On Art and Artistry (And Flying Lotus)

Have you ever looked at a piece of art – a painting, or a sculpture perhaps – and walked away from it, thinking, “I have no idea what I was just looking at, but I liked it…?” That was my experience after seeing Flying Lotus at Elements 2 weekends ago.

FlyLo is an electronic music producer, rapper and filmmaker from California whose music has a strong hip hop base but is also kind of all over the map. His work is experimental, and to see him live is to see only the tip of the iceberg of his brain. When his Elements set was over, all I could say for a few minutes was, “That was so weird.”

I should mention that I don’t actually listen to Flying Lotus, really. I saw him perform at a festival 3 years ago and, while I don’t remember the specifics, I just remember how intense it was. In the years since then I still hadn’t listened to much of his music, but I knew enough about him to know that I was in for…an experience.

FlyLo often performs with screens both behind him and in front of him, projecting images that range from the psychedelic to the truly terrifying. In the world of electronic music, incredible visuals are not uncommon. Yet the aesthetics of a Flying Lotus set are so much more than some pew-pew lasers. They are a work of art in and of themselves, carefully curated yet so far beyond the lay person’s comprehension.

Sonically, a Flying Lotus set sounds a lot like an elegant series of random noises, melding together with percussion to somehow, inexplicably, create music. Sometimes. Other times, it is actually just noises. There was a span of about 3 minutes during FlyLo’s Elements set where there was screaming. Just screaming. Screaming like we were watching a horror movie where a woman was running away from a murderer wielding a machete. It was so overwhelming I almost left the room. But then it was over and we were back to mellow, groovy hip hop. It was business as usual; which, in FlyLo’s case, is not very usual at all.

I spend a lot of time thinking about music; how it affects me, and how I relate to it. And what I’ve come to realize is that one of the many metrics we can use to describe creative genius is how accessibly it manifests itself in a person’s art. I used to think that Kanye West existed on a creative plane above most people. I still do, actually. But I’ve tweaked this theory a little bit to say that he isn’t necessarily more brilliant than other artists (though he is more brilliant than a lot of other artists), he just doesn’t care about whether or not other people understand it. I mean, Kanye is a commercial megasuccess, so on many levels, he’s reaching the masses and they are picking up what he’s putting down, so to speak. But part of me listens to his music or watches interviews with him and thinks, “Kanye exists in a completely different universe than I do.”

Flying Lotus is like this, but to an extreme. He hasn’t achieved the level of fame that Kanye has, and probably never will, because his work is far less commercial. Kanye maintains a healthy balance of weird and mainstream. FlyLo is far more skewed towards the weird. FlyLo is the painting in the art museum that clearly portrays so much thought and energy and talent. But stare at it as long as you want, you will never have any idea what you’re looking at. But it intrigues you, and so you keep coming back for more. I hope I don’t have to wait another 3 years before I get my next dose of whatever exactly it was that FlyLo was serving up that night. It was strange and exciting and even if I don’t exactly get it, I’m still all about it.

Elements: The Music (2017)

I can’t decide if I want to keep doing this post-festival double recap where I write one post about logistics and one post about music.  It sometimes feels cumbersome which is totally against the point of maintaining a blog that serves no purpose other than that I enjoy writing in it. But on the other hand, I like having a record of this stuff, especially for the festivals that I’ve attended multiple times. So I might reevaluate this. But for now…I guess it stays! (Welcome to my internal monologue, everyone) So anyway, here are some musical highlights from Elements:

GRiZ
I love GRiZ, obviously. Normally I’d expect to come away from a GRiZ set saying, “that was funky and upbeat and fun, yay,” and that is absolutely true. But this was a really unique set in that there was a huge chunk of mellow, slow sax jams in the middle. Sometimes I loved it, sometimes it was moving a bit too slowly for me, but overall it was really nice to see something so different from an artist I’ve seen a ton of times (in fact I just saw him last month at Camp Bisco). The video below is (I think) taken during the interlude part of this set.

Barclay Crenshaw
This was probably my favorite set of the weekend. Earlier this summer a friend described Barclay’s music as “weird hip hop” and that is…pretty much accurate. This was even further confirmed a few weeks ago after I stumbled upon his website. The concept is:

“In 1884 an explorer found some artifacts suggesting that an alien race has visited the earth and abducted a large group of its children and then returned them a few days later. There are no records of what happened to the children or who they were or even if they returned in the same shape as they left.

The only clues to these strange occurrences are in the cryptic art and music left behind. With every release, the cosmic manifesto at the heart of the Barclay Crenshaw project reveals itself further…”

If you have a few minutes, go poke around this part of his website. I do not understand what’s happening there at all but I love it anyway.

