Last night Fabric hosted one of the last sessions from the 2010 London edition of the Red Bull Music Academy (which ends this week) with a showcase from the Brainfeeder label – the (brain)child of Flying Lotus.
Since Brainfeeder first appeared in the global music consciousness nearly 4 years ago it’s come a long way. Back in 2007 Brainfeeder was a radio show, something I haven’t really seen mentioned anywhere strangely enough. This radio show, hosted on the legendary Dublab, was a showcase of both Flying Lotus’ work and that of his L.A and worldwide peers, most of whom at the time were still mostly ‘unknowns’ outside of beat/hip hop nerd circles – Ras G, Gaslamp Killer, Nosaj Thing, Hudson Mohawke and Samiyam to name a few of those who appeared on the two shows that took place in 2007 and then 2008. That last show was a precursor to the Los Angeles album released a few months later in June ’08 on Warp Records and which propelled Flying Lotus, and his cohorts, to worldwide fame in both underground and even overground circles (the man will be supporting Thom Yorke for the tour of his new band this year – that’s definitely pretty overground).
Around the time of the second show I remember an interview with Flying Lotus on Benji B’s show where he first hinted at Brainfeeder becoming a label – a vehicle for the release of music, and soon enough also art, made by his friends and peers in the L.A scene. That became a reality in late 2008 and the label soon moved from an mp3-only, releasing-the-work-of-friends approach to a much more ‘serious’ one. It now boasts an eclectic roster of artists from across the U.S.A, has worldwide distribution and has been putting on some of the most interesting parties in America, Europe and Japan. Which brings us nicely back to last night.
If memory serves me right the first Brainfeeder event was in London in June 08, to celebrate the launch of the Los Angeles album. I remember being on the other side of the world at that time in Japan and drooling over the line up, wishing I could be there. That event marked the beginning of Brainfeeder as a live event, an event that connects the music and online ties of the label and artists with the real world and a public eager for fresh, new sounds performed live in a variety of set ups: from straight up DJ sets from GLK to laptop sets by Fly Lo, 303 bass beatings by Ras G and insane microkorg fuckery by Dorian Concept (to name a few). In June 09 the second Brainfeeder London event returned to its East London car park roots to much love from a surprisingly diverse audience – you can read my review of that one here. Since its beginning in June 08 Brainfeeder has hosted events in Barcelona, Tokyo, Korea, New York and of course its hometown of L.A with a new regular session at the Downtown Independent which combines the new visual element of the collective with its music side as well as a much-deserved nod to L.A’s original beat scene-founding night ‘Sketchbook’ (reborn and hosted on the rooftop of the venue where the main shows take place).
Last night was Brainfeeder London volume 3 if you will, and as I said earlier the event definitely marked a coming of age for the label/collective. I unfortunately managed to miss Nosaj Thing’s set, the one I was looking forward to most, and nearly missed Dimlite too, the other must see on my list, though I did manage to catch the last half of the Swiss’ assault on room 1 which I think left a few people wondering just what the hell was happening as he laid down low-slung productions from behind his laptop, alternating between hazy head-nodding classics and more abstracts joints.
Also on the bill were new label addition Tokimonsta and founding members GLK and Flying Lotus alongside extended family members Daedelus, J Rocc, Dorian Concept, Martyn and Kode 9. As far as eclectic line-ups go, this one was definitely up there for 2010. Everytime a new artist took to the stage the vibe changed, the music changed but the excitement remained high and the crowd hype.
I ended up having to duck out early so missed roughly half of the night’s performances though I’d wager those I did catch were some of the best moments of the night.
Without a shadow of a doubt Daedelus was the highlight for me last night. Having had the pleasure to see him live 3/4 times over the last 5 years, I can comfortably say that he gets better everytime and has now reached a point where he is truly on his own and above many others. In 45 minutes he took room 1 at Fabric on the sort of musical trip that many DJs or artists would only dream of being able to achieve without fucking it up. Swinging effortlessly between ridiculously hard 4 to the floor rhythms and low-slung, unquantized beats via some amazing remixes of classics from his own back catalogue and that of his friends, he made us all sweat as hard as he was (his Victorian jacket was drenched by the time he finished) and set up the stage perfectly for Flying Lotus’ set – the night’s centerpiece, and longest set.
