Rock Star : DJ :: 1960’s : 2010’s Part 2
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Pretty Lights : Syd Barrett
As the initial leader of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett made music unlike anyone else, and the diversity in the sounds he was making led to music that crossed into different spectrum's. Their early performances in the London underground scene, and the subsequent album became some of the most experimental music of the time. By the time Pretty Lights started producing music, this was almost impossible, as every musician was already spread across genres, fans of rock and hip-hop alike, yet he was still able to dig deep into some unknown music collections and find samples to mix up that were so broad that he became the jazz musicians version of a DJ. If expanding your mind was an award at the Grammy’s (and maybe it should be) then these two would be competing for the record.
Pink Floyd was one of the bands that led the counterculture music scene in London during the Sixties, moving to a psychedelic inspired sound, as their live shows became more and more infamous. As noted by Andrew King, "I think the whole era influenced Syd enormously. I think Syd did feel the whole world was sort of flowing through him (Parker)." They’d brought about a change in the culture, but it was unclear that this would ever result in any type of material that would translate into an album, so when they went to record Piper at the Gates of Dawn it was clear that Barrett was the driving force behind the creativity of the band. They were mostly known for their “freeform, freak-out style of instrumental improvisation and throbbing, hallucinogenic light shows (guitarworld.com, 2013). Barrett was able to turn their unique sound into a transformative record, taking the improvisational factors of Pink Floyds live shows put to a three minute pop song structure like “Arnold Lane,” still keeping that odd psychedelic sound, but structuring the songs to have a larger pop appeal. In a way, it may have compromised the originality to a degree, but it allowed Pink Floyd to be able to add to the musical landscape a sound broader in spectrum than it had seen before.
Pretty Light, or Derek Vincent Smith, if you prefer, was brought to fame through his first three albums, and it was well deserved, as he was making music unlike anyone else at the time, mixing not just across genres, but adding together so many genres that the music became this blend of soul-jazzy-hip-hop-distorted-electronic harmony that was an audiophile’s dream. It was by the time he was ready to make his fourth album, and partially due to the success of his prior three albums that he was able to make A Color Map of the Sun the way he had envisioned. Up to that point he’d just been sampling. As he said in his documentary film of the album, “In the past a huge part of making my records was digging for old vinyl. I’d literally take hundreds of samples and make them work together to make a Pretty Lights’ album.” His first three albums are really a testament to his ear and ability to find weird sounds that fit together much as Barrett was able to take that Pink Floyd live improvisational sound and turn it into something more musically structured. Vincent Smith brought together various artist in the studio, ranging from drummers, to singers to brass player, recording there music in the specific ways he knew he could use later to sample and manipulate to make the sounds he wanted. The amazing and most underrated thing about what he did on A Color Map of the Sun is that he recorded all this shit on analog and then mixed it using synths and patch boards, making music the "old school" way. Obviously the sound quality of this album was key, but it could even be argued that making the record this way forced Vincent Smith to think of the music in a completely different way and, thus, allowing him creating an album that was complete different in how broad it blew the spectrum of music at the time.
The sad part of the story is that after those albums both artists, for the most part, disappeared. Syd Barrett was soon to be removed from Pink Floyd due to ongoing mental issues, and, though he recorded a couple of solo albums, he was essentially gone from the music scene he helped create. Although Pretty Lights’ career isn’t over, and he has released a couple songs since A Color Map of the Sun, he has been largely quiet in the years since that album. And though he can’t be counted out yet, it’s been a while since anything to the degree of his early albums has been heard from this producer who’d had everyone on the tip of their toes. What is truly notable is that both artists cast such a large shadow that they continue to influence people in their same circles which has made way for some artists who followed in their realm. Pink Floyd was carried on by the remaining members of the band, adding Roger Waters to help take Barrett’s place. The music of Pink Floyd surly changed after the departure of Barrett, but both Waters and Gilmour, who took over the song writing, continued in the tradition of Barrett in the fashion of mixing blues with psychedelic. Pretty Lights has also had his proverbial torch carried on in that many other artist incorporated the funky, jazzy, blues sounds he brought to popularity in the electronic scene, and we can point to Gramatik, Griz and Big Gigantic to see where the mixture of brass and beats went for the next few year. In the end, these brands of music continued to evolve without Barrett or Vincent Smith, but the world is still left to wonder if it would have been better off with the originals.
Parker, David. Random Precision: Recording the Music of Syd Barrett 1965-1974. Cherry Roads Records. 2001.
di Perna, Alan. November 19, 2013. Producer Norm Smith Discusses Pink Floyd’s First Rock Milestone, ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn.’ https://www.guitarworld.com/magazine/producer-norm-smith-discusses-pink-floyds-first-rock-milestone-piper-gates-dawn
Eggebeen, Greg. The Making of Pretty Lights' New Album: A Color Map of the Sun. Thump Documentary. 2013