w/ Chronicles of the Landsquid, M.O. Theory, Stock Options
Thurs. Feb. 26
1977 Maybank Hwy.
"Hot Like Sauce" from Filling Up the City Skies
Derek Vincent Smith is not a DJ.
"I've never spun a record in my life," says the self-described producer, whose blend of head-thumping electronica has made his Fort Collins, Colo., act Pretty Lights a premiere draw for late night parties and raves across the country.
Although Smith is certainly the main attraction, Pretty Lights goes a step farther than many electronic acts. Drummer Cory Eberhard's human-driven beats provide an organic rhythm often lacking in the genre.
"We've actually developed a system of sign language where I can conduct how it's going to go and still communicate it to him [Eberhard]," says Smith. A flick of his hand could mean switch to an off-beat, hit the snares, play just high-hat, drop into double-time, or go to a break beat. "We can take the music to places we haven't gone before, but he'll still know where we'll be moving to," Smith explains. "It's a method of improvising where we can stay on the same page."
Growing up, Smith played bass and flute, but by high school, hip-hop was his passion. He and his friends competed to arrange the most impressive beats using the emerging computer technologies. Today, his set-up doesn't include any turntables, but rather a laptop and a device called the Monome 128, a grid of dozens of buttons used to manipulate and interface with prerecorded music.
"A lot of people see me on stage, and it looks like I'm a DJ, because I'm not playing a guitar, or whatever," says Smith. "But everything I play is original, first of all. I don't play any other people's music."
Pretty Lights played their first live show only a year ago, but they've already performed alongside big name acts like STS9. This April, they've booked two nights with jam band juggernaut Widespread Panic. Their rise has been quick, but Smith was ahead of the times even before his first show. He put his debut album online as a free download before Radiohead popularized the idea, and his new double disc, Filling Up the City Skies, has already been downloaded (free) 40,000 times in the three months since its release at the Pretty Lights website.
"I think that giving it away for free has really accelerated my ability to make money off the music," says Smith.
This week's show is Pretty Lights' first in Charleston. It also marks a first collaboration between Macdaniel Productions, the booking agency behind the Pour House's spring electronic series, and Conscious Alliance, a nonprofit group that collects food and raises money for impoverished families on Native American reservations, as well as providing disaster relief. Attendees are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items to donate.
Pretty Lights will also be joined by locals Chronicles of the Landsquid and M.O. Theory. Smith says he's excited to share the stage with Landsquid after meeting the band at a late night party in Atlanta just before New Year's Eve.
And although there's bound to be an impressive array of luminescent pleasures, the name Pretty Lights wasn't intended to describe the performance.
"I saw this old poster for a 1966 Pink Floyd New Year's show that advertised the lights, and kind of started using that name before I was even trying to bring a light show," says Smith. "Now that things are picking up, I definitely want to make it a big multimedia experience."