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Thievery Corporation brings a cast of world musicians to Vail stage

Caramie Schnell
cschnell@vaildaily.com
VAIL CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyThievery Corporation is, left to right, Eric Helton and Rob Garza.
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Technically Thievery Corporation is a Washington, D.C.-based DJ duo. But don’t expect two people spinning on stage in Ford Park Friday night for the free Spring Back to Vail concert – there will be more than 20 people grooving, according to organizers.

Included among the music makers will be “Lou Lou from Iran, Mr. Lif, Puma from St. Thomas, Natalia from Argentina and Roots and Zee from Washington, D.C., along with a large group of musicians,” said Rob Garza, who fronts the group with Eric Hilton.

Considering the cast of characters, Thievery Corporation’s sound is best described as world music.



“That’s tough,” my go-to music expert Cory Brown told me when I asked him how he’d describe the band’s sound. “They are dub, reggae, jazz, electronic – pretty much everything.”

“Pretty much everything” sums it up nicely. You’ll find Brazilian bossa nova intertwined with Jamaican dub reggae and perhaps a vintage film soundtrack or some psychedelic space rock throw in for good measure. The group’s sound is intricate. Textured.



In the nearly 17 years the electronic music pioneers have been together, their lyrics have been sung in a slew of languages: English, Spanish, French, Persian, Portuguese, Romanian and Hindi. At the root of it all is a groovy lounge aesthetic.

The band headlined the SnowGlobe Festival in Lake Tahoe in January, with Bassnectar and Pretty Lights. That festival is put on by the same people who produce SnowBall in Avon, including local musician Scotty Stoughton who saw the band perform “their signature deep, world music infused downtempo and dub; the place was getting down,” he said.

“What sets Thievery apart is their hybrid style, with producers laying down electronic tracks than layering live instrumentation with multiple players on top,” Stoughton continued.



The groups sixth album, “Culture of Fear,” was released last June. Attendees at tonight’s show will hear songs from that album, as well as some “old favorites,” Garza said.

That album’s main theme revolves around “sacrificing liberty for what we perceive as a false sense of security,” Garza said.

The title track, featuring vocals/lyrics by rapper Mr. Lif, comments on the fact that, more than a decade after 9/11, “everyone is afraid of everything,” Hilton said. “People are living like wimps. The terror level is always at orange. Now we’ve got body scanners in airports. Somehow the whole country’s been spun into this pointless web of fear.” Adds Garza: “People have learned to be subservient to the system, automatically taking their shoes off at airports. Our message with this album is that there really is nothing to fear. The things we’re being told to fear aren’t what we should fear. The intrusion into your day-to-day rights and privacy are a whole lot scarier.”

The band is known for its unwavering willingness to speak out about social and political issues. They see themselves as social commentators and strive to get people to question the status quo.

“We are just hopefully expanding peoples awareness musically, culturally,” Garza said. “Music is one of the most powerful ways for people to connect, share ideas and inspiration. You can hear music from any corner of this planet and it can have an instantaneous effect on you, and for us that’s magical.”

Thievery Corporation was hatched in 1995 when Hilton and Garza were introduced by a mutual friend at Washington, D.C.’s Eighteenth Street Lounge. Hilton co-owned the Lounge, located in the top three floors of a turn-of-the-century mansion, with a fellow DJ. The two had never met until the night Garza walked in.

Since then, the duo has taken a do-it-ourselves approach – they started their own record label, ESL Music (short for Eighteenth Street Lounge Music), through which they release their own records – six studio albums, three compilations, and numerous EP’s and singles – as well as recordings by international artists like Federico Aubele, Ursula 1000 and Thunderball.

The label is run out of the basement of a Gothic-style three-level townhouse in Washington, D.C., also home to Thievery Corporation’s recording studio.

So with nearly two decades of music in the rear view, does Garza think Thievery Corporation has opened people’s minds, as he said is the goal?

“I don’t know if we have been successful exactly, but I know that people have connected with the music and our audience has been growing,” he said. “There are many different layers to what we do. The music is first and foremost to us.”


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