Flying Lotus on Brainfeeder's Strange Decade of Success: 'I'm Seeking the Sound of the Seeker'


As an intern at forward-thinking hip-hop label Stones Throw Records, Steven Ellison was chargeable for issues like taking out the trash, watering crops and different less-than-glamorous workplace duties. It was laborious then to think about him because the chief of Los Angeles' experimental beat scene, destined to change into captain of one among impartial music's most fearless, trailblazing, cross-genre labels.

“I bear in mind going to [Stones Throw co-founder] Egon like, 'Yo, man, I actually need to run a label, however I additionally need to be an artist,'” Ellison says. “He was like, 'It's gonna be laborious so that you can do each. You ought to decide one and simply try this.' I used to be like, 'I might do each! I actually can!'”

A few years later, Ellison launched his first album, 1983, below the identify Flying Lotus. It put him on the forefront of a meandering motion, one he finally acknowledged wanted a middle. A few years after that, he began Brainfeeder out of his Los Angeles residence.

Ten years later, Brainfeeder remains to be principally run out of his dwelling, however its musical footprint has change into huge. It counts amongst its roster unusual visionaries George Clinton and Mr. Oizo, in addition to underground darlings TOKiMONSTA and Ross From Friends. It helped break critically acclaimed artists Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. It's not precisely an digital label or a hip-hop label, not fairly home nor funk nor jazz. It's all of these issues after which some, and it celebrates its first decade with Brainfeeder X, a two-disc, 36-track compilation (22 of that are model new) showcasing Brainfeeder's private model of yesterday, immediately and tomorrow.

“I'm searching for the sound of the seeker,” Ellison says. “I'm looking for the sound or people who make sense of life. We spend a lot time residing this loopy life. Just ask all of the questions within the music.”

Something was occurring in L.A. circa 2008. Ellison paid homage to the vibe together with his 2008 FlyLo LP Los Angeles, however there have been different voices on its hip-hop-tinged horizon. Sam Baker, aka Samiyam, was releasing off-center beats Stones Throw. His homie Gregory Shorter, Jr. was making spaced-out, instrumental noise below the identify Ras G. The Gaslamp Killer was making vaguely esoteric rhythms to soundtrack psychedelic journeys whereas murdering units at LA's Low End Theory events.

“We have been form of constructing this factor amongst our neighborhood,” Ellison says, “at all times collectively, at all times doing stuff. There have been all these little labels popping up all over the world, making an attempt to form of capitalize on the beat music that was occurring in LA. It was identical to, 'what the hell, why don't we simply do that ourselves and construct a house for us that we like, run by us?”

Ellison lived in an residence complicated referred to as Das Bauhaus. Baker was one among his neighbors, as was Mtendere Mandowa, a producer higher often called Teebs, and avid digital music fan Adam Stover. They turned crew Brainfeeder's day-one gamers as Ellison harnessed Flying Lotus' rising reputation to push the good music round him.

Armed with the teachings and insights of his Stones Throw days, Ellison turned the artistic chief of the Brainfeeder set. Stover turned his operational supervisor, his right-hand enterprise man, a task he continues to fill to today.

“The curation a part of it’s the most enjoyable for me, making an attempt to determine the tittle piece for the larger puzzle,” Ellison says. While he leaves day-to-day enterprise stuff to Stover, Ellison is the person discovering and signing artists, bringing the roster alternatives, and serving to every artist profit from their distinctive imaginative and prescient.

“Part of what I’ve to do is form of be a shrink,” he laughs. “I want to assist folks to create the perfect work that they’ll. It's simply one thing a producer ought to do anyway. You ought to create an area for folks to offer their finest work and do their finest work, and that's simply one thing I'm making an attempt to be extra aware of in all features of my life, however particularly working the label.”

Such is the story with Thundercat. His debut The Golden Age of the Apocalypse was the primary album Ellison ever produced exterior of his personal. The crew celebrated the album's launch at LA's Echoplex, and it was an emotional second for everybody. Ellison laughs immediately and he admits that he shed a proud tear or two.

“I do know all of the issues that he and I each went by means of to get to that time, and all of the issues that he had set free within the album,” he remembers. “It was very overwhelming.”

Now three albums in, not together with intensive work on Kendrick Lamar's award-winning album To Pimp A Butterfly, Thundercat has change into one among Brainfeeder's greatest stars. The bass guitarist options on three Breainfeeder X tracks, whereas surprisingly absent is fellow Brainfeeder breakout and Lamar collaborator Kamasi Washington.

