Flying Lotus

Spiritual beats and DMT

Text by Felix L. Petty

Photography by Valeria Cherchi

When Stephen Ellison started making inroads into our musical conscious with his second Flying Lotus album, Los Angeles (named after his hometown), it was with a richly patterned and warm record, every deep bass riff and drum kick evoking life in the sunshine state. Yet for all of its Californian texture, Los Angeles aligned the producer with British artists working on their own bass experiments, often rooted in their distinct urban geographies. Los Angeles may have bridged UK and US bass cultures, but its follow-up, Cosmogramma, was from an altogether different planet.

Cosmogramma plunged the listener into a world of freeform bass melodies, computer glitches, oddball samples, ethereal harp workouts, hyperactive percussion and a guest vocal from Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The record was born out of "the need to speak in an honest way about where I've been and where I've come from." Ellison felt the need to separate himself "from a lot of the beat music that had come out, and I didn't want to just be placed in a box. I felt I had more to prove than I'd shown on Los Angeles." He describes it as, "music that comes from a spiritual place", not unlike Blake's poetry, while the creative process is "the closest thing there is to experiencing God."

Ellison comes from a musical and spiritual family. His great aunt is Alice Coltrane, wife of saxophonist John Coltrane, and acclaimed harpist and pianist in her own right. He refers to her as his "guru", and the title of Ellison's new record, Until the Quiet Comes, was inspired by a conversation between the two about the need to be meditative. "I create music when I'm in that place, and it's a place of no ego. It's a place where I can receive and do and I don't have to think about it. I don't have to be anybody else, just be in the moment."

Ellison was in a reflective mood when creating Until the Quiet Comes, and it shines through, being less obtuse and unwieldy than its predecessor, which at times felt a little hyperactive. He agrees. "Some things I feel I had to do on Cosmogramma to get where I am now. To understand restraint, to pull back and have these moments that are quiet. Others that are unpredictable. I feel it's really important to practice some self-discipline when putting music together, and that realisation just comes from maturing."

UTQC and Cosmogramma often feel like twins, comprising two different sides of the same personality. The latter is a wild, jazz-loving, psychedelic beast, while UTQC is more focused and refined. Among its highlights is the "DMT Song", which suddenly breaks down into a refrain of, "DMT, as I'm dreaming, wide awake, my body never leaves the floor, I never want to come back, I belong where I am." For the unfamiliar, DMT is a psychedelic drug that can generate powerful hallucinogenic reactions, yet the vocal recalls a simple radio jingle, as if it is advertising the drug.

"I often think about that. It's funny because the song captures that feeling for me. DMT is a very heavy experience, but there's so much crazy shit going on that there have been moments where I've almost died laughing from the experience."

Indeed the "DMT Song" captures the joyful, celebratory aspect of music. Or as Ellison puts it: "Sometimes my music can get deep, but I like to have fun too."  Certainly, for all the sonic adventuring, Ellison's records serve to remind you of the wonderfully exhilarating qualities of his music. §

Until the Quiet Comes is released on October 2nd through Warp Records.

  • Flying Lotus