Flying Lotus Live at The Roundhouse, London

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Oct 27, 2011

Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison) is a lot of things.

Not on that list: boring, moody, or remotely conventional. I’m going to get to this, but I want to set the rest of the scene.

So the Roundhouse is a special venue; it’s legendarily avant-garde; miles ahead of the times, etc. We know this already. It has space for circa 4000 people… and the show was sold out. This enormous, former industrial steam engine shop was already *rammed* and bubbling over when I got in.

Behind the stage was a mysterious canvas of geometric features that didn’t quite make sense. You can see it in the pictures, the shapes met at odd angles and weren’t identifiable as anything.

Got the mental image of an packed industrial building and non-Euclidean geometry? Good.

So: before I say anything about FlyLo, I want to mention Martyn; specifically, his style of dubstep. Martyn’s dubstep is about ethereality, a sense of unrealness you might expect to accompany an out of body experience. We all love to talk about dubstep in terms of filth… “yeah, that track was like getting drop kicked into a dumpster full of burning cowshit!” Martyn, however, refuses such comparison… And this style of airy, rather than grimy, dubstep is very normal in Europe, especially London. I would love to hear some more sounds like this from North American producers (who seem to have largely co-opted the grime style from the likes of Rusko).

Moving on! Ellison came on stage in a flowy white shirt and was immediately coloured by a shifting, three dimensional laser light show. This may seem strange, but the first thing I noticed about the show was not the music (which was remarkable for reasons I will get into in a moment), nor was it the light show (awesome), but Ellison’s attitude. Instead of swaggering on stage and expecting cheers, he seemed genuinely, pleasantly surprised by the love London has for him.

“We sold this bitch out, London! I want to thank you all for all the love… from the bottom of my heart!” All performers say something like this, but Ellison was so into the music, so into the crowd, so genuine and even humble, that I believe him, and, more importantly, I believe he believes himself. He looked like a man in the midst of having a pleasant dream, enjoying it as much as he can before he wakes up.

Needless to say, his enthusiasm was infectious. Moving on, I should mention that the visual was not forgotten, buried six feet deep in the audio. Unfortunately, there were some problems with the show, and some aspects of it weren’t working (though, I’m going to be honest, it was still so impressive that I probably would not have noticed had they not told us so). The canvas of shapes behind him (remember that thing?) warped and twisted, single laser beams shot onto the decks, and the whole thing was something surreal. The thee-dimensional illusionality (yeah, I made up a word) was not lost on me, and I hope you can suss it out from the pictures.

Now, finally a little about the music. Most of us know Flying Lotus to a greater or lesser extent, so I don’t think reciting a tracklist will be of much help to anybody… So I have two comments to make about FlyLo live.

First: Ellison’s bench is very deep in terms of musical catalogue… most recognizably, he dropped (and chopped) Yonkers by Tyler, the Creator midway through the performance, wound it down with some unidentifiable bro-step, and capped it off with Paint it Black (“I’m gonna leave you with one of my favourite songs with some of that rock-shit!”).

Second: his songs transform on the journey from small speakers to large. I’m going to use the word “ethereal” again (remember it from a couple paragraphs ago?) to describe FlyLo’s style on albums… Those complex, avant garde, light beats seem like something distilled from wispy clouds on a blue-sky day. On the (redoubtable) Roundhouse system, though, each song transforms into an insistent, driving, rumbling thunderhead. Ellison must know about this dichotomy, because he was not sitting back with his hand propping up his chin, Rodin’s The Thinker-style, he was headbanging with the rest of the crowd. I’ll restate: Flying Lotus, live, is head-bang-able.

Is it electro? Hell no! It’s way more complex than that, and still doesn’t have the all-payoff build and drop structure… it’s still about flatness, layers, and polyrhythmic complexity, it’s just… somehow rougher and deeper.

All in all, Flying Lotus at the Roundhouse was an experience for audiophiles, art-o-philes, and anyone who wants to use his/her head to think as well as rage.

Flying Lotus – Kill Your Co-Workers from Warp Records on Vimeo.

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Jamie Q

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