They Will Help You Find The Solace In The Light – An Interview w/ The Illuminators

*written by A’Damaged Pro for Electronica Life

EDM events draw extremely diverse crowds, if diversity is categorized on the basis of age, ethnicity, and upbringing. We are all different in numerous ways but we all came to the show for the same reason…we want to hear some great music. The environment is a very powerful component at any event. The “vibe” of an event can dictate the type of experience you will have. It brings me great solace that individuals and groups exist to ensure that the experience of each person there is the best that it can be. How do they do this and what drives them? Compassion and love are invaluable commodities to find in a person, but when they are driven by an undying love for the purity of the music, what they can do and what they can “illuminate” for you is infinite.

In this day and age it’s really easy to lose focus that we are all human beings, united by some common thread of animating energy. The definite term for what connects us in not important. The fact that we simply are, is. Personal responsibility to another extends as far you would like it to. The roles that we assume in our day-to-day define for others, whether it be vocation, level of education, or demeanor. Attitude is paramount. The bond that people form through music can’t be seen but can definitely be felt. The “Illuminators” are a special group of people that are fused, on the most basic level, with the positivity and cohesive message of compassion and introspective-tranquility, found in the music of Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights and, by extension, the EDM community in general. I spoke with several members of their organization from the founding trio (Andy Dudash, Anita Obasi, and Jason Shepard) to individuals that manage and support regional chapters (Monica Janke, Natalie Dulay, and TJ Waldron). “Organization” sounds too clinical. I’m going to use “family” instead because that’s what they are. A caring, loving family that greets you with a smile and open arms.

I presented these individuals with a series of question just to try to: chart the origin and the evolution of the Illuminators, their respective roles, what their involvement has meant to them, how it has changed their lives, the prospective impact this growing family can and will have on the public’s perception of the EDM community, and how the foundation for this program can ultimately translate into a dynamic social revolution. Despite any variance between their answers, there is a common theme between them. They all believe that what they are doing is a necessary catalyst in promoting a more positive and enthusiastic element within the EDM scene. Are they blinded by idealism or simply transparent in their motivations to help make “our” world a better place? I know where I lean but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Mission statement: The concept of “Illuminating” entails sharing PL music, promoting PL shows, optimizing the live experience for all in attendance, and more. As a group, the Illuminators have an arsenal of talents and personalities that serve as tools in creating a fun experience for all who interact with them. The primary mission of the Illuminators is to spread Pretty Lights music from the streets to the shows in order to promote the Pretty Lights movement from the ground up. Illuminators ensure that Pretty Lights shows are memorable experience for everyone – from first time concert goers to die-hard Pretty Lights fans. We want to create a community where peers help each other out in creating the most positive show environment possible. This program aims to significantly enhance the experience of all who listen to Pretty Lights – whether they do so through the computer speakers of a listening party, or in a sea of fans at a PL show. Illuminators are expected to complete various tasks, all of which are designed to increase audience involvement and really hype up those around them. With the title of ‘Illuminator’ come a number of responsibilities, the most fundamental of them being to help promote Pretty Lights music in and around their community. Illuminators are also responsible for elevating the quality of the Pretty Lights experience at shows. Being a part of this program means that Illuminators should be ready to embrace PL fans with open arms – both literally and figuratively! An Illuminator effectively channels their creativity, passion for music, and knowledge of the scene in order to expand the PL fan base within their communities. These characteristics are just as crucial for facilitating a positive, safe, and healthy environment for all in attendance at shows. The Illuminators also work to create an atmosphere of inclusion, understanding that the beauty of a show is not only in the experience but in the connections made with everyone in attendance.

The mission statement can be found on their tumblr page at plilluminators.tumblr.com.

A’Damaged Pro – When and why were the Illuminators formed?

