Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken are creatures of the night. As the live-EDM duo, Big Gigantic, the pair not only have a fondness for after-hours-themed LPs — 2008's Wide Awake, 2012's Nocturnal, and 2014's The Night is Young — they practice the gospel they preach. "We're not just musicians of the culture. We're people in the culture," Lalli says. "It reflects what our scene is all about and what our culture is all about. I guess it's a bit of a nighttime thing."
After graduating with a master's degree in jazz at the Manhattan School of Music, Lalli relocated to Boulder, Colo. and began performing with Salken, a drummer who shared Lalli's enthusiasm for interpreting traditional DJ-based music with live instruments. The duo quickly built a following. Their second record, Nocturnal, was offered as a free download, but for some strange reason it reached the No. 2 spot on iTunes' electronic charts. Adding to their list of achievements, Lalli and Salken are playing Sasquatch and Coachella this year.
That Big Gigantic is riding a wave of popularity is not surprising: EDM continues to score big in America. And to those in tune with the genre's nocturnally inclined culture, Big Gigantic offers empirical rewards. Lalli and Salkin fold coruscating techno flourishes, smooth-jazz sax, savage dubstep drops, and booming hip-hop beats into an electronic goliath hellbent on getting you on the dance floor and keeping you there. "Clvbvrst," which opens The Night is Young, cycles through aggressive synth leads and punchy drops as it repeatedly builds and climaxes, while the title track dispenses thick electro-funk though wah-wahed basslines and upward-arcing melodies from oscillators and arpeggiators. On "Touch the Sky," the duo pairs trap-rap production (trilling hi-hats, 808 handclaps, blaring horns) with big-room house melodies and body-warping drops. It's a sound that inspires beer-commercial hyperbole, as big as the Rocky Mountains that surround their home.
But Big Gigantic sets itself apart by offering something most of its contemporaries don't: live instrumentation. Salken provides ample brawn with his stout beats, but it's Lalli's horn playing that really gives the music its warm texture. A melodic intensity moves through his sax lines, mercurial excursions that effortlessly seep through the duo's songs. His notes seem to pirouette over rough blasts of hard-edged electronic noise and hammering hip-hop beats.
While Lalli's a little coy about his lofty academic background — "I might sneak in some extra music stuff in there," he jokes — he says that he and Salken's experience broadens their musical horizons. "It helps us get a unique perspective," Lalli says. "It just helps us really appreciate all kinds of music that much more. What we're doing and what other bands are doing, from rap and pop and hip-hop and dance to jazz and classical."
Compositionally, that combination of appreciation and training opens up a host of new avenues for Big Gigantic. "It definitely plays a part in what we're doing, whether we're writing songs or doing the live thing," Lalli says. "It adds another level, another dimension. It definitely keeps me thinking very melodically, and it opens up that world where we can improvise."
"I'm not trying to boast or anything," he adds, "but what we do well is the improvising. Where other DJs think it's time to move on, we can extend things and do something with it."
That inclination toward improvisation speaks to Big Gigantic's other strength: Its captivating soundscapes are instilled with a human touch, and its brick-and-mortar instruments give their music verve and energy.
Lalli says, "You always, as an artist, want do better than you did last time, and you want to move forward. It's not about making things bigger or whatever, but we're always striving to move forward, and to keep developing and keep moving forward, on the records and in the live show."
The Night is Young certainly finds Big Gigantic doing just that. The LP is also meatier than its predecessor, and its songs are melodically sharper. But Big Gigantic makes its biggest strides by reining it in. The album closer "Shooting Stars" tenders a respite from the rest of the LP's payload. It's a midtempo number with a melody that hits on deep R&B and a chilled-out beat that recalls the hip-hop-informed pop of Classixx or Toro Y Moi. It rarely rises above a gentle sway, delivering its charms subtly and shiftily. The track fades out quietly, its melody ceding to what sounds like the clicking of a reel-to-reel projection and the soft crashing of surf on the beach. Where the vibe of the rest of The Night is Young is intended to get you up and keep you there, "Shooting Stars," is for "the last waking moments when you're just ready to crawl into bed," Lalli says. "We want to make music that could be the soundtrack to your entire day," he adds.
Well, sunset to sunrise, anyway.