Big Data, the electro-rock band responsible for the 2013 hit “Dangerous,” will perform at the Ogden Theatre on Wednesday, November 18. The Brooklyn-based five-piece band helmed by producer Alan Wilkis fuses electronic music with live instruments and the spirited vocals of Wilkis and Liz Ryan. Together with the rest of the act's members, they create a unique sound filled with danceable beats, heavy bass lines and catchy choruses.
Big Data released its first studio album, 2.0, in March, and all ten songs allude to technology's grasp on society. The band's latest single, “Business of Emotion,” is about the time Facebook performed an experiment on its own users, manipulating newsfeeds with positive or negative information to see if it had an effect on the user's mood. “Snowed In” is an homage to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency's public enemy number one after he leaked thousands of revealing documents to the public.
Wilkis doesn't disapprove of technology — it's what drives his music and his brand — but he wants people to be aware of the privacy risks involved when they sign up for something like Facebook. “Through all the benefits that come with technology, there's always going to be a tradeoff,” he explains.
He began experimenting with electronic music out of necessity. At age five, he started playing the piano and he picked up the guitar when he was twelve. But after years as a guitarist in multiple rock bands, he developed nerve problems in his picking hand. That's when he started learning how to mix and engineer music with computers, establishing himself by remixing popular songs like "The Shining Path" by RJD2, and creating new music for vocals from other songs. Then he started composing his own instrumentals from scratch, inviting vocalists like White Sea and Rivers Cuomo to sing over them. On the road, Wilkis sings the male vocalist parts and Ryan sings the female vocals.
Big Data's big break came in 2013 when “Dangerous” featuring Joywave hit number one on the alternative Billboard charts. “It definitely opened up all the doors to enable us to be where we are,” Wilkis says. “It's the reason I was able to quit my job and start a band and start touring.”
Wilkis is as much a performer as he is a producer. Don't expect to see him on stage nodding his head over a mixing table; he sings, dances, and drops beats throughout the show. “DJ shows are boring,” he says. “Somebody gets up there and plays music and you watch crazy videos. That's not much of a show to me. When I go to a show, I want to see people playing stuff.”
Big Data's techno-heavy sound translates well to the stage. The live vocals, guitars and drums complement Wilkis' digital ensembles for a sound that's fresh, addicting and unpredictable. Leave it to Wilkis to mix the sound of a 56k modem trying to connect to the Internet into a song, as he does in “Big Dater.”
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Today Wilkis makes a living mixing and engineering sounds on a computer, but playing live instruments is just as important to him. “I always wanted it to be much more of a band, a rock band with electronic elements,” he says of Big Data. “I want a challenge and I want to be engaged musically.”
In fact, according to the Big Data website, “Big Data is a paranoid electronic music project from the Internet, formed out of a general distrust for technology and The Cloud (despite a growing dependence on them). Big Data aims to explore the relationship between man and machine, and how the Internet has reshaped the human experience.”
Big Data is on the road with the Remix Artist Collective, or RAC, as part of the Going Our Own Way tour. At the beginning of the tour, the two bands covered each other's songs and released a joint EP called "Fair Trade," with RAC offerings its own version of "Dangerous" and Big Data putting its spin on "Let Go."