Flying Lotus brings distinctive sound back to L.A.

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Author: Joe Siegal

Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, one of Los Angeles’ most influential music producers, celebrated the final stop on his United States tour at Downtown L.A. venue Club Nokia Friday night. Ellison thrilled the packed house of about 2,000 hometown fans with a raucous, two-hour long improvised DJ set. 
Flying Lotus is a truly local product, hailing from the Mount Washington area of Northeast Los Angeles, just minutes from the Occidental campus. His experimental, beat-heavy, electronic hip-hop has come to define what has been called the “L.A. beat scene,” as evidenced by the popularity of “The Low End Theory,” a weekly gathering of DJs at Lincoln Heights’ Airliner nightclub, of which Ellison is one of the founders. His fame has spread beyond Los Angeles in recent years, garnering much critical acclaim and an international following. He has started his own record label, Brainfeeder, and has collaborated with musicians such as Erykah Badu and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, increasing his name recognition and leading to larger shows across the nation and in Europe. 

Playing to the more expansive setting of Club Nokia on Friday, Ellison incorporated sounds from his newest album, “Until the Quiet Comes,” which was released in October, with work from his previous three albums. Mixing and matching drum beats, wobbly synthesizer chord progressions, and samples from other artists, Ellison combined a breadth of different sounds  into danceable grooves that moved the sizable, standing-room crowd. From his perch above the dance floor, Ellison gauged the mood of the enthusiastic crowd, creating a loud and layered soundscape that toed the line between a club mix and an avant-garde audiovisual performance. 

Shuttling between his laptop and a mixer, Ellison was in constant motion, queuing up and introducing new sounds on the computer through the program Ableton Live while simultaneously distorting and altering them by twisting the knobs on his mixer setup. 

A visual display surrounded Ellison, consisting of two projection screens, one in front and one behind his DJ setup, which combined to create three-dimensional landscapes that morphed in shape and color to match the beats emanating from Ellison’s laptop. Rotating columns of light and bursts of color washed over the crowd, setting a different ambiance for each song. 

Like the visuals on stage, Ellison’s music was unpredictable and innovative, keeping audience members guessing as to what would come next. He would often begin by playing a song as heard on one of his albums, such as fan favorites “Do The Astral Plane” and “Putty Boy Strut,” then gradually stripping away layers of sound and bringing in elements of others. Often, the bass line of one song would be combined with the drums of another, and Ellison would then incorporate vocal samples from his songs and others’ into a patchwork collage of maximal sound. Snippets of crowd-pleasing tracks such as Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You,” L.A. rapper Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle,” the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic,” and Radiohead’s “Idioteque” were edited and spliced into Ellison’s own work to create improvised remixes that reinterpreted well-known songs in new ways. 

As the night wound down, Ellison showed his appreciation for the L.A. crowd, entering the standing room pit and embracing some of his fans, summing up a night that was equal parts a homecoming and a “thank you” to the fans who propelled Flying Lotus out of Los Angeles and onto the national stage.

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