Flying Lotus 0 VIII 41111b., ER 94 77: Lord of Lords Flying Lotus' Jazzy New Opus Steps into the Afterlife

By Beta, Andy | The Fader, October-November 2014 | Go to article overview

Flying Lotus 0 VIII 41111b., ER 94 77: Lord of Lords Flying Lotus' Jazzy New Opus Steps into the Afterlife


Beta, Andy, The Fader


There may be no better sign of Flying Lotus' restless creativity than this: with every new album, the 30-year-old producer, born Steven Ellison, has upgraded houses. There was the apartment he lived in while recording his 2008 sophomore album, Los Angeles, nestled in the suburban desert purgatory known as the San Fernando Valley; the cramped house tucked into a hillside in Echo Park when 2010's Cosmogramma dropped; the bigger house located in the up-and-corning LA neighborhood Mt. Washington, with the backyard pool that Ellison jumped into for the photograph on the cover of 2012's Until the Quiet Comes. On the eve of Flying Lotus' fifth album, You're Dead!, I find myself before his latest home, a two-story behemoth located on the north side of the Hollywood Hills, in Studio City.

On the day of our first appointed meeting, fragrant rose bushes bloom along the path leading up to the house. The bright red door opens, and the only two residents of this sprawling, four-bedroom domicile emerge: Ellison and his six-month-old miniature Boston Terrier pup, Iko. "I wanted to buy the house," he says as he ushers me in. "The houses keep growing, don't they?" Ellison's ex-girlfriend Niki Randa, who guests as a vocalist on You're Dead!, put it to me this way in an email: "It takes a lot for Steve to conjure the inspiration for these little universes of his. Fresh settings bring new sounds, new neighborhood noises, new ideas." It doesn't hurt that Ellison's career has garnered him an affluence few experimental beatmakers can match.

When he shows up to meet me, however, he's barefoot, modestly dressed in surf shorts and a black hoodie with the Grand Theft Auto V logo across his chest. While in concert and on festival stages he seems to be perpetually hunched over his laptop, he is tall and broad in person, with a narrow strip of beard. Speaking only when prompted, he tells me he's been taken by rap battle videos lately, leading me into the midday dark of a home studio cluttered with keyboards, synthesizers, hardware and about half a dozen different medicinal marijuana bottles. He cues up YouTube clips of legendary local MC Daylyt, staring intently at the screen as the battle rapper weaves together rhymes referencing Coolio and Michael Jackson. Ellison pulls at a glass bong and contemplatively nods along, as though he's trying to eschew eye contact with me. Even when he's sitting still, he has a nervous, fidgeting energy about him. Though today marks the third occasion in the past few years that we've convened to speak about his kinetic music, there's something reticent about the guy, to where I get the feeling that he doesn't remember me at all.

Since he released his 2006 debut, 1983, Ellison has demonstrated an uncanny ability to meld musical abstraction with hard percussion, veering from mellow to face-meltingly psychedelic in a heartbeat. Back then, he was still interning at Stones Throw Records, the legendary California label home to Madlib and J Dilla. But ever since the tastemaking BBC DJ Mary Anne Hobbs crowned Ellison the "electronic Jimi Hendrix," he's made good on that promise of fame. Rising from the crowded field of beat producers on LA's Low End Theory scene, he signed to Warp Records for 2008's hyperactive Los Angeles, which slotted him in the same peer group as IDM label mates Aphex Twin and Autechre, and opened the door to collaborations with the likes of Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke. Ellison's music, like the man himself, is tumultuous, taking daredevil risks and embracing chaos, smashing together disparate sounds yet retaining a firm sense of control. His live sets are turbulent amebas of sound, absorbing cutting-edge bass music, West Coast hip-hop and trap, speed-demon jazz, kinked R&B, Radiohead rock, post-dubstep rumble and extraterrestrial electronic music. And on You're Dead!, Ellison has zoomed in on his life-long loves, hip-hop and jazz, collaborating with Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and Herbie Hancock, the legendary keys player who jammed with Miles Davis through the 1960s before becoming a jazz superstar in his own right. …

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