FEED YOUR BRAIN

by Mike Vinti

Flying Lotus, alongside Shabbaz Palaces and Thundercat, released their first single on Monday of new project WOKE. Featuring George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic, it’s a typically psyched out, funk laden cut, overflowing with strange samples and squelching synth lines.

Since the release of You’re Dead! last October, Flying Lotus’s profile has been growing. No longer merely the preserve of open-minded hip hop heads, he’s broken out to become a critical darling and gained lucrative mass appeal, having produced tracks on Kendrick Lamar’s latest LP To Pimp a Butterfly. Flying Lotus is also the founder, and head of, record label Brainfeeder, a collective of musicians from around the world specialising in experimental electronic music and hip hop, with a heavy jazz influence.

Brainfeeder has provided a home not just for Flying Lotus’ pet projects such as WOKE, but for some of the most challenging and boundary pushing artists currently recording. As its founder’s profile grows and grows, now is the perfect time to explore some of the other artists on its roster and their releases over the years.

some of the most challenging and boundary pushing artists currently recording

First up is long time label-mate and bass God Thundercat. Thundercat and Fly Lo are almost inseparable; making up two thirds of WOKE, they constantly collaborate, tour together and even feature in each other’s music videos. Having previously worked with Suicidal Tendencies and Snoop Dogg, as well as Erykah Badu, his solo albums on Brainfeeder The Golden Age of Apocalypse and Apocalypse are jazz fusion masterpieces.

Thundercat’s genius stems from his ability to make an obscure and arguable outdated genre sound contemporary, utilising rolling, free form bass lines to create funky and mind bending psychedelic jazz, letting his falsetto vocals carry the melody. The strongest example of this is Golden Age of Apocalypse lead single Walkin’, a laid back yet thoroughly weird track with a video to match . Yet it’s when he let’s his funk influences shine that Thundercat is at his most accessible, as on “Oh Sheit, it’s X!” a groove laden, highly danceable ode to a night on ecstasy.

Drugs are common theme among many of Brainfeeder’s roster. None more so than Brooklyn-based hip hop duo The Underachievers, whose penchant for weed and psychedelics is well documented both in their music  and in interviews with the pair.

if there’s one thing that unites the artists of the Flying Lotus-headed label, it’s a dual-passion for experimentation and Jazz.

Alongside Flatbush Zombies, Pro Era and A$AP Mob,The Underachievers are part of a boom-bap renaissance in New York and have helped to re-establish Brooklyn as a Mecca for hip hop. Their music is both socially and spiritually conscious, employing much of the same ‘Indigo’ and ‘third eye’ imagery as their Beast Coast peers in Flatbush Zombies and Pro Era and paving the way for the exciting emerging psychedelic-hip-hop scene. Yet if there’s one thing that unites the artists of the Flying Lotus-headed label, it’s a dual-passion for experimentation and Jazz.

Rising star of the label, Saxophonist and band leader Kamasi Washington embodies this passion. Washington’s first release on Brainfeeder The Epic is a nearly three-hour long jazz odyssey, featuring a full string orchestra and choir, alongside his ten piece band The Next Step. Combining a classical Jazz education and a contemporary sound Washington straddles the past and the present, creating a captivating and greatly nuanced record. Like his label’s boss, Washington also featured on Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, as did Thundercat, and upon listening to his solo work Washington’s influence on To Pimp a Butterfly is undeniable.

( © Kamasi Wahington )

( © Kamasi Wahington )

In many ways Kamasi Washington’s singing to Brainfeeder demonstrates the impact and importance of the label. This is an artist whose history is very much rooted in the impenetrable mysticism of Jazz and whose work is challenging to say the least. Yet he has contributed to one of the biggest albums of the year, if not the biggest, and sits alongside artists such as The Underachievers and some of the most respected electronic musicians of the decade. It’s hard to imagine any of this happening at any other time in musical history or on any other label.

As David Cavanagh noted of John Peel, in his recent biography of the broadcaster and DJ Good Night and Good Riddance, it is this willingness to challenge listeners to ‘listen without discrimination’ that makes Brainfeeder worthy of recognition.

Their diversity provides a model for how the music industry should look in 2015

A perfect example of this boundary-less signing policy is Brainfeeder’s latest addition, TEKLIFE member and Berlin-based, DJ Paypal. Part of the Mall Music collective, Paypal is part of an ever-expanding aesthetic of online producers and artists that ironically re-appropriate capitalist imagery for their own ends including the likes of SOPHIE, A.G Cook and Yung Lean’s Sadboys. This hyper-modern approach to aesthetic is mirrored in Paypal’s production with blends Footwork, an obscure  high-tempo Chicago-based variant of Juke music, with elements of hip hop, jazz and early R’n’B. You probably won’t have heard of it now, but it’s the kind of thing that will be filling dance-floors in five years’ time.

Though no longer signed to Brainfeeder, having started her own label, Young Art Records, TOKiMONSTA sits at the opposite end of Brainfeeder’s musical spectrum. While many of her peers’ work is rooted in Jazz, her  2010 début Midnight Menu is a dreamy, electronica influenced collection of beats that draws on her classical piano training. Managing to be both hard-hitting and chilled out, her production typically relies on interwoven samples and keyboard leads with strong synthetic drum patterns, sitting somewhere between Nujabes and Flying Lotus himself.

These are a handful of Brainfeeder’s artists, each of which has contributed in their own way to the progression of electronic music, hip hop or jazz. Their diversity provides a model for how the music industry should look in 2015: providing a launching pad for critical and commercial success, as well as a space for experimentation and progression regardless of genre. Its artists soundtrack TV shows and have worked alongside legends of the music industry, and it’s only been around since 2008.

With the launch of Flying Lotus’ new project, talk of film scores and new albums set to drop throughout the year, Brainfeeder look set to play a pivotal role in the future of popular music, stay WOKE.

Honourable Mentions:

  • No article on Brainfeeder would be complete without paying tribute to Austin Peralta who tragically passed away in 2012. A pianist, band leader and composer, he worked on many Brainfeeder projects as well as his own his with the Deathgasm ensemble and The Cinematic Orchestra.
  • And, of course, The Cap’n.

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