Flying Lotus
Stay tuned for a post about this one. For about 24 hours after Elements I thought about nothing except his set because my brain was just trying to process it all. But here’s a video (not from this festival, unfortunately) that about portrays the intensity of his Elements performance.

Zeds Dead
I actually didn’t (and still don’t) know much about Zeds Dead even though they’re huge. I saw part of their Mysteryland set a year or 2 ago and just remembered that they played a lot of other people’s songs. After seeing them at Elements I can safely say that a) they’re heavier than I thought they were, and b) they still do play a lot of other people’s songs. Which, hey, is great. I loved it, even if i took more time than usual to figure out what they actually sound like. I can’t find a video I like of theirs so here’s a cool video of a total solar eclipse that I’ve watched more times than is probably normal.

Elements: The Experience (2017)

Another Elements has come and gone. It has relocated from its Brooklyn home to the Bronx and expanded from one day to two, but at its heart it still has the big names and fun extras of a big festival with the laid back attitude of a small one. This was my third year attending and even though I miss being able to walk home from this event, it remains one of my favorite annual events in New York City. I don’t know why I didn’t recap it in 2015 but if you want to compare notes, check out the write-up from 2016.

Check-in/Security
The lines to get in were much shorter this year, but picking up my pass on day one was…not speedy. I had to check in from a guest list, but all the computers were broken and so I stood there and stood there and stood there and even though I was in the VIP line, I watched as the guest list line moved along at lightning speed and…I continued to stand. A small price to pay for an otherwise seamless festival, though.

Crowd
BangOn!NYC’s events always bring out the best and most down to earth people. Elements is a classic Burner event (Burning Man attendee), even though I imagine most people do not actually attend Burning Man. But everyone is artistic and creative and friendly.

The Fun Stuff
Elements always has cool art installations but things this year were really several notches. In addition to live painting and art cars, they had a bounce house, roller skating, carnival games, a thunderdome where you could “battle” a friend while both of you were suspended in harnesses, a healing garden with health and wellness activities, and a ton of cool but random little artsy alcoves, prime for Instagram-worthy photos.

Water
Last year I was unable to find the free water at all, so this year was definitely an improvement. The water tasted like it came straight from a pool but hey, free is free, so I was happy.

Layout
The shape of this festival was kind of long and narrow, but somehow it never got crowded. It was easy to get around everywhere and only took a few minutes to walk the entire length of the festival. The addition of a massive warehouse that housed the main stage was a surprising but super cool perk of having the festival in such an industrial spot. The warehouse was far larger than the audience, which meant there was always room to move around. A+.

Transportation
Man, the Bronx. It is so far. It was so far that I arranged to stay over at friends’ houses after both nights of the festival because I couldn’t even think about trying to deal with a 2 hour subway ride at midnight. The festival is a little bit of a walk from the subway, but Elements provided shuttles as well as staff marking the walking path, so I commend them for truly doing everything possible to make it easy for attendees.

Price
Even at the highest pricing tier, you truly get a lot for your money with this festival. If you buy early at one of the lower pricing tiers, it’s an absolute steal.

For my third year in a row, Elements proved to be a top notch small festival that somehow still feels like a large-scale event (in all the best ways). I truly spend all year looking forward to this weekend so…2018, I’m waiting for ya.

Robert Delong – Weirdly Great and Greatly Weird.

Robert DeLong may not be the hardest working musician ever, but he is definitely one of the hardest working musicians when actually on stage. While I would certainly classify him as an electronic artist, his range goes far beyond what many people think of when they think of EDM (i.e. “pressing buttons”).

DeLong’s sound is diverse, ranging from house to indie to moombahton to rock. But even more diverse than his sound is his stage setup. Like many others, his laptop provides a backing track. Unlike many others, he has multiple drum kits, as well as several drum pads. He has video game controllers rigged to produce sound when he plays them; he sings, including looping his own voice during the show; he plays guitar; he plays keyboards; he probably uses instruments that I don’t even have a vocabulary for. He is never static, bouncing from equipment to equipment, probably accruing more steps during a 60 minute performance than I do in a full day of FitBit tracking. He is a jack of all trades and master of all of them, too.

Curious as to how this all works? Check out the video below, where he goes back and forth between vocals, drums, keys, and a Wiimote.

Did you notice the face paint in that video? (How could you not?) That, too, is a staple of Robert Delong shows. His face always has a cool, geometric, blacklight-sensitive design on it, and if you want to join in on the fun, yours will too.

When I saw DeLong in 2015, a woman approached me during the show and asked me a question, and I had no idea what she was saying so I just shook my head. It wasn’t until later on that I realized that she was asking me if I wanted my face painted. I tried to find her again, but no luck. I looked around at my fellow concert-goers, jealous. When I went to see Robert DeLong at the South Street Seaport (for free!) last week, I was determined not to make the same mistake again.

