Newspaper article International New York Times

Barreling into the Future with Funk and Fusion

Newspaper article International New York Times

Barreling into the Future with Funk and Fusion

Article excerpt

The producer and composer Flying Lotus talks about some of his favorite artists, albums and influences.

The old saw about sharks in the water -- they keep swimming or die -- bears at least a flicker of truth for the producer and composer known as Flying Lotus. The linchpin of an electronic-music vanguard in Los Angeles and a flagship artist for the progressive British indie label Warp, he has helped define a heady but soulful new strain of Afrofuturism, moving at a ceaseless pace.

Flying Lotus, a.k.a. Steven Ellison, 31, has long sought inspiration from myriad sources, including the searchingly cosmic music made by his great-aunt, the pianist and composer Alice Coltrane, who died in 2007.

"You're Dead!" is his fifth album, a 40-minute fantasia of head- spinning digression but immersive unity. As on "Cosmogramma," from 2010, and "Until the Quiet Comes," from 2012, he blended his programming with live musicians, notably the bassist-vocalist Thundercat, a regular collaborator. Among his guests are the eminent jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and the ace young rapper Kendrick Lamar.

There's an assertive forward push behind "You're Dead!" that sets it apart from earlier Flying Lotus albums, while placing it in a continuum of psychedelic funk and early fusion. "I actually really fell in love with music again during the making of this record," he said by phone from Los Angeles, on the eve of a club booking in Brazil. (His current tour will reach Terminal 5 in New York on Friday.)

"I wanted to do something that was unique to my spirit," he said, "so that however it went, at least it made some statement that was true to me, and to the things that I'm into." Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Q. The advance word on "You're Dead!" was that it would be a jazz album. Does it feel like one, in the end?

From my perspective it's still a jazz record, but it's definitely changed quite a bit from the original idea. I thought it was going to be a more traditional, hard-bop approach. And that was a good vibe for a while, but then I started to think to myself, "Man, there's so much stuff that I'm making right now that's not necessarily straight-ahead-jazz sounding."

Q. Death has been a theme on your previous albums; the new one seems less about loss than states of transition.

A.I found so many reasons to call it "You're Dead!" -- not just because I wanted to make this album about the journey through death. I was watching the music scene that I came up with kind of go stale, and watching the lights go out on a lot of my friends. And even for myself, saying, "I wonder if what I do even matters anymore? …

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