Y’all know when Flying Lotus drops into town: the airs become perfumed with exquisite illicits, and commensurately delectable, languid beats ooze from every open portal. Whether that’s an art deco Stepney theatre way down into the 400s of Commercial Road or Rough Trade, Steven Ellison last week loomed at large over east London. He was, for a few all too fleeting days, unofficially appointed the Guv’nor of Tower Hamlets. And for some time, the place was all the better for it.
Thursday, sometime around seven, Brick Lane veritably bulged with a wondrously varied miscellany, every wrist banded a day-glo pink. Asahi cans crumpled under itchy feet spewed their final few ozs to the loose grooves of Binge Eating Without You, Zodiac Shit, and so forth. FlyLo emanated that infectious grin of his throughout – a pearly crescent beamed right back toward the back wall by all in licking distance. It’s a smile to part the sternest, most chiselled of November cheeks, and epitomises the joie de vivre with which the Brainfeeder honcho approaches his every endeavour.
It’s a show that is, in itself, addressed as though played out round his place that doubles up as a demo – a tantalising video game-styled snippet – of the self-professed omnidimensional, “third-level shit” to follow a few miles down the road the segueing evening. It’s therefore a most multifaceted instore, as Ellison partakes not only in an avidly subscribed to signing session, but also uses and abuses the exercise to acquire – or at least solicit – some digestible illegitimates ahead of T(o)N(i)GHT. Though for a Thursday, Ellison’s sonic output is inebriating enough as it is, as this potent blend of Cosmogramma, Until The Quiet Comes, and shards of sampled 2012 dictate.
Though there is but one point of slight consternation, and this concerns whether FlyLo is becoming the paradigm of a superficial, only three-or-so song-deep crossover appeal; a beat magnate to magnetise they that come preprogrammed to prematurely whoop and swiftly lose interest, only for it to be again piqued by pixel. There’s an abundance of person prone to smartphone transfixion prior to, post, and even mid-song here, and it’s if nothing else distracting.
As are Ellison’s three-dimensional visuals a little over twenty-four hours later. It’s a multimedia maelstrom, as Windows screensaver vortices begin to swirl about the mesomorphic hunk of human being that he is, though they only distract at its musically less majestic instances. Otherwise, the sensorial onslaught comprising heavy breaks and a goddamn blinding array of visual effects proves consummate, and immaculately manipulated to boot. Polychromatic glaciers shatter to a distorted contortion of Labrinth’s Earthquake (an unwelcome addition to what is otherwise fast becoming a nonpareil live tour de force) whilst he emerges from behind a milky screen to bellow: “Lotus have a dream!” ahead of a scintillating Dream To Me. His burly chunks of bicep employed to pummel the leaden air around us, all explicit Dilla referencing he appears equal parts Pusha T and Popeye though most astounding still is that he’s coming to resemble an artist drafted in from West’s Getting Out Our Dreams roster ever more with his every spin.
His imperious silhouette governs and commands, and we oblige. We go nuts; go apeshit even come a quarter to two. Though another quibble tonight niggles: is Ellison now really a thirty quid kinda guy? Undoubtedly the intergalactic visuals heave the show up into a proverbially superior echelon as far as the live experience may be concerned, though that’s pretty steep. We impatiently await entrance into the venue as endless queues are barfed from its jaws and although the hip hop starlet purposefully delays his appearance to allow all to install themselves within, tonight’s ambience becomes increasingly oppressive. Certainly a brash juxtaposition of overly clunky avant-garde electroclash one moment and a tumultuous, strobe-y newbie the next instils a sense of discomfort. An impenetrably acerbic brace of XV’s Mary Kate & Ashley and Niggas In Paris disenchants similarly, as the night descends down a rabbit hole of cruddy contemporary R’n'B just as it did back in the stifling June Barça heat back at Sónar. The latter leads into an a cappella DMT Song that comes drastically devoid of bass masseur Thundercat. It’s not so much one to make “this fuckin’ venue shake down to the ground” as it is to lull into an inert hush of nothingness, as you’re led to question quite how absolutely flawless Ellison’s limitless record collection really is.
Thus it’s when he relies on his own personal outpour that he truly triumphs: the skittering glitches and pixelated bleeps of Putty Boy Strut that disintegrate bit by bit into a somehow invigorating bass-y mindlessness, or the glistering soul strains of an exemplary Getting There. Yet the flow of the show itself isn’t anywhere near to getting there, as snatches of silence punctuate inopportune airings of now overground, if once Village Underground fodder. Major Lazer’s skanky Original Don dub shank, say.
He rounds off proceedings by winding things down, a slowed Idioteque proffering a reprieving soothe. Though this almost melodramatic anti-crescendo of sorts is telling. For whilst it’s been as visually stimulating as anything on which we’ve binged thus far this year, musically this is Ellison flying lower than we’ve come to expect of him as he drifts, alas, somewhat awry and at times far out into the realm of the downright wrong. Everything In Its Right Place this ain’t, for although he may have hit some new cerebral heights with the oneiric, and oft seemingly off the cuff, electronically infected jazz-hop of Until The Quiet Comes, peace and quiet are virtues much thirsted for when set against the noxious dancehall ooze recently devised by Diplo & co. A sobering grounding, some may say…