The Illuminators – Andy: January/Feb 2013. After Vibe Adjusting in 2012 at BassLights I fell in love with the experience. I was motivated by it, enthralled by the idea that I was able to finally give back to the community I owe so much to in a way that was perfect for my personality. I posted on Facebook asking if the experience was going to be offered again in 2013, and Pretty Lights Management caught wind of it and replied. They opened it up to anyone interested, and Jason submitted his ideas too. Anita was a brought in as an intern with PL Management at the time, and that’s how the team was formed. We were all behind the ideas and mission we developed and launched the program by May 2013.

Anita: January of 2013 is when we started creating the entire program. By March, the structure of the program was solid enough for us to debut to the public. From there we began accepting applications and got the ball rolling. I was, and continue to be personally invested in this program because of how powerful it’s mere existence is on the state of the electronic community as a whole. This program is such that it allows people who have been positively affected by this community to give back and assist their peers in having the best concert-going experience possible. Yes, this is also tied in with the appreciation of Pretty Light but the mission of the Illuminators goes way beyond that. This program is designed not only to promote the music, but also the beauty of this community that exists as a result. Basically, the Illuminators are a group of individuals that just want to show people who might be new to the scene, or are entering it for the wrong reasons, what’s good. They are stepping up to become representatives of a culture that has unfortunately gotten a bad rep by mass media, in an attempt to reveal its constructive nature.

TJ: I found out from the homie Jason Shep. He knew I had the same idea, in my head, also about having a program like The Illuminators, so I found out pretty early in the whole process.

A’Damaged Pro – What is your role and responsibilities within the Illuminators?

The Illuminators – Anita: My role is to oversee the entire operation with Jason and Andy. This includes creating the mission statement, guidelines and application, in addition to granting admission into the program. It is also to oversee all of the social media used by Illuminators to communicate. Members of the program are most active within the Facebook group, but official messages to the program are relayed via email and also by posting on the Tumblr site (our “official” Illuminator site). I also communicate with management on at least a once a week basis. Communications with management are meant to make sure that their expectations of this program are met, and also serves as an effective way to relay the needs/progress of the program to them, just so that everyone is on the same page.  On-site, I typically meet with the head of security, the promoter, and the medic to make sure that they are aware of what our mission is for the night. For the most part, they are very receptive to having an extra set of hands on deck to make the night as safe and smooth as possible. I also make sure that all the volunteers who are scheduled to Illuminate for the night are prepared and ready to interact with the crowd, from when doors open to the end of the show. I go over important details such as pointing out the medic areas and making suggestions on how to best confront various situations through out the night (like uncooperative security, or helping someone who is incoherent). I am also responsible for making sure that no Illuminator is under the influence of any substance during the night that they volunteer. Generally though, I am there for any guidance or encouragement that the Illuminators may need that night. This is only a little taste of what Andy, Jason, and I do in maintaining this program. We maintain records on a daily basis and also respond to emails on the daily, in addition to creating forms for all the shows where we are expected to have Illuminators. We create reports for all the shows that reflect our observations for the night (in terms of crowd vibe, Illuminator performance overall, and any other relevant details) that we send to management. I would say that the most important responsibility though is letting everyone in the program know how important they are to shaping “the scene” and how thankful we are for that.

Andy: The three of us (Anita, Jason, and myself) are all the team leads. We coordinate the promotional efforts, on-site teams, and everything the Illuminators do. This is everything from fielding e-mails, building out the logistics for all promotional efforts, and on-site tour teams to executing on all fronts.

Jason: We help coordinate and incorporate the different ideas from all the Illuminators. We let them know what type of projects are allowed and appropriate for the program based on the wishes of venues, management, and the band. We also have the responsibility of setting examples and actually doing the tasks that are set out for the rest of the team. What good leaders would we be if we just asked them to do something but never did it ourselves?

