Lollapalooza 2011, Saturday: Pretty Lights
There's a trend coming, and it's descending upon festivals and college campuses from just north of Denver, in Fort Collins. The trendsetter is Derek Vincent Smith, but if you were one of the face-painted, soggy, glow-stick-adorned bass worshippers at Perry's tent last night, then you know this electronic-music hotshot as Pretty Lights. His festival cred is practically unparalleled. Where most dance sounds catch fire in the underground, Smith cut his teeth in the big-top circuit, playing Bonnaroo, Rothbury, Coachella and Ultra within two years of taking his electro-inflected boom-bap headnodders out of his bedroom.
Adding to that list of festival appearances, Smith checked off Lollapalooza last night, topping the bill at the DJ stage. "Life is too short to have sorrow" came stuttering out of the system as Smith kicked off with "Hot Sauce." It seems absurd to even have to mention it, but Pretty Lights's requisite, well, pretty lights burst out from all corners of the stage sending up waves of cheers, whistles and neon projectiles. Standing atop an LED-adorned DJ tower with screens behind him oozing with color, Smith was at the helm, flat brim cap atop his head, bobbing up and down, twisting knobs and triggering beats. His sound is indebted to instrumental hip-hop acts like DJ Shadow, groove-based beatmakers like Thievery Corporation, the jam bands that he first opened up for back in Colorado—names like STS9 and Widespread Panic appear on that list—and all those dusty funk and soul records he samples. It has that grinding bass modulation heard in the ever-present electro, but it's not so frantic and breakneck paced. He's chilled it out. It's hip-hop for hippies, hippie-hop. And while Perry's was overflowing yet again last night, the vibe wasn't so manic; when the burners party, it's all good.
This performance was all about the vibe. Whereas fans elsewhere were anxiously waiting "Love the Way You Lie" and "Little Lion Man," the revelers crammed in here weren't concerned about a set list or even singing along to their favorite song; they just wanted to wile out. This was true of Pretty Lights, and of Perry's tent in general. Songs flowed like one long, steady groove that had heads rocking back and forth, affirming, yes dude, this is exactly what we are after. Hits like "Finally Moving" showed up, but blended into the greater tapestry. It came on with a frantic flashing of strobe lights and rolling snares. Our hands went up and the beat dropped to all of our delight. Then it faded into the kaleidoscope of sounds and colors just like the song that came before it. This has long been the way electronic music is transmitted, and it's not lost on Smith as he leads the charge for this new generation of ravers.
I've said it a couple of times in my coverage of the electronic tent this weekend, but when you're there, tucked into that south corner of the grounds, you feel like you're at an alterna-Lolla. Slithering my way out of the tent—head bobbing all the while—I careened onto Columbus Drive making my way to the Music Unlimited stage, and was shocked back into reality at seeing the sheer mass of people transfixed by Eminem. Pretty Lights had almost made me forget there was a whole other festival out there.