Photos by: Jesska Cvijanovic (214 Art)
Story by: Sterling Martin
Warning: Although I’m a critic, I’m obviously a fan. As with all things music, opinion is unavoidable, which is why I’ve included my personal insights to hopefully gain your trust.
I had just turned 16, my friend’s parents were out of town and we weren’t “up to no good”—we were just sitting around and hanging out together when I was shown a song that would forever change my life. I was told that this Bassnectar guy, who’s mega-bass remix of his own "Cozza Frenzy” I was being played, would be in my hometown two days later. Coincidently, he was on a tour of the same name. Not only was the show $16 dollars and all-ages, but it didn’t even sell out a 1,200 person venue.
(And the rest is history.)
Fast forward to this past weekend. Imagine 10,000 people packed into Virginia’s legendary Hampton Coliseum for a completely sold-out two-night event. DJ-pioneer Bassnectar, along with electro hip-hop soul originator Pretty Lights, joined forces to co-headline yet another special year of BassLights. This year was special, however, because it could easily be debated as the most epic string of performances yet.
Impressive opening sets from two favorites here at The Untz, both Cory Wythe a.k.a. Marvel Years and John McCarten a.k.a. Manic Focus kicked night one off in proper fashion. Each has crafted a distinct sound, quickly amassing fans along the way.
The monstrous coliseum soon went dark, which ignited a roar from the crowd. Suddenly the Death Star from Star Wars appeared, seeming to float in the center of the front of the venue against a background of stars, when the “Imperial Theme” began to play. This was followed by an incredibly fresh version of “Boombox.” Judging on the volume of the surprised crowd, they were extremely pleased.
A variety of Bassnectar originals were dished out, from the more recent “Ping Pong,” to his collaborative track with Jantsen, “Red Step.”
“They Can’t Tell Me Nothing” by Paper Diamond was also dropped on night one—undoubtedly Lorin Ashton throwing the artist some credit. The former Pretty Lights Music artist is set to help open Bassnectar’s 360 NYE extravaganza in Bigmingham, Alabama.
If you aren’t familiar with Ashton or his Bassnectar project, there are two things you are guaranteed to receive from his live performance: Non-stop energy, and an extremely diverse set of original and remix tracks across all genres.
The Fugee’s “Ready or Not” was heard, amongst heavy bass lines and countless other samples. Then just to tease his fans, he brought out solely a vocal sample tease of his track, “When I Grow Up.” As his set neared the end, even a remix of The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face” brought along a confetti-filled climax, which used reflective paper to make the coliseum appear as if it were filled literally with diamonds in the sky.
When Derek Vincent Smith, the mastermind behind Pretty Lights took the stage for his headlining set, he was met with the same roar Bassnectar had received, previously.
It was a night of mostly throwbacks and classics for Pretty Lights. He played revamped versions of songs like “Can’t Stop Me Now” and “Understand Me Now” early in the set.
A “Pretty Lights vs. Led Zeppelin” mix was rocked, paying heavy tribute to a band that has shared the Hampton Coliseum stage. As far as classics go, his official remix of Bob Marley’s “Exodus” also echoed throughout the venue—at the very least making every head nod to the beat.
A couple rarities were also pulled out of Smith’s sleeve, like one of his video singles, “The Day is Gone.” Another gem was “Gold Coast Hustle,” which based on the cheers of the audience, really grabbed their attention. His own “Chicago Refix” of the song gave it a new life with various additional vocal samples, including Common’s “The Corner” and Kanye West’s “Get ‘Em High.”
Nothing could have prepared us for what the next night of music and good times had in store, but the first night was the closest thing to a proper warm-up we could have asked for.
Warming up the crowd on night two were artists Son of Kick and Pretty Light’s Music duo Break Science. An appearance by Manic Focus near the end of Break Science’s set would only send the energy on an upward spiral, as an unannounced Manic Science installment took the crowd by storm.
It didn’t take more than two songs into Pretty Lights' set for everyone in Hampton to realize that night two would be one for the books. His opening track, “Forever Lost,” gave the crowd something familiar. This was quickly followed by the rare Run DMC “It’s Tricky” remix, which was originally created for the SSX videogame franchise.
Not only was the third track brand new, but the entire night would further boast about five new songs and modular synth jams from Pretty Lights. One of which has (for now) been dubbed, “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” and features the fiery six-string work of Rage Against the Machine lead guitarist Tom Morello.
Closing questionably one of his best solo sets with the new “Where Are My Friends” and a reflective-confetti celebration was the icing on the cake. Smith has busted this one out at almost every stop since night two of Red Rocks in August. More than anything, it makes us hopeful to see what the future holds for the Colorado native.
Even though it was difficult to fathom Bassnectar had yet to grace the stage, he managed to pick up the energy of the coliseum right where Pretty Lights had left off.
As expected, his performance was packed with tons of original content. Ashton’s “Love Here” remix of his own “Mr. Projectile” served as one of the mellow introduction tracks, yet it was powerful and full of emotion. Another classic, “Underwater,” was mashed up with Nero’s “Innocence,” creating a unique mood along the way.
Various remixes were also heard Sunday evening, like “Beauty of the Unhidden Heart” by The Glitch Mob and STS9’s “Some Sing”. The Glitch Mob is also slotted as the direct support for Nectar’s NYE show, which assuredly was another homage paid by Lorin.
As the night drew to a close, the energy continued to climb. From DJ Cool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat,” to Bassnectar’s infamous “Frogs,” to ending with his original track, “WHAT”—everyone in attendance at BassLights 2015 felt how special the weekend had been.
When I first started writing for music and events, it was here on The Untz. My initial email included something along the lines of, “I’m a student and I’m about to see my favorite artist Pretty Lights for the (X number) time. I notice you guys cover him frequently…”
(And the rest is history.)
It was only halfway through Pretty Light’s set on night two when I screamed at the top of my lungs: “This is the best set Derek has ever played in his life!” I felt reassured, but more so simply overwhelmed, when the 30 or 40 people around me cheered and grabbed each other and started dancing, having fun together like one group of lifelong friends. The friendly friction sometimes felt at BassLights between the fan bases was non-existent.
In that moment I finally understood the “family” and community fan-bases that Bassnectar and Pretty Lights have both developed, regardless of someone’s status in a private Facebook group. I realized the 10,000 people around me were there to celebrate the same thing as me, which was a common love for these artists’ music.
Regardless of the set lists, regardless of the order of appearance—there was magic in the air this weekend.
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