in-depth: flying lotus

On the eve of Pattern+Grid World; a retrospective of FlyLo’s LA EPs


On this the figurative eve of the release of Flying Lotus’ latest EP, Pattern+Grid World, it’s important to take stock and look back into the past, so bound up in memories, that we can better understand the future. Now, so far all we’ve got from Warp Records, the ‘IDM’ staple that consistently releases brilliant work,  is one exclusive listen to Camera Day, a track indebted to a new sonic horizon. Imagine Hudson Mohawke or Rustie (again both on Warp) with all their colour and vibrancy with a substance, or template if you will, as dark and crackly as FlyLo’s previous efforts. Somehow it’s like he’s seen a bold new dawn in which he’s no longer bound by the dystopian dreams emanating through the world of dance music circa 2006-08. This time his future seems relentlessly optimistic – isn’t the cyclical nature of things strange – opened up by a great riff or chasm that’s sucked out the darkness and filled it with intensely hopeful synth sounds.

Flying Lotus – Camera Day

When Pattern+Grid World is released on the 20th September a new Flying Lotus will appear, shaped by a dynamic shift in world music. No longer the dark visionary, reaping the sound of the technologically humble past to rein-vision the future, but a luminous psychonaut throwing colour upon the easel and creating a bright and bold present.

My own history with Flying Lotus starts not with the Los Angeles album, though that would have been a logical starting point, but with LA 1X3, the first of the three EPs that worked to reinvent and re-imagine Los Angeles. I seem to recall reading a particularly interesting review of the EP in question, describing it in the sort of terms one would describe a hallucinogenic trip. As if it itself offered those same spiralling visuals, the same sense of understanding, the same darkness and light, mixed with an unwarranted dose of alienation. It sounded magical in a way I’d heard of contemporary music being described as at the time. Music like No Age, Burial, Kode 9, Growing, Fuck Buttons or to a certain extent Brian Eno. This led me on a path of to discover wider and more disparate music from Krautrock to certain Bowie albums and the shoegaze period of the early nineties; all this seemed somehow as if they were acting in unison, and then here was this great stranger in the darkness, a hip-hop artist that somehow emulated these sounds and the ideas that come from them.

I’d started reading J.G Ballard previously to this experience and it wasn’t until his death in early 2009 that I started to connect the dots. Suddenly I recognised that Ballard’s dystopian futures had somehow introduced themselves like a computer virus into the very music I was listening to. It was everywhere. The press were continually talking about the link between dubstep and Ballard, that future music was ingrained in the idea of a lost world, either a sprawling urban wasteland or a overgrown jungle infesting itself within the former cities of the world. Questions were beginning to arise about the nature of otherworld in dub; the squelchy, warm bass vibrations, were they not indicative of man’s psychological need to return to the womb? Had we not gone too far? Had man brought about his own destruction and was this not precursor of that destruction?

Well these questions resonated perfectly within FlyLo’s music. LA 1X3 is a dub-influenced voyage. Detaching itself from its birth-mother, the mostly chilled, beat-centred Los Angeles, it takes a great leap into a future-dub sound possibly finding some sort of inspiration in his, at the time, recent collaboration with Kode 9 for Rinse FM. What we find then is an EP of great imagination firing out this simple and effective energy, the slow and oscillating movement of dub. And with the dub, a whole reading of the future, of a man made, ugly, noisy city, reacting to the apathy of the urban and the nature of the twisted metropolis with all its tenebrous corners and alleyways, and with YOU as the subject, a stranger in the multitude. Paper Crane Gang embodies this perhaps more than anything on the EP. A repetitive lonesome beat is surrounded by successions of looping bleeps and noises, out of which more descriptive sounds are born, some more vibrant and enticing than others, but all masked in the unforgiving and relentless crackle that is so familiar in FlyLo’s work.

Flying Lotus – Paper Crane Gang

Rickshaw too is worth a quick mention, bringing in a world music/internationalist feel to the EP. Its central beat vies with an Ek-Tara (one-stringed traditional instrument from the Indian subcontinent) aligning the sprawling highways of LA with the burgeoning economy and increasing urbanisation of India to prescribe a universalism to this bleak world view.

