Hip Hop legends take the stage with Pretty Lights

November 27, 2013

It’s no accident that joining Derek Vincent Smith on stage during his Analog Future tour will be the acclaimed hip-hop emcees, The Grouch and Eligh.

Smith is an artist who draws much of his inspiration from the foundations of hip hop, including break beats that serve to remind you that music doesn’t always have to be so cluttered. In fact, Eligh is even featured on Smith’s new album, “A Color Map of the Sun.”

Both artists, crucial parts of the infamous hip hop group The Living Legends, take as much pride in their craft as Smith. Cory Scoffern, aka The Grouch, takes influences from both his time growing up in the Bay Area as well as being born in Hawaii, something he believes taught him to appreciate natural beauty and peace at a deeper level, rather than drawing on suffering to create his messages to the world.

However, Eligh Nachowitz, whose stage name is simply Eligh, uses adversity in his life to find a sense of empowerment. He’s been open about his struggles, speaking of his Heroin addiction and highlighting through music how even the lowest moments serve a greater purpose, which is to inspire others through his own struggles.

The collaboration of these two is one of a remarkable message: that real will persevere. It’s been apparent in the hip hop world for a while now that the masses are demanding lyrics they can relate to, and both artists absolutely write about what they know.

It’s not always pretty. It’s not always glamorous. But I think that’s why people are drawn to it, and why Smith would work and tour closely with both as well. The three will take the stage tonight at the Summit Pavillion in the Grand Sierra Resort in what will be not just a performance, but rather each artist’s journey through life in music, hoping they can help you find yours as well.

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A Color Map of a Musical Genius

November 22, 2013

This would have been a magnum opus for me — a Mona Lisa of music review. In my attempt to bring back the long form, music journalism that made its mark through Rolling Stone during the 1970s via Cameron Crowe, I wanted nothing more than to spend a few hours with Smith as not only a writer, but also a true fan with some burning questions. I’m not going to lie; I’m pretty bummed that I couldn’t get an interview with Derek Vincent Smith.

Smith IS Pretty Lights. And I don’t even care to take the time to remember the number of times he has been to Reno over the last few years, although I’m pretty sure this is three or four. Returning the night before Thanksgiving on the 27th at the Grand Sierra Resort Summit Pavilion, there’s not a doubt in my mind that Reno will turn out for this show. Throw in The Grouch and Eligh with ODESZA? Did you have plans that night other than this? Cancel them.

Smith’s music runs deeper than most for me, especially at this venue. The first time I saw him was at this same venue, two years ago. Burning Man had ended two days prior, and it seemed the whole population of Black Rock City picked up and moved to the Pretty Lights show. Same burner clothes, props, and no shower. It was so packed, in fact, that I didn’t get a single drink the whole show for fear of losing the awesome spot I had acquired. I’ve seen scores of shows in this town – but never one that turned out an audience of that magnitude, with that energy.

This is the power that Smith has.

He mobilizes the masses through sound. I would argue to say that it all started with his song “Finally Moving,” one of many songs that even alludes to the idea of fluidity and motion. His following has gained as much momentum as the music itself over the years, reminding us through every aspect that he is an artist that knows movement and change are necessary to progress.

And so Smith has progressed, and in an awe-inspiring way. Heavily influenced from Hip-Hop, his earlier albums and EPs such as “Making Up a Changing Mind,” and “Filling Up the City Skies” showcase his deep love for break beats, which he believes is the very core of much of his music — the stuff that isn’t cluttered, as he puts it.

It’s so damn apparent in everything you hear, too. Regardless of if he chooses to sample something that might not sound like it fits together at first, Smith has a mad scientist type of way of taking the bits and pieces of music that he loves, regardless of genre, and putting them into something bigger than what they were to begin with.

This idea of raw creation is the heart of what inspired him to dedicate more than two years of his life to making his newest full-length LP “A Color Map of the Sun.”
“I wanted to make an album that would showcase countless genres and time periods, but would have a modern style of production to it,” Smith says in the documentary about the album.

Some have called it the first album he made completely free of samples, and he has rejected that, saying it’s not that he didn’t use samples; it’s just that he also happened to be the one to create him.

