My musical journey began with hip hop, and no matter where it takes me, I will always feel a deep connection to the genre that first made me truly feel music — as opposed to just hearing it. It makes sense that out of all the DJs on the Electric Zoo bill, the one I was most excited for was Pretty Lights, whose set would inevitably include his own hip hop-infused productions.
By straying outside the boundaries of the genre, Derek Vincent Smith, the man behind the moniker, has made himself a misfit in the electronic dance music world. However, he’s not the “uncool,” outcast sort-of misfit, but the kind who is shrouded in unpredictable, idiosyncratic mystery. When he stepped on stage to take his place behind the glowing rainbow throne that awaited his arrival, he proved that being an outcast is not so bad after all.
Although a large majority of the eclectic crowd seemed to be there because of Pretty Lights, there was also a portion who only showed up because they’d been dragged by friends. In fact, one attendee turned to me and asked, “Do you actually like Pretty Lights?” adding in that “there’s no drops.” The question didn’t shock me — I understand the sentiment — but sometimes floating down the lazy river can be more enjoyable than a steep roller coaster. The question also left me wondering: Would my fellow dance music fan walk away from the set with an appreciation for Smith, or leave confused and disappointed that there were no frantic builds or massive drops? The results could only depend on Smith’s performance. From where I stood, it seemed that my skeptical friend was in for a conversion.
Pretty Lights – Up & Down I Go
When Smith got behind the decks, I could barely see his moving shadow through the massive throng of animals, glitter girls, and glowsticks — but I could certainly hear him. As Aaron Neville’s distorted voice blared through the speakers I knew he was opening with “Hot Like Sauce,” one of his most well-known songs. Next in line was “Total Fascination,” and “Still Night,” after which he followed up with “Finally Moving,” the instantly recognizable, crowd-pleaser that samples Etta James “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” vocals — the same vocals Avicii would use five years later in “Levels.” At this point the audience put their vocal chords to use as they happily sang along to the track.
Pretty Lights – Finally Moving
Pretty Lights – Still Night
Pretty Lights – Hot Like Sauce
Eventually he dropped “City of One,” a fitting choice considering it features a sample from Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M,” the iconic hip hop group Smith has cited as an influence and a personal favorite. During the course of his set he would also play “Up & Down I Go,” “Still Rockin,” “I Can See It In Your Face,” and an as of yet unreleased track before ultimately closing with “I Know The Truth.”
Pretty Lights – I Know The Truth
Several years from now I probably won’t remember the track list — nor will I care — but I will remember how alive I felt as Smith administered his musical antidote. Although many assume that Pretty Light’s stage name is a reflection of the neon, kaleidoscopic visuals — it’s not. Instead, Smith has said this about his pseudonym: “People go through life always on the lookout for things that are beautiful and inspirational. Pretty Lights is about trying to capture little moments.” For me, Smith’s set was a little moment I’ll never forget.
Oh, and my skeptical compatriot? Well, he thought “it actually wasn’t that bad at all.”