Of all the serendipitous moments in music history, Rob Garza wandering into Eric Hilton’s Eighteenth Street Lounge in 1995 is one that should not be overlooked. The happenstance meeting in Washington, D.C., propelled the two producer-musicians into an expansive Grammy-nominated career as globetrotting downtempo duo Thievery Corporation. In 18 years the two have formed their own record label ESL Music (named after and operated in the basement of the same lounge where they met), self-produced seven studio albums, multiple singles and compilations and have become a sophisticated staple in the electronic lounge music scene.
Thievery Corporation’s substantial body of work is best known for boundless musical and global influences. From bossa nova to Afrobeat and dub reggae to Indian sitar music, each record acts as a new project channeling a distinctive cultural soundscape. The duo incorporates vocals and instruments from all over the world, including Persian singer Lou Lou, Brazil’s Seu Jorge and Icelandic vocalist Emilíana Torrini, not to mention Talking Heads’ David Byrne and The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. Like a worn traveler leaving breadcrumbs behind, Thievery Corporation journeys into uncharted territory but always seems to return homeward to its soulful, slow-burning electronic core.
In more recent years, the duo has used their music as a platform for social justice and progressive political ideas. Latest album Culture of Fear explores the overarching climate of terror plaguing post-9/11 America, but in a way that feels effortless rather than aggressive. Whether politically, sonically or emotionally, Thievery Corporation’s music can best be defined, simply, as charged.
Thievery Corporation plays with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros 6:30 pm Wednesday, Sept. 18, at Cuthbert Amphitheater; $40 adv., $45 door.