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Pretty Lights Looks Beyond the Light Show

Nov. 13, 2013
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Right now, electronic music is more than a trend. It’s a tidal wave. Stars like Tiesto, Skrillex and David Guetta are filling arenas, and according to multiple media reports, cashing checks totaling tens of millions each year.

Derek Vincent Smith (better known by his stage name Pretty Lights) has been riding the electronic wave right along with those stars. His fall “Analog Future Tour” is currently filling a mix of arenas and large theater/club venues. But Smith thinks it may not be long before the electronic music wave crashes and a lot of big-name DJs and producers will be left high and dry, so he’s doing what he can to stay ahead of the curve, beginning with his live show.

“I’ll tell you, I’ve seen it several times in the last 10 years with genres that come and they explode and they’re so popular and everyone’s doing it and everyone’s making money off of it and being successful,” Smith said. “And then all of a sudden, it almost happens overnight. No one’s selling tickets anymore.

“So I just wanted to deviate as quickly as possible,” he continued. “I mean, I think that I definitely did some paving the way as far as my genre and whatnot, but as far as performance, the show and the massive lights and video productions and things like that, I don’t think it’s going to be enough for the audience very much longer. So I wanted to step ahead and do as much as I could.”

For his “Analog Future Tour,” he’s bringing out a full band to perform along with the pre-recorded tracks Smith will play and manipulate on stage.

It’s a meeting of humans and machines that’s nearly unprecedented in the electronic genre, where headliners often do little more on stage than dance and cheerlead as they play pre-recorded songs and sometimes remix tracks in real time. For Pretty Lights’ current shows, Smith is able to play bass with the band, play tracks and be able to manipulate both the live instruments and recorded tracks to shape what audiences hear.

This melding of live musicians and synthetic sounds is an extension of what Smith did on his latest studio album, A Color Map of The Sun. Smith spent nearly three years on the project, a function of how complex the album was to record. The process began with a long series of recordings sessions with various groupings of musicians and vocalists. More than 40 in all participated.

But it wasn’t like he had everything mapped out ahead of the many recording sessions. Instead, music got written in segments—or as breaks or jams—that the musicians would play, often with Smith chasing a specific tone or feel in the part. Eventually, Smith amassed hours and hours of music that he first pressed onto vinyl. Then, working with his own set-up of computers, analog synthesizers and other studio equipment, he reshaped the raw music into finished songs that are predominantly electronic sounding, but with vocal parts and lots of sounds that were very obviously played on real instruments. This gives a human character to music that is also heavily processed.

Stylistically, A Color Map of The Sun strikes a different note than a lot of other electronic music. While it still has strong beats, the music is less frenetic, and more centered on melody and the sheer beauty of the tones in the music. The album does, however, retain the hip-hop, vintage soul, blues and funk elements that Smith has blended with modern electronic music on three previous studio albums and three EPs.

For his “Analog Future Tour,” he’s looking to preserve some of that continuity with his past.

“It’s not going to be crazy different,” Smith said. “I’m also designing with the live band my hits and my tracks, so I’ll be able to have the band play and then I’ll bring in the actual track that they play on top of, because I don’t want to totally change my whole show where people are like, ‘Woah, this is nothing like it was.’ I have to maintain some of it and then bring in the new ideas at the proper pace.”

Pretty Lights headlines the Rave on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m. with opening acts Blood Diamonds and Paul Basic.


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