It's not often that a label can be credited as having played a major role in the generation, growth, and development of an entire style of music. Even less often does such a label advance to a point at which they can showcase this style at a venue as legendary and iconic as The Hollywood Bowl. Brainfeeder has managed to do both, and performances throughout the imprint's gathering last weekend, September 17th, demonstrate exactly why they've ascended to such a recognizable level of excellence.
Founded in 2008 by Steven Ellison (A.K.A. Flying Lotus), Brainfeeder was originally created as a platform to release music from early beat scene artists like Samiyam, The Gaslamp Killer, Daedelus, and Ras G. At the time Ellison was already signed to WARP Records, and he sought a home for other artists to reclaim the beat scene sound from European copycats.
“There were all these European labels trying to do our sound, so why don’t we just claim it?" he once rhetorically asked The Fader. "Some Braveheart shit, you know.” Brainfeeder quickly blossomed from a small independent imprint into a globally recognized powerhouse thanks in part to the distribution deal they inked with UK label Ninja Tune.
As the label continued to grow, so did their live performances and stage setups. The weekly club night Low End Theory acted as a hub for beat scene artists to share their latest creations with one another. It night quickly expanded from a producer hangout into one of the biggest cultural hotspots in the Los Angeles music scene, and special guests ranging from Thom Yorke to Erykah Badu and even James Blake have all graced the stages of the Airliner on Wednesday nights. Ellison still returns every so often to see their latest offerings; he and Thundercat even performed as the special guests at Low End Theory on Christmas Day in 2013.
Ellison's own live setup has become one of the most engaging and impressive displays in all of electronic music. While he first made his foray into projected live visualizations with videos designed by artist David Wexler A.K.A. Strangeloop, Ellison graduated to the massive stage setup known as Layer 3. Designed by Strangeloop and Timeboy, Layer 3 is a visual display comprised of two screens placed in front and back of Ellison. Together they create the illusion that Ellison is performing inside a sort of three-dimensional cube with mind-blowing psychedelic visualizations that ebb and flow with Ellison's music.
From The Airliner to The Hollywood Bowl in less than 10 years, Brainfeeder has come a long way. Crafting and curating their own night at the latter venue was no easy task, but Ellison and his team put together something truly spectacular. Although it might not seem like it, everyone on the bill was a Brainfeeder affiliate. Shabazz Palaces have collaborated with a number of the label's artists, and Parliament Funkadelic are planning to release their upcoming album through it as well.
The Gaslamp Killer warmed up the crowd with an eclectic blend of beat scene classics and a few cuts off of his latest record, Instrumentalepathy, thrown in for good measure. Hair flying everywhere, GLK headbanged his way through his set pausing every so often to create stutter effects and variations through his iPad - a fitting start to the night considering he was one of the earliest artists to release on Brainfeeder and is a well-respected and beloved figure in the beat scene.
Shabazz Palaces followed things up with a performance flowing from dreamy psychedelic hip-hop/spoken word into beat scene influenced productions.
The most unexpected turn of events was the surprise guest appearance of Michael McDonald (yes, that one) during Thundercat's set. The two jammed over The Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes," and McDonald even stuck around to play the keys on Thundercat's "Them Changes."
Probably the most interesting and seemingly out-of-place act on the bill, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, created a moment of nostalgia for a number of audience members. While the upper seats were populated with younger fans, the lower section of the bowl had a very even split between aging beat scene aficionados and 40+-year-old funk fans. Despite this, the group had clearly retooled their sound to appeal to the Brainfeeder crowd. Two rappers paced across the stage hyping up the crowd as Parliament played funkified rap beats. The group made sure to go through their classic catalog as well, performing songs like "Flashlight" and "Give Up the Funk" which created a tangible ripple of excitement throughout the crowd.
What was truly impressive was that at 75 years old, George Clinton still performed with a similar energy and enthusiasm to that of his younger days (he just needs more breaks to sit down now). Clinton was also still the sharpest-dressed on stage, rocking a pink satin shirt, orange creme colored pants, and a long feathered coat. Let it be known that George Clinton is the only man in music who should be allowed to wear a fedora. One of Clinton's most memorable moments was appropriating a few choice bars from Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz' "Get Low" all while P-Funk kept the music groovy enough to match.
After Clinton and Parliament's set ended, The Gaslamp Killer quickly took to the decks spinning a flurry of experimental electronic beats chopped and blended into traditional Syrian music and oldies like The Champs' "Tequila". Simultaneously the stage's backdrop was being flipped around to prepare for Layer 3.
It seems only fitting that the label's founder and mastermind, Flying Lotus, closed out the night's festivities. He began by addressing the crowd wearing an ornately decorated orange achkan, thanking everyone for their support over the years. He quickly stepped up to his performance platform to play "Theme" from You're Dead as Layer 3 visuals began to flash to life. As the music swelled, the Layer 3 visuals ebbed and flowed to match the music's movement. FlyLo moved through choice cuts from You're Dead! as well as a few off of Until The Quiet Comes. Songs like "Putty Boy Strut" and Mono/Poly's "Needs Deodorant" kept the funky vibes from George Clinton and P-Funk going.
At this point, it was interesting to note that the crowd had thinned ever so slightly. Mostly due to the fact that those present to bask in nostalgia during Parliament Funkadelic had left after enjoying their sweet, sweet member berries.
One elderly woman stuck around for Flying Lotus' set. When he started, her face shifted into a scowl, disapproving of his modern electronics and visual flair. However, as his set progressed, she could be seen doing a "Putty Boy Strut" of her own, bobbing back and forth in her seat.
About halfway through the set, Ellison's rap alter-ego Captain Murphy flashed to life on the screen as his maniacal laugh bellowed throughout the bowl. Ellison emerged from behind the screen to pace across the stage's catwalk while reciting "Mighty Morphin Foreskin" and "The Ritual".
He raced back behind the Layer 3 screen to finish up his set, showcasing his work with Kendrick Lamar on tracks like "Never Catch Me" and George Clinton influenced works like "King Kunta" and "Wesley's Theory". After his set ended, Ellison emerged from behind the screen to thank everyone for all their support. He closed by saying, "To bring people together, that’s my main mission in this experience on Earth".
The night stood as a testament to just how far Brainfeeder has come. It solidified Brainfeeder's place as both the quintessential beat scene label and tastemaker for many years to follow.