This article was originally published in the Rifflandia 2013 Music Guide.
In 1984, a young Rob Garza signed up for a High School elective which would radically alter the trajectory of his life and, by extension, an entire musical genre. The course, simply called “Electronic Music”, provided Garza with his first exposure to then cutting edge equipment such as sequencers, drum machines, synthesizers and reel-to-reel tape, tools Garza eventually used to lay the important, albeit rudimentary, foundations of Electronic Music as we have come to know it.
Upon graduating High School, Garza’s musical tastes continued to grow along with his record collection which included a diversity of styles such as jazz, bossa nova, Indian Classical and Middle Eastern music. Garza frequented the clubs of Washington DC where he was introduced to the power of dub, and to his future long-time collaborator Eric Hilton: with these two fateful introductions, the seeds of Thievery Corporation were planted.
Hilton and Garza both recognized dub’s bone-rattling low end as a potential space for divergent sounds to breathe and flow, and quickly set to work introducing elements of Brazilian and Indian music to the mix. In the largely pre-internet world of 1996, Thievery Corporation’s debut 12″ recordings “Shaolin Satellite” and “2001: A Spliff Odyssey” reflect Garza and Hilton’s shared passion for diverse soundscapes as all the samples were culled directly from the duo’s respective record collections.
Thievery Corporation has gone through tremendous changes since its 1996 debut. Whereas Hilton and Garza started out painstakingly sampling records without the benefit of multi-tracks, playing sequences over and over before dropping them on DAT, technological advances such as Ableton, Logic Studio and Contact, now allow them to focus more on song writing.
Thievery Corporation has also become increasingly collaborative. 2002’s The Richest Man in Babylon features vocalists Emiliana Torrini, Pam Bricker and Loulou. In 2005, the dark and psychedelic sounds of The Cosmic Game featured Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne and David Byrne.
Increased collaboration in the studio led to a larger stage presence. Thievery Corporation’s live set verges on the carnival-esque, featuring a touring band of over 20 musicians on instruments such as sitar, guitar and horns . The band’s success on an international level is undeniable, as they regularly sell out venues as large as the O2 in London, the Hollywood Bowl in California and the Theatro Vrahon Melina Merkouri in Athens.
Inevitably, Thievery Corporation’s ever-expanding line up has influenced their approach to songwriting. The band has strayed a bit from their electronic compositional roots in favor of an increasingly organic approach to the craft, prompting Garza to temporarily step aside from the Thievery Corporation in order to re-explore his more electronic oriented background. Trading massive stages for small clubs, Garza rediscovered what was happening musically in the electronic scene and it inspired him: he hasn’t looked back since.
Garza has since relocated from Washington DC to San Francisco, where he’s witnessed DJs taking influences from many different genres such as house, club, new wave and disco, putting them all together in an entirely new and original way. As for his own music, Garza has been focusing on Deep House and Nu-Disco while maintaining his patented pedigree of outer-national, groove oriented rhythms.
Garza has recently compiled an album of remixes (aptly called, “Remixes”) for artists such as Tycho, Gogol Bordello and Miguel Migs amongst a host of others. The compilation is a veritable showcase of Garza’s mastery as an electronic musician, featuring a vast array of sounds from around the world.
Longtime fans of Thievery Corporation may be a little surprised by the sounds Rob Garza brings to Rifflandia’s stage. Whereas Thievery Corporation is often associated with a more downtempo electronic music beat, Garza’s solo set focuses more on nu-disco and deep house, so the sound promises to be more upbeat and electronic. What we can rely on is that Garza will be bring a re-invigorated and truly inspired set by a true electronic pioneer: almost thirty years after taking an introductory high school course in Electronic Music, Garza remains at the top of his game.