Day For Night Artist Spotlight: Flying Lotus

Written by on December 3, 2015

Flying Lotus, Captain Murphy, Flylo, Steven Ellison, Juno Lead, Lunchpail, or whatever you call him; is coming to Houston to melt minds at the already mind melting winter festival Day For Night, here in Houston at the Silver Street Studios along with a hundred thousand square feet of art installations and live music, from December 19-20.

Flying Lotus

So who exactly is Flying Lotus? The answer may be more complex than it seems. Born Steven Ellison into a family that was already immersed in the music world, his great aunt, Alice Coltrane, was a famous jazz pianist, and her husband was arguably the most famous saxophonist ever, John Coltrane, the musical lineage does not stop there, as Ellison’s mother, Marilyn McLeod, penned songs for Diana Ross and many others. His family tree would be a very important place for Ellison to find his roots, if you may, in his unique take on jazz along with a love of hip hop beats inspired by the late-great J Dilla.

Of all places, Flylo found his start on the Cartoon Network’s late night programming Adult Swim, which at the time was asking for song submissions for their infamous bumps, he of course was accepted and the legend was born. Coincidentally enough, I started listening to Flylo after I discovered who he was from Adult Swim, and have not stop listening since. His debut release, entitled 1983 for the year of his birth, was composed almost entirely at the legendary Stones Throw Records’ studio. The album reflected his year of birth perfectly, it had 8-Bit sounds that could make anyone old enough to recall an Atari console, do so. It also was here that he first should his desire to blend two of his favorites genres, hip-hop and jazz. Soon thereafter, Ellison signed to the notoriously experimental London-based label of Warp. His first release on the label would be the Reset EP. This collection of six tracks would show Flylo’s ability to craft smooth, melodic beats with ease. His next release, his second full-length, entitled Los Angeles reflected the musical ancestry of his hometown, with hip-hop beats reminiscent of days when Dr. Dre’s G-Funk and Tupac dominated the city. He melted together the “golden age” of west coast rap with tinges of soul, techno, and even his Great Aunt Alice playing the harp to add to the jazz elements already present in his music. This album more than anything, was Flying Lotus showing the world in which he lived in, his following releases would see him branching out, not just musically, but cosmically.

Shortly after the release of Los Angeles, Ellison, who was at the forefront of burgeoning “west-coast beat scene,” created an offshoot of his label, Warp, and made Brainfeeder whose original roster included some now, very well known producers, if you’re in to instrumental experimental electronic, of course. Among those who would sign with his label were The Gaslamp Killer, Samiyam, and Ras G, just to name a few.

Two years later came Flylo’s greatest achievement to date, the “cosmic drama” Cosmogramma. The album was the first in his discography to feature live instrumentation, featuring his frequent collaborator the bass wizard, Thundercat. Despite critics giving the album rave reviews and pushing Flying Lotus to the head of the electronic genre worldwide, the album did not receive a Grammy nomination. Which is yet another reason, in a growing list, why I do not care about the Grammys.  While working on his next release, Flylo would produce tracks for Odd Future’s Hodgy Beats as well as Mac Miller. During this time Ellison created a persona for his rapper alias, Captain Murphy. Murphy would be the talk of the hip-hop world, who spent nearly all of 2012 speculating who the rapper was, with Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt mistakenly being credited as the lyricists due to the heavy vocal effects he utilized on the mixtape, Duality. While the Captain Murphy narrative continued to dominate the hip hop realm, Flylo quietly dropped his fourth full length, Until the Quiet Comes. The album can be described as a journey through lucid dream space, which is evident through the smooth textures, ghostly vocal effects, and free jazz elements.

Another two years passed until fans were graced with new Flylo material in the form of the highly conceptualized You’re Dead! The theme is kind of obvious, whereas Until the Quiet Comes was a journey through a dream like state, this album was about the journey between the world of the living and the dead. On this album, Flylo really seemed to mature as a producer, now employing electronic guitar as well as mastering the art of free jazz. Although his previous albums had all been very well composed and produced, it still doesn’t seem to match the musicality, or accessibility, of You’re Dead! Ellison’s ability to paint a picture with sound has always been uncanny, but this album destroyed any misconceived notion that Flying Lotus was just some dude with a computer and turntables.

Flying Lotus is one of the most compelling artists, in whatever medium you prefer, of our generation. His label and himself are almost single handily bringing jazz back to the mainstream. I have had the privilege of seeing Flylo live one time in my life, at last year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin. It was one of the most amazingly-confusingly-beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. He performed with a projection screen in front of him as well as behind him, the projections created the illusion that he was in this 3D space which was his own world that he lived in. Well, if you know anything about Flying Lotus’ music, this isn’t too far off from the truth. With all of that being said, if you ever in your life have the chance to see Flylo live, do it. I don’t care if it’s Christmas, your mom’s birthday, or your anniversary with bae, THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT. Trust me, those things come around once every year, but Flylo concerts experiences are once in a lifetime.

Make sure you catch Flying Lotus along with Kendrick Lamar, New Order, Dillon Francis, Death Grips and many more at Houston’s very own Day For Night Festival at Silver Street Studios on December 19-20. As always, thanks for reading, I hope to see you at the festival!


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