Monica: As an Illuminator we are encouraged to spread Pretty Lights around our towns – whether through promoting the new album, hosting listening parties, handing out flyers and mix CDs after shows, talking it up to our friends, etc. The most exciting role, I think, is volunteering to work shows on tour. When you work a show, you are assigned a specific team and take on various projects to get the crowd involved, make them feel welcome, and educate them about Pretty Lights. The majority of the projects I have personally taken on revolve around the uplifting lyrics of Derek’s music, which can be subtle and often are looked over by casual listeners. Most importantly, our job is to hydrate the crowd during the show! Water can be expensive at venues, concerts can get boiling hot, and people often don’t take care of their bodies properly, so we swim through the crowds and help the thirsty. I am also a regional coordinator for the Illuminator program, so sometimes I put together group activities and any Illuminators in the Michigan/Midwest area can come to me with any issues or ideas.

Natalie: My responsibilities are to make sure people are having an AMAZING and safe time at shows while also learning about who Derek Vincent Smith is and what his visions for Pretty Lights Music are.

TJ: My mission is actually pretty simple: it’s to keep the crowd safe and hydrated, by going around the crowd during the show to make sure everyone is having a fun and safe time, there are other “jobs” that need to be done also, from getting the crowd hyped to taking photos of everyone before and after the show so people can have some memories to look at and keep =].

A’Damaged Pro – What does being an Illuminator mean to you and how has being an Illuminator influenced your life?

The Illuminators – Andy: It’s completely changed my life! It has become my life! The impact this program has had on me, the volunteers, and our musical community is game changing. With the implementation, and expansion of programs like ours we can only prove how strong the electronic community is; and how committed we are to helping people have the most positive experience possible. Working with this program is the embodiment of a dream come true.

Anita: Creating this program has taught me so much about the importance being surrounded by positive role models, and the true impact that one can have just by respectfully asserting yourself. All of these volunteers are choosing to set aside their personal time and enjoyment of the performance to make sure their peers are safe and can comfortably experience live music as it should be experienced. Hearing and seeing how the Illuminators impact the lives of others through simple acts of kindness is so fulfilling to me, and makes me more and more motivated to continue bettering this project. It’s also incredibly humbling acknowledging the extent to which our volunteers are into this program. While creating the framework, I always had this thought in my mind that the people who apply for this program are going to be people just like me – those who look out for people around them when they attend shows, people who are passionate about the shows they attend, and people who just want to make sure everyone is safe and having a good time. As I have gotten the pleasure to interact with people in this program, I realize how correct I was in assuming that. Everyone involved in the Illuminators has something amazing to bring to the table, whether it is their personality or the various talents that everyone has. The result of all of these traits being combined to help better the vibes at a show is so unbelievably powerful.

Jason: It has shown me sides of this music scene that I never knew existed, both good and bad. I knew there was need for an actual effort to keep it moving in the right direction, but this program showed me how much more initiative needs to be taken in order to continue this progression. However, I also knew there were people willing to be the helping hand to aid the progression, I just never knew there were so many in this community.

Monica: Being an illuminator means a multitude of things to me.  Pretty Lights has profoundly influenced my life, from times of dark solitude to times of collective euphoria, and the illuminator program serves as an opportunity to show my deep gratitude for Derek and his creation.  It’s a way to give back for all that I’ve received.  I wouldn’t be who I am today without Pretty Lights.  It also serves as a medium to communicate the beauty I’ve found through Derek’s music to others – spread the knowledge and spirit to those who haven’t seen the light, or those who need a little push to feel it.  I’ve witnessed the Pretty Lights experience many times, so I am more than happy to sacrifice my own enjoyment for the sake of enhancing the experience of others. In fact, I think working shows is often more fun than regularly attending because enhancing the experience of others has proven to be one of the most rewarding and enlightening activities I’ve ever been involved with.  Sometimes people need a little love, a little understanding, or maybe even just some water, and it can turn their whole night around. Being an Illuminator also diverges from the Pretty Lights music and message, more generally I think it’s about caring for others, contributing to a create a positive, safe environment, learning how to express kindness and openness, and challenging yourself to be the best you can be. In this way, it applies to my every day life. It’s about embracing inspiration, spreading it and following it. It’s about the raw power of live music, not drugs or money or anything else that contorts the purity and creativity that birthed such moving sounds. It’s about thinking of others first, practicing selflessness and empathy. It’s about feeling connected, feeling a part of something bigger than yourself. This program, I believe, has made me a better person, and I think by treating strangers with kindness, appreciating music for the right reasons, spreading inspiration and seeking out connection, maybe we can make a lasting impact on our generation.

