Local Spins columnist and DJ Todd Ernst first met — and was transfixed by — Thievery Corporation more than two decades ago. With the band playing Grand Rapids this weekend, he retraces his journey as a TC fan.
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The first time I heard Thievery Corporation – in the fall of 1997 – I was spellbound.
On a visit to my mother in Washington D.C., I stopped by a local record store as I always do when I travel. Scott Henry (a prominent promoter in the area) recommended this place, where I discovered there was a show that night featuring one of my favorite artists at the time: BT. (“Sasha’s Voyage Of Ima” mix from BT’s debut record, “Ima,” remains one of my favorites.)
While I don’t remember if it was in a lounge at the club, or a lounge next door, there were DJs playing a sound of music I barely knew what to call at the time. I leaned up against the bar by myself where I ended up meeting Eric Hilton.
I mentioned why I was in town, what my tastes were and so on. All in all, I remember him being a pretty quiet dude, but he did write down on a bar napkin the words, “Thievery Corporation.”
When I asked what that was, he simply said, “Us.”
I was transfixed by this new sound, mainly because I had no idea what I was hearing, never mind what do I even call it. I was into Sasha’s and Digweed’s brand of progressive house, and the song that was in my heart all the time was Way Out West’s “The Gift,” so there was something about the downtempo and melodic oﬀerings that Thievery Corporation unfurled that really resonated with me like “The Gift” did.
Thievery Corporation, with The Suffers, will play 20 Monroe Live at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $38.50-$60 and available online here. If you need a musical on-ramp before this weekend’s show, “The Mirror Conspiracy” and “Radio Retaliation” are perhaps their most popular records. And “The Richest Man in Babylon” is my jam. – T.E.
Upon going back to the record store the following day, the same guy that had helped me previously welcomed me back.
We talked about what an extraordinary night it was, how pissed my mother was that I missed breakfast, and almost embarrassingly, I handed him the napkin from the previous night.
He simply said, “Ah, yes,” then handed me a copy me of “Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi” (1997) and a store-burned bootleg of “Dubbed Out In D.C.” When I went to pay, he said, “We’re good. I’m tight with those guys and I am pretty sure they would want you to have these.”
It’s hard to understate what a gift that truly was, as I was going through a tough breakup at the time and immersing myself in these new sounds was paramount to my very health. Little did I know that experience would be the foundation of an opportunity I was oﬀered more than a decade later (2009).
Upon coming oﬀ a DJ hiatus, George Aquino asked me to be the resident DJ in the JW Marriott’s Mixology Lounge, where it goes without saying that Thievery Corporation was in constant rotation. (If you add in my favorite DJ, Dubfire, who hails from DC as well, it’s fascinating the impact that market had on me.)
Fast forward 20-plus years since that initial discovery of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton: My hometown has evolved to the point that promoters and venues thought Thievery Corporation would be an appropriate fit, as the group tours behind its new album, “Treasures from the Temple” (which continues the approach of “seamlessly weaving between bossa nova, reggae, lounge, hip-hop, chillout, jazz and more,” as Exclaim.ca puts it).
Thus, it goes without saying that I am pretty darn excited for their show on Saturday at 20 Monroe Live.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Todd Ernst has been an electronic music DJ and promoter for 30 years. His days are spent as the Director of Marketing and Communication for HME Ahrens-Fox. His personal company EXSIGN is a creative and consulting team that designs and manages corporate, non-profit and nightlife events. He’s also one of the founding team members for TEDxGrandRapids.
THIEVERY CORPORATION: The Local Spins Playlist on Spotify
VIDEO: Thievery Corporation, “History”
VIDEO: Thievery Corportaion, “Lebanese Blonde”
VIDEO: Thievery Corporation, Live on KEXP
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