Pretty Lights | 05.13.09 | New York

Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Benjamin Maas

Pretty Lights :: 05.13.09 :: Bowery Ballroom :: New York, NY

Pretty Lights :: 05.13.09 :: Bowery Ballroom
Oh the wonders of technology. The new-fangled gadgetry that's hit the market in the past few decades has made the spectrum of possible sounds for musicians and producers literally limitless.

Deep within the innards of Bowery Ballroom the musky air was filled with the bounty of that wondrous technology. Samplers, synths turntables and more slung beats in every direction at the fingertips of two of this technological boom's ripest beneficiaries, keeping a youthful crowd writhing on the dance floor for the better part of five hours. For Pretty Lights the ability to use machines is only half the battle. The Colorado-based duo is more about the juxtaposition of remixed samples and wholly unearthly synthetic sounds created from thin air with authentically organic sounds. Prolific DJ and producer Derek Vincent Smith, the mastermind behind PL's albums, combines forces with live drummer Cory Eberhard to make these juxtapositions come to life. Coming out of complete oblivion, Pretty Lights' unique concoction has rendered one of the most cutting-edge and enjoyable acts out there today, garnering attention on a national scale in a very short span of time.

Opening act Damian Higgins, better known as Dieselboy, is a bit more of a purist, in a sense. Using technology to its full effect, none of the sounds the drum & bass DJ produces are remotely reminiscent of sounds found in the natural world. The only recognizable sample heard during his set was the sped up bass line from Nirvana's "Breed." As Higgins lethargically tweaked the array of electronic gear spread before him, a steady flow of gritty Justice-like bass notes on top of a heavy backbeat flew at the mass of people. The crowd took a momentary break from their inexorable raging to regale Dieselboy with a chorus of "whoo's" as he cut off the backbeat and high frequencies leaving only a low ominous drone. When he dropped the beat the crowd once more resumed their frenzied gyrations.

Pretty Lights :: 05.13.09 :: Bowery Ballroom
Buried inside an upturned hoodie, Derek Vincent Smith emerged from the looming darkness backstage with his percussion-providing cohort. The differences between PL and Dieselboy were immediately salient – a true testament to the versatility and potential of the similar technology used by each. Unlike Dieselboy, who pumped out incessantly brisk beats, PL took a more varied approach, interweaving moments of raw energy with tranquil serenity. A down-tempo beat slowly trickled out of the speakers to start the set as both Smith and Eberhard mouthed along the words to the hip-hop sample laced into the musical collage. Many of Smith's productions are heavily influenced by hip-hop, sampling rhymes from the likes of Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes throughout the evening.

It wasn't hard to see why Pretty Lights was christened as such. While Smith and Eberhard toiled away to occupy our aural sense, colors began dripping down a giant LED screen in back of the stage, enthralling the field of vision. As the music underwent gradual changes, the LED screen followed suit. Soon vibrant colors billowed out from oblivion as thick, energetic beats containing a horn-laden funk sample, emerged.

With abundant funk and soul samples combined with deep, resonant synth lines packed with raw energy and emotion, Pretty Lights often sounded like a cross between DJ Shadow and Bassnectar. Much like Shadow, Smith threw down pristine samples from eclectic sources. Eberhard waved his sticks through the air in sync with a classical guitar riff summoned by Smith at the mere push of a button. Following Smith's lead, the sticks came crashing down upon a cymbal precisely as hits of ghostly synthetic sound poured into the hall. Working in step the whole night, the two were clearly very well rehearsed. A roar went up from the crowd as "The Time Has Come," off PL's freely downloadable album, Filling Up The City Skies, filled up the room. The song's seductively smooth synth melody on top of a voluptuous soul sample made it impossible not to picture a beautiful woman squirming her hips back and forth, her hands slithering in all directions high above her head while her lush hair tumbles about her shoulders.

Pretty Lights :: 05.13.09 :: Bowery Ballroom
While Smith bounced around, sweat dripped onto his omnipotent knobs, brilliant reds and greens began swirling on the LED. This gave way to chaotic splashes of color redolent of an abstract expressionist painting moving in real time. The set ended off with a soul sample on crack, the manic beat throwing the crowd into its most hysterical state all night as kaleidoscopic colors churned in the background.

Smith returned to the stage, smoke rising out of his mouth, the Pretty Lights logo flashed on the LED. A mash up of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" (which in turn is taken from a Clash song) and Wreckx-N-Effect's "Rump Shaker" got the crowd boisterously cheering. The two songs were so well meshed it sounded as if they were made for this very purpose.

Sounds flew around my head that I never knew existed, with help from the myriad of technologies at a DJ's disposal. But, all that technology is nothing without a creative mind to manipulate it, and in the relatively short time Derek Vincent Smith has been making music and touring he has shown that he has the potential to be one of the most creative minds to lay his fingers on it. Put that together with drummer Cory Eberhard and it makes for one hellava danceable atmosphere. As the realm of technology expands exponentially, the future looks bright for Pretty Lights.

Pretty Lights tour dates available here.

Continue reading for more pics of Pretty Lights in NYC...


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