Natalie: The way I feel about being an Illuminator is so much bigger then what I can sit here and write down. It absolutely has changed my life in soooo many ways! The warm feeling I get in my heart just to see a smile on someone’s face, whether its because I’ve given them water at a show or I’ve sat down and shown them who DVS or what PLM is, nothing can ever replace that feeling! <3 Being an Illuminator will always be a part of my life! It will never fade from my heart. I am so grateful for everything Derek has done for My life, PLF, all the fans, that I am more than willing to be an Illuminator for him in return. Man all the things I could write about this question. Just the influence PLM has had on my life alone is so big. I have grown up in so many ways. I have such a bigger heart than I already had before the program. Now at random shows that aren’t even PL shows I’ll be up on stage or out in the crowd giving out waters. If I see someone in need of help I’ll be quick to make sure they are ok and grab them whatever they need, even if I’m spending my own money. Outside of all the shows I like to make sure I’m being the best I can be as a person. It’s influenced me to help others, all around me, every day of my life. I’ve even pulled a blanket out of my trunk and gave it to a homeless guy to make sure their warm.

TJ: It means a lot to me, for more than one reason. It feels really good to be helping others out in the same community we all love. It gives them something to look forward to when they go to see their favorite artist…ya know?, It feels really nice to give back, not only to the scene but to Derek, and making sure this shows everything is cool at his show. It means a lot to me. I’m honored to be a part of it, honestly. It’s influenced me to be smarter, and help others more often. It’s a beautiful thing when someone comes up to you after the show saying, “Thank you so much for the water. It made my show better.” Ya dig?

A’Damaged Pro – What has been your most rewarding experience so far, as an Illuminator?

The Illuminators – Andy: All of it! Everything about it! To narrow it down, from the promotional side, when you introduce Pretty Lights to so someone, and you see their face light up, or hear how much PL has changed their perspective. From the show side, the impact we make with each and every individual. That one hug or high five you receive because someone realized what this program is providing to our community.

Anita: The most rewarding experience is having the opportunity to meet the Illuminators in person. It’s seeing how the Illuminators can move people to tears (literally) with their kindness and guidance at shows. It’s seeing how genuinely thankful people are that the Illuminators even exist as a formal program or even informally – just as truly selfless individuals. That is the beautiful part of this community that the Illuminators expose; with or without the title that being in this program affords them, these are individuals from every part of the country who are selfless enough to take care of strangers just to make sure that everyone has enjoyed themselves for the few hours that they are in the same space together. That is so incredible to me, and when I see it happening in real time it gets me so excited! This whole program would not be possible without the amazing individuals who are a part of it, and the mere fact that they are so willing to be a part of it is so humbling and incredibly rewarding.

Monica: This is a very difficult question. Some of my most rewarding experiences have been way after the fact – after I’ve given out a bracelet booklet or a hand fan (some of my lyric-centered projects) at some show, and the stranger I gave it to somehow locates me on the internet to let me know how special it was for them. There are so many moments I could write about, but I think my most rewarding experience was working as a Vibe Adjuster alongside the AmBASSadors at BassLights. BassLights changed the whole concert scene for me when I had attended the year before – it was my first encounter with the families, with the volunteers and the projects, and with such an interactive crowd. So to go back a year later with more shows under my belt, more appreciation and understanding, was very special for me.  I wanted to give back to the scene, to that legendary event that influenced me so deeply, and “pay-it-forward” in a way. I guess BassLights from the view of a regular crowd member to an eager Vibe Adjuster helped my whole journey come full circle, and proved to me that these programs can make a difference in individual’s lives, and made me believe that maybe, just maybe, we can change the world.

