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Pretty Lights: Making the Walls of the City Quake

Benjy Eisen | August 31, 2011

Derek Vincent Smith is a city kid – if you consider Denver, Colo. a city. Its expansive landscapes, oversized sidewalks, Lego-like architecture, party atmosphere, permissive attitude and high altitude certainly all come into play in the music that Smith makes under the tag Pretty Lights. He concocts his electronic audio mosaics – which paint the numbers between hip-hop, soul, grime, dubstep and dance music at large – in a sound lab in Denver’s warehouse district. The studio is housed in a rented loft space inside a reconstituted factory whose bricks were originally shipped from the East Coast in the 1940s. Vintage.

The loft, located just 15 blocks away from the apartment where Smith has lived with his photographer girlfriend since moving from Fort Collins, Colo. at the end of 2009, also serves as Pretty Lights’ headquarters.

“We have about six different desks,” Smith explains, taking me on a virtual tour of the office, noting designated areas for his production manager, office manager, social media manager, lighting designer – yes, the one who makes the lights so pretty – and even a video station where the Pretty Lights team can work on multimedia content for the tours.

At first glance, none of what Smith and his team have done seems all that revolutionary. But if you so much as scratch the surface, then you’ll see that – if Plato was right and the walls of the city really do shake when the mode of the music changes – Denver may be ground zero for an electronic music-based earthquake whose prenatal ripple effects can be found in virtually every corner of the music industry right now.