Booyah

This show was so fun and buoyant and I am endlessly impressed by the range of his talents and by the community feel of his small but mighty fans. Check out his most famous track, “Global Concepts,” below, or get all your Robert DeLong goodness over at http://robertdelong.com/. And next time he comes through NYC, come get funky with me!

Shows I Missed: Camp Bisco

I’m happy to say that I don’t write too many “Shows I Missed” posts anymore. These posts are typically a monthly roundup of the concerts I wanted to attend but, for one reason or another, could not. I’m going to a lot fewer shows than normal these days, so I can’t say exactly why it is that I’m feeling less regret about missing out. Maybe I’m being more strategic about concert attendance and actually making it to the few shows I know I’d be extra sad to miss, or maybe I just care less when I don’t attend things. I suspect it’s a little of column A and a little of column B.

THAT BEING SAID.

I did not allude to this in my Camp Bisco music roundup post, but on the whole I was a bit disappointed not with the quality of music that I saw, but with the quantity. I’ve been to a ton of music festivals yet never before have I left feeling like I missed so many of the sets I was planning on seeing. The reasons for all the missed music are as follows:

  1. Conflicts. So many of my favorites played at the same time. Hard decisions were made.
  2. Rain. One stage at Bisco is covered, so when rain happened, covered sets always took precedence. Even when that covered set wasn’t something I was planning on attending at all.
  3. Early sets. As everyone knows, bigger names tend to perform later in the day, so there aren’t typically many sets I want to see in the early afternoon. Yet Bisco had tons of music I really wanted to see at 12 or 1pm. I could have and should have gone to these, but the long walk from camp to the stages meant I was just too lazy to go, especially since I’d have to walk all the way back after (or spend 12 hours in the festival grounds).
  4. General laziness. Yup.
  5. Various combinations of the above at once.

Here is a sad, sad list of all the music I missed at Camp Bisco.

Nightmares on Wax
Everyone who knows Nightmares on Wax loves Nightmares on Wax. He has this downtempo hip-hop/funk/jazz vibe that is just universally great. I don’t think I spoke to anyone who went to this set, nor do I even remember considering it while at Bisco, which probably means his set conflicted with someone major.

Marvel Years
When someone told me that Marvel Years was on at the same time as Gramatik, I think I audibly “BOOOO”ed. I used to refer to MY as “Pretty Lights Junior,” and while I do think his sound is kind of PL-ish, he’s really come into his own in the last few years. He’s also fantastic live and this was a bummer to the nth degree.

Beats Antique
Beats is a weird, Middle Eastern sounding band with belly dancing and general nonsense (last time I saw them they had a giant inflatable dragon that extended from the stage out into the audience). I actually did make it to the last 10 minutes of this set but it just wasn’t enough.

Goldfish
Out of all the Bisco sets missed by people in my crew, I think the sadness was most universal around Goldfish. It was just too early and too rainy. This duo from South Africa is the danciest and probably the artist I have most succeeded at turning friends into fans.

Manic Focus
Damnit damnit. 2017 should just be unofficially called, “The Summer In Which I Missed Several Manic Focus Sets.” I’ve been on the MF train since relatively early on but for whatever reason I haven’t seen him in…2 years? He has a really unique brand of electro-hip-hop that is allll the fire emojis.

Wax Future
UCH. Wax Future is an electro-funk/soul outfit from Philly and I did not attend this set because it was raining. I don’t really regret this because I get pretty cranky when soggy but I’m generally sad about it anyway. I just want to add to this that despite having a free ticket, I also missed Wax Future when they recently came through Brooklyn Bowl and boo on me for all of this.

Too Many Zooz
This is the set I am most upset to have missed. Especially because I honestly tried to go. Sort of. Too Many Zooz had a super early set and I was about to head there a little late, but right as I was leaving I decided to check the schedule to confirm their set time. I realized that their set was only 40 minutes long instead of the minimum of 60 minutes that LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE GOT, and since they were playing on the far end of the festival grounds and it would have taken me over 20 minutes to get there, I would have only had 5 or so minutes to see them. They’re a brasshouse trio that got their start in the NYC subway system and totally deserve all the fame they have because they have tons of kooky personality.

Anyway. Let this never happen again, okay? Okay.

Camp Bisco: The Experience (2017)

Camp Bisco was a fun – if slightly damp – weekend. It was my 2nd time at this festival, my first being in 2015, which also happened to be the festival’s first year on their new grounds in Scranton. It was exciting to compare notes and see how much has changed for the better.

