Big Wild brings dreamy beats to The National

Jackson Stell, also known as the electronic artist Big Wild, visited the National on Saturday to promote his album, “Superdream.” Photo by Alessandro Latour

Quentin Rice, Staff Writer

Big Wild performed in Richmond once many years ago at a small venue for a modest crowd of electronic music fans.

“For anyone who hasn’t seen me since the last show, which is probably unlikely because there were only a few people in the crowd, they can expect something a lot different,” said Jackson Stell, the man behind Big Wild.

Stell has been touring the country with his debut album, “Superdream,” which was released in February, and made a stop at The National on Saturday. 

“Superdream” is an aptly named electronic dance and funk record, packed with shimmering retro synths and chopped, falsetto vocals — a new venture for Big Wild. 

“I felt like I was hitting a wall in terms of only producing and in terms of expressing myself,” Stell said. “It felt like there needed to be something more I could do in order to get thoughts, feelings, stories out there besides just instrumental music. And vocals were kind of the natural transition into that.”

Stell mostly sings in a squeaky clean falsetto that glides over groovy funk guitars similar to the Bee Gees. 

Even with a new focus on vocals, Stell’s production chops are fresh as ever. On “Joypunks,” he created an otherworldly beat by cutting up samples of his own voice and splicing them together for a strobe-like effect.

“I was influenced by people who had really unique voices and owned their voice and their style,” Stell said. 

Stell cited Freddie Mercury as someone who inspired him to take pride and ownership of his own voice.

“I was never really trying to emulate him or anything, but the idea that your voice is yours and nobody else’s is really important to me,” Stell said.

Stell certainly wears his voice proudly; it did not waver during his show at The National. The 80-minute set of beefy bass hits and dreamy vocal harmonies was fun and energetic the whole time. 

“For anyone who hasn’t seen me since the last show, which is probably unlikely because there were only a few people in the crowd, they can expect something a lot different.” — Jackson Stell, the man behind Big Wild.

Even slower moments, like “Awaken,” were executed with such attention to detail. Warbly guitar passages weaved between blissful, glimmering synth samples, and the crowd was obsessed. Strobing pink lights and psychedelic images of leaves turning into planets turning into people danced behind Stell and his troupe of backup musicians. 

Certain tracks on “Superdream” also sport a pseudo-African influence. “6’s to 9’s” features fat tribalistic drum patterns and African gospel harmonies, which resemble sounds on “The Lion King” soundtrack. 

Stell said he did not consciously design this sound, but he can see where it might have slipped in.

“Maybe subconsciously, just because I grew up in the ’90s,” Stell said. And knowing those movie soundtracks and songs, they probably played a role in shaping how I approach and think about music.

After returning to the stage to deliver a two-song encore for The National’s rowdy and colorful crowd, Stell bid the River City farewell and headed for his next show in Vermont.

“Superdream” can be heard on Apple Music, Spotify, Youtube and SoundCloud.

Big Wild at the National Nov. 2
Jackson Stell, better known as Big Wild, performed live at The National on Saturday to promote his album, “Superdream.” Photo by Alessandro Latour
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