Friday, December 20
The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester NY
Spend a day with Thievery Corporation's Eric Hilton and Rob Garza and you might hear them make reference to David Cope, the university professor who studies music and artificial intelligence, or mention Garza's travels to Sudan and Nepal, or explain why The Clash's London Calling may just be the best-produced album in rock history. So it's not surprising that Hilton and Garza's thoughtful curiosity about the world finds its way into their sophisticated, impeccably crafted musical soundscapes that reflect not only their broad appreciation for diverse styles of music (everything from Brazilian bossa nova and Jamaican dub reggae to vintage film soundtracks and psychedelic space rock), but also their take on the complicated times in which we live.
Since banding together 16 years ago, these two independent thinkers have taken a DIY approach to their musical and cultural interests, which has led to the formation of their own record label, ESL Music, through which Thievery Corporation release recordings by a slew of international artists, such as Federico Aubele, Ursula 1000, and Thunderball, as well as their own recordings. The label is run out of the basement of a Gothic-style three-level townhouse in Washington, D.C., that is also home to Thievery Corporation's recording studio, which is filled with the latest high-tech gear as well as vintage guitars and Moog keyboards. The studio is where the two songwriters and producers have crafted their own output: six studio albums, three compilations, and numerous EP's and singles — an impressive body of diverse work that has made Thievery Corporation one of the most influential and respected names on the electronic/dance music scene.
In June, the duo will release its sixth studio album, Culture of Fear — a cinematic-sounding inquiry into space rock that straddles the sweet spot between funk and soul, with a bit of dub and reggae thrown in for good measure. The title track, featuring vocals/lyrics by rapper Mr. Lif, comments on the fact that, nearly 10 years after 9/11, "everyone is afraid of everything," Hilton says. "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."
Culture of Fear continues to address the socially conscious themes that Thievery Corporation have explored since 2002 when they released their third studio album, The Richest Man in Babylon, which incorporated protest music into their sound. They followed Babylon with 2005's The Cosmic Game, which featured politically minded collaborations with Perry Farrell, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, and David Byrne. In 2008, the duo paid homage to people's resistance movements around the world with Radio Retaliation — setting a think-for-yourself agenda to eclectic sounds from Jamaica, Latin America, Asia, and The Middle East. The album, which questioned the profit-driven mentality of corporate media, earned Thievery Corporation a Grammy Award nomination for Best Recording Packaging.