Greg Oreck’s always had a knack for finding dance music’s hidden gems. At the beginning of the Thugfucker era, he and former partner Holmar homed in on melodic house and techno, pioneering it to greatness through their own output and also through the then-fledgeling Life and Death imprint that they created with DJ Tennis. Years later as a solo act, Oreck remains at the frontier underground electronica, diligently finding engaging new sounds and movements to support and proliferate.
One such arena he’s fit quite well in is the grassroots, boutique festival sphere. From his many years at Burning Man to headlining Sunset Campout, Thugfucker can often be found all around the globe delivering his distinctly psychedelic stylings to open-minded audiences. This experimentation through performance is what will ultimately give birth to his final form as a solo artist, after all.
It is also within this widespread community that he found his way into the Desert Hearts fold. The Thugfucker saga with the brand began at its beginning when at the time it’d been a promising renegade found only in Southern California. Now as a global powerhouse with a resonating mantra of House, Techno, and Love, the time has come for Desert Hearts to expand from its party tech roots to a darker new realm in Desert Hearts Black (DHB)—and Oreck has found himself playing a sizeable role in the new branch’s liftoff.
After helping ring in the sublabel’s launch at its debut showcase in LA and a jaunt alongside DHB co-founder Marbs at City Hearts Festival, Thugfuckert now releases his only EP of the year, Interdimensional Journeys, on the label. It’s not often one sees such an established act signing his music onto a nascent project like this; that said, providing this kind of support certainly appears to be Oreck’s modus operandi, as he’s proven with past endeavours.
We chat more with Thugfucker on his new EP and bond with Desert Hearts Black, his past year around the globe, and his future plans as a solo artist.
You’ve been on your own for around two years now. Tell us about the process of finding yourself again as a singular artist, and where you are now.
It’s been great. I decided to give myself the space to dive into the music without any expectation or limits on where I go—the only rule being that I stay true to my feelings at all times. Making that decision made everything that followed flow naturally. There can be a lot of pressures, real and imagined, once you reach a certain place in your career but you have to find the courage to shut that stuff out and really just play. You have to come at it like an experienced beginner again. At least that’s how I see it from this particular vantage point.
I’ve had really good fun just going to gigs and spending the night moving around musically where I want, where I feel. To not be afraid to try things out. Sometimes it works better than others, but I enjoy that element of it. I really need it now. After all these years of experience doing this I know I can always reach a certain level of quality no matter what, but it’s much more exciting to try and push that and take a few more risks. To try and surprise myself just seeing where things go when you let your energy and the crowd’s energy come together. And then to try and take that energy and what you discover in those situations back home to the studio.
What are your next major goals as an artist?
Right now I’m trying to stay really focused on working on my own creative process. How can I more consistently reach that place inside me that’s the most true in each moment. What comes out of that isn’t always gold of course but it is more often than not where the really great stuff comes from. You don’t really control when it comes and you can’t really take ownership of it, but you can try and improve how to get that to pulse through you. So it’s more about moving away from specific goals and letting your gut feeling take you to those places naturally. Realizing that I’m at best a partner in that process with some invisible, unknowable entity is very humbling but also very freeing.
Lately I’ve found that taking me into writing in a whole variety of styles, working on a possible live show, and really trying to choose to DJ in places where joy and release and community take center stage. I know how much joy this music and this scene can give to people because that’s what originally drew me in. When I’m DJing I mostly want to find ways to pay that forward as it really changed my life for the better when I first discovered dance music. And it still does.
The past year has been quite busy for you touring-wise. What gigs have been highlights for you and why?
The Sunset Campout 10th anniversary in Northern California was about as close to perfect as an event can be. With an incredibly loving and tight-knit community that’s always open and inclusive they really managed to nail the vibe once again. Galen and Solar have really created something truly special on all levels. Great sound, mind-melting visuals, a varied lineup that checks all the right boxes and still manages to surprise you and a culture that has grown up around it for the last 25 years that make it pretty impossible to beat. To me, it’s the festival with the most heart that’s backed up by over 2 decades of experience and incredible attention to detail. As a DJ, when someone sets you up like that you’re just totally inspired to bring your best. I played the last 3+ hours one night/morning (it’s a bit of a blur) and I managed to jump around all over the place musically while the very knowledgable crowd of hardcore dancers stayed with me through it all. I am always so grateful when you get to play in situations like that with crowds like that. It is 100% the reason why I do what I do.
Other events that stand out are playing for the always incredible Shishi Meriwani over in Europe. And playing for Kater and Sisyphus in Berlin which are incredibly fun and meaningful. Similarly SXM Festival in St. Martin has become a fixture for me and that one managed to stealthily turn into one of the best festivals in the Western Hemisphere. Julian who founded it is a magician who pulls off the impossible year-after-year on that beautiful island. Again it’s this thing that when someone goes to such great effort to set the stage for you, you can’t help but bring your A game. You feel so good when you’re there that you just don’t want to leave. I played two gigs but I stayed the whole week and I was still sad to go at the end.
Extra special, of course, were both of the Desert Hearts events I played this year. The launch party for Desert Hearts Black had a raw energy that I remember feeling in the early stages of Life and Death. There was a camaraderie and excitement among everyone involved both behind the scenes and on the dancefloor which was unforgettable. It’s always a pleasure to be there when special things like this start up and it really felt like the start of something strong. In fact, coming back to LA again for the City Hearts festival in November really reinforced that for me. I remember being at the original Desert Hearts festival in the beginning and it had that same “this is the start of something big” feeling. So coming back and seeing just how much they’ve grown and what a massive thing they pulled off in Downtown LA really proved that feeling out to be true. Those guys have worked so hard to build this incredible movement and have put so much sweat and love in it that it’s just a real pleasure to work with them and be a part of it.
