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.