Flying Lotus – Rising up

July 1, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, EG, June 6, 2008

Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus is at the head of a reinvigorated Los Angeles underground, writes Dan Rule.

IN THE music of Flying Lotus, voices and instruments and dense analog atmospheres weave and climb and entwine through abrasive digital textures. Pounding hand-percussion punctuates shuddering, synthesised bass frequencies and flashes of static-drowned white noise. Hip-hop glances soul, electronics skirt shadowy noir-jazz.

There is place here, too, but it is fragmented, warped and immersed in a sea of electronically sculpted sound and computerised musical syntax.

There is traffic and freeways, sunshine and smog-haze, hillside opulence and endless suburban sprawl.

There is Los Angeles the city and Los Angeles the album and if you were to ask Steve Ellison – the 24-yearold production prodigy behind the incredible musical tapestries of Flying Lotus – they’re one and the same.”

If I was to make a film about LA, then this would definitely be the soundtrack,” he says. “Outsiders have this view of the city being a really onedimensional place, but there’s just so much here.

“You could be in the desert or the mountains or the beach or the hood. There’s the city, you know, buildings everywhere, suburbs that go on for ever and ever. There’s just something here – the pace, the swagger – that makes this place hard to leave.”

Indeed, Ellison’s take on production rests in a space beyond that of mere beat-craft.

His cavernous beats and rhythms, which have been compared with those of legendary producers Madlib and J. Dilla, draw from a vast aesthetic and conceptual palette rarely found in hiphop or electronic music.

As Ellison explains, this is his precise objective. “Electronic music can almost push you away or push you out,” he says on the phone from his apartment on the eve of Los Angeles’ release. “It can be really abrasive to the untrained ear.

“I definitely want it to make music that you can connect to on a personal level,” he continues. “I want it to be as engaging and warm as possible, both sonically and emotionally. It should surround you, envelop you. When you can hear that shit behind you, as well is in front, you know you’ve got the mix right.”

It’s this creative approach that has seen him hailed as one of the key voices of a reinvigorated LA underground. In a town obsessed with instant stardom and riches, new-school savants such as Ellison, Samiyam, Gaslamp Killer and Lucky Dragons are reimagining a new artistic identity.

“I’ve just been lucky enough to have found a community here that is just blossoming,” he says. “People are inspired to go out and say something, go out and do something, go out and move something. It’s amazing to witness.”

For Ellison, at least, it has been a long time coming. Born in Winnetka, in the San Fernando Valley, he’s from a healthy lineage of avant-garde musical thinkers. His great-aunt and greatuncle were jazz greats John and Alice Coltrane and he spent his childhood mining his parents’ sprawling collection of soul, R&B, disco and jazz.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t until hearing Snoop Dogg’s 1993 Doggystyle debut as a nine year old that he knew music was really for him. “That Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre shit was freaking my whole situation,” he laughs. “Everything changed after that.”

Ellison’s musical career started with a job making beats for the Cartoon Network show Adult Swim before dropping his little-known debut 1983 in 2006 through the obscure Plug Research label. But it wasn’t until being scouted by Britain’s Warp Records in 2007 that things started to take off.

The cinematic hues of October’s Reset EP had the indie and hip-hop coterie in a proverbial flap. Even Portishead’s Geoff Barrow went out of his way to praise the young producer in an interview with Remix magazine.

But while Los Angeles has proved another huge step forward, Ellison isn’t about to get ahead of himself. “I still do my live show at family functions for all my uncles and aunts because I just love playing music for them,” he says.”

No matter what happens and how many times Portishead or someone shout me out, it’s still just going to be little Steve pressing buttons and shit.”

Los Angeles is out now through Warp/ Inertia.

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