Got an urge to hit the dance floor, but can't find someone to watch the kids? Don't worry, Rob Garza (Thievery Corporation), Philipp Jung (M.A.N.D.Y.) and John Wander (Roam Music) have your back. This Sunday, the trio returns with their successful series of U.R. Art parties at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, which are both heavy on the grooves and fun for the family.
"We're all a little bit older," says Garza, who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. One thing that the trio of pals noticed is that, going out gets hard for people with kids. "We wanted to create this environment where people could come together in the day and be part of this event that features live art, music and things for kids to do as well."
They launched the parties last year and had a good response. Kids got to play in bouncy castles and with toys that resemble DJ gear as they watched the grown-ups dance. Garza noticed his own son's interest in the items. "I think electronic music is so much a part of our modern culture that it's definitely something that children would be interested in," he says.
Garza wasn't quite so young when he caught the electronic bug, but he did start on his musical path early. When he was 14, Garza's family settled in Connecticut, where he landed at a high school that had an elective class in electronic music. That might still seem unusual now, but, in 1984, it was rare indeed. "My parents kind of thought I was crazy," Garza recalls. "Music to them was The Drifters or Frank Sinatra."
By the 1990s, when Garza co-founded Thievery Corporation, whose eclectic style made them one of the hippest acts of the era, electronic music was still in its formative years. "When we started doing electronic music, we didn't really know what we were doing exactly," he concedes. Garza describes that early process as mixing together a lot of different influences — anything from bossa nova to dub.
Garza remembers the "Is Electronic Music the Next Big Thing?" articles that he saw at the end of the 20th century. Then that actually happened. "At one point, it really just blew up and took off and became part of mainstream culture," he says.
And electronic music has led to a lot of really cool opportunities for Garza. One of his latest tracks, "Blue Agave Fields," is inspired by a mezcal journey. Garza and his business partners have their own brand of mezcal called Papa Diablo, which they plan on bringing to the U.S. soon. While on a trip to learn more about the handmade process by which the drink is produced, the lyrics for the song developed in Garza's mind.
The song is on his latest solo EP, Palace of Mirrors, which features collaborations with Mumbai-based singer Vasuda Sharma, whom he met through a friend while DJing in India. Through DJing, as well as trips with the World Food Program, Garza has traveled far, and those trips continue to inspire his work.
"We talk about the world being so small all the time, but, actually, it's quite large and there are places that I never imagined that I would see," he says. "Because of music, it's enabled me to travel to all these places."
That's part of the reason why Garza is interested in creating an event that can pique the musical and artistic curiosity of children. When he was a young teenager, Garza had the chance to play with modular synths and early samplers and drum machines. That experience changed the course of his life.
"Having exposure to a class like that is the reason why I'm here making electronic music," he says. "If that hadn't happened, who knows what I would be doing?"
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The first U.R. Art event of 2015 takes place this Sunday, May 17, with Rob Garza, M.A.N.D.Y., John Wander and special guest Dance Spirit. More info at urartfestival.com.