Pretty Lights Was My Gateway Drug

AKA, “The Story of How My Taste in Music Changed Drastically Over the Last 2 Years.”


Photo via, obviously

At the beginning of 2013, my musical interests spanned pop, alternative rock, and rap. And that was pretty much it. Anything remotely electronic, which I called “house” or “techno” interchangeably, was solidly on the “yuck” list.

Also at the beginning of 2013, my friend and I bought tickets to a music festival taking place later that summer near Niagara Falls. The headliners were to be Girl Talk, Macklemore, Phoenix, and Pretty Lights. I was super pumped about the first two, mildly excited about the third, and, aside from having heard the name somewhere before, totally clueless about the last one.

I like to familiarize myself with an artist’s music before I go see them live, so, as I am wont to do, I downloaded a few Pretty Lights albums. I learned that Pretty Lights is not a band but a single person – Derek Vincent Smith, a producer from Colorado. I also learned that he has his own label, Pretty Lights Music, that his live shows do actually involve the use of pretty lights (lasers!), and that he has a fan base that is rabid with loyalty.

As I listened to Pretty Light’s music over the winter and spring, I also signed on for 2 more summer festivals that he was going to be performing at. All 3 of those festivals ended up falling through for one reason or another, but by that time I had long passed the point where I was just listening so that I would recognize a few songs at his shows. I was listening because his music is a unique blend of electronica and hip-hop that is somehow both soothing and energizing, ambient and engaging. His albums are poetically named (Glowing in the Darkest Night, Passing By Behind Your Eyes, and so on), and each song is a skillfully crafted mix of original compositions and samples. Everything sounds seamless but if you read any interview with him you’ll realize how insanely hard-working he is.

Unless you’re willfully ignorant of the internet and all its glory, it’s impossible to start liking a new band or artist and not learn about related ones. So as the months wore on, listening to Pretty Lights led me to other artists in the realm of electro-hip-hop, other musicians he had collaborated with, or just generally other producers that fans of Pretty Lights were likely to also be a fan of. By the time Halloween rolled around and I finally got an opportunity to see Pretty Lights live (RIP, Roseland Ballroom), my new taste in music had already led me to 2 EDM festivals and a ton of new favorite artists. Now, one year later, probably 90% of the music I listen to is electronic, though I’ve learned how to use “techno” and “house” appropriately and not just as blanket terms (though interestingly enough, neither of those represent the sub-genres of EDM that I really like). I’ve developed new music obsessions, made new friends who go to shows with me and teach me about the musicians they love, traveled to faraway locations for festivals, and overall have had a huge shift in where, how, and with whom I spend my free time.

And it is all, more or less, because of Pretty Lights. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Just to shake things up a bit, here are some Pretty Lights fun facts:

– He is 6’9″. I know this because I am borderline obsessed with googling people’s heights.

– His 2 cats have flattened ears and their own Instagram account, kitty_lights. They’re pretty much the only cats that I think are cute.

– Every week he puts out an hour-long mix called, “The Hot Sh*t”. Listen to them. They are wonderful.

– Pretty Lights at Roseland Ballroom was the only show that I have successfully forced any of my non-EDM friends to attend with me. They loved it. So would you (whoever you are). So get on board.

LATE EDIT: In the first version of this post I was completely remiss in not mentioning the fact that I took the photo that appears at the top of this blog at a Pretty Lights show. So thank you, Derek, yet again.


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