Big Gigantic, the jazz-and-hip-hop-infused electronic duo from Boulder, CO., brought their act to Madison Square Garden this weekend for the eighth annual Bass Center show—performing directly before Bassnectar (and after Rusko and Paper Diamond).
It’s been a big year for saxophonist/producer Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salken. They toured Australia, they played Coachella, they were part of Srillex’s Superjam at Bonnaroo, they sold out two nights at Red Rocks in September. Now they’ve helped sell out MSG, giving an expectation-defying hourlong performance and bringing out legendary beatboxer (and former Roots member) Rahzel. Oh, and they also performed at almost half the Mad Decent Block Parties. Oh, and they also released their fifth album, The Night is Young.
The day before their set and the launch of their Touch the Sky Tour, EW sat down with the duo to chat about their festival-filled summer, hanging out with Diplo, and what its like straddling the gap between so many genres.
EW: Between dotting the festival map and touring with the Mad Decent Block Parties, you guys have really been everywhere this summer. Have you had any favorite stops?
Jeremy Salken: Hudson [Project] was actually really good for us. That was awesome.
Dominic Lalli: Sometimes you’re like, “Oh sh–! I don’t want it to rain. It’ll ruin the thing.” But for some reason we’ve had this amazing luck with the rain. It’s happened at a few festivals where it hasn’t rained, and all the sudden at the most important time of our set, it starts raining—and it all works. It made it an ultra-epic thing.
How did you get involved with Diplo and the Block Party?
Lalli: They hit us up last year. I think we were something that was different, but we were selling tickets. It was a good way for them to diversify. And it went so well they had us back and we did, like, half of them.
Salken: [Diplo]’s been really cool to us since we’ve gotten to know him over the years. Super child dude. Really smart.
Lalli: He’s a hustler. He and Skrillex are some of the hardest-working dudes I’ve seen. We just did a Diplo & Friends mix, coming out Saturday.
Salken: It’s cool getting to see him. You expect him to be crazy, but for the most part he’s mostly just into creating with people, and working and hanging with his boys.
Did you get to see any other acts this season that really blew your mind?
Salken: My favorite thing to do, next to playing music, is see music. We like to just walk around and check everyone out. It keeps you inspired and fresh.
Lalli: Yeah, like seeing Kanye [at Bonnaroo] and his stage set-up. It was like a big art piece or installation.
Salken: Something like that, it was such a big production, you get ideas from it. Or even, like, learn, “Oh, whoa! We shouldn’t do that!’
You just played at Red Rocks last weekend, which was a pretty significant stop for you.
Lalli: Yeah, definitely. We sold out two nights there, which is pretty, you know…I mean, to play there is one thing. To sell out is one thing. But to sell out two nights is pretty big for us. We had [Lalli’s pre-Big Gigantic jazz band] Motet there both nights, and this local Denver marching band. It was cool.
You tend to do very cool on-stage or tour collaborations like that. But in terms of your album, Cherub is your only split-credit song. Why is that?
Lalli: Yeah, we haven’t done a ton of collab stuff. But we definitely want to. We know the Cherub guys–I’ve played on all their albums–and when I wrote that tune I was like, “Oh man, this is perfect for the Cherub guys.” And they nailed it.
Is there anyone else, off the top of your heads, that you want to work with?
Lalli: We’re working on a track with Flux Pavillion right now. We’re trying to get some MC on board. And I definitely want to do another song with the Cherub guys.
Are you able to write new music on the road, or do you wait for a break?
Salken: Yeah, always.
Lalli: Always trying to write new music. As much as possible. It’s hard to finish it, but it’s not too hard to get it started or an idea of it.
EDM is, as a genre, incredibly focused on the audience’s reaction. You want people to dance. When you’re writing, are you picturing the crowd and how they’ll respond? Or are you creating the song you want and just hoping they’ll like it?
Lalli: I definitely think, when we play something—try it out live and it goes off—you know it’s going to be a good one. But sometimes yeah, you write something and just wonder if they’re going to like it. Some of the music we write is more just listening-friendly. And some of it is dancing, in-the-club fun.
We’re seeing a sort of shift towards the downtempo in the electronic/house world. Stuff like “Shooting Stars” on this newest album, which is really slowed down, seems to be popping up everywhere.
Lalli: That was one of the best-received songs on the album. It’s definitely something I want to do more of. I like to put our sound–the lead synths, the sax, the drums–in a bunch of different situations.
Salken: We really just want to try a bunch of stuff out.
Lalli: I want to be a band that isn’t just one thing.
Would you put Big Gigantic square in the EDM genre?
Salken: We’re all over the place. We’re definitely ‘electronic dance music,’ but we really are hard to classify.
Lalli: We’re like the bridge between these different worlds.
Salken: We get some jam-band kids. We get a lot of EDM kids. We get fans from completely different areas. It’s nice to ride that line between all of it, and luckily people are into it.
Lalli: Lorin really does it right. We look up to him, how he’s built the community. He has just built die-hard fans of whatever he is doing, of Bassnectar.
You’ve built a fairly strong culture of your own with ‘A Big Gigantic Family.’
Salken: We’re psyched by it. It is weird how much it parallels the Grateful Dead and that jam-band culture. People are acting the same exact way, it’s just completely different music. There’s nothing different from kids going from show to show, making their own merch, selling stuff on the road to make money. They’re all trading music; you just can do it online now. It’s that same movement, which is really cool because if you look at the Dead, they have a 50-year career at this point. It’s a movement as opposed to a genre. The essence of it, the way the kids fall in love with the music and take it with them everywhere, making it a part of their lives, it’s the same sh–. It’s cool. This is ours and we love it.
Lalli: It’s going to be crazy in 20 years to think about what this is all going to have settled into. And what’s coming up, and people who love DJs reacting to what is popular then.
Salken: We were at Jazz Fest this year, and we’re walking around and it’s an older crowd, and we were joking, like, “In 30 years, are these same kids that are, like, 20 going to be going to something like Jazz Fest—but it will be electronic?” Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, us… we’re going to be like the throwback music.