Pretty Lights: The Evolution to a Full Blown Jam Band

The room was dimly lit, the ambiance electric, with an undertone of wonder and unpredictability. The year was 2008, and I stood amidst a swarm of music enthusiasts at the World Grotto in Knoxville, Tennessee. The stage was soon to be dominated by an artist I’d been keenly following, but little did I know that this evening would mark the beginning of a transformative journey, not just for me, but for the world of electronic music.

Pretty Lights Setlists 2008Photo: Pretty Lights

Derek Vincent Smith, popularly known as “Pretty Lights,” was taking baby steps towards legendary status then. That night, I witnessed not just a DJ spinning tracks but a mastermind, innovatively fusing samples from diverse genres. From the bluesy riffs of a forgotten era to the edgy beats of contemporary rock, Derek was already painting a vast, immersive soundscape.

Fast forward to iconic performances at festivals like Bonnaroo and Rothbury, I was part of the caravan that followed this electronic prodigy, as he meticulously layered sound over sound, creating a symphony that was, to put it succinctly, ‘Pretty Lights’ in its purest form.

However, life is rarely a straight road. Artists, despite the electrifying aura they project on stage, are humans, often more vulnerable than the rest of us. And so, it was with Derek. The relentless tours, the growing expectations, and perhaps the self-imposed pressure took a toll. He took a hiatus, stepping back from the blinding lights and the roaring applause. Silence enveloped where there was once music.PLAYLIST: What To Expect From Pretty Lights' Episodic Gorge Festival

His absence, however, was not in vain. It was a period of rejuvenation, reflection, and rediscovery. And when he returned, it was with a vigor that was both raw and refined. Derek’s reincarnation wasn’t as a solo artist but as the focal point of a band—a collective that was more than the sum of its parts.

There’s an undoubted transformation sweeping over Derek Vincent Smith and the realm of Pretty Lights. No longer just a beacon of electronic mastery, Derek is steering his musical entity towards the ethos of a jam band, and it’s a metamorphosis that long-time fans, have embraced wholeheartedly. But what’s a jam band without its talented ensemble?

Behind the lights and the console, the real magic is the confluence of expertise that each band member brings to the table. Michal Menert, with his intricate production skills, plays a crucial role in creating those signature immersive experiences we’ve come to associate with Pretty Lights. Chris Karns, with turntables at his fingertips, doesn’t merely scratch but adds texture, rhythm, and depth. Alvin Ford Jr. on the drums is a heartbeat that keeps the ensemble grounded yet always explorative. Then there’s Borham Lee, fingers dancing over the keyboards, whose chords and synths paint the air with nostalgia and novelty in equal measure.

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Photo: Pretty Lights

This ensemble doesn’t just back up Derek; they elevate him, allowing Pretty Lights to drift into extended improvisations, only to bring it back to its electronic roots seamlessly. The brilliance lies in the organic ebb and flow, where each song can breathe, transform, and reintegrate, much like the free spirit of a jam band.

Each talented in their own right, each bringing a distinct flavor to the concoction. Watching them perform is like observing a well-choreographed dance, where each artist knows when to lead and when to follow. Their jam sessions are a testament to their synergy, where they ‘lose’ themselves, only to find the song again, picking it up as if it never left.

At Cascade Equinox, I was among the fortunate few to experience Pretty Lights’ inaugural live festival performance after his hiatus. The setlist was a trip down memory lane—each track resonating with memories of the past decade. But it wasn’t just about nostalgia. It was a proclamation, a statement that Pretty Lights was back, bigger and better.

Then came the Brooklyn Mirage performance this past Sunday. If Cascade was about revisiting the classics, Brooklyn was about experimentation and pushing boundaries. Derek was in his element, fearlessly tinkering, merging, and reshaping sounds. From sampling the iconic tunes of The Allman Brothers and Phish to orchestrating elaborate layered jams that smoothly transitioned back to their original tracks, Pretty Lights shows this weekend at the Mirage showcased evolution in real-time.

And as I stood there, absorbing the melodies, the beats, the lights, and the atmosphere, I couldn’t help but reflect on this journey. From that intimate gig in Knoxville to this expansive venue in Brooklyn, the essence remained unchanged: raw passion. Every beat, every transition, every sample stood testimony to Derek’s undying love for music and his commitment to his fans.

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Photo: Brittany Teuber – PL Facebook

It was heartwarming to see him back on stage, the place he rightfully owns, smiling and immersing himself wholly into the act of creation. As the notes flowed, it was clear: Pretty Lights wasn’t just a name or a band; it was an experience, a movement, a revolution in the realm of electronic jam music.

To Derek and his exceptional team, here’s to the past, the present, and the many more melodies and memories to come. You’ve illuminated many lives with your ‘pretty lights,’ and here’s hoping the glow only gets brighter with time.

– Scene Kid

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