Pretty Lights

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Pretty Lights

Nowadays, it’s easy enough to generate at least halfway decent sounds by working solely on a laptop. By contrast, however, Pretty Lights mastermind Derek Vincent Smith went to excessive lengths to create his fourth LP, A Color Map of the Sun. Having established himself as a sample-centric electronic hip hop producer, Smith ventured to create his own sample library, enlisting numerous session musicians and upholding a rigorous policy with the gear utilised. He then pressed the studio sessions to vinyl and sampled from them to build the songs as they appear on the album. A Color Map of the Sun is now a couple of years old, and after a mega-scale tour Smith promptly commenced work in its follow up.

“If anything it’s been a bit more intensive,” he says of the new album’s production method. “The biggest thing I learned from A Color Map was how I felt about telling the story of how it was made so much. That was important to me when the project started, and it continued to be important to me, but then towards the end and a little bit after the release I felt like it had become just as much about how it was done as what it was. So with this new project I’m doing an evolution on that whole production technique and style and implementing all the things I learned and just doing it better – with some differences – but I’m not trying to talk about it as much.”

The effort that goes into creating Pretty Lights’ music does make for a great story, but at the end of the day it’s the sounds produced that are of actual significance.

“After A Color Map of the Sun I felt like I had invested a lot of energy into telling the story,” Smith says. “I don’t know if I would say that the work in the music was compromised at all, but I just wanted to make this project only about what the final product is – as opposed to making some point about production and sampling and timbre and whatever. Just let the music completely speak for itself without having any subsidiary assets and statements about what it is and why it is.”

Smith has always been an album-oriented producer, and Pretty Lights’ four full-length releases have each been the realisation of a detailed concept. However, alternative release formats are becoming increasingly common, especially within the realm of electronic music.

“A lot of producers went to EPs – this whole idea of the EP or the short form album – and whole record labels and artists took the turn to just doing singles, one after another,” says Smith. “When I speak of shifting or changing my approach to releasing music, I’m still talking about a body of music. I think that the traditional album is just a technique and approach that artists who make albums have fallen into because that’s what listeners expect. Within some parameters – it’s over 35 minutes and it’s under 80 minutes and it’s at least this many songs. There’s a lot of parameters that can not exist, but I still am really keen on the whole body of work as opposed to one single after another. I just want to open everything up and do whatever I want to do when I want to do it.”

On the subject of abandoning standardising parameters, Smith’s forthcoming release – some of which will be debuted during his headline performance at the Rainbow Serpent festival later this month – has become much more than just an album. “I have an album I’m working on that’s a traditional thing and then also a lot of side assets, sort of in the way that I put out the raw recording sessions with A Color Map of the Sun as a B-disc. My idea on that was, ‘I’ll put out this record, and then I’m going to put out this second disc that opens people up to a certain part of what is to come.’ This project is expansive, but in that it’s got side assets and projects that are all musical, [which are] extensions of a traditional body of work. You can just hear all the different possibilities of the music.”

The more time one spends dedicated to a creative pursuit, the more that questions will arise regarding one’s ultimate aim and the meaning behind of all this tooling around. Smith inevitably encounters such questions, but they don’t intimidate him.

“I think I at some point agreed with some philosophy that there is no end goal. Rather, it’s just about the process of continually trying to create something that I think will stand the test of time or that I think is beautiful. I just try to embrace that. I create because I want to create and I want to create because I have ideas that haven’t been created and I think that they should be.”

Written by Augustus Welby

When & Where: Rainbow Serpent Festival, Lexton – January 22-25