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American Electronica Producer Rob Garza Makes His India Debut

The DJ, who is part of the Washington DC-based Thievery Corporation, on his group’s eclectic sound, beginnings and his solo work

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Rob Garza from Thievery Corporation in Washington DC

Photo Courtesy: Andrzej Liguz/moreimages.net

Rob Garza and Eric Hilton have come a long way since the inception of Thievery Corporation. From their debut album Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi (1997) to their latest release Culture of Fear (2011), they have gone from playing DJ sets within the localities of Washington D.C. to full blown live sets and being deemed as luminaries in the electronic music scene. With eclectic infusion of trip-hop, dub, acid jazz, bossa nova and other worldly sounds native to countries ranging from Brazil, India, Jamaica and France, they created a sound which was entirely new and distinct. Says Garza,“I don’t think we ever tried to part of any genre. We’re from DC and it’s not a very musical city and I think we’ve always concentrated on our own music and our own sound. We’ve never really tried to be part of a scene and in a way were some of the first electronic artists at our time.” 

Garza started producing his own music with deep house and nu-disco influences in 2010. He released the album Remixes in 2013, which showcases his remixes of tracks by American ambient producer Tycho, deep-house DJ Miguel Migs, Afro-Peruvian/electronica band Novalima, Latin-influenced neo-soul act AM & Shawn Lee, dancehall veteran Sleepy Wonder and Thievery collaborator electro-chanteuse Shana Halligan. Earlier this year, he also collaborated on Calle del Espiritu Santo with deep house producer Neighbour. He tells us that he is set to release a remix record and a few singles next year along with a Thievery Corporation album.

Garza will play his debut shows in India at Blue Frog in Mumbai and at the Bacardi Nh7 Weekender in Bengaluru.

How old were you when you started collecting records? When did you pick up your first synth?

I was about 13 or 14 years old. It was back in 1984 when my father got a job in Connecticut and we lived there for a couple of years. I went to this regular public school, nothing fancy, which was like one of the only schools in the whole country to have electronic music in high school. They had these keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines and I didn’t know anything about music at this time so I started playing around with all this equipment. And at that time hip-hop was coming up and I was playing around making beats and stuff for my friends.

Has the grunge and punk scene in DC affected your music in any way?

Well being from DC, I think it was a big influence. One of the massive influences was the fact that the DC punk scene was all about doing it yourself. It had the Minor Threat guys, the whole disco scene that was about putting up their own records and it wasn’t so much about talent, even though they were incredibly talented. It was about having something to say and getting it out there. And I think that was really inspiring for me as a kid because you’re not going to wait for a major label to come find you and say that they’re going to put out your music but instead make your own music and put it out yourself. And that’s a big inspiration.

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Was there any live show that got you hooked?

A friend of mine owned this record store and he had all of these import records and I was 15 or 16 years old and the Pixies’ first record Come On Pilgrim came out. And I got the record, fell in love with the record and co-incidentally that week they were opening for a band called Throwing Muses. I went to see them in concert and that for me has to be that life-changing musical experience.

With Thievery, you guys had very new sounds from around the world about 18 years ago. How did you find these new sounds?

Eric and I had a very eclectic record collection and we were both very interested in sounds from around over the world. We would spend time in different second hand record stores just picking out different things that we liked. And it wasn’t just pop music but it was music from all around the world – music from Brazil, music from India, Jamaica, European and French soundtrack. So our thing was taking all of this and finding a way to incorporate it with modern electronic sound and that’s where our own signature sound came from.

So I bet a lot of artists ask you to remix their tracks. What makes you pick the ones you do?

We always see challenge in a fun way. It’s fun for us to dissect the song, pull it apart and then build a whole new electronic sounding track and give it a different twist. We pick that way.

It’s been almost two decades since you and Eric started Thievery and your foray into electronic music. Never have you stepped into EDM as a genre.

I don’t think we ever tried to be part of any genre. We’re from DC and it’s not a very musical city and I think we’ve always concentrated on our own music and our own sound. We’ve never really tried to be part of a scene and in a way were some of the first electronic artists at our time.

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So what do you have planned for next year with both Thievery and your solo work?

We have a new album coming up in February or March. And this record actually has a lot of jazz, Brazilian music and is not very electronic at all, which is kind of funny. And I have a lot of music coming up. I do love electronic music and what I’m going to be playing while I’m in India is a lot of nu disco, a lot of deep house, singles and stuff off Remixes. I have a remix record out, some solo singles coming out. I’m really inspired by all music and I love working with real musicians and I love working with keyboards, synthesizers and programming.

You recently collaborated with Shana Halligan. What was that like?

Yes she’s awesome. She’s an incredible singer and just a wonderful human being in general. We worked on a track for the new Thievery album and she was just so easy to work with and it was effortless. It basically didn’t feel like work at all.

You recently played in Croatia with Prodigy, right? How’d that go and what was the crowd like?

It was great and so much fun. Yeah Prodigy played and the crowd was just going nuts. And then later I DJ’d and crowd was just incredible, beautiful beaches, summertime, I mean for me it was just an amazing time.

Do you prefer playing at clubs or festivals?

For me it really depends on the day. Sometimes I just love playing at festivals because I get a lot of new fans. There are a lot of new people who walk over and see you and discover your band which I think is really a beautiful thing. But it’s also nice playing in a club for all your fans, they know all the words to every song and you can really feel like they know your music inside and out.

What’s a 3 am set like?

I love it. I think that it’s a great time to play; people are loosened up by that time and are really just into having a great night out. So for me that’s a very magical time to play. And if you’re not in America with all the bars closing, and if it’s somewhere else and it is 3 am, and I’m playing, I think it’s just a great time to play.

Catch Rob Garza live at Blue Frog, Mumbai on the 22nd of November. Entry: Free for women and Rs 600 for men.

and at Bacardi Nh7 Weekender, Bengaluru at the Eristoff Wolves Den on the 23rd of November. Buy passes here

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