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Photograph by Timothy Saccenti
INTERSTELLAR FLIGHT: Flying Lotus is pushing hip-hop in new directions.

Flying Lotus

By Curtis Cartier

STEVEN ELLISON goes by many names, but most people know him as Flying Lotus. The tall, soft-spoken Los Angeles–based producer is Warp Records' newest icon. A lover of cartoons, a designer of video games and a patient of medical marijuana, he's also pushing hip-hop and electronica in a new direction and may just be the most cutting-edge musician working on a major label. Just in time for his June 5 gig at San Jose's Blank Club, Metro tracked down the beat genius, who laid down the facts on his rise from fanboy to fame.

"It started when Adult Swim had a viewer-submission project," says Ellison, describing how, in 2006, he mailed a demo disc emblazoned with a hand-drawn image of Aqua Teen Hunger Force character Masta Shake to Cartoon Network in hopes that it might use a few bars of his hip-hoppified electronica for its iconic text segues. "It turned out they liked it, you know. So yeah, I guess you could say that's my claim to fame."

A close nephew of the late and great Alice Coltrane, wife of jazz legend John Coltrane and a renowned musician in her own right, Ellison knew music was something deeply ingrained in his genes. So when his Adult Swim tracks started getting noticed and the smaller record companies started knocking, he bided his time. "I never thought Warp would care what I was doing, though," he says of his legendary label, which hosts electronica and indie stars like Aphex Twin, Grizzly Bear and Squarepusher. "I couldn't believe when they called. It was totally surreal."

Part of a new breed of "laptop musicians," Ellison makes music using programs like Ableton Live and hardware like drum machines and samplers—highly technical equipment, to be sure. But while the chilled-out jams he creates are certainly something no human hands could bang out, they have an organic feel that's unmistakable. It starts with the drums. Almost all of FlyLo's tracks have the drums arranged just a hair off-step. Rhythms, therefore, sound just sloppy enough to extend the classic hip-hop head-nod into more of a lip-curling head-grind.

A Flying Lotus album, however, is a very different beast than a Flying Lotus live show. Onstage, FlyLo bumps up the tempo and turns his normally relaxed vibe into a frenetic freakout, mixing clips of his tracks, his friends' tracks, countless remixes, movie quotes and live looping into a single improvised and uninterrupted symphony of jazzed-up hip-hop goodness. In San Jose, Ellison says, expect the unexpected. "It's a different trip, you know, a different energy live," he says. "I mean I could play the same old tracks, but who wants to hear that?"

FLYING LOTUS plugs in along with FREE THE ROBOTS and DJ BASURA + GOLDENCHYLD Friday (June 5) at 9pm at the Blank Club, 44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $16/$20. (408.292.5265)

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