We live in cynical times, have lived in cynical times for decades now.
Love songs that once ruled the airwaves with proclamations of undying romance are now considered saccharine, artificial and cheap representations of a an unreliable emotion.
Every image is Photoshopped, every seemingly personal video staged for virality, an ethos buoyed by the very real and very tragic chaos that seems to be unfolding around us at all times. The world is a sinking ship, and only a sucker would trying to save it instead of heading for the nearest lifeboat.
And so choosing to believe in four-letter words like love and hope is now, in its own way, a revolutionary act. And so Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken, who go by the magnificently redundant name Big Gigantic, are revolutionaries.
The duo first met miles high in Denver at a time when they were living a snowboard bum’s dream, spending nights in jam bands and padding their day jobs by hitting the wedding band circuit hard.
The Rosetta Stone of their sound emerged when Jeremy, inspired by just emerging audio cyborg acts like Pretty Lights and STS9 that were marrying live instruments and electronic sounds, began playing around on the production program Ableton. Suddenly all those years of playing jazz and afro-beat and jamming made sense interlocked with electronic production and the duo was born.
Month after month, year after year, they honed their sound and by 2009 a debut album, Fire It Up, was birthed. The music got bigger, their lives shows got giganticer, and they became recognized faces in the festival scene, but by any measure their new album, Brighter Future, is a level up.
I’ve checked thoroughly, done my due diligence, and I can confidently say that Brighter Future is the only album of 2016 that features hard-painter Waka Flocka, jazz singer Angela McCluskey, human Rubix Cube and emcee Logic and singer/trumpet player Jennifer Hartswick. It’s the kind of feature list that’s certainly impressive, but that range of collaboration is about far more than an eye-grabbing Wikipedia page.
On Brighter Future Jeremy and Dom have very consciously created a musical common ground that nurtures real human and artistic connection. The more traditional world, and music industry, may lock people like Flocka and Hartswick in separate boxes, but here they both are, together, s album.
These collaborations didn’t happen through major label A&Rs. The guys pushed through the behind-the-scenes grind of tracking down artists and convincing them to get involved, which means they now have stories of Waka being “the nicest cat” and the completion of a two-year quest to work with Logic.
While this kind of album creation method is far from new new for the duo, Jeremy makes it clear that the biggest difference on this album is they’re now “writing songs” [their emphasis]. Even among artists who are loath to neatly outline a creative process that involves some necessary meandering, Jeremy and Don walk a particularly difficult to describe path.
It’s part live, part electronic. Part meticulously planned, part improvised. Part completely self-contained and part reliant on collaboration. Choruses are written in the shower and plans are revised after chance backstage meetings with artists. To be Big Gigantic is to be perpetually open to change, and then all of that music has to be translated into a live show that’s become the aorta of their art.
In fact, you can’t truly understand Big Gigantic without understanding Rowdy Town.
Rowdy Town is Big Gigantic’s Burning Man, their Wonka in the chocolate factory, a festival in their native Red Rocks whose mission is to build a world apart, if only for two-days, where all the aspirations of Brighter Future can become a livable, breathable place.
And if you can’t truly understand Big Gigantic without Rowdy Town, you can’t understand Rowdy Town without understanding the Little Gs.
Loosely inspired by the Grateful Dead’s Merry Pranksters, except without the whole handing-out-LSD-tabs thing, Little Gs roam the festival grounds making sure people are happy, healthy and connected. They hand out water to the thirsty, paint the faces of the unpainted and do whatever it takes to inspire positive rowdiness. It’s a powerful way to connect the band with fans, the type of idea that the moment you hear it sound both completely obvious and confusingly rare, but crucially, to become a Little G you first have to volunteer in the community or perform some other work of kindness. The music is the inspiration is the life is the music.
It’s easy to mistake cynicism for power, but the truth is that hope in the face of sometimes seemingly insurmountable chaos requires a kind of strength that the cynical will never have. Music certainly can’t heal every wound, but it can try. We can try. Big Gigantic are trying.
[By Nathan Slavik, @RefinedHype]