If you're any kind of snob when it comes to band names, Colorado-native Derek Vincent Smith's performance name — Pretty Lights — might, at first glance, sound phoned-in. If you know anything about the DJ/producer's elaborate stage show — a live drummer, digital light displays, video projection — you might wonder if a vision of that spectacle inspired the name. Not so. According to Smith, the name Pretty Lights refers to the way light serves as a necessary component of painting or photography, and how light "embodies the essence of inspiration." Yes, that's right; this is deeper dance music than you're used to.
At first listen, Pretty Lights' sonic patchworks is reminiscent of older masters like DJ Shadow or sample nerds like RJD2. While his live show incorporates pop-tune remixes and crowd-friendly adrenaline jams, his recorded material is more atmospheric than house-y, beat-heavy but not overburdened, and curiously bereft of substantial vocals. (This tic Smith chalks up to his pickiness about lyrics — vocals are the one sound he admits having difficulty placing in his tracks.) You'll also be hard-pressed to identify one of Smith's samples; whereas RJD2, for example, may have taught you to love The Delfonics with his liberal use of long samples.
Smith is such a purist and fidelity geek that he won't describe his song production as straight sampling, preferring instead the term "sample collaging," which implies borrowing a smaller section of a track, layering it and incorporating it into a new composition so organically it's undetected. He uses the terms "timbre" and "warmth" to describe the sonic perfection he's after. He chalks his disposition up to being a musician-turned-DJ, having played in punk and soul bands before he ever touched Fruity Loops. On his newest album, Smith decided to skip the 45-bin altogether, in favor of recording original tracks and having them pressed to vinyl so that he might take from his own work from the get-go.
He's also managed to mass market the Pretty Lights experience by offering free downloads of his material on his website. Some Internet misinformation speculates the reason behind the give-away has to do with song rights, but Smith emphatically denies that. Rather, as any shrewd businessman, he was aware of his anonymity early on, and decided to flood the market with his music instead of hoarding it jealously. Needless to say, it has worked, and as Smith noticed an ever-increasing population of sweaty attendees at his live shows, he saw no reason to keep the albums from the people. The whole Pretty Lights operation generally seems like the eerie-genius product of a marketing mastermind: Curious about his stuff? Get it for free; one day you'll probably end up at his show. For his latest tour, which has been booking ginormous venues and outdoor festivals throughout the U.S., including the Verizon Arena here, Smith claims he deliberately designed a show so vast and impressive in technological and visual scope that smaller clubs simply couldn't accommodate it. If you think, as anyone might, he's concerned about failing to sell out such considerable spaces, Smith says reassuringly, "It's OK. It's still a party. We're just putting on a cool experience." Smith said he's played Fayetteville a few times to a warm reception, and hopes the same for Little Rock: "People in the South love to get down and have a good time, and the fact that it's a Halloween party and I'm dropping some new music — well, Arkansas always puts it down for me."
With Big Gigantic, DJ Witnesse and Durden
8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, Verizon Arena