Who knew that Flying Lotus was thispopular?
Staring down from the circle seating at the unfolding psychotropic spectacle on the stage below, and the sea of teeming bodies rippling in time to it, completely packing out Camden’s cavernous Roundhouse venue, DJmag is a little taken aback.
After all, Fly Lo, aka Steven Ellison, Los Angeles’ most way-out, galaxies-ahead beat fiend is not exactly what you’d class as mainstream. Far from it. Yet he seems to have tapped into a post-millennial mood, the musical post-everything electronic age, and scraped out his own peculiar, hugely influential niche. It could be the Thom Yorke endorsements; it could be his ultra-modern, lysergic-dipped, chrome-plated electronic beats, as heard on albums ‘1983’ (Plug Research), ‘Los Angeles’ and ‘Cosmogramma’ (both for Warp); or it could be the mystique and the mythology. What’s sure is that tonight is tipping point, at least as far as his UK fanbase is concerned. Completely sold out, it’s a pretty important gig. There are converted minds to blow and unenlightened brains to fry tonight.
To make sure nothing is left to chance, Ellison’s invited Dutch don and fellow maverick Martyn — now signed to Fly Lo’s Brainfeeder for his new album ‘Ghost People’ — to support and prepare the cosmic hordes for his gamma ray onslaught. Naturally, he proves a sterling choice. Low-key, pale-faced, the tall, floppy-haired Dutchman is dressed head to toe in dark clothing, an enigmatic figure in the half-light of the auditorium. He proceeds to blast us into a quivering, boogieing mess with a continuous, DJ-style live set, deploying his full range of funk weapons, from thundering, percussive techno rippling with tectonic bass charges, to recent single ‘Masks’ — all huge Detroit stabs and chunky drums — to futuristic Bossa/cybernetic breakbeat bomb ‘Popgun’ and Orbital/old skool hardcore roll out 'We Are You In The Future'.
At one point, he even drops quite unexpectedly into apocalyptic Amen break drum & bass, a reminder of his jungle producer past. Throughout, the sound is amazingly crisp and clear, the bass sending physical shock waves through the building. A few old classics, like his mix of TRG’s ‘Broken Heart’, and he’s done, the crowd, all clearly here for their hero Flying Lotus, now suitably amped.
After a brief DJ set from Brainfeeder affiliate Kutmah — ill, Swamp Thing electronic hip-hop skrunks and thunks in the main — it begins. A Concorde-nosed DJ booth/command centre appears, wreathed in LED lights; the screen behind shudders to life, with truly brain scrambling visions. And then the psychedelic preacher approaches his electronic pulpit. In a brilliant white shirt, his hulking frame dominates the stage. Twisting out Vangelis-inspired, tear-stained Blade Runner synths, we’re transported immediately, levitating into his bizarre dreamscapes. But soon enough, the beats slam hard, and it’s a non-stop maelstrom of raw, boom-bap drums and outré synth squelch. Dropping in snippets of Kanye West’s ‘Flashing Lights’, Tyler The Creator’s ‘Yonkers’ and Lil Wayne’s ‘A Milli’, Ellison beams, a man possessed, rocking out, leading a lunatic congregation who by now are all busting moves to his rhythms. Wild electroid grooves emit from his machines, while strange light formations dance across the stage and his DJ booth, looking all the more like some bizarre starcraft. The backdrop projects Escher-esque geometric rock formations that collapse in on themselves, deceiving the eyes; next, they become vector graphic worlds, a Tron-inspired retro future landscape.
One minute, slo-mo 4/4 techno beats clump out the speakers, the next futuristic drum & bass breaks roll forth; after that, it’s some weird chimera of them all. Indeed, most of the tracks here bear little resemblance to the somnambulant swirls and chilled rhythms of his albums — this is stuff designed to raise a rabble, decimate a dancefloor. Bar the likes of ‘GNG BNG’ (from the ‘Los Angeles’ LP) which generates a ripple of recognition, this seems like mostly new material. And it’s stunning. Indeed, the biggest surprise is that, if Fly Lo is dope on wax, he’s even wilder in the flesh, playing live. It’s certain that this has been a momentous gig. Those convinced are even more bowled over by his mercurial talents; those unsure, are now fully paid up members of his fan club.
There’s still so much more that Flying Lotus can achieve in his quest for cosmic ascension; but he’s already taken giant steps. Tonight has been one of them.
Words: Ben Murphy