Jun 16, 2014

Thievery Corporation by two: a conversation with Rob Garza

Unfortunately this interview happened over the phone. But when I found out that I was interviewing Rob Garza, one half of ThieveryCorporation, my heart was in my mouth. 9.45 am, the call promptly arrived and the next 20 minutes were some of the best of my life. That I eventually met a drunk him at the after-party and chilled is a whole different story.

Rob Garza
 What are you expecting from your India trip?

To be honest, I don’t know what to expect but I’m looking to go over, have a great time, share my music and just enjoy being there.

Have you heard any Indian music?

Not so much. I’ve not heard too much electronic music from India but of course, we have people like Anoushka (Shankar), whom we have collaborated with in the past. To be honest, I’m not so up to date with the current electronic scene.

How hard was it for you to create your own identity as a solo DJ after Thievery Corporation?

I think it’s actually been quite easy. After I moved to San Francisco, people started asking me to DJ, which I hadn’t done in a while. When they started asking me, a few years ago, I said ‘Yes’ and then I started saying ‘Yes’ more and more. And then as people found out I was DJing, they started hearing it and actually liking the music I was playing at the clubs. I was doing remixes and some original productions as well. People have just been inviting me and really encouraging me. It’s been great.

Is it more satisfying than Thievery Corporation?

You know, they’re both two different types of satisfaction. It’s always great to go out with a band and play live. But there’s also something kind of liberating in being able to go out by yourself, play other people’s music and just get into the atmosphere of the room and everybody’s just enjoying and getting off on the music. I really enjoy that too.

Has Thievery Corporation taken a backseat and only features as a few tracks in your DJ sets or are you and Eric still working together?

No, we have a new record coming up early next year. I’ve been recording with Eric and we’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the past year. Thievery Corporation is still in full form.

How do you decide what works for Thievery Corporation and what goes into your solo sets?

Well, Thievery Corporation has a specific sound, a certain kind of fingerprint. The solo stuff that I’m doing is more electronically inclined – little bit more up-tempo, deep house oriented.

When it comes to collaborations, what do you look for in artistes?

First of all, I’ve to be a fan of their music. The other thing is just getting along with them. There are some people who you meet, respect their music and really get along with them. Sometimes, you don’t know exactly what it is but it just makes a great collaboration and that way, I’ve been very lucky to have collaborated with some of my favourite artistes.

Do you have any lined up at the moment?

Right now, not so much. We just finished the new album and it’s still more about our love for Brazilian music and bossa nova – jazz from the late 60s. For the next album, we’ve probably get into some more collaborations.

And when it comes to picking vocalists for each song, is there a line of reasoning?

I think that there’s so many – we’re big fans of musicians and vocalists from all over the world. We have some Brazilians vocalists we love, David Byrne from ‘Talking Heads’. It really depends on the song – we have to really hear the song and then think of a voice and it comes more spontaneously. We don’t really think of it.

You call yourself an ‘international music explorer’ on your website. Care to elaborate? Does travel play a big part in your life?

I’m travelling pretty much every week to different parts of the globe. I love being in new places, meeting new people and playing music. Musically, even since when we started Thievery Corporation, travel’s been one of the inspirations for what we do. As an artiste, the music always comes first but it’s that sense of exploration that affects what we do and how we do it.

Do you remember the Nepal gig when you played for trekkers climbing Mt Everest?

That was a great gig. It was for a group of young ladies who were trying to raise money to get to the top of Mt Everest. I played outdoors, it was a beautiful world and I loved playing in that part of the world. The Himalayas were just stunning. That was one of my favorite gigs.

What’s the process behind naming your songs?

That’s a good question. I don’t know how that happens but usually, at the end, when we have to send the track out, we just come up with something while trying to be clever.

When you’re not touring or in the studio, what are the other things you enjoy doing?

I really enjoy just spending time with friends and family and going to the beach and mountains. When I’m not playing, I like listening to music.

What’s the songwriting process like? Is there intoxication involved?