It wasn’t just Daedelus’ selection that did it for me but also the way he really ‘played’ his monome and turned what it is many ways a ‘laptop set’ into an actual show – no mean feat, though something I’ve often noted Americans are much better at doing than their European counterparts. Must be all the showmanship they grow up with. Daedelus is also now a Brainfeeder artist, alongside his current tenure at Ninja Tune, with a mini-LP dropping later this month. Having been one of the first artists in L.A to give Flying Lotus support and an insight into the music scene (as detailed in various interviews) it was also very telling for me to see him own that room the way he did – in many ways the old guard showed the new school that they can be just as energetic and groundbreaking. And if this last sentence hints at some degree of competition, it’s all in the most friendly and positive of ways, something echoed in RBMA’s Brainfeeder preview where many of the artists spoke of a friendly, inspiring rivarly among the roster and their friends, something which keeps them on their toes and their creativity bubbling.
Flying Lotus definitely made the most of his hour-long set. What surprised me most, having seen him 3 times in less than a year now, was how the first half of his set seemed composed of entirely old material, from his previous albums and EPs to his bootlegs. For someone who has only been releasing music officially for about 4 years, his back catalogue already has a degree of depth and public appeal to match that of established artists and labels. What’s more I never tire of being amazed at how he can make a room full of people move to the most disjointed, slow beats. A lot of his work could hardly be qualified as dancefloor friendly, and yet when given a proper system and a live twist it works better than the most obvious stuff many DJs play today. While it’s true that part of this may also lie on the popularity he and his music have experienced since the release of Los Angeles in June 08, I do believe there is a fundamental proof in there of the ability of so called beats/electronic hip hop productions to actually stand the test of time and be more than just bedroom music. Oh and of all his work, I personally think that the ‘Reset’ EP is still the one, especially in a live context.
I managed to catch a little bit of J Rocc before having to dash and sleep, but I hear Dorian, Kode and Martyn also had sterling sets. Going back on the subject of showmanship for a minute, Dorian Concept is quite possibly the best European artist when it comes to showmanship – seeing him on stage with his microkorg is something everyone should experience once as it gives an entirely new dimension to his music.
Three years on and Brainfeeder has come a long way, that there is little doubt of. Where the label, and collective, go from here is anyone’s guess though it’s a fair bet to say that more is to come, both in terms of worldwide plaudits as well as output. Three years to reach the level they are at, in terms of both output and notoriety, is an incredibly short time and so it’s hard not to feel a small dose of cynicism when I think about it. Especially because this rise of theirs fits into the wider trend of other scenes and collectives who have seen similar rises in recent years all powered by the hyper-connectivity of the internet. And while this hyper-connectivity allows music to spread and brings people together faster than ever under a common banner, it also allows for a faster come down, as the hype machine moves on to the next big thing.
While the hype is of course just one, of many, catalyst for Brainfeeder’s coming of age this cynicism is neatly counterbalanced by a feeling that these guys are here to stay even when the hype moves on to the next hot thing, whatever that may be. And considering the rather humble beginnings of all the artists on the label, and its head chef, there are a lot worse things that could happen to them than hype moving on while they continue building their own musical empire.
For now if you haven’t yet experienced the Brainfeeder sensation I can only recommend you do so at the earliest possibility and keep an eye out for more releases before the summer including the rather stunning Lorn album which I’ve been privy to since it was finished last year and which I have no doubt will make a lot of waves when it drops.
Keep an eye on the RBMA website and radio show for streams from the night as well as lectures from Fly Lo, Kode 9 and I think Martyn. And if you haven’t yet, check some of the already available London lectures as there are some corkers in there.
Brain fed, now for some sleep.
PS: Shouts to Danna at Fabric for the hook up.