“People are quick to look at how DJing is lacking in traditional music values, but it has something else,” Smith said, “a producer (who) is able to look at the set as a whole.”
Techinically, this is what separates the genre from just electronically-inflected jam. From Big Gigantic’s Dominic Lalli to Marvel Years, artists interviewed for this piece constantly credited the open mind of Denver’s music fans for their success here. For some, that home has become literal, inspiring rising musicians like 26-year-old Detroit native GRiZ, who sold out Chicago’s 12,000-person Navy Pier this year, to relocate to the area. Local venues like Cervantes and Red Rocks became legendary for artists and fans alike for their consistently rowdy turnouts. “Music fans are constantly passing along new music, talking about new artists, supporting new artists, and not just with independent music but for all genres.”
Jazz on Wednesday, hip-hop on Thursday, house music on Friday — why not all three on Saturday? The duo started off playing 50-person parties at a house near Boulder’s Left Hand Canyon. As with all fledgling genres, little about electro-soul is defined — even what to call it. “We were trying to present electronic music as something classy and tasteful and chic.”
Related: Pretty Lights says his new album is “almost ready”
In October 2006, Menert and Smith released “Taking Up Your Precious Time,” a free album, and played about a dozen shows together throughout the year. Across the country, artists making this live-electronic mash-up flocked to play shows for the city’s homegrown legion of electro-soul fans. STS9 performs at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in September 2015. The brush with death saddled him with six months of physical therapy and 18 months of limited mobility. The biggest name in a strange new dance music beast was born in Colorado. In its latest iteration, Pretty Lights & the Analog Future Band, Smith is one of eight on stage, minding the direction of each song as well as directing the set as a whole like an electronic maestro. On the swelling buzz of “Taking Up Your Precious Time,” the only Pretty Lights album that featured Menert, Smith carried on without him. One reason for that, as Live for Live Music editor-in-chief Kunj Shah explained, is that your average music journalist isn’t interested in or equipped to delve into the “messy” world of live music. For the last two years, Smith brought the band to Telluride Town Park for what he calls “episodic festivals.” Menert sat in on his 2015 show. The band took its experiment live for the first time that year at its first show at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium, playing 14 songs over a sequence off a computer. GRiZ’s real name is Grant Kwiecinski, a 26-year-old Detroit native who moved to Boulder in the summer of 2011 after an invitation from his manager, who lived in the area. But the duo didn’t envision themselves as a live project. (Dylan Langille, Special to The Denver Post)
Denver’s electronic maestro
With the foundation in place, two kids from Colorado took the genre to its logical extreme. It’s an art, but it becomes a game between fan base and musician.”
Roughly 15 years after it was created, the genre has swept across the country. It began to fold computer production into live instrumentation to get at the desired effect, an experiment Lerner said was seminally inspired by Pink Floyd and its early use of analog synthesizers in its music. Williams, who books for a variety of big artists in and out of electro-soul across the country, called Denver “one of the best markets for music in the country and one of the best supporters of independent music in the country.”
“The amount of shows in Denver and the amount of tickets sold in that market in comparison to the overall population is astonishing,” he said. The jammy electronic Santa Cruz, Calif., five-piece Sound Tribe Sector 9, or STS9, is a proto-, instrument-heavy version of that, and for good reason: Ask any other artist in the genre and they’ll tell you that STS9, for all intents and purposes, started electro-soul. It’s half-man, half-machine — the synthesized boom of a digital bass drum, a silkily fretted guitar and maybe a disembodied vocal sample — and outside of its devoted fan base, is largely ignored. Smith and Menert dressed in suits, serving wine, cheese and hors d’oeuvres, playing for about 20 people. Derek Vincent Smith and his friend Michal Menert started the Pretty Lights Band after disbanding a four-piece called Listen. (Jesse R. Especially back then, Colorado was musically equivalent to the middle of nowhere for someone like Deitch, who lived in New York City and had been working with rappers like Talib Kweli and 50 Cent. 23. Much like the jam-band scene or electronic dance music — two of the genre’s forebears, and what GRiZ referred to poignantly as “pop music’s black sheep” — electro-soul has been cast aside as somehow unworthy of discussion and, in many cases, respect. The exposure to all different kinds of music — hip-hop, electronic, rave, punk, jam bands — it’s all on an even playing ground.”
To take that a step further, Denver is an even playing ground for fans as well. “It felt like a no-brainer,” Kwiecinski said. But from that failing, a style was born. None of them is originally from Denver, and unlike Medellin and Undland, Wyath doesn’t even live here, despite having played his first concert (and many after) at Cervantes in 2013, a show he said “spoiled him.”
