Prepschool, who play a show at the Palace this week, is a Chicago-based electro-space funk music collective with a lively stage show. Two of its members, David Najarian and James Nasset, both learned to spin records in Missoula even before they started producing. Nasset was already steeped in music from a young age. His father, Russ Nasset, is a country music staple in Missoula, and his brother Sam plays guitar in Russ's backup band, the Revelators.
"I grew up with a wide musical background, listening to Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and George Jones," says Nasset. "My dad taught me about the old soul music that hip hop samples."
In the early 2000s Nasset met Najarian, who was on the DJ scene, going to school at the University of Montana for graphic design.
"Chris Henry at Ear Candy Music [and part-owner of the Badlander/Palace complex] took me under his electronic wing and showed me all the cool shit that people were doing over in Europe," says Najarian. "He always talked about how no one cared about electronic music in America, no one gave a shit about the aesthetics of a show—symmetry on a stage, that sort of thing. He planted a lot of ideas in my head."
Both DJs went their own ways eventually. In 2005, Nasset left Missoula to DJ in California, then moved to Spokane where he was part of a hip-hop duo called JiggyWatts. Najarian was seven years into undergrad college and just a few credits shy of graduating. He wasn't exactly slacking off, but he was far more interested in the world outside campus than class. When one of his art teachers told his class that "if you want to be an artist you just have to go out and do it," he took that to heart.
"I don't think she meant for me to leave school," he says, "but I left school the next week to Chicago and started doing way more graphic work."
Nasset and Najarian met up in Chicago. They spent most of early 2009 living there, sharing one bedroom where they produced beats day and night with another producer, Scott Edwards. Often, one slept while the other worked. They'd play the music they produced in clubs, putting together accompanying light shows and incorporating old-school turntables to liven up a stage show that otherwise consists of twisting knobs on laptops.
Nasset has an ear for music, but the equipment came with a learning curve. Najarian taught him how to layer samples into a collage, slice the sounds just right according to how high-octane or how dreamy the beats needed to be. It was dance music, like Daft Punk, but spliced with samples from the kind of soul that Nasset had grown up listening to.
"It's not like we're taking Sly and the Family Stone and adding a drum sample," says Nasset. "We're adding all kinds of layers on top...other instruments to add texture. And then we chop it again. We just kind of nerd out on our computers, using these new programs and technology to make beats."
With Najarian's graphic background, Prepschool also had a reputation for solid light shows complete with animation. The shows piqued the interest of a few of their friends, specifically Pretty Lights, whose glitchy hip-hop sound had blown up seemingly overnight. Prepschool seemed headed upward, but in the spring of 2010, they lost almost everything. A huge storm blew through Chicago and crashed their server. They had some music on record since they'd released one EP, Cadillac, but everything else was erased for good. It was unlucky, but also just bad timing. "We were in the middle of backing up everything to a brand new, super-expensive server, and the power went out," says Najarian.
All in all, it was about two albums' worth of music, and it brought Prepschool to a screeching halt. But recently, the producers have been bracing themselves to do more work. Nasset moved back to Missoula to save money and has been DJing for the popular Prehab night at the Badlander. After losing all his beats, Najarian went on tour with musician Michal Menert, creating his stage designs and, eventually, getting hired with Pretty Lights to create even more massive stage shows.
This week marks a reunion for Prepschool, who play a Pretty Lights after-party show. The Pretty Lights show also showcases Najarian's graphic animations. Having one of his first big shows in Missoula reminds him of how grateful he is that this is where he got his start, he says.
"There used to be these shows in Missoula at Scooterville. There would be three blinking '80s prom dance lights up and I was like, 'This is awesome. I've never seen anything this cool!' And now, to have 17 16-foot-tall LED pillars go up that have all the animations that people in Missoula taught me how to do..." He pauses, and then as if giving an address, says: "All you guys gave that knowledge to me. And then I wandered off and kind of vomited this eye-piercing visual display. I hope everyone's gonna enjoy it."
Pretty Lights plays the Big Sky Brewery Sunday, September 11, at 6:15 PM. $35/$30 advance. The after-party show at the Palace features Prepschool, Michal Menert, Paul Basic and Half Color at 9 PM. $10.