SXSW: Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus – a.k.a. Steven Ellison – has been at the forefront of the electronic music scene for nearly a decade; his recent March 12 show at the Amoa Arthouse on Tuesday was one of my most anticipated performances and an unmistakable representation of his unique musical intersection of hip-hop, trip-hop, jazz, blues, and psychadelia. The performance, though true to Ellison’s unique style, was a further departure from his hip-hop roots, instead adopting more jazz sensibilities and heavy instrumentation. Fly Lo founded Brainfeeder, an L.A.-based record label that focuses on electronic music and has signed artists such as Daedelus, Thundercat, Martyn, and Mr. Oizo (you can see a complete list of their producers here: http://www.brainfeedersite.com/); Tuesday’s showcase featured three openers from the label that I am personally unfamiliar with: B. Lewis, Teebs, and Tokimonsta.

Teebs (the stage name of Mtendere Mandowa) played a set that involved recording, layering, and altering soundscapes built on harps, shakers, and drum taps. The shrouded, dewy beats perfectly complemented Amoa’s artspace, the filters and clipped loops like the smudged watercolor paintings on the surrounding walls. In totality, his set was a pleasant deviation from the more upbeat DJs that followed him. His album Collections 01 is a good starting point for new listeners; not too daydreamy, it is structured, confident, and accessible.

Tokimonsta (Jennifer Lee) is another L.A. native and Brainfeeder producer known for her indie electronic, R&B, and dance music. Her music selection was notably more upbeat than Teebs,’ incorporating aspects of experimental and trap-inspired tropes. Lee is no newcomer to the world of experimental electronica and has enjoyed limited overseas exposure – she toured the UK back in 2009, and has released through London-based label Ramp Recordings. Her album Creature Dreams is the latest evolution of an artist steadily developing a very singular voice; indeed, Lee seemed to appear at almost every other electronic showcase that I went to over the course of the week. While I wasn’t as inspired by her performance at AM Only on Friday, her set was a perfect transition between Teebs and Fly Lo. Her ability to navigate organically between electronic subgenres was a highlight of the night, and I recommend checking out more of her beats here: https://soundcloud.com/tokimonsta.

Finally, Fly Lo: Flanked by sheer monitors, the artist decided to experiment with the idea of his presence being just one part of the spectacle by projecting trippy images onto overlapping screens. The next hour and a half was filled with transitions and layer blending that would enthrall any EDM fan, and I suspect that most individuals in the audience will remember his choice of curative audio and choice samples (including Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” and his own “Astral Plane”). The driving force of psychedelic emotion that Ellison evoked in his performance was largely due to his sample choice and manipulation. Like Amon Tobin, Fly Lo is capable of re-contextualizing samples in creative and distinctive ways, often producing entirely new instrumentals by rearranging existing musical parts. “All the Secrets” from Until the Quiet Comes, for example, does an excellent job of subtly altering piano melodies to bring about more dream-like, abstract themes that are echoed in Thundercat’s vocals in “DMT Song” (with a nod to the psychedelic drug of the same name). Though numerous overlapping patterns saturate his songs, he has a penchant for using a number of samples and vocals without cluttering his arrangements.

Graceful, humble, and enthused, Flying Lotus finished his set in a way that many did not expect: calmly. There was no final drop, no loud explosions of confetti or laser lights, and no gratuitous into-the-mic shouting matches. If anyone understands the flow and energy of a show, it was he, and he knew that we had just danced ourselves into exhaustion for two hours. Lulling us back into a relaxed state (as he is known for with his Adult Swim produced beats and bumps), Ellison left the stage to the chants of “One more song!” and faded into the background – letting the audience reflect back on what they had just experienced.

Tuesday’s Brainfeeder showcase was by far one of the best that I saw at SXSW. For any who have the opportunity to see any of these artists live, I would not pass up the opportunity: Brainfeeder has consistently released flawless and well-produced albums, and I look forward to delving deeper into their cache of artists and DJs.

Post by Chloe Lula.