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Review: Flying Lotus Live at The Roundhouse

So it’s kind of a shame that it’s the start of the weekend, because, y’know… YOU’RE DEAD.

We didn’t see much of Flying Lotus during his set at The Roundhouse, but that certainly wasn’t to the detriment of the performance. Apart from a brief introduction (charming the crowd with that winning smile) and a stint rapping as alter-ego Captain Murphy, Ellison spent most of the show ensconced within his new high-tech cube.

A lot has been made of the cube, and rightly so, but I’m not going to bore you with too many technical details. In brief, it’s a natural progression from his previous Layer3 setup – through the marvels of layered projection Ellison was sequentially wrapped in swirling vortices of colour, sent vanishing down cosmic tunnels, exploded in clouds of dismembered limbs… I’d recommend you use your Googling skills to watch a brief snippet online. Go on, it’s only a tab away. I’ll wait.

Impressed? I thought so.

Regarding the musical content we’ll have to take Flylo at his word when he says that there was ‘no preset anything’. Artist and visual team certainly seemed to be jamming in sync – track selection felt snappy and concise, and everything flowed beautifully – but don’t be fooled into thinking this was just a DJ set.

I’ve seen a few articles pointing out that ‘Flying Lotus is Thom Yorke’s favourite DJ’ and somehow relating that to Ellison’s live show. I feel this misses the point somewhat. The main role of the DJ is song selection, and while there’s an element of that here, it’s severely limited. To call the artist a ‘DJ’ here is about as relevant as calling any live band ‘DJs’. In reality the producer (in a live setting) is more like a maestro, a ringmaster. Ellison plays this role with aplomb, donning his glowing mask, dressing up for the occasion and over-acting every build, peak and drop.

He’s trying to answer the question that a lot of artists struggle with – how to take a record that has been sculpted and perfected in the studio and display it in the public domain without any of the means of expression available to traditional bands. His answer is impressive, utilising elements of the DJ, immersing the crowd in the visual aspect, inserting elements of pantomime (like the oversized grim reaper stalking across the stage)… so how did the audience react to it all?

In truth, not brilliantly. The crowd were rather flat, a state of affairs noted and commented upon by Ellison himself. A significant portion seemed to be solely intent on smoking and chatting, with the added bonus of having Flying Lotus play in the background (begging the question, why not just stay at home and put the album on?). Another section appeared to have turned up just to see what all the fuss was after hearing Ellison hyped up in, say, The Guardian.

It would be easy to judge the performance of the artist based upon the reaction of the audience but in this case I don’t think that would be fair. Flying Lotus (and his team) put on a hell of a show, it’s just that the actual fans seemed to be outnumbered by casual observers. The spectacle was thoroughly enjoyable, even factoring in the mood dampener of a below average crowd – I’d heavily recommend you get involved and view the maestro for yourself when he returns to London next April.