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Thugfucker were founded on the basis of uplifting peoples’ spirits with ethereal and mystical shades of house and tech. The outfit — now a singular act led by member Greg Oreck — rose through the ranks swiftly, making their mark on the underground world with their dynamic approach to sets and drive to create an ideal atmosphere at all their events. Thugfucker later paired with DJ Tennis to create their prolific Life & Death imprint, which helped break through the likes of Mind Against and Tale Of Us, among others.
Such an aesthetic has made Thugfucker a particularly highly-demanded entity within the transformational festival community. Oreck’s shamanic abilities with melodic manipulation have made him a staple at events like Burning Man and beyond. Come Memorial Day Weekend, he will make his return under his beloved moniker to Elements‘ second edition in Lakewood, Pennsylvannia.
Oreck stopped by the Dancing Astronaut offices ahead of his appearance at the festival to talk Thugfucker’s new beginnings, his sonic ethos, prized Elements memories, and more, in addition to providing us with an enticing mix to boost excitement in returning to Lakewood’s cozy confines.
How would you describe your musical ethos? How did you arrive there over time?
While it’s probably impossible to nail down something so big sounding as a musical ethos it is interesting (for me anyway!) to try and think about how I reached the point where I’m at musically. I was talking with Cosmo D from Nucleus a few years ago and I realized I could specifically draw a line from my friend playing “Jam On It” to me at age 12 to where I’m at now in my relationship to music (and dance music specifically) and it was an amazing moment to be able to talk with him about it directly. We’re all shaped by the various experiences we have throughout our life and I’ve been lucky to have a pretty wide variety of experiences that’s really exposed me to a lot. Too many musical movements and styles to try and make an exhaustive list but my whole life I’ve always found something to love in a wide variety of music and have been absolutely drawn to it so I guess that’s just who I am. One thing seems to always lead to the next but it only really makes sense while looking back at it. I remember calling into the radio DJ’s on the local alternative radio station so regularly when I was 12 years old that they got to know me by name. Who does that at 12? But I can’t imagine having been any other way so perhaps chalk that one up to nature versus nurture.
What draws you to the deeper, dreamier sounds of house and deep tech?
Hmmm, I’m not sure I’d be ready to subscribe to any specific genre labels as those are always moving targets that mean very different things for different people. However I wouldn’t deny that among the wide variety of music I find myself drawn to there is definitely a good sized space for some of the trippier sounds. More than anything I guess I love music that engages your mind and imagination while still making you move your body.. which cuts across a pretty wide swath of music overall and which, at the end of the day, is what dance music is really all about right?
It seems eclecticism is also a big motif of your sets and music. Is this correct? What are your tips for balancing the left field and a crowd who expects the hits?
It really depends on the situation. The crowd, the setting, the time of day, what’s happened before you’ve gotten there, what’s going on around you, what the crowd’s expectations are and what kind of relationship they have to you and each other can all have a big impact on how open people will be. Certain situations you can just walk in and they trust you and they’re really ready to follow you down the rabbit hole — so you can just jump right in and get playful. Other times you really have to work hard to earn that trust. The trust is what’s key.
When you’re throwing your own events you can have a lot of control over those factors and I really love to do that. In other cases I think as much as you can you just try and pick and choose the situations where you play to try to find the kind of environments where it’s possible to give people the best experience possible. Of course sometimes you just walk into a situation that’s a bit more challenging but in the end that’s the job of the DJ, to work with the crowd that’s there and the situation you find yourself in to create something special together. Just because you have an incredibly eclectic music collection put together over millennia or whatever doesn’t ever give you the right to bore people to tears. People come out after a hard week of work or whatever life has thrown at them and they come to dance for a release and an escape from all that. Something to lift them up and give them some proper dancefloor catharsis. They’re not just putting their hard earned money on the table, they’re giving you a big chunk of their time and that’s the most valuable thing any of us have. So you always have to honor that and remember that it’s not just about you, it’s about everyone in that space with you.
You two recently parted ways. What caused the part, and how does this affect the Thugfucker sound?
Really something pretty normal for artists working together so closely in a collaboration for so long. In a partnership there are always going to be certain restrictions because naturally you can only move forward on the things that you both agree on, and these restrictions bring both benefits and limitations. So it’s natural to reach a point where you have stories to tell and things to express outside the bounds of those limitations. Holmar reached that point and expressed his interest to go off and do his own thing and when you reach that point, that’s exactly what you need to do and I support him fully. I know this is going to be a great new adventure for him that’s going to bear some beautiful new fruit.
As far as how it will affect the Thugfucker sound, obviously it will continue to evolve which is something I’m proud to say it has been doing all these years. You always have to remain true to yourself but part of being a DJ comes from a relationship with music that’s always evolving. And I think that goes for all the DJ’s at a certain level, as far as I’ve experienced anyways.
Being out on the road these last few months has been incredibly inspiring and I feel like I’ve found a new flow and a new energy that comes from digging even deeper into music that I might not have had the chance to play before. It’s been super exciting to stretch myself in new ways and it feels like a really growing moment and I’m having a lot of fun with it. Similarly in the studio I’ve been feeling very excited to dig into new ways of working and have been back to working pretty exclusively with hardware lately just because that’s what’s really been inspiring me, not because I think there’s any one right way of doing things. I even started taking some music theory classes recently which I had always very consciously avoided as I felt it would take away some of the spontaneity and intuition from things. I remember hearing that Elvis Costello went back to learn music theory after 20 years on the road and despite some initial misgivings really loved it. For me it’s really been quite the same. I don’t think I could have done it before I already felt comfortable making my own productions as I appreciated having had to learn things my own way and on my own terms. But now it just feels like adding more tools to the toolkit which has been fun and motivating and a nice new challenge. It feels like the right time for it and I’m already very happy with the results!
This isn’t your first Elements festival. What are some fond memories from previous editions?
Last year was my first and it was absolutely stunning. The setting is beautiful and I ran into so many friends there from near and far which already says quite a bit about what they’ve accomplished in terms of the word getting out and people really talking about how special it is and traveling from far and wide to get there. Of course playing in the woods with DJ Three and Doc in the morning last year was amazing just because they’re both just such impeccable DJs and the setting was so beautiful as the sun was starting to shine on everyone through the trees. Talk about an environment where people are really ready and encouraging for you to give your all.. you just can’t help bring your A game in these kind of situations. I’m really looking forward to be back!
What else is coming up next for Thugfucker?
Right now I’m trying to walk the fine line between time on the road and time in the studio. I have some interesting long term plans (1 to 2 years out) which I’m very excited about but not really ready to talk about but in the short term I’ve been more energized to spend time in the studio then I have been in quite a few years so I’m trying to balance my time better so I can spend more time doing that. In addition to new Thugfucker material I’ve also been working on an ambient album with my old friend Eli Janney which has been super fun. Spaced out music for after the after-hours…
I’ve also started raising Alpacas which is a lot more work than I realized… Be sure to follow them on Instagram!