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Thievery Corporation makes Aspen debut

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Thievery Corporation in Washington DC
(c) Andrzej Liguz/moreimages.net | Digital

ASPEN ” When Rob Garza performs with his electronica group Thievery Corporation Wednesday at Belly Up Aspen, he’ll be one of 14 musicians on the stage. It’s not a sure bet that Garza could have round ed up 14 people who had even heard of the electronica genre when he got his start in the music.

At Windsor High, in Windsor, Conn., the 16-year-old Garza enrolled in Electronic Music Level I, a subject virtually unheard of in American public high schools. He followed with Level II, and supplemented the classwork with lab sessions at night. The year was 1983, and the digital era was a good decade away.

“It was old analog synthesizers, drum machines, tape decks,” said the 39-year-old Garza from his home in Washington, D.C. “I started messing around with that, being a teenager in my bedroom. I was getting my hands dirty with the equipment.”

Not only was the gear a world away from today’s laptops and iPods, but the sounds and styles popular now had barely even been imagined. The electronic cutting-edge meant synth-pop ” think Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” ” and hip-hop were barely a blip on the underground map. The idea of making music without standard instruments was off in a far away, futuristic realm.

“I couldn’t even imagine this kind of music would be popular like it is,” Garza said. “No one was listening to music recorded electronically. You had maybe classical composers doing everything electronically. But it was no one’s notion that you could make music like this.”

Electronics were not the only exotic sounds that captivated Garza. He liked Jamaican rhythms and Indian sitars. And Brazilian music, an interest he shared with Eric Hilton, a Washington club owner whom Garza met in 1995. The two took notice of the electronic experiments being conducted in Japanese recording studios, with mod ernist beats spliced under jazzy jams. The two created a studio, and within a week had produced two promising tunes. In 1997, as the Thievery Corporation, they released their first album, “Sounds From the Thievery Hi-Fi.”

The genre that has come to be known as electronica has earned a reputation for engaging the body, while being disengaged from the mind. The music is often regarded as something for the dance floor, or relegated to the background. But Garza had also been a fan of Washington’s hardcore bands ” a scene, including Fugazi, known as dischord ” as well as outspoken groups like Public Enemy and the Dead Kennedys. After 9/11, Thievery Corporation’s music took on an increasingly political and worldly edge. “That’s not how we set out, to change people’s minds. But the best thing you can do is open someone’s mind, and that doesn’t have to be political. If someone hears a beautiful song in Far si by an Iranian singer, you hopefully see Iran in a different light than you see it portrayed in the newspaper,” said Garza, noting that the current tour fea tures singers from Iran, Guyana, Jamaica and Argentina.

“Radio Retaliation,” released in September, is Thievery Corporation’s most worldly album yet, and it would be hard to call it a chill-out album. With singers from Nigeria and Brazil singing about the apocalypse and equating politicians to vampires, it’s doubtful listeners will miss the message. Although it is possible ” Garza says that a film maker, making a documentary of The Clash, told him of an interview subject who had no idea The Clash were politically motivated.

“Some people just enjoy the music in that way, as sound,” Garza said.

Often, the terms used to describe Thievery Corporation can lead listeners away from the message. Electronic music has often been referred to as “chill-out” ” not a word that Garza believes applies to Thievery Corpora tion, especially its live show.

“It’s the opposite of the word ‘chill out,'” said Garza, who handles turntables and drum machines in the concert setting. A better word? “Outernational. We came up with that ourselves.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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