Even though viewership was down, this year’s MTV Video Music Awards were watched by millions of folks around the world, and let's face it: Nearly everyone had something to say about that now-memed-to-all-hell Kanye West acceptance speech. Even Big Gigantic’s drummer, Jeremy Salken, chimed in while we were talking about the VMAs during our phone interview.
“I mean, he got up there to apologize to [Taylor Swift] and never even did that. All he had to say was, ‘Taylor, I’m sorry I did that.’ But then he had a 10-minute speech about how much he cares about music and art -- and then he never even apologized. And then goes, ‘By the way, I’m running for president,'" he added, laughing.
Funny thing is, this is basically normal behavior these days for that whole group, right? The Miley Cyruses, the Kanyes, the Nicki Minajes, the Justin Biebers of the world -- it’s basically just another day of zany antics to them. I ask the “livetronica” duo (consisting of Salken and producer/saxophone player Dominic Lalli) if they’d ever be down to work on some remixes for the aforementioned pop behemoths, like the Biebs -- after all, they’ve already remixed tracks by Wiz Khalifa, Notorious B.I.G. and Aloe Blacc, among others.
“I would definitely do a Justin Bieber remix! That’d be huge! I’m not stupid," Lalli laughed. "Some people would be like, ‘Naw, thanks, I’m good.’ But that’d be a good challenge.”
Maybe they should just make one and put it on SoundCloud or something for their fans. A surprise “What Do You Mean?” reworking, perhaps?
“Man, the record label would take that down so fast,” Lalli laughed.
OK, so maybe we won’t be seeing any Bieber remixes from Big Gigantic anytime soon, but who cares? Lalli and Salken have bigger fish to fry: They’re set to play Kaaboo Del Mar on Saturday, Sept. 19, and then they head back home to Colorado for their own annual EDM fest called Rowdytown at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and a nationwide tour afterward.
For the duo, the main difference between huge festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza (all of which they’ve played) and their own headlining club dates is the amount of freedom they have to stretch out during their sets.
“The songs are there -- but there is freedom within them,” Salken told me. “The way we do builds and drops are the same, but the inflections change night to night because they’re influenced by the vibe of the crowd, the mood, us; it’s structured but there is wiggle room. It’s the best of both worlds. If we’re too structured, we’d be regurgitating the same thing every night.”
“But if it were too loose,” Lalli chimed in, “we’d be having fun in full jazz mode, and we’ve found out that people don’t like to dance to that,” he joked.
So, about that whole jazz thing: For those who might be unfamiliar with Big Gigantic, even though they’ve joined the ranks of some of the biggest EDM stars on the planet, they are very much rooted in a whole different scene altogether. By incorporating drums, saxophone and other live instrumentation into their electro numbers, they’ve created a melting pot of jazz, house, big brass band music, hip-hop and soul. Needless to say, EDM fans have been eating it up. But even other DJs have been incorporating Big Gigantic’s live elements into their own sets.
“It’s funny -- when we started to do this six years ago, no one was doing this [style] at all,” Lalli said. “People looked at me like I was insane. The jam-band people would go, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this?’ and the EDM people were like, ‘What the hell do you think you’re trying to do here?’ It feels like we were taking one for the team because now everyone else is like, ‘OK, yeah, let’s play sax!’ It’s an honor, that people took to it enough to entertain the idea of bringing instruments and sax into their sets. For some reason, brass brings some kind of vocal aspect that goes over well with audiences.”
And audiences have been responding. Their latest album, “The Night Is Young,” was released in 2014, and their 2012 album, “Nocturnal,” has been downloaded more than a million times from Big Gigantic’s website alone. And like all their music, they give it away for free. Why? Aren’t they losing a grip of money?
“Man, it’s the weirdest phenomena,” Lalli explained. “You give it away and people want to go buy it! When we did our first iTunes release in 2012, it was the No. 2 album on the iTunes electronic charts -- even though we were still giving it away on our website.”
Salken jumped in: “When we started, we were trying to find ways to get our music out there and have people come see us play. And that was the big focus because five to seven years ago, everyone was downloading stuff illegally or torrenting it. iTunes wasn’t popping off like it is now. It’s totally changed. For us, because we were so small, what’s the best way to get the music to the people? Well, let’s give it to them and hopefully that’ll make them want to come see us live.”
We talked about what effect (if any) giving away music for free has on society’s perception of the value of art in general, and both Salken and Lalli agreed that it’s for the best, with Lalli saying: “Anyone who’s been like, ‘You have to pay me for my music!’ has suffered. The times are changing, and you need to go with the flow.”
And what would Big Gigantic tell young musicians who are still debating whether to give their music away or not, and how to get ahead in the industry like they have?
“Work harder than everyone else, 'cause that’s the only way you’re gonna make it -- unless you’re a genius," Salken added with a laugh. "But even if you’re a genius, you still have to work harder than everyone else.”
Kaaboo Del Mar takes over Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds on Sept. 17-20. Big Gigantic play Sept. 19. Single-day tickets to Kaaboo are available for $125, while three-day passes and various VIP packages are available at different price points as well. For all ticketing options and more information, please visit KaabooDelMar.com.