Lounge Wizards

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Vaughn, the now-famous model, dances to it in a Kmart commercial. Disembodied shoes jog across town to it in Frank Budgen's "Slugs" spot for adidas. It's an electronic pastiche of jazz, bossa nova, and lounge music, and it all comes out of a Washington, D.C.-based record label called Eighteenth Street Lounge. "It's been a very successful area for us," says Rob Garza, co-proprietor of ESL and half of the trendsetting duo Thievery Corporation, of his label's luck in wedding art and commerce. Thievery Corporation alone has either licensed or composed music for a half-dozen campaigns, including efforts for Dockers, Miller and Martini & Rossi. The grooves of other ESL artists - like Ursula 1000 (the nom de mix of Miami DJ Alex Gimeno) and Italian producer Nicola Conte - can be heard in spots for brands as diverse as Acura, Zima sibling Vibe and Corn Pops. Most notably, Ursula 1000's Latin-flavored "Mambo 1000" serves as the soundtrack for adidas' slugs, while Conte's "Jet Sounds" sets the stage for Vaughn's contagious "Boxer Boogie," both out of TBWAChiatDayLos Angeles.

Eighteenth Street Lounge, the label, was formed in 1995 by Garza and partner Eric Hilton as a vehicle for releasing their own records as Thievery Corporation, a project that took shape at the Dupont Circle dance club from which the label takes its name. "Over drinks we were talking about our favorite music, which was bossa nova and dub and late '60s easy listening and soundtracks, and we wanted to start something that took this wide variety of sounds and mixed them with electronic music," Garza says. The two collaborated on 1997's Sounds From the Thievery Hi-Fi, a record based on the pair's love for Brazilian pop and bossa records from the '60s. The result is an unusually warm strain of electronic music that doesn't require a rave sequence to sound at home in a commercial. "I think it's always been our goal to create music that isn't alienating and doesn't sound cold and mechanical," Garza says. "These boys are respected in so many different genres of music," says Sarah Sciotto, founder of Ten Music, the Santa Monica music house that represents ESL's artists for commercials. "There's a regeneration going on in electronic music. My mother listens to Thievery Corporation."

The fortunes of ESL and Ten Music have been entwined since the latter opened two years ago. Sciotto, then a rep for below-the-line production talent, met Garza and Hilton on a sightseeing trip at the 1999 Iceland Airwaves music conference, where they talked about breaking independent labels into commercials. When Ten Music launched in 2000, ESL was the first label to be repped by the "virtual music house," which now represents another half-dozen labels and a catalog of more then 10,000 tracks. "We had the thought at the right time," Sciotto says. "They really prompted me to start the company." Thievery Corporation immediately began licensing tracks via Ten Music to campaigns for Dockers out of FCB/San Francisco; for Lincoln out of Young & Rubicam; Martini & Rossi out of Amster Yard; and in one case, they composed original music for a Miller beer heritage campaign from Ogilvy and director Erich Joiner. While Garza admits he's not ready to slap stickers on his records to promote tracks that appear in spots, he says he doesn't see much of a line being crossed in licensing music to marketers. "Sometimes we'll find records that have old commercials on them, and we love it. We wish the composer, whoever he was, would have made a record with that kind of stuff on it."

Currently, it's Ursula 1000's exuberant and sometimes whimsical dance music that's getting the most play from advertisers, "riding the wave," as Garza says, "of what a lot of advertisers are looking for." In addition to setting the beat for adidas' jogging slugs, Ursula 1000's Gimeno recently licensed one track, "Tigerbeat," and composed another for a catchy animated campaign for Corn Pops out of Leo Burnett, in which a stick figure replicates to the beat. "Tigerbeat" was also licensed to FCB for the launch campaign of malternative beverage Vibe, directed by A Band Apart's Wayne Isham.

And then there's "Jet Sounds," the frantic groove from an artist unknown to the mainstream - Nicola Conte, whose first single, "Bossa Per Due," was heard Stateside as the soundtrack for "Palm Springs," a stylish Acura commercial from Rubin Postaer. This has become one of the most recognizable songs on television, thanks to the provocative dance moves it inspired.

"There's a certain sound I go to them for, but they keep surprising us," Sciotto says of ESL. "They're constantly bringing fresh air in."