Big Gigantic in Aspen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Dominic Lalli plays saxophone in the Colorado duo Big Gigantic, which gives him what might be a unique niche in the world of electronica music. While most performers in the genre are twisting knobs and hitting buttons, Lalli, who studied jazz at Northern Arizona University and did postgrad work at the Manhattan School of Jazz, demonstrates more traditional music skills onstage.
“It helps set us apart, which is good in music. It’s important,” the 34-year-old Lalli said in an interview last year with The Aspen Times.
The jazz background also gives Lalli an interesting perspective on the question of whether electronic music is merely the big, catchy style of the moment, of whether it will have enduring value. There’s little question that electronic styles, including dubstep, techno, glitch and dubtronica, are a commanding presence these days: Acts like Empire of the Sun and Colorado’s Pretty Lights are at the top of the bill of major festivals; Ghostland Observatory and Flux Pavilion attract big audiences. And Big Gigantic’s show Wednesday at 10 p.m. at Aspen’s Belly Up is an advance sellout, as was their Belly Up debut last January.
But electronic music draws a predominantly younger crowd, which raises the issue of what happens when that crowd moves on. Does the music go with it?
“For years, people have been saying it’s a fad; it’s going to go away. But it keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Lalli said from his studio in Boulder.
The quick upward arc of electronica reminds Lalli of another style of music. Somewhere in his music education, Lalli had a course in the history of jazz, which pointed out that jazz, now often thought of as a retrograde style, was considered a passing craze.
“People said the same thing about jazz: ‘What is this, what is this noise?'” Lalli said. “And then it takes over. This happens all the time, has happened all through music. It’s like the electric guitar, or like the laptop. That’s one of the reasons I got into Big Gigantic.”
Electronic music might have had its moment of legitimization last month, when Skrillex, a 24-year-old producer from Los Angeles, earned five Grammy Award nominations, including one for best new artist.
Big Gigantic, which includes drummer Jeremy Salken, is making its own contribution to the movement. Last week, the duo released “Nocturnal,” an all-instrumental album of fuzz-edged tones, complex but danceable beats, and simple, funky horn melodies. Lalli says the album builds on the approach that he and Salken began exploring three years ago, but also clarifies the Big Gigantic sound.
“I’d consider this one heavier – more bass-heavy, more drum-heavy,” he said. “We’ve been working on the presence of our sound more. We want it to hit you harder.”
Big Gigantic’s music has been hitting people with a force that seems unexpected even to Lalli and Salken. For this past New Year’s Eve, the duo was booked to headline Chicago’s 1,400-person Vic Theatre. The show sold out well ahead of time, and the event was moved to the Riviera, which has nearly twice the capacity.
Before forming Big Gigantic, Lalli had spent six years in the Motet, a Colorado group that played a funky, Afro-Cuban-inspired take on jazz, and even dabbled in electronic elements. But after forming Big Gigantic as a side project, he saw it catch on in a way he had not anticipated.
While the electronic music the duo plays is not as sophisticated harmonically or melodically as the jazz Lalli once specialized in, he notes that the challenges have simply shifted: “The objective is different. It’s like tennis and badminton – you have a racket in both, but they’re a different thing,” he said Lalli. In Big Gigantic, Lalli doesn’t only improvise saxophone lines, but also plays sampled sounds on a keyboard, helping to build texture and rhythm.
Lalli sees Big Gigantic as a continuation of his music education, and in a field that is dynamic and growing.
“The younger kids are super into the electronica thing, and other people are slowly getting into it. This is what happens in music,” he said. “The kids get together, they like a certain stuff, and it changes the music world. And it’s so cool to be a part of that.”
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