Virgin Fest: Dance/rap duo brings the thunder
Grahm Zilla believes a good way to gauge his latest project, Thunderheist, is to look at the hierarchy on festival flyers.
“You can always tell how big you are by your font size,” says the producer/DJ who shares the stage with rapper Isis.
For Saturday’s portion of this year’s Alberta Virgin Fest hosted at Canada Olympic Park, Thunderheist shares the same font weight as Canadian music staples Wintersleep and k-os; A far cry from the dance/rap duo’s Virgin Fest debut in Ontario last year.
“They put us on in the DJ tent at the exact same time MGMT was on the main stage . . . yeah that was great,” Zilla recalls of their set in hometown Toronto. “Even my girlfriend was like ‘yeah I’m going to be over there.’ ”
Thunderheist’s steady rise up the festival ranks began in 2005, when Zilla was introduced to Isis by his manager.
“I basically asked her for a couple of A capella’s because she had this mixed tape she had done but had basically bootlegged other people’s beats,” Zilla said. “I want to write her some original stuff so we did that with two of her songs and they were pretty much the best stuff I had done for a rapper at that point.”
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Despite this initial attraction, it took a mistake from Zilla to finally get the ball rolling.
“I was working on Thunderheist on the side just as a remix project by myself had never really thought about adding her to it,” Zilla said. “Then I accidentally sent her one of the remixes and she was all about it and ended up sending it back to me with her vocals over whatever empty space there was.”
The producer then decided he had to see Isis perform in person and ventured to a small solo show of hers put on as part of Montreal’s Jazz Festival.
Her stage presence was so amazing, that’s something that’s really hard to find. There was only maybe 10 people in the audience so It’s hard to grab attention and she did it so easily . . . I figured if she could pack a room she would kill it and she did,” Zilla said.
The duo released their self-titled debut album last March and have been hitting the road to promote it a great deal since.
“It’s definitely doing well overseas and we can tell when we play shows because people actually know the material,” Zilla says, noting Thunderheist has performed in western Europe, Japan and across North America. Plans are in the works for a tour of Australia and more of Asia sometime in the next sixth months.
Their upbeat dance song “Jerk It” also made its way onto Mickey Rourke’s comeback film “The Wreslter.”
“I mean it was only played for like eight second so I doubt we gained a ton of fans,” Zilla said. “Having said that, for us it was just like an honour to be in a great movie.
“I figure most people’s first film licensing will be for a Pauly Shore flick or something so to get on a Oscar-nominated film was awesome and pretty much the highlight of my music career to date,” he added in a sheepish tone.
And lastly, what can the crowd expect Saturday at Virgin Fest?
“They can expect to have a life-changing experience . . . or at least a drunker afternoon.”