It looks like it’s been a while since your last release. What’s the story behind this? Are you sitting on a bunch of music that needs releasing, or have you decided to focus on other things in your career?
That’s exactly right. After taking over the helm of this project on my own I really wanted to take some time to reconnect with the music and start to feel out where I wanted to take things. I very actively chose not to try and set up a schedule to adhere to in terms of releases. Luckily at this point in my life I have that luxury. So I haven’t really been sending stuff out just trying things out on the dancefloors for myself and the people there with me. Seeing what works and feels good and where things flow. This EP happened supernaturally because Marbs and I had really connected on the road and then he told me about what he and Evan were gearing up to do and there was never any question for me about whether I would get involved. Their vibe was so on point and the amount of love they were bringing to it was just massive, so to me, it was really a no-brainer. I find the less my brain is involved with these kind of decisions the better!
But yes, there is quite a nice pile of unreleased music starting to build up. More of it will start to make its way out to the world soon but I just haven’t really been focused on that side of it. I’m more interested in the more creative part of the process right now. I had thought about doing a new label and felt like I had a nice concept for it but I prefer to wait for now and leave that for another moment. My head’s not back in that place yet.
Let’s dive a bit into ‘Interdimensional Journeys’ itself. How was the process in making this EP/what’s the story behind it?
This was pretty early on after I really dove into this new creative approach to things and the main idea for
‘Interdimensional Journeys’ actually came very quickly. The melody came to me while in a taxi in Berlin and I hastily sketched it out in an app on my phone. Then I put it away and completely forgot about it until a few weeks later in the studio when it just jumped out at me insisting I finish it right away. That’s really the best feeling in terms of creating—that feeling you try to chase without actively ‘chasing’ it.
Then of course once you have the idea there’s all the work that follows. With that particular track I just remember sitting with my OB-6 and replaying the main synth and bass parts with that, really digging into it. What Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim have done with that machine is next level. You certainly don’t need to have fancy gear to make great music but spending a lot of time with a synth like that can be really inspiring.
You’ve voiced in the past that you gravitate toward trippier sounds that engage the mind and body. Where are you finding these attributes the most at the moment? Could be particular artists, labels, etc.
[Laughs] Oh yeah, I love the trippy stuff for sure. It feels like we might just be on the verge of another psychedelic revolution and you can hear different strains of that in so many different places. I can’t get enough of all of the releases on All Possible Worlds. Those two albums they launched with I’ve been playing non stop both at home and in the clubs. And DJ Three’s Hallucienda label has been really crushing it lately too.
While social media is playing an increasingly large role in a young musician’s success, would you argue that it’s still imperative for more established acts like yourself to give back by way of supporting blossoming talent/labels like Desert Hearts Black? Why or why not?
Absolutely. This scene lives and dies by the community that it’s built on. It’s more interesting to me to support a growing scene or label or artist than just focus on myself. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my journey in dance music thus far and I can remember very well other artists who helped along the way. I absolutely want to do the same for others wherever I can.
In what other ways are you taking action to nurture the scene beneath you?
Right now I find the best opportunities on a more personal level. I try to make myself available and easily accessible and I try to listen to people. Every situation is different but I try and remain open to whatever ways I might be able to help. It’s funny to think of myself as an industry veteran now but I guess at this point I am. So if anything I’ve picked up over the years can help anyone else I am happy to share or do whatever I can.
Years ago I remember Seth Troxler did us a major solid as we were just getting started with Life and Death. Afterwards when I was thanking him he very casually replied, “Greg, there’s enough cake around here for everyone—and no one wants to eat cake alone, right?”
I don’t think I could say it any better than that. Thanks Seth!
Dance music, like many other genres, has quite the cyclical history; some broad examples off the top of our head are the return of house & techno to prominence, electronic music’s second commercial boom, and more recently, the apparent minimal house Renaissance. As someone who’s been around the block a few times himself, what are some things you’ve seen repeating themselves over the years, and what are your predictions for the future of electronica as a whole?
So true. If you stick around long enough everything old becomes new again. But the ways in which it comes back and gets reinterpreted can be endlessly surprising. I love it. Right now it feels like the whole world of dance music has grown so much that lots of different things are coming back at once. And they can each have their own space in the ecosystem. It doesn’t have to be just minimal or acid house or techno or whatever. They all seem to be flourishing. I happen to be especially excited about the return of some of the more jacking house and acid sounds personally as I feel they had been a bit missing for a while. But as a DJ who’s been around long enough to have a very diverse collection of music that he loves dearly…well, I’m very happy to be able to move around between all these resurging genres without having to get boxed into any one in particular. It gives you a wider vocabulary to tell your story with if you’re willing to make the effort.
Last question: what are you most looking forward to next in the coming months?
Super excited to play San Francisco for the It’s a New Day! block party on NYD. Most of the heads always rest up on NYE and save it for Jan 1st. Those are my people right there, and I can’t wait.
After that I’m happy to dig into the studio for a few months and try to wrap up a bunch of stuff…upcoming Thugfucker music and also a more leftfield ambient project under the name The Department of Human Genetics that I’ve been working on with my good friend Eli Janney for the last few years. We did our first live show last summer and it’s starting to feel like some of the things I’ve learned putting that show together might just feed into a future live/hybrid Thugfucker show. It’s a bit too early to say for sure but I’m quite excited about it now and I’m going to see where it takes me.
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