photos by Dave Lichterman
Well into Flying Lotus’ headlining set Thursday night at Neumos, after the magnitude of the performance had already been well-established and everyone’s mind was sufficiently blown, a guy who had been standing in front of me for most of the show, giddily dancing and carrying on like most everyone else in attendance, paused to take out his phone. I looked over his shoulder and a huge smile came over me as I watched him slowly type into his Facebook status bar: “Music is my religion.”
I admittedly am not very well-versed in the ins and outs of electronic music, but I knew going in that Flying Lotus was considered to be one of the scene’s principal figureheads, one of its most innovative and well-respected musical forerunners, and that with his highly-lauded 2010 album Cosmogramma, he was just beginning to realize his potential as producer. His live performance, which featured a live drummer and bassist, was nothing short of revolutionary and was unlike anything I could have ever imagined seeing live. More on this later. Preceding FlyLo was a full slate of openers who certainly didn’t disappoint either.
My plan was to get to Neumos for Seattle electronic favorites Truckasaurus at 9:00, but for a variety of reasons including an extremely long previous night I couldn’t make it until Lorn came on at 10:30. I did hear Truckasaurus, as well as Samiyam, played great sets, though. The floor was already fairly packed by the time Lorn, who is on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, took the stage. His music was characterized by ominous, otherworldly bass that growled underneath everything throughout his set. He also threw in a number of hip hop samples, and I think I heard more vocals in the first five minutes of Lorn’s set than I heard all of Wednesday. Lorn was successful in getting everyone moving, and didn’t seem to want to leave the stage - Eskmo was actually on stage setting up as Lorn was still playing.
The sets were already running a little over time, so it was convenient that Eskmo was able to get underway immediately after Lorn finished up, and their styles seemed similar so the transition was smooth. Eskmo, however, was far more varied in his use of effects and tempos. He would also occasionally sing into a mic he had set up, but this didn’t really add much as he didn’t seem to be looping the vocals or running them through any effects. Effects would range from what sounded like birds chirping to heavier industrial sounds that would start off sounding like a discordant mess, and then slowly, without anyone realizing it, build into something more coherent and dance-able, with a thicker bass and racheted-up BPMs.
The visuals all night were impressive as well. Two screens were set up behind the stage that hung on opposite sides of several hanging stripes of LEDs. During Eskmo’s set, images would range from looping footage of costumed Asian dancers, like something you might see at a Chinese New Year parade, to alternating images of peacocks and WWII aerial dog fights. In case you didn’t know, Decibel Festival is basically a tripper’s paradise.
I knew as soon as I walked into Neumos that Flying Lotus would have a live drummer, as a kit was set up on stage the whole night. When a bassist came out who was called Thundercat and sported long feathers protruding from his hair and a custom orange and red sunburst Ibanez bass, I was nearly beside myself. Watching guys play around with laptops and hidden beat pads and knobs is great and all, but nothing will ever beat a live band. The band gave the whole performance the feel of some futuristic electronic rock show, with Flying Lotus assuming the role traditionally held for the singer and lead guitarist. It all contributed to the fact that Flying Lotus is really light years ahead of everyone else. He’s just doing stuff that no one else does, and more importantly, stuff that few, including myself, could have even imagined was possible with live electronic music, or live music in general.
Like others at Decibel Fest, Flying Lotus catered to the dance-hungry crowd, playing an amazing remix of Bone Thugs’ “Ecstasy”, even chiming in himself on some of the vocal parts, as well as other more up-tempo numbers. He also used a Radiohead sample that was well-received, and had everyone completely engaged and absolutely blown away the entire time. He was incredibly animated and into it as well, smiling, laughing, pointing, shifting from side to side, and orchestrating the live bass and drums with nothing more than a concerted glance here or there. To watch him electronically jam with the live instrumentation was ground-breaking, and I think the whole crowd was awe-struck, but too busy dancing to let it get to them. I’m just going to stop now, however, as I think I could probably drool on about Flying Lotus’s performance for longer than anyone is willing to read. It’s probably best, at this point in time, to try to sum up the innovative force behind Flying Lotus’ performance and the overall atmosphere in Neumos as succinctly as possible, and I don’t think I can do better than the guy on Facebook in front of me: “Music is my religion.” It certainly felt like there was something transcendent in the air when Flying Lotus was playing.