There have been few artists in the American electronic music realm who have been as influential as Pretty Lights, real name Derek Vincent Smith (aka DVS). In the mid ’00s, he helped pioneer a new sound that we now call electro-soul, which was more of a melting pot of different influences ranging from all over the musical map, from hip-hop to jazz. His unique sound and live shows, which often included glitchy bass that resonated with budding electronic music fans, launched a whole new wave of artists to follow suit, and he would soon be one of the most beloved (and obsessed over) electronic acts of the 2010s.
Around 2018, however, Smith somehow fell entirely off the map. He took an indefinite break from releasing music and stopped performing live. In fact, there hasn’t been a Pretty Lights album (or even a hint of one) since 2013. He would at least still perform regularly and drop a single here or there in between those years, but it’s been a long and quiet four years since we’ve heard anything official from DVS. To make a long story short, we miss Pretty Lights.
If you’re a TSIS reader (which it appears that you are), then you probably miss him too. While we patiently wait for Pretty Lights to emerge once again, we’ve taken this opportunity to dig deeper into the part of the scene that he carved out for us. We’ve come up with a list of artists with clear PL influence who we think you should listen to.
We’ll skip the obvious ones we often cover, like Gramatik, Big Gigantic, and GRiZ (especially his Chasing The Golden Hour projects), to give the spotlight to perhaps somewhat lesser-known artists who deserve some listens.
Below you can check out a list of 20 different artists who sound like Pretty Lights for those who are missing him as much as we are. Enjoy!
1. Michal Menert
Michal Menert is a major character in the Pretty Lights canon. In fact, he was one of the founders of the project alongside Smith after they spent their teenage years together. As a duo, they released the first Pretty Lights album, Taking Up Your Precious Time, in 2005. After Smith took the reigns full-time, he signed Menert as the first artist to appear on his new label, Pretty Lights Music. Menert dropped his first solo album, Dreaming Of A Bigger Life, and has since been consistently releasing music that parallels the sound that he helped Smith originate almost two decades ago. Just last year, Menert was spotted playing out a new collab with Smith.
While Pretty Lights has been away, a member of his actual family has pursued his own path in music. Motifv, although having a different last name (Joseph Kechter), clearly has the same talent in his blood. He’s DVS’s little brother, and he started putting out music in 2018. To date, he’s released two studio albums. His last, Dilated Minds, was one of our favorites of 2021. There are some clear parallels between the sounds of Pretty Lights and Motifv, but overall, he’s doing his own thing, focusing heavily on hip-hop and sampling.
3. Mux Mool
A versatile producer in his own right, Mux Mool is perhaps a beatsmith at heart. He’s orbited the same hemisphere of the music scene as most of the other artists on this list, but his creativity is stretched across a wide range of projects. He’s worked on a videogame soundtrack, created his own visual art, and released several studio albums. While perhaps reminiscent of Pretty Lights, Mux Mool truly is in a world of his own with his forward-thinking beats.
4. Eliot Lipp
Eliot Lipp has released two albums on Pretty Lights Music, one in 2012 and another in 2014. He’s been a prolific producer for nearly 20 years, though. While he started well within the realm of instrumental hip-hop like RJD2, he’s since expanded his sonic palette to include disco, electro-funk, and glitchy techno. He most recently dropped a collab album with respected underground hip-hop producer Blockhead titled In The Nude, which is definitely worth checking out.
5. Daily Bread
Daily Bread is one of the most active producers carrying the electro-soul torch right now. The Atlanta-based artist has a number of albums under his belt, dating back to 2014. He’s done full-on collab albums with rappers and other producers and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. His sound is the most reminiscent of Pretty Lights among active producers, we think (however, he works with some harder-hitting low end). If you’re in Colorado, you should definitely be checking out his show at Red Rocks with Mersiv next year.
6. Break Science
Break Science bridge the gap between soulful electronic music like Pretty Lights and jam band/electronic hybrids such as STS9. The duo is comprised of Pretty Lights Live Band member Borahm Lee and Lettuce drummer Adam Deitch. Lee specializes in trip-hop/dub/jazz vibes on the keyboard, while Deitch delivers breakbeat-style drumming. The result is a psychedelic combination of sounds that music fans all over the map can get down to.
Soul, funk, beats, and bass. It’s the blueprint for the electro-soul sound, and Artifakts has proven to have a firm grip on it. The Atlanta-based producer, real name Garrett Meyer, recently confirmed that he’s putting the Artifakts project to rest at the end of last year with one last release, his Lipless EP. He appears to have had a change of heart, however, as he recently posted a new Fall 2022 Sampler video. When addressed in the comment section, he simply responded with an “oops.” This is great news, as Meyer is one of the few seasoned artists keeping the electro-soul sound healthy.
