The music industry is at a strange crossroads right now. There has never been a worse time to be a musician, as far as pay, royalties, and piracy goes, but it’s never been so good to be an electronic music artist as it is in 2012. From getting perceived legitimacy from the Grammys, to headlining festivals larger than some countries, electronic dance music (or EDM) is riding high atop a wave of commercial success. And in all of the insanity EDM has accumulated over the past half-decade, Pretty Lights stands above the rest as a rebel with a cause. Derek Smith has put out all of his music under the Pretty Lights moniker for free and has created a music label in which every artist follows suit, all in the name of spreading great art to the masses. So when the opportunity comes to pay money in order to see the man conduct his craft live, no hesitation can be accepted. Simply put, there is nothing like it and for many good reasons.
The first things fans saw when entering the Shrine Auditorium was a huge countdown clock projected on a jumbo screen, ticking down toward impending bliss. This was already a major upgrade from his first trip to Los Angeles three years ago, playing a snug show at Key Club with only two led light boards. When the countdown hit “0:00” and the music started, fans lost their minds in a wave of applause, cheers, and bewilderment. He opened the show by thanking everyone for support and then kicked off the two-hour set with a new track, before diving deep into this bag for a rotation of favorites.
If his music was sold in stores, it would say "now with 100% more awesome," as he doesn't let a half note go by without enhancing it somehow. Add that with a color palette that would make Crayola jealous and you have the makings of a legendary experience. Not satisfied with just playing the tunes, Smith manually cranked the tempo beyond standard levels to feed the beast that was his diehard crowd. The bombastic nature of some of his more boisterous tunes is blended well within his more subtle selections from the catalog. While seats can sometimes make for an awkward dance show, people found room in the aisles to get up and boogie during what Pretty Lights called "electronic funky f***in’ soul dance music."
Oscillating between full on laser warfare and gorgeous illumination, Pretty Lights sometimes combines the two into an overwhelming double whammy. Cascading lights can envelop the crowd before turning off and letting lasers soar and melt over the air. What he's doing isn't in the same ballpark as those attempting to construct gigantic monoliths to their ego or those that want lasers in every pocket of the room. Instead, his visuals are like his music: layered, well-crafted, and never an imitation. When the skyline element kicks in and the pseudo-Golden Gate Bridge illuminates behind the properly synchronized deck, it's a thing of electronic art. The whole stage will go dim save for a cluster of rainbow lights pointed directly at the electronic maestro. Sometimes it’s an overwhelming attack of the senses, before fading back to black, but it’s always deliberate and controlled by the man himself.
As a musician, Smith will always draw crowds and provide visual stimulus to some that attempt to enhance the experience with drugs: this is a given in his genre. What separates Pretty Lights from the pack is his attitude. There aren't any logo-drenched banners, no moments of ego boosting, no chugging of red bulls or chain smoking of cigarettes. He loves doing what he's doing and he loves everyone that is willing to share the journey. It's evident in the way he handles himself and evident in the live performances that are fueled by the dance machines that bought tickets for the night. Wearing a black hat and black shirt, he almost blends into his stage like a roadie. Much like Bassnectar or Kaskade, guys who truly have a great time on stage, nobody is digging it more than he is. When the show was over, a wave of appreciation poured from the crowd to the stage, and more importantly, right back into the crowd again. This was a massive show on a magical tour that those unwilling to deal with music festivals or traveling cross-country should have loved.
Check out the photo gallery for some pictures of the night’s festivities and do yourself a favor: go see this man live. It’s worth every penny.
Full Flickr Set: HERE