Natalie: The most rewarding part for me is when people at the shows are so happy to have us there to make sure they are taken care of. Them knowing we are there for them and to make sure they’re having an amazing time is so awesome. Also, outside of the PL shows having random people hit me up on Facebook saying, “thanks so much for the water,” or “thanks so much for the face painting, etc.” It lets me know we, as a team, did such an awesome job!

A’Damaged Pro – Are there any current collaborations with other similarly motivated organizations? If not, are there any (organizations) that you feel would complement the Illuminators’ mission?

The Illuminators – Andy: Yes and no. As far as our PL headlining tours, that’s completely our work. When we host larger events, such as BassLights, we work very closely with Hasan from the Bassnectar camp. Hasan has been a great friend, and support through the launch of this program as he did begin the same thing a few years ago with the Bassnectar AmBASSadors. We have worked with a number of nonprofit organizations, and promoters that do similar work, and look to strengthen these relationships through 2014.

Anita: Yes, we work fairly closely with Bassnectars AmBASSadors, who essentially have the same vision we do as far as exposing the positive nature of the scene goes. Working with Hasan (the head of the AmBASSador program) is always a pleasure, especially since it’s always nice to bounce ideas back and forth and to give/receive positive reinforcement in regards to sustaining and growing these programs.

Jason: We team up with the Bassnectar AmBASSadors for our BassLights events which are some of the most awesome times I’ve had. They’re an amazing group of people. Any organization that actively promotes love and responsibility complements our mission. I’ve heard of other artists starting to incorporate this idea into their team and I couldn’t be happier to hear.

A’Damaged Pro – What impact would you like to see the Illuminators have on the overall musical landscape in this country, and beyond?

The Illuminators – Andy: The Illuminators are there for a number of reasons, but the overall musical landscape? I hope the Illuminators can help spread musical tolerance or open people up to the possibility of  how the experience of live music can change someone’s life. Influencing or encouraging personal creativity rather then corporate mainstream style. Promoting a responsible show experience, and showing the country, or at least a few individuals, that being open to music and enjoying a show can be a life changing experience, if you want it to be. I think it also has potential to instill personal responsibility for what people do at a show, and sets a positive example on how to make that experience better for everyone.

Anita: They are already having an impact! I can’t tell you how many people I have seen on this tour who might actually have needed to be sent to a medic without the help of an Illuminator hydrating them or even just talking to them through a bad state of mind. The interactions the Illuminators have with audience members are 100% genuine and 100% positive, which means that the audience is inevitably left with a good impression of the Illuminators, whether or not they know them as “Illuminators” or even just as random people in bright neon shirts who are all somehow making it their mission to make everyone else smile for the night. The Illuminators implicitly make it a point to represent this culture in a constructive light, and it’s hard to ignore such a massive collective effort.The Illuminators are, and continue to make a significant impact on removing the stigma EDM culture has in the United States, and I think everyone who really appreciates this culture would like to see that happen, sooner or later. There is no doubt that the Illuminators are helping to make that a reality.

Jason: I want this program to show people the power of simple kind acts, and how easily the idea can manifest. The whole “pay-it-forward” mentality is extremely evident. If you can do something kind for ten people, all ten may go do something kind for ten other people each. It can spread like a wild fire. All you need is a spark.

A’Damaged Pro – What are some changes in the EDM community that you would like to see implemented and how do you propose to initiate these changes?

The Illuminators – Andy: There are some larger issues I’m working to tackle currently, but right now can’t dive into the details of how we’re implementing these changes. The biggest idea or theme with these changes is musical tolerance or openness, I guess. With the community, there’s no specific changes I would like to see other then the evolution of the community as a whole. Whether it’s electronic, jam, rock, rap, funk, r&b, whatever! We’re coming to a point, musically, as a country where boundaries are being broken, and new ideas flourishing. Derek (Pretty Lights) has continued to do this with his career, and I feel that is the change that I would want to see overall. By promoting positive and responsible methods of show-going we have an opportunity to help set a solid foundation for all those coming into or learning about this community.

