Pretty Lights: Mastering the toys

The Stereosonic 2011 touring party includes a few first-time visitors, and one of the most keenly-anticipated is Pretty Lights. The Colorado-bred producer has built a colossal following in his home country, regularly playing to thousands-strong crowds. One of the biggest was at Red Rock Amphitheatre in his hometown, where he did his thing for 10,000 fans earlier this year.

The man otherwise known as Derek Vincent Smith has nailed a sound that works for that kind of scale: a breakneck mix of hip hop, electro, dubstep and other bass-heavy variants. In the US, he tours with a custom-designed stage show that goes beyond pretty lights, offering “something three-dimensional”. We spoke to the fast-rising star to hear what he’s got planned for his first Australian tour.

From what we’ve seen from here, the live show looks spectacular. What are some of the challenges in bringing something new to the table?

Well, you have to balance how much money you’re spending with creativity and originality. My whole team was over the idea of flat video screens and so we tried to build something three dimensional and find custom visuals that were meant to accentuate those structures; almost so we are creating a city onstage. Then just pushing the synchronicity of it. Most live shows are just random visuals from a VJ but I’m sending midi triggers from my Ableton set-up to my lighting designer, so we are triggering video clips while he’s running lighting palettes for different parts.

The fact that my audio software can now communicate with the visual and lighting software, and there are LEDs we can build into different forms – it’s all technology that didn’t exist just a couple of years ago.

One of the criticisms aimed at spectacular stage shows is that it’s all spectacle and no spontaneity.

That was one of the main priorities for me; when we were putting the set together I realized a lot of other electronic artists were doing the exact same thing every night. I wanted the ability to not only freestyle my set, but also improvise the arrangement of the songs. It was a challenge developing a visual show that works in the way that I do. That’s where the midi signals to front-of-house work. My lighting designer can talk to me through my earpiece, and I can count him in or tell him where I’m going.

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