On August 15, Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison) brought his 3D show to Salt Lake for the second time, and my only complaint was that the performance wasn’t longer.
Asked to define Flying Lotus’s music, I find myself stumbling over my words. “Uh…it lands somewhere between neurotic, avant-garde space-hip hop with occasional Nintendo samples, experimental, hallucination-inducing jazz dreamscapes, and Stravinskian, electronic, cosmic gospel with an inclination toward the morbid. Er… let’s just say it’s not your grandma’s hip hop.” While some might argue that he is first and foremost an electronic artist, I’m sorry, kandi kids, no one is showing up in fluffies to Flying Lotus, and no drugs are needed. Flying Lotus is the drugs.
Ever the visual artist, Lotus started this performance with a viewing of one of his latest music videos for a song on his most recent album Flamagra. “Fire is Coming” features a room of children in full wolf suits and a patriarch wolf whose mouth widens to reveal the face of David Lynch (because the music isn’t surreal enough without conjuring up David Lynch’s holographic face inside a wolf suit). In classic Lynchian style, Lynch tells the children a disturbing story about a little boy named Tommy answering a phone call. The man on the line says that the boy’s mother will “know what it’s about.” The message sends the boy’s mother into a panic for reasons unexplained. The previously rambunctious children sit quietly, eyes glued to papa-wolf during the unnerving duration of surrealist storytime. At the end of this narrative that comes off as an ominous foreshadowing of Judgment Day, the sky darkens and a man runs down the street yelling, “Fire is coming! Fire is coming! Fire is coming!”
As expected, Flying Lotus continued to draw heavily from Flamagra throughout the night. In a recent Rolling Stone article he explains that the central symbol of Flamagra is an “eternal flame sitting on a hill.” Fire is one of those complex symbols with countless meanings across cultures, and even within a single culture. Fire is wrath, hell, destruction and death, but it is also passion, desire, creativity and renewal. It is both the house on fire and the phoenix ascending. When fire is in use by humankind, it can become a safe place to gather and guard from the elements and the night; a place around which rites are given, visions are gathered, and stories are passed down through generations. But its true nature is that of a god: a weapon that easily burns out of control and turns against its own user. In short, fire is an uncontrollable force of nature that represents states of transition: the place where the subconscious mind rises into consciousness, where non-being comes into being, and both of these in vice versa. Set upon a hill, its true power remains out of reach to the lowly likes of humankind.
While in the past every one of Flying Lotus’s albums has been an evolutionary departure from the last, Flamagra is an amalgam of all of the varied sounds of his past albums. Lotus’s talent is on full display not only as a musician, but as a composer. He guides guest collaborations from the likes of Herbie Hancock, Solange, Anderson.Paak, Tierra Whack, George Clinton, Denzel Curry, Little Dragon, Toro y Moi, Thundercat and more. After the sonic perfection and critical acclaim that is You’re Dead, Flamagra seems to be the point in Lotus’s career at which he has officially come into a unified, cohesive voice. Lotus couldn’t have chosen a better image than fire to represent this complete embodiment of his work up to this point, its creative synergy of unrelenting talent, and the tempestuous times we are living in today.
Flying Lotus’s performance and 3D light show themselves were out of this world. The words “wizard” and “mad scientist” come to mind in describing his visual performance. At times, the lights were small, hanging abstractions interspersed with dark space. In these moments, the glowing orbs and rays of light dancing around him in time with the music seemed like extensions of his own mind. At other points in the show, particularly near the end, the images were more concrete and intense. At these times, the visuals could be mildly distracting from the music, and when in combination with his oftentimes maximalist music was somewhat overstimulating. Nevertheless, the visuals never felt for a moment like a gimmick.
The combination of light and sound at Flying Lotus 3D was truly a work of art that left me thinking, “What a perceptive mind that could come up with this.” All of this seemed all the more impressive when I reflected that both the music and the 3D light show were entirely improvised. This is actually somewhat unsurprising when I consider Lotus’s musical and familial lineage: His aunt and uncle were Alice and John Coltrane.
Though I was a Flying Lotus fan before this show, I was not the only one who felt like they just got taken for an interdimensional carpet ride. I had dragged a friend of mine along with me who had only heard a couple of Lotus’s songs, and his response as we dwindled at the back of the venue post-show was, “What are we supposed to do now? What is life after Flying Lotus?” There is no describing Lotus’s creative genius to outsiders. All I can say is, check it out for yourself, and once you do— buckle up, and hold on tight.
Kaleigh Stock is from Las Vegas, NV and recently graduated from Weber State University in English and psychology. She is a new writer at CATALYST and very much looks forward to her continuing journey forward with the magazine.