Flying Lotus burst through Montreal on Nov. 9 in living and breathing color. Stephen Ellison, the DJ and MC colloquially known as FlyLo, has developed a cult following over the last ten years by refining his organic and complexly-layered sound. Critics heavily praised his fifth studio album, You’re Dead following its release in 2014. FlyLo is an experimental, electronic artist who crafts beats that in many ways defy boundary and categorization, and his performance at MTelus delivered on that reputation and then some.
As I was handed my 3D glasses on the way into the venue that night, I was unsure of what to expect. Two separate lackluster DJs opened the show, and played a mix of bass boosted dance rhythms and some experimental deep house accompanied by a live drummer. It was clear that the three-dimensional aspect of the show would be executed through a large projection screen at the back of the stage, although it wasn’t used for either opener.
When Flying Lotus came on to perform, the dynamic shifted entirely. The large podium at center stage, which had been shrouded in darkness for the openers, became lit with fluorescent pink lights. FlyLo calmly took his position behind it and took us on a journey. He looked mystic in his shawl adorned with what appeared to be religious figures. The glasses until now had made no difference to the screen, displaying only a red emblem. Now it transformed into a sea of three dimensional red waves. FlyLo opened his set with a beat which featured some ethereal synth at first, before building into an exotic, trance-like, rhythm. The show from then on was sublime.
One thing that sets FlyLo apart from other DJs is the interactive nature of his performances. Throughout the concert, he came out from behind his podium and engaged with the crowd—touching their hands and dancing in unison with fans.
Lotus’s musical catalogue is far more diverse than most producers. His sound is at one moment soft and lulling, and the next bombastic and symphonic. The music he creates has a rare power to envelope and infest your mind with feeling and rhythm, and the 3D graphics spectacularly enhanced this effect. When his beats were less organized, free form, and supple, the backgrounds were liquid and flowing, taking the form of jellyfish, water, and other viscous forms. When his sound was focused, driving, and hyper organized, he was accompanied by geometric shapes, kaleidoscopic patterns, and other rigid forms. During “Descent Into Madness,” a beautifully rendered Imperial Star Destroyer floated behind him, spraying pillars of multi-colour dust into the screen below and seemingly into the crowd.
Ellison was constantly surrounded and enveloped by the graphics, making it hard to distinguish him from the virtual reality behind him. Nothing is more characteristic of FlyLo than to make the separation between himself, and his performance, indistinguishable. He rarely stopped to break in between songs, which gave his set a very continuous and malleable feel, and allowed him to showcase his extraordinary mixing ability, flawlessly transitioning between sonically distinct beats. Flying Lotus has an uncanny talent for creating a specific atmosphere or transfer a feeling through the auditory medium, without lyrics. His live performance brings this skill to an even higher level. FlyLo ended his show quickly, thanking the crowd and poignantly surmising that, “This has only ever been about sharing in creativity and art, creating a safe space for all, and spreading the love.” As he left the stage, I believed every word; Flying Lotus in 3D is something truly special to behold.