DJ OF THE WEEK 1.6.14: PRETTY LIGHTS
“Times will get bad, and the whole wide world, will come down on you…. You must go on.” “I wish that I could tell you how I feel. It’s so real, it’s so real.”
These are the lyric of the song ‘We Must Go On’ by Pretty Lights. It was early 2012 and this is the song that introduced me to him; less than a minute into the track and I was hooked. There was an underlying Hip Hop vibe about it that appealed to me and it reminded me of some of my favorite 90’s productions from acts such as Portishead, Thievary Corporation, even DJ Shadow, yes, I said it. Like all good music, it had this timelessness about it, and that is what struck me the most. I’ve been a fan ever since.
I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I was really surprised when I found out Pretty Lights was not a band but in fact just one dude; albeit an incredibly talented one. His name is Derek Vincent Smith and he was born in Fort Collins, Colorado. Always into music, he began producing in High School by the time he began college at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he was torn between going the traditional route or giving it all up for music. I’ll let you guess which one he chose.
That Hip Hop vibe you hear embedded deep in his music goes back to those high school and college days, but listen carefully and you’ll hear other flavors as well, a lot more. See, Smith has never met an instrument he couldn’t rock. He bought himself a bass guitar just to join a band. Apparently, he didn’t have the chops, pun intended, to make the band, but coupled with a scientists level of curiosity and apparently no fear or shame whatsoever, he kept at it, and kept adding instruments as well. This lead to him being very open minded musically which in turn lead to him being much more than just a DJ. Pretty Lights, as he came to be known once he went pro, is a virtuoso in every sense of the word!
He began playing live in his home state around 2007, opening for everything from EDM to Rock and Jazz bands and soon after doing a little bit of traveling. By 2009 he was playing at his first major music festivals such as Bonnaroo, Rothbury, Wakarusa, Camp Bisco, 10KLF, and the massive Electric Daisy Carnival. This level of exposure for someone so talented could only result in positive things, and that is exactly what happened.
Within a year Pretty Lights was touring the states not only DJing, if you could call it that, but playing drums, keyboards, and of course bass -and all with that Hip Hop sway fully in tow- for his own Illumination tour. This tour saw him hitting up Coachella, UMF in Miami, Red Rocks, Detroit Electronic Music Festival, Electric Zoo in New York, Outsidelands Festival in San Francisco, and his first out of the country, the Evolve Festival in Nova Scotia, among others.
By 2011, his productions had kicked into full gear and he had begun releasing more regularly, even though he was on tour. In fact, it’s because he was touring so much and didn’t want to get sick of playing his own music, that he learned to do both at the same time. ‘Making Up A Changing Mind,’ ‘Spilling Over Every Side,’ ‘Glowing In The Darkest Night,’ and one of his first popular hits ‘I Know The Truth,’ are just a few of the gems he has dropped on us over the years. And then there are his albums; five to date, each is a must have, the types of albums that you keep on repeat and listen to time and time again.
Being of the new generation, technology obviously plays a big part in not only how PL creates his music, but he also has a sense of the world that goes where prior generations would have never dreamed of. For instance, once he creates his masterpieces he calls albums, he goes and releases them for free! Say what? Yeah. Free. That being said, Pretty lights is growing into a bonafide artists and perhaps because some money needs to be made, in 2013 he released his first commercially available product. Actually, make that two. On July 2, 2013, PL released ‘A Color Map of the Sun’ and a live companion piece, titled ‘Live Studio Sessions From A Color Map of the Sun,’ at the same time. Aside from being excellent albums -yes, I have them on repeat- it received a nomination for Best Dance/Electronica Album for the 2014 Grammys. Great way to begin 2014, right?