"I had to journey within on this record..."

It’s easy to notice when things go BOOM! The Fresh Prince did it in our charts. Concorde did it in the skies. Zinedine Zidane did it on the pitch in the European Footie Final.

The latest character to go BOOM! is Flying Lotus. He’s taken the world of experimental beats and exploded convention using the force to launch a trajectory that’s aimed firmly at the heavens.

Clash caught up with Steven Ellison, AKA Flying Lotus, ahead of his second album for Warp.

Things have definitely got bigger,” admits the twenty-seven-year-old. “‘Cosmogramma’ needed to be wider and have more scope. One of the main reasons was that after my last record came out I started hearing a bunch of stuff that was trying to sound like that record. It was really frustrating for me. I was like, ‘Ah man, why are these kids all trying to bite this shit?’ So I was like, ‘If these kids can make music like this then maybe I should go and expand all my ideas and make it all wider’. I wanted to make the record I have been dreaming about making.”Dreaming can take you far. And his jump in scale displays a musical mind that’s getting captivatingly lucid. Whilst his last album ‘Los Angeles’ took the growing trend of wonky hip-hop beats and shook them to the foundations of experimentalism, ‘Cosmogramma’ is true to its title.

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This is an excerpt from an article that appears in the May issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from April 2nd. You can read the full issue online HERE and subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.

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Astral excursions into sound witnesses his restless spirit punctuated by polyrhythmic shifts as his music soars in various directions from smoke-stained beats, schizoid structures and saxophone-fuelled flights to canonical jazz freakouts. Crushed house vibes then battle with the kind of off-kilter percussion that has battalions of snares and hi-hats circulating like rogue satellites in a solar storm. It’s far out to say the least.

“With this album I had a vision before I went in; there was a trajectory I guess. All the ideas were expanded, having more instruments, more textures and more rhythmic ideas. I suppose I may have put my influences forward more than I have in the past. Experimenting for my own personal satisfaction, that’s always the most fun when you are exploring new territory and having a good time.”Flying Lotus is clearly having a great time. Sitting at the top of a global community of experimental musicians, there’s a code and operating principal rooted in the serious aesthetic of hip-hop, bedroom geek focus and the untethered vision of jazz musicians. Such panoramic approaches led scene proponent and Radio 1 presenter Mary Ann Hobbs to comment that “Flying Lotus, for me, is like the Hendrix of his generation”. So how does the producer feel about such big words?

“Well, it’s bold. And it’s a trip that words like that are out there. But I can’t dwell on shit like that. I do my thing and I realise that what I have done is noteworthy, I’ve made my little contribution to this thing but there’s so much more to do. I am just getting started. We have a loooong way to go. Hopefully I aint gonna choke on my own vomit.”

Whilst ‘Los Angeles’ saw him underplaying the fact that his aunt was Alice Coltrane (the famous jazz musician and wife of John Coltrane), ‘Cosmogramma’, as the name hints, sees him tap into his bloodline’s cosmic voyage navigated by music. “More than in any other time of my life I was soaking in that music, my family’s music and especially my aunt because she was so shaken by losing John Coltrane and I can hear that in her music. I can hear why she would make certain records, you know? It made more sense to me. I need to make sure that I can do that with my music too because that’s the honest shit. It led me to realise that I had to journey within on this record and not do just what people wanted me to do and try to understand what we are all about through music.”

Flying Lotus has tapped into a global audience for his music and the success genuinely seems to have taken him by surprise. His new album features a track from Thom Yorke, a sign of how fast this man’s cache has grown. He also reveals he never thought he’d ever live in a house, instead living out his days in studio apartments. In the last two years his lifestyle permanently changed with globe trotting gigs, collaborating with the world’s elite and releasing on one of the world’s oldest and prestigious dedicated labels for electronic music.

It‘s doubtful the insular jazz scene will be embracing this forty-five minutes of exploration immediately upon release, but one thing’s for sure: FlyLo’s growing band of global followers can only lap it up. Small but fanatical pockets of followers of wonky, raved-up lower tempo beats are building in key cities across Europe and the US. Their names sound like a futuristic call to arms for sleeper cells of musical militia. Rustie and Hudson Mohawke in Glasgow, Fulgeance and Dimlite in Paris, Bullion and Paul White in London. Kotchy and FaltyDL in New York, Harmonic 313 in Sydney or all FlyLo’s crew in LA are all developing an intimate scene around the world. It feels like a global neighbourhood populated as sparsely as a small town where going to specific gigs will mean bumping into beat-based brethren as everyone is on the same nod.

The foundations of this scene were laid by the blunted beats of musical godfather JDilla, whose rhythms were then taken on by the likes of Dabyre, Prefuse ’73 and to some degree Skam artists from the UK. Yet there’s been a significant time lag between then and this eruption over the last two years. How would our protagonist explain this? “One of the things that really got people going was Dilla’s passing away. After that a lot more people were open to his music and searching it out. I definitely have a cult following. There’s definitely that. There’s definitely some folks listening, I didn’t expect that but I aint gonna complain now. I don’t think that people made it accessible for nerds. When we started hitting people with computers then it was like, ‘Oooh, maybe I can go to the show too?’ I don’t know; it’s a funny question.”

Regardless of deconstructing the scene, the world of unrestrained rhythms, unshackled from convention continues to expand and link up heads, as FlyLo rounds off: “There’s a unifying thread in there somewhere isn’t there? The fact that people are getting into this thing encourages me to lead them in further into the imagination without holding back. I feel that if they get with this thing then I can really give it to them next time.”

Words by Matthew Bennett


Read ClashMusic's review of Flying Lotus' 'Comsogramma' album HERE.

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