Anita: Honestly, I just think that the beauty of this scene could be portrayed a little more accurately by mainstream media in the States. I think the trend of artists (especially in the Hip Hop world) glorifying the use of amphetamines and inaccurately portraying the consumption of these drugs has resulted in many people internalizing the wrong messages about what this scene is about. As a result, people enter this community with the wrong intentions, which sort of leads the entire culture, as a whole, astray. I think with a little more education and a little less glorification of drug use, the stigma will be lessened in time.

Jason: As mentioned earlier, I really want people to see how much caring for one another could improve the quality of the scene for everyone. I’m a huge fan of the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If we continue to show people that there are tons of us in our community that will go out of our way to care for one another, I’m positive it will inspire others to do the same.

Monica: I think the obvious answer here is the heavy drug use associated with the EDM scene.  Having attended many shows and knowing the scene, as well as working shows and having to deal with seizures and overdoses, it is clear to me that sometimes it can just get out of hand. This issue, I think, is especially relevant because younger people with less experience, like teenagers and high schoolers, are even getting involved. This is another reason why I think being an Illuminator is so important – we are required to be sober on the job, so in essence we are demonstrating to the EDM public that you DON’T have to be on drugs to enjoy the music. And it’s true! So I guess I want to lead by example and show the EDM community that I’m a seasoned concert-goer that doesn’t rely on drugs to have a full and ripe musical experience, and in doing so promote sobriety and safety.

TJ: Going to shows sober should really be more seen. I understand wanting to have some extra fun at shows is beyond common, and others can even go to a show without getting fucked up and I respect it cause I’ve been there, but I have done my last 5/6 shows sober {other than marijuana} and it’s a really amazing feeling. When you are feeling the music clean and feeding off the energy without having to be gone under the influence of another substance, ya know?. Sober or not, its all good. It’s just better sober, in my opinion. It’s programs like the AmBASSadors and Illuminators that could influence people to go to shows sober and start being on the “other side.” The message is simple and not hard to achieve: helping others for the better is a beautiful thing.

Natalie: I would like to see more people there for the music and not just there because it’s the next big thing going on, or because of the drugs. As someone who is sober and has always been 100% sober at shows, it’s really not as bad as I’ve heard people think it would be. Lol. I enjoy every minute of it. I’ve heard so many of my friends say, “Damn! I wish I could remember that show.” Remembering the show and set is one thing, but I love the part where you can really get intimate with the artist playing live. One way I think I can initiate these things is just starting by at the shows I go to, talking with people about how beautiful it can really be without all the things going on around them.

A’Damaged Pro’s final words…

While their numbers in person-power may be small overall, their reach and impact is quite extensive. To quote Anita, “The Illuminators are essentially 400+ people who have the same vision of not only exposing the originality and style of Pretty Lights music, but also of bettering the EDM scene as it is seen in mainstream culture, which is SO cool to me and makes me excited for what we all have in store for the future!” They come together to ensure that people have a safe and wonderful time at these shows. They want the music and the atmosphere to be the focus.  I’m racking my brain trying to find anything that could be detrimental about a group dedicated and united for the sole purpose of helping others explore the harmony embedded in PL Music and how to radiate those good vibes outwards. Would you turn down some water when you’re thirsty and a free hug? I know I wouldn’t. I love free hugs. It’s amazing to what lengths these people will go to ensure that the music goes unhindered, as they are solely motivated by musical communion. They want the only statistics for the evening to be a unanimous response that everyone had an amazing evening, while maintaining a safe and pleasant environment.

Connect with The Illuminators: Tumblr

Connect with Pretty Lights: Website