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Tuesday, March 3, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 30.0° F  Overcast
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Pretty Lights makes radiant electronica
Energy source
Bringing people together.
Bringing people together.

It's been four years since the Denver-based music producer Derek Vincent Smith adopted the artistic moniker Pretty Lights and released his debut album, Taking Up Your Precious Time.

But it's been less than a year since the beat-happy, cross-genre electronica of Pretty Lights became a red-hot concert draw nationwide. Smith talked with me by phone last week and performs to a sold-out Barrymore this Saturday, April 10.

What took you down the road of music production instead of, say, being a guitar player?

I actually did get my start in music playing bass guitar. But a lot of my favorite artists were hip-hop artists, so I decided I wanted to make beats. I went to raves in high school, and I got curious about how this music was made. I asked for [the music production software] Cakewalk Studio for Christmas one year, and I got it.

Electronic music is getting more mainstream. Have you changed your style to adapt to that trend?

That phenomenon has run simultaneous to my own success playing live. I've been surprised and bewildered at how fast my touring success and popularity have occurred. But to answer your question, no, the only adaptation I've made to my style is me becoming more aware of the live performance environment.

How can a music producer be entertaining as a live act?

The production equipment I bring on stage can manipulate and interface with sound just like an instrument. I have at my fingertips every layer of the music. I bring a live drummer, too. We use hand signals so he knows where the music is about to go. Our shows also use visual and sensory stimuli to accompany the music.

With the rise of down-tempo indie rock, people don't always dance at rock shows anymore. Is dance its own thing now?

At my shows, it's just the opposite. I see people who are fans of all sorts of subgenres. We have elements of dance rock, hip-hop and jam bands in what we do. Banging beats have become more prominent in all music recently, including rock. That's the element we draw on to bring people together at our shows.

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