“I thought every show was going to be as rowdy and awesome as Cervantes,” Wyath said. It’s forced, and the sum of two different bands with different styles — Marvel Years veers toward guitar-bannered funk, Late Night Radio prefers hip-hop syncopation — but their sounds dovetail together fluidly, galloping to a pulse around Unland’s drums. The crowd was confused, having never heard any of the songs or style before, but eventually came around. “There’s room for all artists, and the impact each one of us has on each other and our music is tremendous,” Unland said. In a makeshift shed-turned-studio used by Late Night Radio (Alex Medellin, 30, and drummer Tyler Undland, 29) in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood, the foundling community comes into focus. Pretty Lights, aka Derek Vincent Smith, performed at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in August 2015. “It was one of the first things he asked me,” Smith said. Where is this happening? (Case in point: a Red Rocks event literally called “Rowdy Town,” which Boulder locals Big Gigantic sell out like clockwork and attracts crowds that dwarf their sets in other states.)
Few have pulled crowds like GRiZ, a saxophonist who pulls shimmering funk riffs over electronic-inspired breakbeats. “I wasn’t familiar with the music scene in Detroit, and the one in Boulder seemed so inviting and accepting.”
Kwiecinski granted that while many of the genre’s elder statesmen have since moved out of the area — Pretty Lights moved to New Orleans, and Paper Diamond is based in Los Angeles — artists like Smith and Menert created a “breeding ground” for the sound that’s still roiling today, tapping Late Night Radio as the most promising prospect. If it’s clear that Denver is an electro-soul mecca, how we got here isn’t. If the genre is news to you, it’s probably not your fault. The band wrote “We’ll Meet in Our Dreams” that day, a song they still play today. “I’ve never had a bad show out here.”
For the sake of our photographer, the three took up a drum set, acoustic guitar and synthesizer and started to jam. When people are coming up (in other major cities), they get locked in a singular sort of genre mindset. I don’t think it was done on purpose.”
Under the Pretty Lights name, Smith pressed on, bringing on Listen drummer Cory Eberhard and retooling his set to fuse the big-picture potential of a producer with the in-the-moment thrill of live instrumentation. This compatibility isn’t an accident so much as a circumstance of electro-soul’s tight-knit scene here, where collaboration in the studio and on stage outweighs competition. Deitch asked him straight up: Where are you from? But something was missing. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)
“This early Motown vibe”
In a post-Pretty Lights Denver, a new generation of musicians found the genre’s Emerald City. “The live (aspect) of just presenting music wasn’t giving me the full experience I want as a performer,” Smith said. If Denver can be known as the musical torchbearer of any genre, it’s electro-soul’s half-live, half-produced swirl of hip-hop, soul, funk and jazz. In December 2006, Menert was stabbed in the chest while selling marijuana in Loveland, lacerating his hand and nearly missing his heart. From venues like Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, electro-soul artists have found a home in the Denver area, playing shows to audiences here that dwarf sets just a state away. In 2006, Pretty Lights played its first official show in the basement of coffee shop Mug’s Cafe in Fort Collins. “I explained to him that I thought about it a lot growing up,” Smith said. “I was programming a part while our keyboardist, David Phipps, was programming the other, and something clicked,” STS9 guitarist Hunter Brown said in an e-mail. He soon fell in with Paper Diamond, a Colorado-born producer, and the Boulder studio he managed. But as with so many of the city’s post-Grateful Dead music memories, it started with a jam band. Thanks to the pre-produced pieces Smith played through his computer during his sets, Pretty Lights claimed a huge, complex sound that betrayed its small size. Borrell via Pretty Lights Music)
In studios, after-hours parties and rock clubs across Denver over the last decade, a sound has taken shape. CO EDM bands Late Night Radio, Sunsquabi and Marvel Years will be meeting up to discuss the scene on electronic music and all its players in Colorado. Where a jam-band  is prone to getting caught in the eddy of a musical moment, the live producer can keep a top-down perspective on what’s happening on stage. “He’s basically conducting with in-ear headphones instead of a baton.”