(laughs) Sometimes we’ll have a few drinks, a little smoke. But in general, I just get into the studio and start playing around with instruments till stuff starts to happen. I don’t really like think about it. It’s just a natural, organic process.

Is it groove-based or sample-based? How does a track build up?

It’s more groove-based for my solo stuff and for Thievery Corporation. It starts with the groove and then it goes off from there. When we started in 1995, it was more sample-based but now, not so much.

How do you remember the early Thievery Corporation days?

I think when we started was really exciting because we were just doing it to have fun. We never really thought that we’d ever have a career of it. We were just making our music and decided to release some vinyl and then people started following us around the world saying that they want more vinyls. All of a sudden, we were traveling and getting to see different parts of the world and playing our music. So I remember those times with a great fondness. I’m still very happy doing what we do.

How do you keep yourself passionate about music over the years?

Well, there’s the challenge. For me, in this case, my DJ set and getting back into electronic music has kept me passionate. I started off being an electronic musician, making techno records when I was 19 in 1989. With Thievery Corporation, we really got into the organic side of music exploring that side of things which I really love. Getting back into producing has made me passionate again because it’s the side I wasn’t exploring for a long time and now, I feel so much great creative energy in me.

But are there still days when you feel uninspired?

Of course, it’s like life. There are days when you say ‘Nah, I don’t feel like doing this today’.

Which Thievery Corporation track are you most attached to?

That changes all the time. But one that we did with David Byrne called The Heart’s A Lonely Hunter – that’s because it talks about walking into my spaceship and being beautiful forever. I always love hearing it and always love playing it.

The interview was published in Deccan Herald on November 25.

The parallel worlds of Sampology


 I met Sampology in the pouring rain. It was ‘Hangover’ by Buraka Som Sistema that had pulled me to his stage and despite being fairly transparent, the audio visual experience from that floral shirt wearing young man still remains vivid. I told him I knew nothing about him backstage but had tons of questions to ask. He was nice enough to answer them:

Essentially, how does your mind work?

I come from a hip hop background and what I like about hip hop is that it takes lots of existing things from different areas and then combines them to make something new. Like just remixing and reworking things. I like juxtaposing things - taking something out of context and making it new.

So how does the visual aspect come in? Do you do that yourself?

Yeah so I take bits of existing footage and reapply them to music. I like things to flow through the set so one visual leads into another section while making sense.

Is it very drug-induced?

Not really. For some people it is but for me, a lot of the time, I’m editing in my studio and it’s really late at night and I’m sleep deprived. And in that state, it’s kind of like I’m tripping. So sometimes, when I’m really tired, it helps.

What’s your education background like?

I don’t come from a visual background. I come from a DJ/music background. I’ve been DJing for the last five years and then the technology became available for me to DJ with videos as well and I jumped straight on it. At that point, I didn’t know anything about videos. I had ideas of what I wanted to do and then had to figure out how to do it.

Are you always surfing the internet?

Yeah, I’m always surfing the net. Now you can find everything on the net. Back when I started in 2008, I’d go to this old VHS tape store back home and I’d keep going through those. And the owner of that store and me share an affinity for early 80s Bollywood movies. I like geeking out.

Where do you pick your music from?

Everywhere! I mean I worked in a record store in Brisbane for four years so that kind of influenced me. Icome from a hip hop background but when I started playing in bars and live music venues, I didn’t really like playing one style of music for an hour. I like things moving between genres.

What do you think of Bangalore?

I love it. I got in two days ago. Yesterday, I went to the market and found an antique shop and bought a bunch of records because in Australia, Indian records are very expensive. It’s my first time here and I bought a lot of 60s and 80s records. People are really nice here. There’s a big Indian population in Australia so I’m used to the food.

What did you think of India when you were making the special 3-minute visual package?

