For Derek Vincent Smith, sharing is caring. Better known as Pretty Lights, the Colorado-based artist freely distributes his unique blend of electro hip-hop soul music over the Internet for fans to download as they please. Although his Thursday night performance at the Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall was not exactly free, Pretty Lights packed the house with revelers craving funk-infused electronic jams.
Those who arrived early were treated to the opening acts of Pretty Lights’ fellow Coloradoans and promoters of free music, Paul Basic and MartyParty.
Formerly a member of electro duo Half Color, Paul (Brandt) Basic performed a few vintage Half Color hits. “Rung Out,” was packed with Skrillex-esque wobble bass and syncopated siren screeches, while “Lazer Park” liberally incorporated vocal samples from 1981 film Time Bandits. Enthusiastically bouncing his head with the music, Basic finished his set with some of his solo works, notable for having frenetic 32nd note hi-hat patterns over the top of bass rhythms.
Basic was followed by Martin Folb, aka MartyParty. When he is not touring as the other half of dubstep crew PANTyRAiD, MartyParty is also a successful solo artist. Producing what he describes as “purple music,” MartyParty combines elements of glitch, dubstep and hip-hop into smooth, rolling tracks. Wearing his trademark white and black MartyParty trucker cap, the artist opened up with “Maya,” a triplet-heavy, scratch-laden number with a distinctive buzzy bassline. MartyParty played several other songs from his latest album, MVP, including the lurching “MVP Intro” and “All in the Game,” featuring infectious piano-plinking eighth notes and a funky, loose drum beat.
Around 9:30 p.m., Pretty Lights’ setup crew went to work as classic Notorious BIG blared through the stacks of speakers. As the seconds ticked down on a gigantic countdown timer, Pretty Lights took the stage to Jay-Z’s “No Church in the Wild” and wild audience applause. In case any addled concert-goers had forgotten their location, Pretty Lights helpfully called out “Madison-motherfucking-Wisconsin!” before opening his set to an old-school PL favorite, “Switch Up.”
“Who Loves Me” was next, played to flashing and swirling purple lights that prompted emphatic arm pumping among the crowd. PL continued to mix hits from different albums with the guitar riff-laden “Can’t Stop Me Now” and the bouncy trumpet hooks of “I Can See it in Your Face.”
Following several well-known tracks, the next may have been unfamiliar even to seasoned PL fans. Opening to a sample of The Alan Parsons Project’s “Sirius,” the mash-up interspersed snippets of Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” and Wiz Khalifa’s “Say Yeah.” Although Pretty Lights usually fashions original pieces, he seems to enjoy the occasional mash-up, having previously created single remixes from the likes of Eric Clapton and Europe.
Wrapping up the set with his 2012 single, “We Must Go On,” Pretty Lights pleaded with attendees to “keep shit beautiful.” Scenes from metropolitan areas around the world were played on the backdrop screen as the soulful jam resonated throughout the foggy venue.
Following the new single, Pretty Lights decided it was time to “take it way, way back with some old-school Pretty Lights” with a remix of his most famous hit, “Finally Moving.” As its distinctive guitar riff intro from Nightmares on Wax’s “You Wish” began, the crowd applause nearly drowned out the speakers. Briefly pausing the music before the song’s final drop, PL demanded to “see every fucking hand touch the ceiling!” As the hands shot up, the song plummeted into a downright dirty drop before decrescendo-ing as the stage faded to black.
Lured back to the stage by the incessant cheering of the audience, Pretty Lights performed an encore of his 2011 single, “I Know The Truth.” Perfect for head-bobbing, the song begins with pounding piano keys leading into a glitchy, synth-heavy journey through Wobble Bass City.
Acknowledging the crowd one final time, Pretty Lights implored his deafened followers to “keep it fresh and stay classy.” As the lights went down one final time, sound techs began deconstructing the conglomeration of audio machinery while the crowd shuffled out to hip-hop tunes from Dead Prez and Jay-Z.
For artists like Paul Basic, MartyParty and Pretty Lights, freely sharing music is as much a part of their job as creating it. By distributing music gratis, these artists reach a mass audience and, in turn, generate concert ticket sales. If they continue to put on shows like they did in Madison, these rhythmically-talented Coloradoans will follow their bass-laden beats to unbridled success.