Flying Lotus – Rickshaw

However, the production manages to keep it all fresh and alive, not dead or atrophying to the point of nonexistence. Somehow there is a light in there and it occurs through manipulation with the hardware and the corresponding software. Programming has never sounded so free and loose as if the beat is floating on this backdrop of white-noise. The Universe is calling out and the beat just plays, free and effortless like a jazz band turning and weaving to the crackling thrum. One critic described it as being both ‘figurative and abstract’; beat and wave. Somehow it all just exists there illusory and yet quite real.

LA 2X3 opens with a undeniable beat, cascading along, propelling the 2nd EP into more turbulent waters. Here the futurism is remixed, understood by peers that apprehend FlyLo’s flow. So, track one is a remix of RobertaFlack by Martyn (known for his collaboration with Kode 9, an abundance of releases and remixes + more) who takes it into a 2-step/DnB vibe which in turn transforms the vocals lifting them from the murky depths into something of a deep house feel. As it progresses it becomes clear that Martyn has taken it from the bedroom to the club, thus becoming a synergy of the world around it. The very essence of so called intellectual electronica reasons that the two, both bedroom and dancefloor, are part of the same thing, and with additional elements, i.e. the propulsive beat, can move the bed to the club and vice versa. And so here we have it, transformation complete.

Flying Lotus – RobertaFlack (Martyn’s Heart Beat Mix)

Unlike the first EP, all the tracks here are remixes, and so of course it has an endless life and a whole globe of expansion. It becomes a parallax; Los Angeles understood from different viewpoints that create artificial imaginings of the real thing. We get Glaswegian Mike Slott (from LuckyMe, textual adventurers and hip-hop/electronica explorers) turning RobertaFlack into a bugged out and immersive hip-hop world. Different again from Martyn’s version or FlyLo’s original, this is like a wave of sound filtering out the rest of the world and leaving only the fractured, crackling remains.

Flying Lotus – RobertaFlack (Mike Slott’s Other Mix)

Quarta 330 is a Japanese producer, specialising in 8-bit sound and chiptune techniques. His take on FlyLo’s Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum is a real highlight of the EP. Bringing in elements of seemingly unconventional sounds to FlyLo’s more hazy, washed out noise brings out some of the colour that lies underneath. Held together by FlyLo’s all-seeing eye, this parallaxian image is defined not only through his unique sound but by his peers observance of it.

Flying Lotus – Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum (Quarta 330 Remix)

As we pass through to his final EP and the last stretch of this sound-experiment, it is worth questioning the value of the pieces as a series. Alone they make remarkable pieces of music, although I wonder whether they would have the same value without such an astonishingly fresh album to work from in Los Angeles, but they do tend to lack cohesion. 1 and 2 both seem slightly disparate in sections, perhaps lacking a coherent direction in production. However it is number 3 alone that seems to have a uniquely binding sound; it wrestles itself from Los Angeles in a wave of droning ambience which is tied together by the two new tracks: Endless White and Spin Cycle. It’s got the strength of hallucinogenics, a full powered trip that forces you to float in waves of appreciation.

Flying Lotus – Endless White

Testament (Breakage’s Bill’s Suit Mix) leans on the grimy edge of shoegaze, exploring the distorted guitar sounds of My Bloody Valentine held together by reverberating drums and skewed vocals. There is a wonderful harmony that runs throughout the third EP, as if FlyLo composed much of it himself or took a dictatorial role in the creation of the remixes. They’re all so lush and otherwordly, all languid in pace and reflexive in attitude. It’s like FlyLo wished to distinguish the final EP by transforming it into a meditation of the series as a whole, bringing up sounds that are reminiscent of the earlier EPs (Auntie’s Harp – Rebekah Raff Remix is hauntingly Indian sounding) but are now in complete metamorphosis – or if you will, in a stage that is of their past but readying for a new future.

Flying Lotus – Testament (Breakage’s Bill’s Suit Mix)

And that is how we should view the whole series. As a stage in the life of Flying Lotus the artist, from one vital re-imagining to the next. A brooding, dark, textural stage that was influenced, and was influential upon, the music that was prevalent at the time. Now as he’s set to release his latest work it feeds upon new blood giving significant energy to his emerging creations.

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One response to “in-depth: flying lotus

  1. Pingback: flying lotus – mmmhmm | futuresoundstemporary

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