While some EDM producers are still doing what they have always been doing, producing songs to a now mainstream audience and pressing play at their live shows, others are taking a more innovative route.
With the release of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangaltar limited their use of electronic instruments to drum machines, synthesizers and vocoders, leaving the rest of the sounds to live instrumentation. They went for a more disco sound, and completely changed the way people think of the genre.
While some people were upset that Daft Punk could not include any songs that had their older French House sound that made them famous, others completely embraced the album, and realized that the duo was getting tired of mainstream sounding dance songs, and wanted to do something completely different, to put some soul into the newly outdated genre.
“I think they might be missing the tools,” says Bangaltar of young EDM producers in an exclusive interview with Billboard. “The problem with the way to make music today, these are turnkey systems; they come with preset banks and sounds. They’re not inviting you to challenge the systems themselves, or giving you the ability to showcase your personality, individuality. They’re making it as if it’s somehow easier to make the same music you hear on the radio…It’s not really a judgment or criticism of any of the music today; rather trying to bring a different point of view and different alternative.”
Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights wanted to do something similar. After touring nonstop for years, he wanted to put a great deal of time and effort into an album that would be composed from his own originally produced music. These recordings were then pressed as samples to vinyl, and then mixed using modular synthesizers.
What made Derek Vincent Smith so set on taking on this difficult and time consuming challenge? The answer is similar to Daft Punk’s reasoning.
“I was on tour in 2010…and I walked off stage one day, and I don’t know what it was about that show, but I was kind of down about it,” says Smith in an interview on Renman Live. “It was a fun show and it was great, but I was like man…this shit needs to get stepped up! I need to step things up for myself or I’m gonna get bored. For some reason, a light bulb flicked on over my head, and it all made sense, I knew what I had to do. I had to go back to the very beginning and do what I do, keep my sound and my style, and evolve it simultaneously, but make 60 records to sample from myself…I made a record that I am proud of, and the fact that every piece of music that was on those pieces of vinyl was composed on the fly, with those musicians and engineers, it was a long process of working with other creative people, getting on the same page and creating breaks.”
The album took two and a half years to complete, and Derek used great patience to prove to himself that he could do it. He had faced challenges in the past flipping through thousands of vinyl releases to find samples to make albums, and once had to work with country music stars in order to make his track “Wayfaring Stranger” for the film Re:Generation.
Recording for a year in New York, New Orleans and Denver, Smith then spent the next year in Denver pressing the samples to vinyl and mixing. “During the first year I would bring in different musicians everyday and work with them to compose pieces of music on the fly,” says Smith. “I would work with each musician individually to get the sound and performance that I heard in my head, and then simultaneously would work with the engineer to craft the timbre and the sound that I was working with, to emulate the time period and the genre and the sound that we were going for.”
“My first show as a producer…you know an audience member looking up on stage seeing a guy with a table and some computers…they don’t know if you’re DJing or making music from scratch,” says Smith on Renman Live. “That’s one of the problems with electronic music as a performance art. It has not evolved to the point where people can really get a sense of how you are interfacing and manipulating your music, and that’s something that really needs to be pushed.”
“I wanted to make an album that showcased countless genres and countless time periods, but also have a very modern, powerful style and production to it, says Smith in the Thump documentary “The Making of Pretty Lights’ new album: A Color Map of the Sun.” “I needed to prove to myself that I could do it.”
“It’s a modern production album created completely with gear and hardware that existed 40 years ago,” explains Smith. “It’s analog electronica in its purest form. We used as many different instruments as we could think of…horns, trombone, trumpet, strings, viola, violin, cello…a trumpet violin, a harmonium, a musicbox, a resonator mandolin, a toy piano, a waterphone, a marxiphone… all kinds of things.”
Some previously released songs are included on the album, including “So Bright” and “Around the Block” featuring Talib Kweli. While you can tell they are Pretty Lights songs, you can also tell that there is something different. This album is less about the high energy bangers: there are no dubstep-type songs like “I Know the Truth,” (probably the closest thing to that sound would be the track called “Prophet”) but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Hearing the organic flow of live instruments along with his signature electro hip-hop soul sounds make for a truly unique experience when listening. It is more of a kick back, relax and enjoy the beauty kind of album.
Be sure to check out “Vibe Vendetta,” “Press Pause,” and “Always All Ways” for some extremely beautiful vocals. “My Only Hope” and “Always All Ways” sound like something off of Smith’s Glowing in the Darkest Night EP. There are darker, more melancholic songs like “So Bright” and “My Only Hope,” as well as happier, more upbeat songs like “Yellow Bird” and “Around the Block.”
What is also really cool about this album is that the second disc is called “Live Studio Sessions From A Color Map of the Sun,” which allows you to go back and listen to the live instrumental sessions and hear what they sounded like before Derek put his signature touch on things. Every song will also have its own artistic music video to go along with it, but Derek warns fans to listen to the album before watching these: like reading a book, the sounds in the songs let you use your imagination as to what a visual version of them would look like, so to not spoil the songs you should listen before watching. I also recommend watching the Thump Making of Pretty Lights’ New Album: A Color Map of the Sun youtube video.
As for an upcoming fall tour, Derek has something very special up his sleeve. “With the fall tour coming up in 2013, I can verify the rumors that I will be bringing a live band with me on tour, and will be really stepping up the integration of the visual medium and audio medium, and at the same time working with a band in a way that a producer I don’t think ever has,” says Smith in the Renman Live interview. “I have a top secret vision of how to combine the production show with the live band show, it’s not gonna be just a live band playing on top of my beats.”
Derek also explained on Renman Live that he wants people to pay more attention to the music, and not be distracted by standing crowds in mosh pits. “Typically EDM artists wanna stay away from ornate beautiful theaters that are seated…they want people to go wherever they want…but I have realized that those (seated) venues are the best ones, so my fall tour will be in theaters with seats because it encourages people to have their own space, and it promotes paying attention more and really watching what each person on stage is doing,” says Smith. “I am making it a show where you have to pay attention.”
This is truly a beautiful, fresh album: a work of art. For anyone you know who has doubt in EDM and automatically writes off any kind of electronic music as simply noise, show them this album, explain to them the story behind it, and show them that truly talented electronic music musicians have a real ear for all kinds of music. Electronic music is such a broad kind of music because of the variety of mixing genres, sounds from different time periods, and more. It is a kaleidoscope of different sounds, and a genre for people who love all kinds of different genres. With influences from so much, true EDM fans listen to more than just EDM.
To purchase A Color Map of the Sun in CD or digital form, or to just download it for free, click HERE.
Or you can download it from iTunes here. Both versions come with 3 bonus tracks and the Live Sessions, while the iTunes also comes with a digital booklet.