I’ve been into Indian cinema for the last five years. I’m a big fan of Mithun Chakravarty, Amitabh Bachchan, RD Burman, Sanjay Dutt and Bappi Lahiri. I love the cinematography - the big dance sequences how everyone is organized and the camera operator is so still is amazing. I realize that the era I’m talking about is really cheesy but I love it. All the Indian cover versions of Western tracks - some of them are actually better than the originals in terms of how the drums come in. I’m learning more now about newer bands here because my knowledge is more specific to the early 80s films for their soundtrack and stuff. But while I’m here, I’m going to try and catch some acts.

Does travel play a big role in your music?

Yeah it does. I think that if you’re doing any kind of art, traveling helps a lot. It’s just inspiration because I sample a lot of stuff.

Any albums on the cards?

I released an album last year in Australia and am working on releasing one next year. But I’m also doing a full Bollywood set in Australia early next year for some cultural festivals. It’ll be a full audio-visual set with the audio being contemporary remixes of Bollywood cinema. And then I want to come to India with it. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the Bollywood segment would go down because sometimes, when you go to a country and play their stuff to them, they either love it or hate it.

Is there a non-musical side to you?

Umm, not really. It’s either music or visuals. At the moment, I’m scanning old magazines and making them into moving GIFs.

And do you feel that your brain is always working on overdrive?

Yeah. I’ve noticed it in the last few years that I’ll be having a conversation with someone and some situational topic will come up and I’ll instantly compare it to a scene in a movie. And it’ll be a bizarre non-famous reference. But it’s from working on the shows. Like I’m always trying to draw parallels!

The article appeared in Deccan Herald on December 12. 

Chatting up the funny-toothed dubstep pioneer DJ Rusko

DJ Rusko

The thing about DJ Rusko is that he can talk A LOT. But that works for someone like me who loves finding out the back story to music anyway. I’m quite late in posting this interview but here goes nothing:
Has India lived up to your expectations? What impression of it did you have?

One thing I try and do when I go to a new place that I’ve never played before is try not to research at all. I know a lot of people Google where to go and what the crowd’s like but I spend most of my time playing shows in places I’ve been to before. So I already know the venue, the crowd, what they like. So it’s very rare these days that I get to go or play somewhere that I’ve never ever been to. So the best thing about it is the surprise. Even when I get to the venue, I’m not going to look at the crowd or anything. I just blind myself completely till it’s time to go on and then it’s the biggest surprise ever! When I’m writing new music, as I’m doing at the moment, I purposely try and not listen to other people’s music. Or you’ll end up making music like them. I try the same kind of blindfold there too.

You’ve been in reggae bands and played the saxophone and piano. How did dubstep happen?

Reggae is the middle path. When I was growing up, I played in rock and all kinds of bands. But I’ve always been a big fan of reggae and dub. So before I started making dubstep, I was playing the saxophone in reggae bands and producing reggae. The first dubstep tracks that people heard of mine and I put up were just dub-reggae tunes I was making. And people were like ‘huh, what is that?’

So was it much of a transition?

No! It wasn’t like I heard dubstep and decided to make it. There was no such thing then. People called the reggae that I was making ‘dubstep’.

Are there live elements in your performances?

No, my whole thing with the DJ set is that I try and play 100 songs in 100 minutes. My hands are a blur when I’m up there. I hate the DJ thing where they come on stage in sunglasses, press play, f*** around and look really cool.

How does your brain work in coordination with your hands?

Part of it, surprisingly, is muscle memory. Sometimes, I’ll walk off the stage and have no memory of what I played. It’s like I’m hovering above stage and watching myself sometimes. It’s that automatic.

Describe the feeling behind the consol.

That’s why I try and do the blindfold thing. Because walking up to the consol for the first time, having no music playing and putting in the CD is the best feeling in the world. So if I have no idea what to expect, it makes it even better.

Off the consol, what are you like? Is music always playing in your head or around you?

I listen to very little EDM. I listen to jazz and classical and stuff. I’m on the road a lot but I try and do it in blocks. I’ll do two months of playing every single night and then two months with no gigs at all, just in the studio. I know a few people who play a few gigs, then go back to the studio and then some more shows. But I can’t really do that. I’m pretty much the same person both in the studio and at gigs. It’s hard when I’m not playing shows because I’m used to that energy. So I need to do things to match that energy. I skateboard a little in California, where it’s sunny so you can actually skateboard. But I need that adrenaline, the rush everyday.