Photo from 2015 because I took 0 photos this year whoops

Check-In/Security
We arrived to Bisco around 11pm Wednesday night and were completely set up by 2am. Considering that others who arrived later had to wait as many as 9 (or so I heard) hours in the car to check in, I would say we got super lucky. If you’re heading to Bisco in the future, perhaps the best piece of advice I can offer you is – BUY A PARKING PASS. If you don’t have one you’ll have to park in an off-site lot which can add many many hours to your journey. Don’t get stuck without one. They sell out quickly, so hop on that as soon as tickets go on sale.

Crowd
Bisco has a mix of ravers, cool hippies, and wooks. For the uninitiated, Urban Dictionary defines a wook as:

“A wook is a hippie without any ambition, motivation, or drive other than drugs and image. They’re generally in their twenties, college students (or dropouts) at small-town liberal colleges (such as Appalachian State University) and dependent on an income other than their own. 

Wooks tend to travel in packs, they smell strongly of patchouli and are in constant search for free drugs. One of the defining characteristics is an excessive amount of unkempt hair, usually in dreadlocks. 

It is important to make the distinction between a hippie and a wook. Hippies can generally be viewed as positive, optimistic members of society with an idealistic goal for the betterment of society. Wooks are everything that you’ve been warned about in regard to hippies wrapped into a neat little package.”

Fun Stuff
Bisco has a water park, which is super cool, except for the fact that I didn’t use it. At all. I went on 0 water slides, did not float in the lazy river, and didn’t even put my feet in the wave pool. It rained quite a bit which is part of my excuse – the other part is being too lazy to go back and forth between my campsite and the festival grounds so many times. I really wanted to go on the zip line, but like in 2015, I didn’t make it on that either. SIGH.

Water
Bisco has a few water stations that are poorly marked, and there were definitely fewer water stations than the printed map said there were. This is an area in which they need to do better.

Layout
The layout of this festival is pretty long and narrow, which can create significant bottlenecks at the end of big sets when thousands of people all try to navigate their way to a different stage via narrow pathways. But what I will say is that the indoor lodges with REAL BATHROOMS, and a mostly-covered main stage area more than make up for the inconvenience of the bottlenecks. I should also add that in wintertime these grounds are used as a ski resort, meaning you set your camp up on a hill. So you sleep on a slant. You win some, you lose some.

Transportation
If you don’t have a car I guess you can arrive by a combo of Greyhound and Uber? I’m not sure and I wouldn’t try it. But Bisco is around 2.5 hours from NYC which is excellent (looking at you, Electric Forest,  you 14 hour drive, you).

Price
Pretty standard festival pricing but if you have to rent a car (as my friends and I did), make sure you book that early. The rental car added a good chunk of money to our festival costs.

Misc
I have such mixed feelings about this festival. I had an amazing time both years that I went, but I also feel like I got super lucky both times regarding the time to get set up, getting a camping spot that wasn’t too far up the hill, not getting my belongings stolen (I heard a lot of reports of this), and other factors that really could have brought it down. I might consider getting a hotel if I wanted to go in the future.

ALSO – while I love the amphitheater main stage with concentric half circle rows of seats and a lawn behind it, the significant rain at the festival meant that at some points, tons of people were trying to squeeze in to the seated area because it was covered. At one point, my friend and I were making our way to that stage because it had started to rain. Everyone else had the same idea, and we were maybe 10 feet away from being under shelter when the crowd came to a standstill; the amphitheater was packed and there was no room for anyone else to get in. The rain came down harder and harder, and within a few seconds it felt like someone was dumping a bucket of water on my head. Everyone panicked and started pushing and shoving, trying to get into the amphitheater, and getting caught in that was one of the more terrifying moments of my life. Thankfully my friend and I were near a small alcove that housed a tented beer vendor, and we pushed our way into the alcove away from the crowd, and the bartender let us hide out from the storm and the near-riot under the edge of her tent (and gave us a free beer!). But it sucked, a lot.

Despite the drawbacks, Bisco was far better organized this year than it was 2 years ago. There were orderly lines for things that had previously been chaos, better logistics and more-informed staff (most of the time). Rumors have been floating around that Bisco is not being asked back to this location next year, and if it moves, I’d be skeptical of going to a new venue as it would mean being a guinea pig yet again. But I suppose we’ll see.

This marks the end of my camping festivals for 2017, but I still have some daytime festivals happening (hi Elements!!) because summer isn’t over yet! Onward!

A Big Month For Writing Elsewhere

This may have been my most prolific month on Mix ever? Links below!

A preview on a new festival, Karoondinha, which has since been canceled (haha doh)

An interview with Mike Hawkins

An interview with trance producer Andrew Rayel

My first ever in person interview – Dabin! (At Electric Forest)

Another Electric Forest on-site interview – Corrupt!

A full Electric Forest recap (don’t forget about this one too)

An awesome new track from Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano

Elements Festival is coming!!! (eeeee!)