8. Paul Basic (aka Primeform)
Paul Brandt was right alongside DVS and Michal Menert when they first began making music in the mid to late 00s. He started the duo Half Color with Menert in 2008 and worked on it for a couple of years, but due to Menert’s busy touring schedule around that time, he shifted his creative energy to his own solo project, Paul Basic. In 2011, he became the newest signee to Pretty Lights Music with the release of his first solo body of work, The Mirror. He released another, Transient Horizons, in 2013 but went relatively silent after that—until now. This year, he’s risen again, this time with a new project called Primeform. He released a self-titled EP in July, and is set to play shows with Borahm Lee this fall and with Michal Menert on New Year’s.
9. Chris Karns
Chris Karns is another certified member of the Pretty Lights Live Band, serving as the maestro turntablist. He also creates and releases his own music, some of which we’ve had the pleasure of premiering. It’s typically a bit more hip-hop and bass-leaning, with a masterful taste for sampling. This year he dropped a hot streak of single releases, with one that features the other Pretty Lights Live Band on this list, Borahm Lee.
10. Manic Focus
Manic Focus has been a staple among Pretty Lights fans for a while now, so this inclusion might not come as much of a surprise. He’s opened for PL multiple times on massive stages like Red Rocks and continues to push out like-minded music with other members of the scene (he did a collab album with Break Science in 2020 that is certainly worth a spin). Known for going a bit more wubby than most on this list, Manic Focus made over to one of our favorite bass labels earlier this year, WAKAAN, for a five-track EP called Let It Go. He also dropped an album and a beat tape this year.
11. Vincent Antone
Vincent Antone is a multi-instrumentalist and producer based out of Austin, Texas, who is as big a Pretty Lights fan as the rest of us. In fact, he even created an entire tribute to Pretty Lights based on samples that Derek Vincent Smith used in his discography. His sound covers a wide range of subgenres, but out favorites of his are the smooth, tripped-out tracks like his most recent single, “Flux.”
12. Maddy O’ Neal
Maddy O’Neal just dropped an album that we absolutely love. It’s titled Ricochet, and it calls on funky grooves, spacey bass, and other trippy sonic delights. Another hometown hero in Colorado, Maddy has taken her talents nationwide over the recent years, playing over 90 shows a year and spreading her good vibes far and wide. Last year, she dropped an amazing collab with CloZee, titled “Zest Please.”
Although now effectively inactive, Archnemesis, who’s based in Charleston, has a lovely discography of funky, soulful electronic music. The former duo created their sound by sampling songs from the 1920s blues to modern hip-hop. The project that really caught our attention was his 2012 album Every Man For Himself. Their last release was almost a decade ago, but the music is still absolutely worth checking out.
A prolific artist through and through, VibeSquaD first started releasing music back in 2007. Bassy trip-hop was his forté back then, and today, 15 years later, he’s still keeping it going. Longevity like that is hard to go by in the music industry, especially when it comes to electronic music. He hasn’t lost his touch, though, and continues to push the envelope with his sound, like on his 2020 album, Empathy Waves, which gets really spacey.
While we’re on the subject of trippy, glitchy vibes, we have to tip our cap to Heyoka. The peak of his music releases took place around the late ’00s and early ’10s when he was pumping out mind-bending glitch hop similar to that of Tipper. This is about as bassy as it gets on this list.
FunkStatik retains high levels of bass in his music but lets his melodic instrumentation share the stage as well. Based in Denver (via Omaha), he’s become a core member of MHSM Records, a solid collective that steadily pushes a sound that is reminiscent of Pretty Lights in many ways.
One of the most talented instrumentalists on this list, CloudChord has a serene lofi sound that starkly stands out to us. Specializing in funk, hip-hop, and sampling as well, he certainly has earned a spot on this list with his precise, punchy productions. Check out this perfect little number with Break Science member Adam Deitch, which just dropped last month:
18. Marvel Years
Marvel Years has been dropping PL-influenced music since 2013, but today, his sound is sounding polished and unique. He’s currently got a new school crispiness to his productions, which are heavily guitar-based nowadays. If you like the kind of glitchy bass that PL uses in his tracks, Marvel Years is definitely one to add to your library.
19. Late Night Radio
Soul is the name of the game for Late Night Radio. While many of the artists we’ve listed lean heavily into electronic music, Late Night Radio has a live band feel to many of his tracks, calling on samples, funky twangs, and tight percussion to do most of the lifting.
Closing it out with another Denver local, Kaptain has been honing his sound for the better part of the decade. His groove-soaked and psychedelic sound really caught our ear on his 2020 release In A World Ever Changing, which fuses multiple different genres into a cavalcade of sonic goodness. Blues, funk, hip-hop, electronic, and more are some of the ingredients Kaptain uses for his music.