“Truly, none of us have been ready for what Kamasi ended up doing and what he turned,” Ellison says. “I hoped for like, a cool launch at finest. I simply wished to construct the state of affairs, give him his very first thing and go from there, however he become this behemoth. It's superb. We're all so completely satisfied for him.”

Washington's album The Epic was launched on Brainfeeder in 2015 to rave opinions. It's uncommon for a jazz saxophonist to make headlines from Pitchfork to Billboard, however the vary of his success sunk in loopy when FlyLo and Washington shared the invoice of North Sea Jazz Festival in 2016. Ellison performed on a aspect stage, whereas Washington carried out on the principle to hundreds of individuals. Ellison remembers combating by means of the swarm simply to catch a glimpse of his boy. He couldn't assist however break into laughter.

“Numerous artists assume they're going to have the ability to do the issues Kamasi do or a Thundercat might do, simply because they're related to us, however that's not the case,” Ellison says. “It takes time … There's like six instances the competitors there was final yr. It simply will get crazier and crazier. I attempt to be fairly upfront about issues we are able to do and a few surprises occur alongside the best way … We can't name it, however we do give a shit. That's the distinction.”

Emotional honesty and inventive openness is what introduced Brainfeeder the legendary frontman of Parliament Funkadelic. Clinton wasn't proud of the best way main labels handled his later work, and after attending to know Ellison and the Brainfeeder household, he fortunately jumped on board their indie prepare.

“He's only a cool motherfucker,” Ellison says. “it's like getting excessive together with your grandpa, however your grandpa is the perfect storyteller of all time. He's seen every thing. Everybody all through the historical past of music that he's been round has embraced him. Rock musicians, jazz musicians, pop musicians – they've all taken him in. He's received random tales of hanging out with Quentin Tarantino, folks ODing at his home, well-known people who I received't identify.”

Brainfeeder X is a stark showcase of the label's colourful solid of characters. It's a large breadth of music tied collectively much less by style than by a pioneering spirit. There's a dynamic temper to Brainfeeder. One minute, you're mendacity on a fuzzy carpet, staring idly right into a lava lamp, creating tales in your thoughts. Next second, you search for, and there's a dance occasion in your basement. A way of lopsided strangeness ties the room collectively, as a result of at Brainfeeder, weirdness is inspired – however solely within the studio.

Ellison has seen what weirdness can do to a budding household. If there was something he might change about Brainfeeder's final 10 years, it could have been getting the accounting system discovered so much faster.

“I don't need any weirdness with cash when it's time for me to receives a commission,” he says. “I would like every thing to be 100 % clear. It took a bit of too lengthy to get to that place … You might have a falling out with someone over this – and it doesn't even must be cash, only a miscommunication, like 'oh I heard from this particular person, this that no matter,' and its like 'yo, I like you! How did this occur?"

A decade of trial, error and awkward dialog received Brainfeeder to a spot that's “100 % legit.” They've received cash within the again. People receives a commission on time. They're even making films now.

Brainfeeder's debut function movie Perfect was launched in March of this yr. The darkish scifi thriller acquired was screened at Austin music and movie pageant SXSW. Ellison made his personal directorial debut in 2017 with the horror-comedy Kuso, and Brainfeeder Mr. Oizo has been making surrealist films since 2002.

“He was my movie mentor,” Ellison says. “He would at all times invite me to the set and I might see what he was doing. He's a kind of folks, he is aware of what he needs. He's received It all discovered, it's actually fascinating to look at.”

What's subsequent for Brainfeeder? Well, it could possibly be video video games. It's positively working with extra bands. Soulful beacon Georgia Ann Muldrow simply dropped her first launch on Brainfeeder, a 13-track collaborative effort referred to as Overload. There was a celebration at Ellison's home the day she finalized the papers. He cried then, too. She's received a music on Brainfeeder X too.

“We have such a very good steadiness of artists now,” Ellison says. “They're always inspiring me – simply as a fan of them. I'm like 'Oh okay, all proper, wow, we're going there? OK.' It's been nice. Certain issues I’d have modified after all. nevertheless it's not simple to drag off, particularly for therefore lengthy. There's been loads of instances the place I believed 'Well shit, if a serious label needs to purchase a Brainfeeder, I'll promote it, as a result of rattling, that is too loopy. I didn't count on for this to occur like this, however I'm glad that I by no means did, and I'm glad I caught with it. We pushed by means of the laborious instances, and we preserve pushing.”

Brainfeeder X is out now. Listen beneath.