Michal Menert is called the Godfather of Pretty Lights Music by his fans. When he is on stage, he sports a Henley Fedora hat and a suit jacket. On special occasions, a three-piece full suit will come out complete with a vest. “If I’m going to make music that I want to be seen in a classier light than just glow stick raves, then I’m going to have to act the part,” he says. Last Friday night, the Polish-born, Denver-based electronic and hip-hop musician brought his songs to a whole new level with the Big Band.
Between nineteen and twenty-two musicians were on stage with him at all times, an arrangement he first experimented with at this summer’s Sonic Bloom festival. It’s something he hopes to do more now — on stage, Menert filled the role of orchestra conductor, band leader, sampling DJ, sound engineer and composer.
The Big Band show moved his career to new heights, not only in the way of audience numbers, as this was his biggest show to date, but also internally for Menert. “It has influenced me incredibly in the way I’m working on my current album, Space Jazz. It has gotten me away from thinking about the leverage of production and more about thinking about the relationships,” he explained. He has been working on the album for over a year but explains that if not for the Big Band, “[Space Jazz] would have been missing a lot of the human characteristics it has now.”
Human characteristics inspire much of Menert’s music, as seen in the emotional song “Your Ghost.” The song performed with the Big Band felt amazingly raw, as though the bass, string and percussion sections were all telling a unique part of Menert’s internal struggles. “Parents have expectations for their children, and I dropped out of college to do music. I got intro trouble a lot in my early days,” he says of the song, explaining that “Your Ghost” is about “all the disappointment I felt, and never having made someone proud and wishing you could.”
Now, he’s playing the biggest theater in Denver, but he adds that his success now is “bittersweet,” because his father died in 2010 battling cancer. Menert was his main caretaker during the end of his battle. His mother lives in Poland and couldn’t make it to the show, but a group of his father’s side of the family attend. They were given a large and welcoming shoutout from Menert and his whole fan base.
Michal Menert Big Band perform at the Fillmore on Friday, November 7th.
That fan base has been following him since his early days when he got started with Derek Vincent Smith, a.k.a. Pretty Lights. The two started playing together when they were in their teens. “I kind of feel like I snuck in through the back door of EDM by making hip-hop beats that people can understand in a break beat kind of world,” he said. “Derek opened so many doors for so many people that weren’t making dubstep or dronebass or any of those sub-genres,” he says. Menert is still a part of Pretty Lights Music, the record label put together by Derek Vincent Smith. But their paths have diverged somewhat. Menert has made a home for himself in Denver, even as Smith has moved cities to be closer to a more national fan-base. And now, Menert is opening doors himself.
Menert started SuperBest Records earlier this year as a “smaller and unique way to help my friends to get their music out,” he says. “It’s more a crew than anything else.” Many of the artists that are with him in SuperBest were on stage with him during Friday’s Big Band set, including Mux Mool, JK Soul, Late Night Radio and Mikey Thunder. And while Menert’s Denver crew is vital to his collaborations, the Big Band has a national lineup. Snug Harbor, a northwest jazz, soul and funk band played an especially crucial role, according to Menert. Snug Harbor represented most of the brass and horn section of the night along with curation help and pre-show arrangements. “It was amazing how it all fell together,” Menert says.
Although Menert has his hands in different labels, collaboration projects and has overcome many personal setbacks, the Big Band experience is defining for him. “It really flipped the way I think about my songs. Hearing them live was like unbuilding my catalogue to be able to see the strong points. It helped me do things and step outside of my comfort zone and see the songs as different parts,” he says.