No lie, when this dual-album dropped, I set aside an entire two hours to listen to it one go. I made sure I could get through it undisturbed, because — knowing Smith — I anticipated a concept album, one that urges you to listen to every second sequentially.

This man went through some shit to make this stunningly one-of-a-kind album. He traveled to Brooklyn to record breaks from live musicians, New Orleans to find the soul he was lacking in the melodies, and back home to Denver to fashion the pieces together into something as striking as the sun itself.

He didn’t use sheet music. He didn’t use a digital synthesizer. He found out-of-touch and, what many might say, out-of-place instruments to help create what he heard in his head: mandolins, trumpet violins, toy pianos, music boxes, and harmoniums, to name a few.

I had to research some of these instruments to double and triple check that they were real. A trumpet violin? Who the hell uses that, and who invented it? Smith uses it, and integrates the most unexpected sounds into a symposium of musical genius.

The end product, as he describes it, is what you should be looking for in the dusty crates at the back of the record store. Something that makes you feel deeply, a longing for an experience, and a never-ending love for music of all genres and time periods. It’s never the same, but it stitches itself together and tells a story of the heart and soul that goes into raw creation at its finest. It’s something the music world has been lacking since the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. And that is a high compliment.

It’s real. It’s surprising and breathtaking and unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. That is the trajectory of Smith’s music, and his lives shows are something to not be missed. Because for that time period, and that moment of the music, it’s all yours…whatever you want to make of it. It’s personal interaction and interpretation.

It’s finally moving.

Pretty Lights will play on Nov. 27 at the Grand Sierra Resort featuring Eligh and The Grouch and ODESZA. Tickets are $34 in advance and can be purchased at www.www.staging.freshbakin.flywheelsites.com. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. All ages are welcome.

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Gramatik: blurring music lines across the globe

November 8, 2013

By Megan Ortiz

And the music world keeps on surprising me.

Gramatik is from Slovenia? This is news to me.

I’ve only ever met one person from Slovenia in my entire life, and have never really heard much in the way of other people or things that have associations with the country.

I suddenly want to go there after learning of Denis Jasarevic’s heritage. But perhaps I will wait until after he performs on Sunday, November 10 in Reno at The Knitting Factory, making an official stop on his Age of Reason Tour. Combined with Herobust and Exmag, Gramatik will be sure to introduce his unique sound to the modern day scene.

“I’m always going to make hip hop beats and I’m always going to make tech house stuff when I feel like it,” he recently said in an interview with djz.com. “I’m never going to do anything that I don’t want to do at that moment.”

At any given moment, that could be a lot of things. Starting out as an emcee, the 30-year-old music maker is known for blurring the lines of genres in the music world, much like many of his comrades such as GRiZ, with whom he combined forces with to create Grizmatik. However, unlike many artists in the business today, Jasarevic is not an instrumentalist.

Don’t let that scare you off. If anything, it should draw you in further. Stating that he has always wanted to be a part of a band, he knew that he had to get involved with music in one way or another, despite him not possessing the know how of a musical instrument.

What is produced from his electronic knowledge combined with a band is nothing short of innovative. Listening to tracks like “Fly Wit Me” you almost forget that you’re listening to a DJ — and isn’t that how music should be? It’s not necessarily the way in which it’s created, but rather that it exists on a level to inspire creativity in others.

I think it works in the reverse order, as well. Anyone who follows this blog is well aware of my obsession with Soundcloud (really one of the best musical tools on the internet), and something that really pleases me about Gramatik’s page is the amount of music he reposts from other artists. It showcases a perpetual creativity, something that Jasarevic is known for as he fiercely and intensely works to make his music, and others’, the best it can be.

It’s becoming increasingly more apparent, the disintegration of musical boundary. What’s creation with walls? Gramatik reminds us of that, taking you through a journey of emotion and feeling with his music that is difficult to achieve. The sheer range on his Street Bangerz 4 EP is remarkable — jumping from hip-hop influenced beats, to downright soulful  melodies, and all the things that make you can’t sit still in between and throughout.

If this is what Slovenia has to offer, I’ll be selling a kidney to raise funds for the first flight out.

Gramatik will play Sunday, November 10 at The Knitting Factory in Reno with special guests Herobust and Exmag. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. All ages. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.  Visit  http://freshbakin.inticketing.com