The two met in 2005, bonded over a shared love of music, and started playing gigs together at local bars and weddings. Fast-forward to 2020, and they're playing main-stage slots at legendary music festivals around the country — Coachella, Lollapalooza, Electric Forest — and headlining their own music festival, Rowdytown, at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. With Salken on the drums and Lalli on saxophone and acting as producer, Big Gigantic just released its ninth studio album, Free Your Mind. Salken and Lalli will sign records at Twist & Shout in Denver on Friday, March 20.
Despite their popularity in the EDM scene, the boys of Big Gigantic are jazz musicians at heart. Heavy bass and pulsating beats aside, their music is influenced by a wide variety of genres, from funk to rock.
"There's some jazz influences, some modern jazz-ish stuff like Herbie Hancock, things like that, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan," adds Salken. "And then I have a weird jam-band history, so there's some Phish and Grateful Dead in my playing, I guess. But, yeah, we're kind of both all over the board. Radiohead, Flick gets in there, Björk slips in every once in a while. It's a little bit of everything."
The best way to describe Big Gigantic's sound is electronic music built with traditional instruments. The instruments are the key factor, says Salken.
Free Your Mind is Big Gigantic's first studio album in almost four years. It's a followup to the duo's 2016 release, Brighter Future.
"I think our last album, Brighter Future, was a big album for us, and we asked ourselves what would be the next step past the brighter future," says Salken. "So some topics came up in what we wanted to talk about, and we sort of released our singles in that pattern. So we released 'You're the One' a few months back — that being like you're the one, you're your person, you're everything. So I think in the story of how to free your mind, that was the first step. Then we went on to talk about friendships, like the song we did with Ashe called 'Friends.' Then 'Burning Love': love, relationships, all those sorts of things. Those are the things that we wanted to touch upon in terms of what the album was about. And then we got to the title track, and we like to try and do something special in terms of telling a story through music."
Lalli confirms that recording the album was as fun as listening to it, calling all their collaborators "awesome, the best."
"All the people we collab'd with were great to work with," he says. "When you work with someone else, it can just help take the music to a whole other place. Working with someone who's great at what they do, writing music, writing lyrics, writing melodies or something like that — you get in with them and it's awesome. A lot of magic can happen."
Big Gigantic is revving up to take Free Your Mind on the road with a 26-stop tour ending at Red Rocks. But this is no ordinary tour: called the Free Your Mind 3D Experience, each show uses stereoscopic 3-D cameras and a giant 3-D LED screen to produce mind-blowing visual effects. Massive live images of the band will soar off the screen as they play, creating a uniquely immersive concert experience for fans. It's one of the things that separates Big Gigantic from other EDM acts, in addition to its live instrumentation.
"The fact that we're live, playing our instruments — we stress that as kind of a special thing," says Salken. "There's kind of like solos and stuff. It's a different format than some of the other folks that are doing a live thing. Between that and our backgrounds as musicians, I think what we bring to the table separates the show a lot."
Salken and Lalli will bring the 3-D show to Red Rocks this September for Rowdytown, Big Gigantic's annual mini-festival. Rowdytown was a dream that the two had back when they were first invited to play Red Rocks.
"When we had the opportunity to play, we were like, okay, how do we do something different than just a normal show at Red Rocks? We wanted to come up with a name and make it kind of a mini-festival — like an entire day kind of thing," explains Lalli. "We named it Rowdytown, and we tried to do a super-stacked lineup and just make it a fun experience for fans. I feel like we accomplished that goal. The first year was crazy. We had GRiZ, Dillon Francis, Macklemore — and if you look at the lineups from all the years, it's pretty heavy stuff."
Big Gigantic's members believe they might even be a good-luck charm for the artists who have played Rowdytown.
This year's lineup includes GoldFish and Covex on Friday, September 25, and Peekaboo, slenderbodies and Dreamers Delight on Saturday, September 26.
Red Rocks "is the best venue in the whole world, and it's right in our back yard, too," says Lalli. "There's just the best energy there. It's the best feeling ever, basically — times, like, 100."
Catch Big Gigantic in town signing albums at Twist & Shout at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 20, or at Rowdytown IX at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Friday, September 25, and Saturday, September 26.
Listen to Free Your Mind and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.