Pretty Lights changed Denver’s music profile. (Provided by Cait Falconer)
An even playing field
Pretty Lights met hip-hop producer and current Pretty Lights drummer Adam Deitch after opening for Sound Tribe Sector 9 in New York City. “In most cases with a certain sub-genre of music, it typically builds out of a specific region or city,” Hunter Williams, an agent with the Nashville-based Creative Artist Agency, explained in an e-mail. Including electronic music blowout Decadence, there are a dozen electro-soul affiliated shows set to light up Denver for New Year’s Eve weekend. “There’s something powerful about a singular coherent vision that’s able to direct it and sculpt it and paint the picture and curate the music,” Smith said. Artists and fans alike flooded in after him. They were on to something. “To put out one of the best albums I’ve ever worked on and watch it do really well and pass me by just because I was injured was weird,” Menert said. 30-31
Tickets: $119-$159 via axs.com
Michal Menert (The Aggie on the 31st)
Where: The Aggie Theatre (Fort Collins)
When: Dec. (Adam Good, heyreverb.com)
Pink Floyd meets drum ‘n’ bass
Elementally, electro-soul is live instrumentation quarterbacked by an on-stage producer. Related Articles

Pretty Lights says his new album is “almost ready”

“When you’re reviewing a live show of a band like Pretty Lights or a band in the jam-band world like Phish, it feels like you’re covering them from an ESPN angle of a sports team,” Shah said. “You’re judging how they transition, their song selection from show to show, crowd intensity — all these different aspects. That’s Denver: a genre melting pot for the chronically music-hungry. Pretty Lights would go on to achieve huge live success — according to Pollstar Pro, Pretty Lights grossed an average of about $525,000 per show in the last three years — but without Menert. Only a handful of blogs — like Brooklyn’s Live for Live Music and Boulder’s own This Song Is Sick — dutifully cover the scene. “It feels like something before it had a name, like we have this early Motown-type vibe.”
Michal Menert and members from Sunsquabi, Dynohunter, Break Science and Late Night Radio take a bow after a  show at the Ogden Theatre on Nov. 31
Tickets: $20-$25 via ticketfly.com
Big Gigantic ( on the 29th)
Where: FirstBank Center (Broomfield)
When: Dec. “(Derek and I) were trying to figure out ways to reconnect while I was dealing with life and trying to figure out how to keep it going, but after awhile, I just wasn’t in the band anymore. Denver’s Derek Vincent Smith , AKA Pretty Lights, is credited as the godfather of the electro-soul movement. “I don’t know of a band that was doing it at that time,” Lerner said, “and even today, we feel like it’s day one.”
Some 15 years later, they’ll once again return to The Fillmore Auditorium, where it all started, for a three-night run of New Year’s Eve shows. Around 2001, STS9 was trying to find a way to play drum ‘n’ bass, a frantic style of dance music stemming from English rave music, with live instruments. He wanted to push the idea of what a producer could do on stage, reimagining the role as a sort of electronic music conductor. “It felt like we were improvising in slow motion. But Denver remains one of its earliest adapters and most fervent supporters. 29-31
Tickets: $79.50-$129.50 via ticketmaster.com
GRiZ (plays Decadence on the 30th)
Where: Colorado Convention Center
When: Dec. As it turns out, that’s not in their imaginations. “Colorado’s position in the country and right in the middle between the coasts made it so there wasn’t one kind of music or one scene that was really dominating. ” ‘How did you come up with this sound of hip-hop and electronic music fused together?’ He made such a big deal about it.”
When Smith told him it was in Colorado, Deitch couldn’t believe it. 29
Tickets: $49.95-$59.95 via axs.com
Late Night Radio
Where: The Aggie Theatre (Fort Collins)
When: Dec. “At the time, we were trying to do something down-tempo,” Menert said. “You also have to find the right musicians who can exist in that headspace.”
Smith has taken that idea further than any contemporary live producer. Alex Medellin, keyboard, Cory Wythe, guitar and Tyler Unland drums jam at their studio in Denver. 30
Tickets: $12-$15 via ticketfly.com What they ended up with wasn’t drum ‘n’ bass — it sounded more like a thumping, extraterrestrial-sounding style of live dance. Undland and Medellin are sitting in with Marvel Years, aka 22-year-old Corey Wyath. In this weird musical amalgam, it might just have found its soul food. STS9 percussionist Jeffree Lerner doesn’t deny that, but he will defer to an influence the band shares with virtually every rock band formed after 1975: Pink Floyd. “In this case, Denver fully supported this movement from the beginning … (and while the genre’s most popular artists) are doing big numbers across the country, Denver and Red Rocks specifically are special to the artists and their fans.”
Looking around Denver’s marquees this weekend, it goes without saying. It’s a weird subject, because we’re great friends. Within a year, they’d opened for some of the electronic and jam scene’s biggest bands, including STS9. WHERE TO SEE THEM:
STS9 (plays Fillmore Thursday through Saturday)
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
When: Dec. “He’ll tell the band to go up an octave here or take the guitar out to space,” Menert said. (Of the eight artists interviewed for this article, none agreed on any one name.) But what does seem sure is its rise, especially locally. If electro-soul is on top right now, it’s because like any healthy music scene, Denver shows up in force for genres across the board.