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Washington is the nation's capital, home to the U.S. government and the hub for power brokers from across the globe. So what better place for the home base of one of the most compelling underground acts of the past 15 years? That's Thievery Corporation, a duo born from the same womb as such establishment-challenging pioneers as the Bad Brains, Fugazi, Minor Threat, and "the Godfather of Go-Go," Chuck Brown.
OK, so it seems almost ridiculous to label Thievery Corporation — DJ/producers Rob Garza and Eric Hilton — "underground." The two boast a huge following, consistently drawing packed houses and thrilling fans at some of the biggest festivals in the nation. As if that wasn't enough to garner mainstream status, check the pair's Grammy nominations and spots on soundtracks for everything from film (Memento, Garden State, Vanilla Sky, to name a few) to television (The West Wing, The Sopranos, True Blood) to videogames (Tiger Woods PGA Tour '06). And they've remixed countless tracks for huge acts of far-reaching styles, including Sarah McLachlan, David Byrne, and the Doors.
Yet you're not likely to find Thievery Corporation anywhere on the FM dial, at least not on these shores. "In some countries, like Greece and Portugal and New Zealand, our music actually is on the radio," Garza says. "I think a lot of it has to do with the way our system is set up. You know, it's like we're one of the few countries in the world that doesn't pay performance royalties, and some of the old Motown guys who get played on the radio all the time are dying without health care."
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This is part of the very inspiration for Thievery Corporation's most recent album, Radio Retaliation, which dropped this time last year. But an aversion to conventions in radio programming and mass media barely skims the surface of the record's central theme. Thievery Corporation's gripe is a much deeper, more fundamental one about the state of our culture and the underpinnings of a largely lackadaisical society.
But it would be a shame to examine the sociopolitical messages to a point that the music is overlooked. Because in the end, while Garza and Hilton are servants to an obvious sense of duty and responsibility as artists, they are nothing if not just that — artists. And damn good ones.
Throughout the process of their natural evolution, the bandmates have become noticeably more adept at melding the various musical styles and influences that reflect their diverse tastes. "I would say our music encompasses a lot of different genres, from Brazilian music to Jamaican music to Indian music to old jazz records — kind of mixing that all up and doing something modern with it," Garza says. "I guess we just describe our sound as 'outernational' because it transcends any one culture and transcends boundaries."