There’s no shortage of musicians who claim their sound is difficult to label or neatly pin to one genre, but there were few at ACL Fest Friday for whom this is so actually true as avant-garde producer and rapper Steven Ellison—better known as Flying Lotus. Describing FlyLo’s music as electronic, while not inaccurate, is doing it an injustice almost on par with describing a novel as “paper.”
The sounds Flying Lotus crafts blend futuristic jazz and hip-hop beats from another dimension. This otherworldly quality seems to attract other visionaries who have an ear toward the sounds of tomorrow, and Ellison has collaborated with kindred innovators Kendrick Lamar and Thom Yorke of Radiohead—two gentlemen who just so happened to be in town this weekend… but did not make an appearance on stage with him.
But backup wasn’t necessary. A mad scientist with a toothy Cheshire Cat grin, Ellison was magnetic and chatty and made the one-man show work better than most. He performed from behind a fortress of screens blasting psychedelic visualizations, jubilantly producing beats and occasionally prodding the crowd—pushing their buttons and poking fun of himself. As the sun began to set, the genre-jumping producer was the one man standing between many camped-out fans and their precious, precious Radiohead.
“Like four years ago, I said I’d never open for Radiohead again,” Ellison said with a laugh. “It’s like the best worst gig of all time. You get to play for hella people but they’re like, ‘Let’s bring out Thom already!'”
Shortly after he added, “Believe it or not, I do have my own fans.” And he likely earned some new fans from the uninitiated with his uncanny mix of cool beats and geek culture references, including rapping about Batman, getting the crowd to scream “Toasty!” in a high-pitched voice, and building on tracks from revered role-playing game Final Fantasy VII.