Electronic musician Pretty Lights, known on his tax forms as Colorado native Derek Vincent Smith, took a different route with his 2013 companion albums A Color Map of the Sun and Live Studio Sessions From A Color Map of the Sun, but he continues to be all about sound and lights on his supporting tour.
Instead of chopping up samples of existing music for his new albums, Smith created his own samples by recording musicians playing vintage instruments direct to tape (playing many of the instruments himself), then pressing the results to vinyl. From there he went digital to sample the music he'd recorded and to build his sound collages. The two 2013 albums were also the first Pretty Lights albums to be sold commercially in non-digital form.
Smith's concerts are known as much for their overwhelming visuals -- including a first-class light show featuring lasers, strobes, video, and more -- as for the sounds he delivers via a pair of MacBooks and various other electronic gizmos. He calls his performances a "massive art installation with songs," and the formula has made him one of the hottest tickets on the music scene. In addition to headlining his own tours, Smith has played huge festivals including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Coachella. He's also co-headlined tours with other big electronic acts, including Skrillex and Bassnectar.
Pretty Lights' vibe is rooted in hip hop -- Smith was a hip hop performer and producer in high school -- but his production style often creates a dreamy wall of sound. It's a tough sound to pigeonhole with its crunching low end pulling in elements of soul, jazz and rock and funneling it into his unique creations.
After high school, Smith dropped out of the University of Boulder during his freshman year to focus on music. Within a few years he found himself playing late nights for such jam-centric acts as STS9 and Widespread Panic.
As he continued to hone his stage show, he also grew into a studio whiz. He chose to distribute his music for free online, and since 2006 he’s had millions of downloads via his own label, Pretty Lights Music.