Flying Lotus Interviewed: Exploring The Esprit Of The LA Bass Lord's 2008
, December 16th, 2008 09:34
Kev Kharas prepares his Lotus notes to ask Warp Records' Steven Ellison about J Dilla, his Los Angeles long-player, and his place in global beat culture this 2008
Though the Gregorian calendar insists that 2008 AD must continue its lope to inevitable close, it seems unfair to force a musical year so evasive to go down with its temporal ship. Anyone looking to resolve the last 12 months in terms of trends will find their task tough - no grand, overarching narrative seems ready to out itself just yet, as legion bedroom-pop tyros, LA noiseniks and Brooklyn experiments continue to vie in the mind's eye for historical territory. Perhaps given more time and greater distance those who feel the need can begin to mould 2008 into something coherent and palatable, but if the feeling is that for now it's best just to keep selves immersed in the sonic gloop, there are at least omens beginning to form in the sky overhead. One of the year's few and most intriguing phenomena has been the anemophilous flight of dubstep, its seeds caught on brisk London winds to cross-pollinate with the local fauna of outposts as far-flung as Glasgow (Rustie, Hudson Mohawke, Mike Slott), Philadelphia (Starkey), the Netherlands (Martyn, 2562) and Los Angeles.
SAMIYAM, Ras G and The Gaslamp Killer are luminaries local to LA bass, but at its hub is resident Steven Ellison AKA Flying Lotus. FlyLo's sound is just as nebulous and hard to pin as 2008's – what dubstep remains is found in predatory bass nous and sweaty, fluttering snares. To those elements Ellison, the great-nephew of the late Alice Coltrane, adds the sultry midnight weight of trip-hop and the lonesome shades of jazz, as well as copping the low-slung gambol of J Dilla (whose masterpiece Donuts was made in LA as well as Dilla's native Detroit). The result is music that bears the traces of influence but stands woozily independent and of its own. This found its way out across 2008 through Warp on the hot slabs of wax that have made up full-length Los Angeles and the first two of the three-part LA EP series, not to mention a slew of remixes and a BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix that will steal your steamy breath.
How does a typical day run? Has it changed much since the success of Los Angeles?
Jeez, I dunno, lately it's been a bit weird. Just waking up and drinking and getting high and working on music until I pass out. Been watching a lot of The Office lately. Things haven't changed too much. I'm doing the same things I was doing a couple years ago. It just seems more people give a shit now.
Are you surprised by how well the record has done?
Do you revisit it now, or are you too busy with other work?
If I had a choice, I'd move into the next phase of things 100 per cent, but I've been working on putting the LA EP series together, as well as messing around with things for my live set. So I still have to play around with the album. I still feel good about it though, I'm thankful for that.
People seem to be aligning what you and Samiyam are doing in LA with what Rustie, Hudson Mohawke, Mike Slott and the rest of the Lucky Me crew are doing in Glasgow. Do you think that's fair? Is there a relationship there or are you just putting out stuff that happens to be similar in the way it's directing hip-hop or beat-driven music in general?
Well I think it's fair to say that the entire 'beat community' have been inspired by the artists and the things going down in Los Angeles. I've seen some amazing things happen all around the world as a result of the big movement that started here a few years back. People have gotten inspired and have been taking things in their own directions and that's what it's all about. We're all family, we're all in touch, we all hang out and learn from each other. We all talk shit on iChat/AIM.
You've remixed a few of his tunes, but how much of an influence has J Dilla really been on what you do and if so what is it about his work that appeals so much? And I'm sorry for this question, the comparisons must be starting to annoy by now.
Hah, yeah it's almost annoying at this point but hey, I love Dilla and who knows where this beat thing would be without him. His work ethic inspired so many producers around the world, but when he moved out to LA, it seemed that his presence here inspired everyone to kick things into overdrive. If I had to describe his music, I'd say it were 'imaginative soul music'. I think it's his imagination that appeals to me, personally. He could flip a boring record and make you feel like you were flying.
How about where you live - how has that affected the sounds you make? Do you get out much into the LA night?
Eh, I don't go out much, I'm a homebody. I've been traveling so much this year, so when I'm here in LA I like to be in the lab.
There seems to be a type of controlled chaos in a lot of what you produce, with the various noises that are constantly trying to eek out a place in the mix underpinned by beats that are often firm and steady. Would you agree? Where does that chaos come from, outside of the music?
I've always liked music that let's my mind drift. There is this strange hypnotic element I try to find when I'm producing. It should be musical enough to inspire visuals, and just technical enough to keep the nerds happy. With the next few things though, I'm gonna try to calm it down a bit. I'd rather dig deeper into the musical side of things on the next LP.
I've seen it mentioned elsewhere that you're big into film production - do you think that comes out in what you do as Flying Lotus?
Without a doubt – I think when you make an album, it should feel like a film or some kind of a story. There should always be a strong concept behind it, especially if there aren't any lyrics. If there's no theme or concept it might as well be a CD-R, because even mixtapes have concepts these days.
Leading on from the first part of that last question, are you 'Flying Lotus' in the same way that Sam Baker is 'Samiyam'? Learning about your interest in film got me thinking that perhaps you saw Flying Lotus as a production you're working on rather than an identity (as in 'Steven Ellison presents... Flying Lotus')
Funny you ask, because that's the way it started. In the beginning I felt like 'Flying Lotus' was a style. Eventually people started calling me Lotus, Flylo and now Mr. Lotus or what have you, so now here we are.
And what's next? Do you have much planned for 2009?
Oh my, too much. Kicking my label Brainfeeder into action full force. Collabs with Adult Swim, remixes galore, and working on my next and best album yet. Exciting times.