the duo set out on their first tour of North America. “There’s a lot of buried treasure out there, “Garza noted to Blashill. “And we can find it—electronically.” Agreeing, Hilton added, “That’s the key. Buried treasure.”
Sounds From the Thievery Hi-Fi, ESL, 1996.
Abductions and Reconstructions (remix compilation), ESL, 1999.
The Mirror Conspiracy, ESL, 2000.
Billboard, June 5, 1999; August 26, 2000; July 8, 2000.
Melody Maker, May 30, 1998; July 11, 1998; July 17, 1999; July 24, 1999.
Rolling Stone, August 31, 2000.
Spin, September 2000.
Village Voice, August 3, 1999.
Washington Post, June 2, 1999; June 27, 1999; August 27, 2000; September 29, 2000.
ESL Music, http://www.eslmusic.com (December 16, 2000).
Virgin Megastore Online, http://www.vhost.virginmega.com (December 16, 2000).