THIRTEEN years ago, Dominic Lalli could feel the electronic dance music craze rising around him, but the saxophonist with traditional jazz training was far away from that world, taking standard wedding and bar mitzvah gigs around New York. When he joined funk/jazz band Motet in 2003, jamming out the band’s unique fusion of funk, afrobeat, and jazz, Lalli met drummer Jeremy Salken. Before they knew it, the new friends were roommates. Before they knew it, Lalli was creating digital tracks for fun, playing sax riffs over his creations and calling Salken to get in on the jam session.
Today, they’re using the same setup. But they’re not in the basement: they’re performing to sold-out arenas filled with thousands upon thousands of fans.
Big Gigantic is one of the most innovative groups working today. By mixing dance music with live instrumentation, Lalli and Salken found a brilliant niche, elevating the live DJ experience with a boisterous show and incredible musical chops. For Salken, who learned drums by playing along to CDs and tapes, performing with tracks was a strangely familiar process.
“I did that forever when I was little, and so that just kind of trained me to be able to play along,” he says. “Once Dom got a computer and he started making really hip-hop oriented beats, we would put on the speakers at home and just jam and play and the concept kind of developed from there. He started stuff more in a song format with different sections.”
Live, Salken mans his full kit while Lalli is surrounded by a keyboard, his sax, and a laptop.
“He can trigger different sessions of songs, play sax over it, and I’ll play drums on the whole thing,” says Salken. “We come from an improv background, where it’s all about having open sections where we can build, or Dom takes a solo, or we’ll solo together or build together and keep the music flowing so it’s not the same thing every time.”
With the duo’s seasoned chops, playing to pre-produced tracks is never boring.
“It’s fun because we interact a lot with the music, so it always feels like you’re doing the songs differently every time,” Salken says. “Even though it’s the same song, it’s those little nuances that are different each night, depending on the mood or ideas. We’re coming up with the best of both worlds, where there’s two of us, so we have that DJ kind of setup, but we also have a live band element to keep it natural.”
With electronic beats and improvisational prowess, Big Gigantic maintains a brilliant kind of flexible appeal. Whether it’s a glowstick-fueled EDM festival in the woods, an iconic rock fest like Lollapalooza, or a jam-band oriented weekender, Salken and Lalli are right at home.
“It’s just cool how the scene has changed,” Salken observes. “It’s kids that really want to have fun and just get down.”
The duo’s touring in support of their latest album, Brighter Future. It’s 12 tracks of classic Big Gigantic sound, filled with innovative transitions, killer sax riffs, and radical collaborations.
“We had more vocalists on the tracks this time—that was something we wanted to try out, as opposed to other albums that had been more instrumental,” Salken says. “We took a lot of time to make sure the album was everything we wanted. It takes forever to do that. We’re super-proud of it and we’ll be playing all the songs off it. Kids already seem to know the songs.”
Dreamy single “All of Me,” featuring the vocal contributions of rapper Logic and alt-pop songstress Rozes, flits from thick ambience to gauzy beats interlaced with buoyant synths. “No Apologies,” featuring Natalie Cressman, has a soulful disco throwback feel to it, while “The Little Things” oozes Motown soul cool and vintage fizz thanks to Angela McCluskey of Scottish band Wild Colonials.
“It’s people we’ve wanted to work with for a minute, or others we’ve discovered, or friends of friends,” says Salken of Brighter Future’s special guests. “Our manager has been really good at finding people—we have a whole list of people we’d like to work with.”
“Highly Possible,” featuring Atlanta’s own Waka Flocka Flame, was a favorite for Salken.
“It came out of nowhere!” he says. “We’d had the beat for a while and were looking and talking to different rappers about doing it. We were getting kind of bummed...we weren’t finding the right person. Then, literally, Waka. We saw him somewhere, and Dom was chatting with him and said, ‘I think I have a beat for you if you’re into it.’ Within a few days, he’d already sent back stuff and we were like, ‘Holy crap, this is perfect.’”
Salken looks forward to returning to Savannah; back in the day, he played with Lowcountry hero Zach Deputy and could often be found on the J J Cagney’s and Livewire stage.
“We raged that bar—well, every venue,” he says with a grin. “Tell everybody to come down, take the night off from work, homework if you’re at SCAD or just kicking it in town. Come party!”