And cooking offers that?

Cooking is more of a necessity because living in Los Angeles, there are two things that I cannot find – good English food and good Indian food. My favourites are tadka dal, chickpea…I don’t want to embarrass myself by pronouncing the names wrong and stuff. I got really frustrated and so I just learnt how to make it myself.

You shifted from UK to USA five years ago. What are the differences you’ve seen?

The crowd is much, much bigger. Dance-wise, both are pretty much the same. But in US, it’s much louder. People really scream and shout and let you know that they’re having a good time.

And what prompted you to make the move?

Dubstep was just beginning in American when I moved. It was popular in Europe but in America, all they really had was us UK guys, going over there and doing a two-week tour, play Chicago, New York, LA and then go back. Every month, one of us would do that. It was supply and demand but also a business move. I thought that if I moved there, I’m not just going to play those cities but also the tiny cities. So for two years, I was the only dubstep DJ touring America. I played the first year doing shows everywhere. I did the first dubstep shows in so many cities – Denver, Houston Texas. I just kind of got there first.

But are you really business-minded given that you give out all your music for free?

I want as many people to have my music as possible. I get my money from the shows. If a 1000 people have my music because they got it for free, more people are going to buy tickets for my shows. The way to get more people in the shows is if they like your music. It kind of is a business move. People get it for free anyway; I just make it legal.

Let’s talk about the commercial DJ wave. Is it diluting the real sound?

Not really. It could get burned out because there are a lot of people jumping on it, if you know what I mean. There are a million house DJs, a million dubstep producers. There’s so much more of everything that it’s harder for someone to come into the game. I think I’m kind of lucky that I was there from the start.

Have you seen 24 Hour Party People?


So in the film, there’s the music cycle theory where at any given point, one genre is peaking while another is dying? What’s going on in the music world now?

I think dubstep is getting a little quieter and drum n bass is coming back bigtime! Drum n bass was huge in the 90s and early 2000s. It was THE sound. And then dubstep came along and took that audience. The same people who liked drum n bass liked dubstep for the same reason. At the time, in the mid-2000s, drum n bass wasn’t doing anything new. It was still good and really popular. But it was a sound. It didn’t really change. And people got a bit bored of it and got excited by dubstep. And that’s what’s happening with dubstep now – it became too formulaic. It used to be a mixed sound, where you’d hear a dubstep song that sounded like jazz, a dubstep song that sounded like heavy metal. And then it all became the same thing – the same Skrillex-y, noisy rubbish. So people got bored of it.

How would you define your sound? Have you consciously stayed clear of dark dubstep?

Just dark music in general. I like things fun, upbeat and silly. Even in my dark band, it’s not dark, serious music. Most music I make has always got that happiness to it.

Did you pioneer ‘brostep’?

I guess that was the sound that everybody copied. Dubstep was my sound originally. That’s why people talk about it.

In that case, do you see it as a ripoff?

No, it’s inspiring people. It’s humbling. It’s nice to think that so many people liked what I did with dubstep that they wanted to take that and run with it. It’s very flattering. But that is the sound that got burned out. People need to make something different now. That had been the processed sound of dubstep for a long time now.

What’s your drive to keep experimenting? Drugs?

Honestly, yes but no. Inspiration wise, I like to switch it up. The music that people here is like 10 %. I play in a rock band back home, sax for my friend’s band, and this. So really, my drive is to keep it totally varied. People only hear the dubstep-y stuff that I make. I want to keep experimenting. There are still lots of places to go. It’s just that people got so used to that brostep sound being dubstep that if you try and do something different with it, people are like ‘huh, what is this’. They forget what it originally was.

You’re quite the globetrotter. What have been some of your best gigs?

