I had seen Derek Brown perform a few times before, both independently and with a live band, so I at least had some idea of what to expect. Every time I saw him he conducted his set with a slightly different flair, and this time was no exception. The one defining factor of Pretty Lights performances, hence the name, is the utilization of led lights, lasers, and 3-D mapping techniques to create the most sensory stimulating experience possible.
Derek’s signature track, “finally moving,” was met with a psychedelic visuals and multicolored lasers shot directly into the crowd. Although I am not usually a fan of overly elaborate set design, I have to admit that every Pretty Lights show I have seen has been incredibly well orchestrated.
I was relieved to see that Derek had brought the band with him for this particular set, because live performances are significantly more interactive and engaging than watching someone play with their computer. The trombone, saxophone, keyboard, and drum players all served as a valuable asset to the Pretty Lights experience, and it appeared that Derek had caught on to this. Rather than trying to focus the attention on himself throughout the set, he allowed for many intricate trombone and saxophone solos that wouldn’t have been out of place in a 1920’s jazz club. The eclectic nature of the performance was quite intriguing; the combination of a squelching electro house bass and heavy sampling with the laid back jazzy instrumentals made for a very engrossing experience.
As mentioned, each Pretty Lights show I attend has a slightly different flair to it. In this case, Derek seemed to go for a more nonchalant lounge ambiance than the hard hitting electro-funk vibe I had witnessed in the past. This approach seemed to work for this particular crowd, which appeared more interested in enjoying the vibe and appreciating the intricacies of the music than grinding against one another in sweaty confusion. I had no problem with this personally, because I have always been more of a music nerd than a party animal.
Although the set became redundant at times (you can only have so many saxophone solos before it loses its luster a bit), the overall execution of the performance was well above average. The band appeared to have great chemistry and could improvise fluidly, and the sounds they emitted were almost perfectly in synch with the entrancing visuals. To top things off, fireworks were lit towards the end of the set, thus propelling the crowd into an even more euphoric and almost hypnotic headspace than they were already in. I could genuinely feel the unanimous positive energy as I enjoyed the pleasant combination of being propelled with LEDs, watching the fireworks, and establishing synergy with the crowd. I walked away from the stage that evening with a subtle feeling of contentment than can only be achieved by immersing oneself in such experiences.
The only remotely negative aspect of the performance was Derek’s slightly egotistic tendencies. As he wrapped up the set; he personally thanked every band member for their contribution. While that effort is conceptually considerate, I couldn’t shake the notion that he wanted to make it very clear that none of them would be there if it wasn’t for efforts on his behalf. However, I must give him accolades for not chain smoking throughout the set, which I consistently witnessed in past performances. So while Derek’s alpha male persona can sometimes be off putting, it is understanding why he conducts himself the way he does given the magnitude of the effects his music has had on others. So if you are entertaining the possibility of attending a Pretty Lights performance in your area, do it. Hopefully you will leave the even with the same subtle feeling of contentment I described.
Article by Reed S. April 26, 2014
Photos by Owen J. & Peter Noowin