“Even the bathroom smells like MDMA,” my friend overheard from a fellow attendee as we entered the Vogue Theatre lobby on Tuesday to see Pretty Lights. While there was surely a healthy amount – and I use the word “healthy” ironically here – of mood- and mind-altering substances at play amongst the many party people present (as is arguably the case at any concert), such artificial experience-heightening agents surely weren’t an absolute necessity to have a good time with the calibre of talent that was in the house tonight.
I had a very clear “Welcome to the Future” moment as I walked into the more than 70-year-old theatre; a dozen or so rows of seats had been removed from the front and the open area was filling up with a steady stream of revellers, most in their twenties or late teens, who swayed to the beats of Paul Basic, a lone man on stage operating a console of gadgetry, dwarfed by the classic, lofty, dark velvet theatre curtain behind him. This is the type of scene you can imagine Marty McFly walking into and wondering in stupefaction – “What the heck’s going on here, Doc? This is what they call music in the future?”
While no DeLorean was spotted on Tuesday, the answer to Marty’s question is a resounding “Wooooo!” Paul Basic capably kept the crowd perky and interested in anticipation of the headliner, particularly with a late number consisting of an unconventional beat that seemed to trip over itself trying to catch up to itself (figure that one out…) at an increasing speed, while a hip hop vocal track provided a consistent narrative.
The wait for Pretty Lights (also known Derek Vincent Smith) was starting to feel nap-worthy, until the boredom was replaced with genuine anticipation as a bright, teasing green glow could be seen escaping from the sides of the curtains. They could have been working on awakening Frankenstein’s monster (2.0) back there. The thick curtain wavered and blew as the Pretty Lights crew prepared behind it.
The wall of mystery eventually opened to unveil a stage-wide cornucopia of lit lights, screens and lasers that could have illuminated a small town. Tall rectangular light towers had been erected on each side of Smith’s setup, over a dozen of them, creating the fantastic display of a cityscape on stage. These light towers, combined with the huge and powerful back screen and an arsenal of lasers that could easily give any alien spaceship a run for its space-money, provided a non-stop visual buffet while Smith delivered tune after tune to his pumped-up followers. Highlights included the well-known, can’t-help-but-shimmy “I Can See It In Your Face” as well as a remix of the undeniably uplifting “Finally Moving (Get a Good Feeling)”.
There was no place to rest your eyes and see nothing interesting: if you looked beside you, there were fellow concertgoers lost in the music, dancing along in their own little puddle of sweat, or merging moves with a special someone; if you looked behind, you saw the packed Vogue crowd bopping in messy unison, hands waving and mouths smiling; if you looked toward the stage, you got zapped by alternating cascades of blue, purple or rainbow lasers, footage reminiscent of Smith’s recent adventure in Brazil (from which he played a few tunes), or a blood/lava red wall of computerized light from which Smith emerged from, barely discernible from the overwhelming blaze of colour and ghostly smoke.
He may have played for over an hour-and-a-half. I didn’t want to check the time during the performance for risk of popping the sweaty-dance-party-balloon I’d made for myself. While energy did seem to wane slightly at points –which is to be expected when your music makes booty shake to this extent – Smith managed to keep pushing the party further. “Still Night”, with its eerie key sample and ghostly vocal, quickly snapped the lull with a “Welcome to the next level”. “We Must Go On” brought some much needed humanity to the electro-show as Smith explained the positivity behind it and gave a shout-out to his love, long-time girlfriend Krystle Blackburn, with whom he produced the video for the song.
Beautiful vibes were in abundance this night, and they stemmed from the hearts of hundreds of committed fans and glistening body-movers. Pretty Lights’ mellow, enveloping mixes somehow always managed to take the off-ramp you hadn’t seen coming and bring you to new parts of the City, some of which were covered in aggressive, glitch-y, noise-hop graffiti, while others were brightly painted in soul, love and pure fun. The people, the music and a lightshow which I am at pains to do justice to with words – all combined for an event that truly must be experienced to be fully appreciated.