Exit Festival in Serbia (2009) with Caspa was 500000 people. That’s probably the biggest show I’ll ever play in my whole life. That was insane. I’ve never played a show where you couldn’t see the back of the audience. Like it went on like the sea and the horizon. Playing in Japan was really strange because they’re just so polite that unless you tell them to clap or shout, there’s complete silence. That’s really, really weird. But it was awesomely fun because it was like a challenge. I didn’t know what to expect.

You and Caspa ended on good terms?

Yeah, I was at his wedding last year. We’re still best friends. One was the fact that I was planning to move for a year or so before I actually did. But we still do the record label together on the side. We were friends before we worked together and then we were working together all the time. Just as friends, we figured that if we carried on working as Rusko and Caspa, we’d probably hate each right now and saying bad stuff about each other. Now we’re just best friends, keeping in touch. I talk to his mum and Dad to see how they are. It was almost really just a way to save the friendship.

Any regrets in your career?

Loads! I say ‘Yes’ to everything. That’s usually my problem. People suggest things to me, ask whether I want to do a show or a collaboration and I pretty much always say yes, which isn’t always a good idea.

What’s next on the cards?

I just started working on the new EP. I’m working with DJ Shadow, we’ll do some cool stuff. I’m just trying to work with people who aren’t EDM artistes. That’s why I chose Shadow because he’s this 90s hip-hop guy who’s totally out of the EDM scene. I’m just trying to do something weird! 

The shorter version of this interview was published back on December 30. Here's the link

Oh Oh: A drenched interview with Noisia


I just found out that I’m missing both the Calcutta and Bangalore editions of NH7 Weekenders this year. So I’ve dug up some of the craziest interviews I had done back then, half drunk and fully drenched. This one’s with Nik Roos of Noisia! (Oh oh, and check out their new material. It’s pretty f***ing mental)

What’s Bangalore been like for you guys?
It seems like the city is incredible. It was so crowded but the atmosphere was more relaxed than it is in Europe. Here, people look at each other but there’s no anger or aggression. We also loved the little nod that Indians do. Even the auto drivers talking to us shook their head in this particular way.

On collaborating with Foreign Beggars:

We’ve always wanted to work with vocals. But the vocalists we’ve tried out didn’t get our music. With Foreign Beggars, it was different but cool in the way it worked out. We’ve worked with vocals before but never as a full album. This is very different production-wise. We’re writing new material and hopefully, Noisia will write their next album in the coming year. We’ve been very busy with our label and touring of late.

How does a Noisia track come into place?

To put it simply, all three of us are perfectionists. At the same time, perfection is the most boring thing. So we’re never trying to reach a point of perfection but trying to make something better and better till the point of abandoning it. Personally, I always love doing whatever I’m doing better than the last time because I feel that I owe that to myself. It’s amazing to build an identity as a group - so even our label is quite international but we run it from home.

Do the three of you fight much?

Sometimes, there are fights. But the cool thing is that all three of us get into it. So if someone has an idea and one of us likes it, it’s up to the third person to take a side and make a final decision. We go back a long way and went to high school together. We became friends first and only later did we start f***ing around with music. So essentially, we’re running a business based on close relationships. We never set out to make a career of this. In school, I’d go to Tys’s house, smoke some weed and do the usual teenager things. We didn’t realize that somewhere along the way, we’d actually start loving it. Once I got older, I started feeling better than I did in my mid-20s. I’m healthier now. Time and energy have no autopilot and that’s when people start to fall off.

So what are the challenges?

Time is the enemy and continuing your personal life and balancing it with work is also tough. Sometimes, even if you’re home, a work day might mean 13 hours in the studio after which you just have to sleep.

What are your current influences? (back in November)

A lot of John Hopkins - he’s techno but very sensitive. And Tame Impala. The thing about the music we listen to is that it might be great on holiday but it might not come back into our music. But we are doing a lot of label work and have a lot of records coming up. We we’re always on the lookout for guys like Neosignal.

What’s the music scene like back home?

