‘Pretty Lights’ captivates Madison audience


Audience members dance as ‘Pretty Lights’ performs at Alliant Energy Center.

Ellie Dahlquist, Opinion Editor

Pretty Lights is the vision of Derek Vincent Smith. He’s created a massive stage production that sets the scene for a full-on dance party. It’s a spectacular light show, complete with a 3D LED cityscape comprised of towers and a bridge; with videography, LED lasers and spotlights, all synchronized to audio with a chill hip-hop vibe complemented by synthetic sounds and heavy bass.

Electronic Dance Music is a highly experimental genre with numerous sub-genres. Smith utilizes glitch, dubstep, intelligent dance music, trip-hop and moombahcore, among others. He chops samples of old music and mashes it up with a new sound that people can’t help but to move to.

Utilizing a monome, he manipulates the audio and triggers the video live, right in front of the audience. It’s not necessarily a hipster scene, but patrons did let their freak flags fly when he came to Madison on Nov. 15. The majority of attendees were in their late teens and 20s, though it was an all-ages show. People traveled from neighboring states to attend and it was packed with college students from Madison.

Many girls could be spotted sporting glittery false eyelashes, tutus with knee-high boots, glowing jewelry and headwear, LED pacifiers, neon spandex, and bra-exposing tank tops. Guys joined in on the get-ups too with LED T-shirts, furry hats, fedoras, tie dye and glowing jewelry. Countless people were wearing tons of bracelets and also plastic rimmed sunglasses and glasses.

Although Smith’s music isn’t received as being the most original, the production was unfathomable. With the warehouse-style of the high, exposed ceiling and concrete walls and floors, the venue of the Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center was very suitable for a rave-like event.

Upon arrival, people could be spotted chilling in their parked cars, while police stood at the entrance, and limos and taxis dropped off party crews.

An herbal aroma could be noticed upon entry. Dark and foggy, a sizeable crowd surrounded the stage for the opening acts, Marty Party and Paul Basic. The stage was gated in the front and on the sides, with side curtains guarded by security where groupies could be seen slipping behind now and then.

Pretty Lights opened with an adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera theme song accompanied by flashing green lights, setting an ominous tone. With a warped fade-out of the volume of the music, the lights cut out to complete darkness.

A spotlight quickly appeared with Derek Vincent Smith a.k.a Pretty Lights in the center. “Madison mother-fucking Wisconsin” he said, elongating the “in” in WI with an explosion of white light.

“Yo it’s been like two years since I’ve been here – y’all ready to pop this shit off,” he said, a single spotlight on him while the green lights continued to flash with the faint music. With a final cheer from the audience, the stage exploded with white lights, then yellow, then red, and back and forth, guided by the beat of his first song of the night.

The production went dark, but the crowd put on its own light show with their cells phones and LED spinning ratchets and gloves. Colorful balloons bounced around above the crowd while they sensually swayed in synchronistic delight.

Walking through the Beer Garden, people were in awe, some hugging; all intent on the stage. Working towards the front of the stage, people were dancing with their hands up, moving up and down, and bouncing back and forth with the beats. It was trancesque – everyone moving in sync. In the middle of the crowd, everyone would go wild as Smith dropped the bass and picked up the pace. It was hot, and in working your way to the front one must be prepared to be soaked in sweat – and not just your own.

Smith swayed back and forth, checking in with the crowd, “Madison, y’all with me right now?” Satisfied with a low-energy cheer of entranced ravers, he got back to it. Picking up tempo, the energy of the crowd also picked up. The flashing lights and the colorful lasers cutting through the haze to music gave off an extraterrestrial essence.

At times it went completely dark, and the music would become quietly dissonant leading the crowd to cheer loudly, begging for what was to come. At one point, the stage brightened and the music started off slowly, wispy and fairytale-like while a forest with elk filled the huge screen behind the cityscape. As the music picked up, the video turned into a swirling, sparkling vortex.

It was mystical and exhaustive. The lights would illuminate the smoggy air above with holographic grains of colorful patterns. At times, the crowd was left with their mouths wide-open in awe. “Woah,” dazed and elongated, was constantly heard.

It was as close to a majestic and other-worldly reality imaginable in two hours. The lasers were crazy, and the beats and wobbly bass, amazing. It’s almost incomprehensible without experiencing it for yourself.