Now don’t get us wrong: we love Thievery Corporation. Their wide-ranging blend of world music influences and trip-hop, dub and ambient electronica has led to some fantastic albums, most notably 2008’s Grammy-nominated Retaliation Radio. But it almost seems sarcastic for one of the biggest DJ sets at this year’s Perrier Chill Out Festival to be filled by a duo who’ve spent years campaigning against war and the exploitation of the third world, and for ecological sustainability and redistribution of food to poorer countries. Any band that declares, ‘It’s hard to sleep while the world is burning around you; if you are an artist, this is the most essential time to speak up,’ strikes us as a band that’s more fiery than chilled.
Then again, the band’s politically strident views are always laid over a more inclusive sound. If you don’t listen to the lyrics on ‘Vampires’, for example, (‘Don’t believe politicians and thieves/They want our people on bended knees’), it could just be an extremely catchy slice of bass-heavy funk. It’s a complexity that pleases TC’s Eric Hilton (pictured, on the left). ‘I’ve always enjoyed songs that work on different levels,’ he says. ‘You could tune out and rock on the groove of the song, but if you want to pay more attention you can analyse the lyrics and see what we’re saying. Even the stuff that we’re DJing right now is a little bit more biting, but at the same time you can rock out to it. You don’t have to go down that rabbit hole with us if you don’t want to.’
The DJ set will, says Eric, take in a breadth of music that will surprise even die-hard fans, encompassing ’60s funky European rock, Jamaican rocksteady tracks and electronic tunes. ‘It’s all over the map. We know people want to dance and have fun, so it can be a pretty boisterous set. It also includes Arabic and Indian music – that’s something that has always been interesting to us.’
While we’re certainly not going to sniff at the chance to check out their DJing skills, we do wonder how Eric feels about flying over here. Isn’t that the kind of ecologically unfriendly living that Thievery Corporation has often railed against? ‘You’re a hypocrite every day,’ he laughs. ‘My wife is into being green and everything, but we fly everywhere. We’re all ruining the planet. But what’s really the alternative? You do what you can: I live in a city, I don’t have a car, my house is well insulated, blah blah blah. I ride a bike but I’m not saving the planet. The green movement is really funny, in a way, because I think the most green thing you can do is kill yourself,’ Eric chuckles.
But what about coming to Dubai? Surely the country revels in the kind of privileged excess that Thievery Corporation condemns? Doesn’t he feel odd coming here? ‘Not really; I’d go anywhere. I’d rather go to a place and see what it’s really like than live with unfair preconceptions. On the surface, Dubai seems like Las Vegas: an unsustainable city in the middle of a desert. But whether that’s fair I really don’t know. There could be something very interesting about the city that I haven’t even considered. I’ll have to see it for myself.’
The song that changed my life Mark Farina
Liaisons Dangereuses: ‘Peut Etre… Pas’ ‘This was a precursor to a lot of house and techno songs of the ’80s,’ explains Mark, a Chicago-born DJ and the creator of the ‘mushroom jazz’ genre of psychedelic downtempo. ‘I remember hearing it on the radio in 1981 and I was captivated by this crazy, housey-funk sound. They never announced its name, so I had to record it onto cassette and take it to record stores to find out what it was. It took me years to find it – it’s far quicker these days!’
Relax, just do it
The Chill Out Festival has more than just music; here’s what else you can get up to on the beach.
Make a splash
The water isn’t particularly chilled at this time of year, but wade into the warm depths and you can participate in all kinds of watersports – or just float around and soak up the sun. Get there early, though, because water access will be restricted come nightfall.
Get Thai-ed up
If you need a little help to unwind, turn to the festival’s Thai masseuses, who will poke, prod and elbow you into a state of blissful relaxation. It’s really a lot nicer than it sounds.
Express your creativity
As with last year’s festival, local art centre thejamjar will be providing easels and paints for any amateur artists looking to express themselves.
Mathew Jonson and The Mole comprise one half of Cobblestone Jazz, a live techno band that use old-school equipment to turn electronic beats into jazz-like house tunes. Along with fellow members Tyger Dhula and Danuel Tate, they’ll be improvising tunes at this year’s festival. We caught up with them ahead of the gig.
What can we expect from your performance out here?
Mathew: We will be live, as usual, bringing in some analogue gear from our home in Berlin to warm up the sound. I’m really looking forward to coming out for this festival; because it’s focused around chill-out music and based on a beach, it’ll be a great location to explore a deeper side to our music.
You’ve been using old-school technology to make music for years. What do you think of La Roux, Crystal Castles and all these other Johnny-come-latelys?
The Mole: Hmm, I wonder where this term originated. Who was the first Johnny-come-lately? Anyway, I suppose it’s similar to the old school-new school thing. We’re all Johnny-come-latelys if you look at it from the right perspective; there was always someone there before us. I’m not familiar with these bands, but when it comes to newcomers, I’m hopeful and supportive.
How much does the house music structure allow for jazz-style improvisation? How far can you push things?
The Mole: The house structure is just another group of rhythms. So the opportunity for improvisation is as open as any other.
Mathew: I think you can push it as far as you want, as long as it still makes some kind of sense. Everyone’s musical tastes and limits are different and it’s all about your personal expression anyway, so it’s best to just trust yourself. The beauty of playing music is learning the limits and breaking them in a respectful way.
The Mole: I recently saw an acceptance speech given by film director Stanley Kubrick where he gives a new take on the Icarus fable. Icarus died, the story goes, because he flew too close to the sun: his wings of wax and feathers melted and fell to his death. The lesson could be seen as ‘Don’t push things too far,’ but Kubrick suggested that it ought to be ‘Build better wings’.
Thursday April 15 6pm-8pm Charl Chaka
The local DJ and Nasimi beach regular plays deep, bumping house.
8pm-9pm Kamal Musallam
Oud noodling from this fleet-fingered plucker, who’ll be playing a blend of Arabic and Western music.
9pm-10pm Federico Aubele & Natalia Clavier
The man, the legend, the hairdo: Latino reggae music from Federico, with sweet vocals from Natalia.
10pm-midnight Cobblestone Jazz
A three-man live improvisation set that turns a selection of techno tunes into electronic jazz-house.
Midnight-2am Mark Farina
Expect the downtempo psych-out of self-styled ‘mushroom jazz’ music as Mark (left) does his stuff.
Friday April 16 4pm-5pm Da:Funct Soundsystem
Da:Funct and Mark play samples and drums, respectively, with soulful vocals from Gayathri and rap from Swerte.
5pm-6.30pm Bazoo Bajou
Cajun music and dub beats from a German duo (left). What a combination!
6.30pm-8pm Badmarsh and Shri
Funky electronica and trip hop from the London-based duo.
Afrobeat, Latin and funk from this sunny, party-friendly DJ.
10pm-midnight Thievery Corporation
An eclectic DJ set from the downtempo masters: expect reggae, funk-rock and more.
Midnight-2am Seiji (of Bugz in the Attic)
Broken-beat tunes from Seiji (left) round off this year’s chill-out event.