Show Recap: Flying Lotus and his galactic jazz of sight and sound
Words: Erica Castello / November 20, 2012
Flying Lotus rocked the Fox Theater in the heart of downtown Oakland on Thursday night with the high-energy support of an audience united in respect for the music and the intellect of the L.A. based producer, musician, and surprisingly prolific filmmaker. Supported by rapper Jeremiah Jae, beatmaker Teebs, and laptop DJ The Gaslamp Killer, FlyLo drew a young, diverse crowd that reflects his multi-faceted track record. The nearly sold-out show was more than a routine showcase of the avant-garde, electro-jazz, futuristic hip-hop that the twenty-eight year-old has planted himself firmly at the forefront of. The resonance of Thursday’s performance was in large part due to visuals created by Strange Loop and Time Warp, two artists that FlyLo refers to as “the homies”. Their imagery danced along with FlyLo’s wild remixes, his sometimes mind-boggling layering of found sounds, keyboard riffs, neo-soul samples, the occasional Thom Yorke cameo, and an apparent refusal to sonically repeat oneself.
FlyLo, who studied film at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, opened his show with a homage to the Bay Area music scene, dropping “I’m God”, the Clams Casino produced track made famous by the Bay Area’s Lil B. FlyLo weaved the transient, ephemeral soundscape of his recent material into the up-tempo Oaklandish wavelength by sampling all the right tracks, starting with the ultra-hot Kendrick Lamar (who was all over the Bay Area himself over the past few weeks, headlining his own show at The Warfield and joining Schoolboy Q and A\$AP Rocky on the same Fox Theater stage just one night prior). FlyLo came down from the DJ stand with mic in hand and addressed the crowd, “Let’s celebrate Kendrick Lamar!” before rapping along to K-Dot’s hit-single “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. On Kanye’s indefatigable single “Mercy”, Flylo transformed Big Sean’s over-saturated verse into a high-pitched frequency that went absurdly, if paradoxically, hard before shifting quickly into “Putty Boy Strut” off of his just-released LP Until the Quiet Comes.
FlyLo went straight into an extensive and subtle J Dilla tribute segment starting with “Melt!” off his 2008 album Los Angeles that is cleverly reminiscent of Jaylib’s “One for Dilla”. The vibe in the front-row was generally sweaty and consistently poppin’ even as FlyLo dropped down into subtler tracks like Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” and Erykah Badu’s “The Healer” (the song with the soft refrain “this one is for Dilla… hip-hop”). Musically speaking, the show was respectfully referential to the legends of FlyLo’s own hip-hop lineage and certainly on-point, if not out of the ordinary, for the experimental laptop musician. He was gracious and accommodating to his fans—coming out for not one but three encores and giving us the signal to get hella hyphy by pulling out Waka Flocka Flame’s ratchet anthem “Hard in Da Paint” for the (final) finale.
But the real value of this show, the real reason the majority of this audience will tell their friends about this experience and pay money to see FlyLo again is due to the incredible synergy between his musical perspective and the visual narrative he, along with Strange Loop and Time Warp, chose to pair it with. The set design team placed a screen behind FlyLo’s simple but elevated DJ platform and then layered another, more translucent screen in front of him. The intergalactic holograms invited the audience into the burgeoning world of tech-driven experience art—on some real next-level spacey shit. Think 3-D projections of pulsating galaxies and time-space bending multi-dimensional formulations of light you don’t usually get outside of a better than average LSD trip.
With carefully angled projections from around the high-ceilinged concert hall, the immersive effect was a reminder that hip-hop is as much about visual art as it is about music. FlyLo and his crew seem to be steady building an artistic universe out of this galactic jazz, showing us exactly how hip-hop stands to benefit from technological advances in projection and computer-generated imagery at shows. Although the live experience at the Fox varied depending on where you managed to squeeze yourself into the free-for-all ground floor or highly elevated balcony section, the visual aspect of this show is beyond dope. It is a cosmologically-oriented exploration of fragmentation and amalgamation, and a must-see for anyone looking to expand their understanding of what hip-hop can be.
FlyLo didn’t push himself too far beyond his standard live set but he did prove himself a valuable conduit between the world of electronic music, where experimental imagery abounds, to the often stark set-up of a standard hip-hop show. In music journalism, we pay homage to the power of hip-hop to tell us things about the world, about our peoples, about our selves. But we sometimes forget that there is much in hip-hop to see—not only in the form of graffiti and design but also in the inimitable immediacy of the live experience.