In the circular brick hall of Camden’s Roundhouse, a sold-out crowd are about to discover the cosmic possibilities of electronic music. Flying Lotus: laptop magician, founder of LA’s Brainfeeder label and great-nephew of Alice Coltrane, is embarking on a journey to the furthest reaches of space.
Tonight’s show is an experimental blending of sound, with visuals provided by a group of artists from the label AntiVJ. On his Twitter feed, FlyLo has promised to play his more cerebral material. “Heads up, this show with AntiVJ at the Roundhouse will be very cinematic. It’s not gonna be a rave OK? Save the K for next time,” he says.
But it turns out to be more accessible than his tweet suggests. There are moments of exploration, like the energising intro during which shards of electronic sound pierce the air and a pitched-up female vocal raises hairs on the back of the neck. Or when harsh synth notes are manipulated, so that they echo around the room like nails rattling off a metal barrel.
But there are also drum breaks, hip hop samples and the booming sound of the Roland 808 bass kick. FlyLo draws from the same toolbox that made gangsta rap. And yet the sound has a big twist. What it is remains hard to say, but my friend has a good stab when he describes FlyLo as “Like J Dilla, but in 100 years’, time”. There is something effortlessly soulful in FlyLo, just as in legendary hip hop producer J Dilla, who was the author of hundreds of beats for everyone from Common to Q-Tip.
And yet there is something futuristic. His music is like hip hop stretched to galactic proportions. Hi hats become emissions of static noise. Snare hits echo and clatter around the room like asteroids. The bass is big, thunderously big, and the sound in the centre of the pit is ear-crushingly loud. Everything has a coating of gritty digital distortion, like the imprint left by a meteor shower.
AntiVJ’s visuals are dazzling. Behind FlyLo a vast, curved projector screen displays a rocky landscape like the surface the moon. Points of light appear, cascade down the screen then dissolve into a mosaic of vibrating strings. Many-sided polygons rush past like an unfolding map of digital space. It is a modern, slicker and more monochrome version of the final journey in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
And yet FlyLo seems to say there was a problem. A hitch has forced him to abandon some “crazy shit” he had planned. Perhaps the music was supposed to synchronise with the visuals in some unseen way.
But if he is disappointed, he doesn’t look it. “Every time I come to London, it’s all love,” he says.
He is dressed in a white collarless shirt of Oriental design. He grins and, as the electronic sounds shoot into the air, runs his hands over his scalp like a blissed-out raver feeling the first rush of an E pill.
FlyLo is not completely original. He shares characteristics with other artists on Warp – the British record label that has released two of his three albums and several EPs. Artists such as Clark, who uses digital distortion as an instrument in itself, or perhaps Autechre. But he is one of only a handful of laptop artists one would unhesitatingly describe as a musician, and not merely a producer of music.
Whether it’s the sheer scale and audacity or the use, in this case, of the astonishing visuals, it’s hard to resist the belief that he is communicating to us from 2100.