Pretty Lights, the twenty-something digital music phenomenon who has mastered the art of mixing hip hop, house, funk and rave-rap, sold out Baltimore’s Bourbon Street Ballroom. The crowd – a slew of young, glow-stick twirling fans – hung on every beat of the two hour set, lurching their neon limbs over balconies and barricades with the dropping of each track.
The man behind the magic is producer Derek Vincent Smith, a Colorado native who is celebrating the close of a wildly successful year packed with sold-out shows, countless music festivals and the release of three new EPs. His latest, “Glowing in the Darkest Night, ” dropped just last month. Smith seemed comfortable with his relatively new success, sipping casually from a bottle of Patron throughout the show.
Just don’t call him a DJ.
Though he eagerly identifies with the titles of producer, composer and musician, Smith has vehemently resisted the label “DJ.” During his 2009 tour, he even performed with a scrolling lit-up sign in front his booth that read, repeatedly, “I’m Not a DJ.”
In an interview with Stay Thirsty, Smith said that although the lines are currently “blurred” between what defines a producer and what defines a D.J.,” there is a gap between what’s actually happening on stage and what people think is happening on stage.”
Stay Thirsty’s Jarrod Dicker was kind enough to differentiate the two: put simply, producers create the music they’re performing; it is sonically original and developed in a studio. Disc jockeys, however, spin already-made tracks they themselves did not construct. Pretty Lights more appropriately fits the former, as it is a project of digital sampling and auditory transformations, crossing over genres to produce new material.
To Smith’s credit, Pretty Lights truly stands out among its peers, be them jockeys like Deadmau5 or similar “musical-experimentation” projects like Bassnectar. First, Smith is accompanied by a drummer during his live performances (now Deitch, but formerly Corey Eberhard until August of this year). Second, all of Smith’s music is available for free off his Web site, a strategy that not only allows his tracks to spread rapidly amongst his dedicated following, but also for his career to accelerate at a faster pace; he dropped three multi-track EPs in the last six months alone.
Though it is easy to assume the name Pretty Lights stems from the elaborate light shows that accompany each performance, Smith actually pulled the name from a Pink Floyd poster that read, “Come and watch the pretty lights.” Since then, each of his albums and EPs have had similarly heptasyllabic and rhyming titles.
What’s next for the electronic mix-master? It’s hard to predict for a guy who seems to be spinning in ten musical directions at a hundred miles-per-hour. This year, Smith played an array of music festivals, including the California-favorite Coachella, the tech-heavy Ultra Music Festival in Miami and even the heady Camp Bisco in upstate New York. He also sold out his own concerts everywhere from New York City’s Terminal 5 to Colorado’s massive Red Rocks Amphitheater. Tuesday’s Baltimore show tapped eclectic dance genres such as jam-band synth and old-school hip hop, even venturing into a horn-heavy funk number before closing with a bass-blowing dubstep finale.
As Smith’s wildly successful 2010 comes to a close, fans can hope to see him as ubiquitously in 2011 as they have in recent months. As long as they don’t dub him a DJ, this is more than likely.