Holland has a lot of EDM. The difference between doing production or DJing solo versus the experience we have is in the splitting of the money and more importantly, the workload. I mean, Holland is crowded with EDM at this point. We’re from a small town in the country doing our thing and it will always be an island. Things that are boring are taken care of by the management. But there’s a big boom in EDM and it’s hard to keep your eye on what you want to make but not imitate or patronize them. I don’t mind experimenting with other genres. But what I’m enjoying at this point is the juke influence from USA, which is based on dancing completely. I don’t know whether our influences come back to our music but it’s all about dancing. A lot of EDM is just stadium-based. My hope is that out of this energy comes a scene that isn’t relying on hype but the right music that’s based on love. There’s a big wave in EDM but it gets pulled from the roots because of the cash flowing into the industry. I hope solid movements come out that produce solid music. Making a song with your heart is better than saying that this is how a song should be, this is how a scene should be. It’s great that EDM is getting the exposure that it deserves. But in Europe, Eurohouse has been around for years. It was big in the 90s and today’s music sounds just like that but with a twist.

The overly edited interview came out on December 4. Read it here if you must.

Engine-Earz Experiment: Into the mind of Prash Mistry

I had a rather long but enjoyable conversation with Prash Mistry of Engine-Earz Experiment recently. 

Engine-Earz Experiment
Here’s how shit went down:

How pumped are you about returning to India?
It’s always a great feeling coming back to India and seeing how the music is moving forward. It’s a tantalizing experience because the love I receive is more every time. It’s also interesting to see the rapidly changing music scene here.

What changes have you seen here?
Musicians and producers are definitely more confident about their own abilities, creativity and musical product. They have to find inspiration in places where others aren’t finding it and I’m seeing that a lot in India. There’s also no as much fear as before and there’s even a healthy amount of competition.

How different is the new album from what you’ve done before?
Symbol’s very different and it might even surprise some people. A lot of the earlier stuff was for the dance floor and live shows but this one’s more for the listener. There are a lot of messages incorporated and a running theme of asking questions and finding solutions. It’s hopefully not too preachy.

Best festival experience so far:
I’ve played a lot of festivals and attended even more. But it was Glastonbury in 2007 that made me start my band. I’ve played there six times now on seven different stages and it’s genuinely the most brandless festival that focuses on the music and experience.

I want to see more people not caring about reactions and just getting lost in the music. I love people who act like idiots! In the UK, dance music is a sign of rebellion and like a ‘f*** you’ to the system. All good music comes from a struggle. But that hasn’t manifested itself violently in India, probably for lack of something to fight against.

Live versus studio experience:
The two are very linked for us. You can start something in the studio, take it live to see the emotional response and then go back to finish it. I love writing at home because nobody sees me or judges me. But when you perform live, there’s a rush because something can go wrong anytime and a band adding to the sound. Nothing beats that spontaneity.

What made you decide to make it into a live dubstep band?
The band guys are some of my best friends and it’s great to tour and work with people that you love. My experience teaches me things and then their experiences get added to it. And that’s what’s great about music regardless of how cheesy it sounds. Touring is a very high pressure thing but it’s a pleasure with such people. It’s also humbling because when you’re around friends who’ve known you for years, you get put down in two seconds if you try and act too cool.

Touring in UK verses other countries:
That’s actually a really good question and no one’s ever asked that. In UK, there’s just so much electronic music everywhere in every club and bar and even more in a metropolis like London. But that also implies an equally short attention span. Something can be respected one day and falls apart the other. Right now, UK’s at the end of its deep house phase and it’s too fast and ridiculous how it’s getting into techno and there are all these stupid words being used to describe genres that don’t mean anything. If the song resonates, it resonates. That’s how it works in most other places. But I still love it because it’s home and makes you work hard. As performers, it makes us try our best to be the best. With the internet and communication being so fast these days, you can be based anywhere and still do great things. I’ve seen that happen everywhere.

What’s the general songwriting process like?
It’s all very different. Sometimes, I just wake up one night and write a song or it happens more organically during a jam. In more collaborative tracks, we work together with the vocalist a lot.

The interview was published on May 28 in Deccan Herald. Check it out here.