Daft Punk climbed atop the pyramid. Pretty Lights performed amid a neon skyline. Yet Gramatik’s stage setup may have the most meaning behind it: a few towering columns of blazing light, connected by glowing wires. It’s an LED rendering of Croatian inventor Nikola Tesla’s turn-of-the-century, voltage-amplifying Tesla coil.
Sure, the whole thing is an ode to an oddball inventor, but it’s also reflective of Denis Jasarevic’s approach to making music. As Gramatik, he tinkers and toys with a vast array of genres, almost scientifically fusing blues guitar, trip-hop beats, rumbling bass and even the folk music of his native Slovenia to create some of the most exciting electronic dance music around. And with his upcoming record – The Age of Reason, dropping on his own label, Lowtemp – he’s ready to bring his experiment to his biggest audience yet.
Though his tiny, coastal hometown of Portoroz (population: circa 3,000) didn’t offer much of a music scene, Jasarevic found a holy trinity in three ‘90s icons: Wu-Tang Clan, The Prodigy and Daft Punk. “They were what got me hooked for life,” he says. Jasarevic dabbled in hip-hop and began fiddling with beat sequencing. When early tracks off his 2008 debut, Street Bangerz Vol. 1, began selling on sites like the influential Beatport, Jasarevic knew that he could find success on the other side of the Atlantic.“I started touring in the States before I ever toured Europe – I developed a more substantial following there,” he says. “I didn’t decide on that; touring isn’t something broke artists can just decide to do when starting out. It’s something you get offered to do – for no money.”
But that first 2009 offer – from Pretty Lights’ Derek Vincent Smith – was big. One day, Jasarevic was flooding the Internet with tracks from his home in Slovenia. The next day, he was lighting up stages in 1,000-person capacity clubs, opening for the Colorado EDM sensation.
When Smith launched his Pretty Lights Music (PLM) in 2010, Gramatik was a natural fit. Jasarevic handed Smith two projects for his label for free: the jazzed-up Beatz & Pieces Vol. 1 and the harder-edged, knowingly named #DigitalFreedom.
While David Guetta’s house music was flooding the radio and Skrillex’s dubstep was providing the soundtrack for countless frat parties, Gramatik and Pretty Lights, along with PLM signees Break Science and Paper Diamond, were creating something far funkier with soul samples, guitar licks and endlessly somersaulting beats. And they were giving it away for free.
Like his idol Tesla, Jasarevic was working with a mad scientist’s drive: a side project with producer Griz called Grizmatik, near-genius remixes of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, increasingly huge tours and the foundations for The Age of Reason – his most complex, accomplished release yet.“I’d planned to release two projects on PLM from the start,” he confirms. “Derek completely understood that I wanted to do my own thing and be completely independent as soon as I was able to. We’re very much alike in that regard.”
Unlike the vast majority of electronic music, Jasarevic recorded much of the instrumentation live instead of relying on samples, including Soulive/Lettuce’s Eric Krasno and Jasarevic’s touring guitarist Eric Mendelson.“There’s a lot of guitar, bass, piano, all types of organs, lots of original vocals – more than any other record I’ve produced,” he says. "We recorded most of the instruments and I chopped and
re-sampled the recordings."
In other words, rather than crate-digging for obscure sounds, Jasarevic created them.
Jasarevic buried himself in the studio with his three must-haves: “My Macbook Pro, a box of custom Gramatik Rolling Papers and a big bag of weed.” And the result was his heaviest, densest and most rock and roll work to date. Or as he says, “It combines all the genres I’ve been producing since the beginning in the most drastic, neurotic, cohesive and outrageous way imaginable.”
While The Age of Reason, the first release on his new, PLM-like label Lowtemp, won’t win over any classic rockers, it’s better paced and layered than a recording from your average EDM star. It’s dance music that tells a story. Jasarevic aims to pull off the same effect live.“I like to play for over two hours so I can really tell a full story of my life as a producer,” he says. “I start off with chiller hip-hop beats, then get into my soulful electro-glitch stuff and end with my heaviest productions. It’s omni-tempo, omni-genre. Anything goes.”
Well, not just anything.“The thing is, I get inspired by perfection,” he says. “That’s the kind of art that inspires me to be better at my craft – whatever it is that I’m doing.”