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Live Photos + Review: Flying Lotus 3D - Auckland Town Hall

Live Photos + Review: Flying Lotus 3D - Auckland Town Hall

Review: Ali Nicholls / Photography: Connor Crawford / Monday 20th January, 2020 11:04AM

The release of Sun Ra’s film and accompanying soundtrack Space Is the Place in 1974 is largely regarded as the cornerstone of afrofuturism. Sun Ra’s interweaving of African folk, hard bop jazz, and the then-burgeoning technology of synthesisers allowed for a flourishing movement into the exploration of anti-colonial narratives of alternative futures through sound, light, and movement. It’s impact on contemporary jazz, hip hop, rap, and electronica cannot be overstated. As technologies in record and film recording and production have evolved since its release, so too has the genre. Producer, musician, and filmmaker Steven Ellison, better known by his moniker Flying Lotus, is at the forefront of a contemporary renaissance in afrofuturism. Those fortunate to be among the attendees of his 3D audio-visual concert at the Auckland Town Hall got a taste of what that looks like now, and the mind-blowing future that is in store.

Flying Lotus’ work has long been regarded as pioneering in the field of audio engineering and production. His merging styles across contemporary electronic, jazz, funk, hip hop, and R&B, as well as his collaborations with Strangeloop and Timeboy, manifested as a powerful offering to the afrofuturist cannon in his latest live show. Promising a synthesis of cosmic hallucination-like visuals and live mixing from across his back catalogue, his aspirations for the show struck me as a kind of modern day incarnation of the promises of afrofuturistic art in the vein of Space Is the Place: an opportunity to witness the possibilities of a world unbound by the limitations of Western creative thought through Ellison’s eyes. The bar was set high.

His set began with a film introduction. Three young children in worn bear costumes fight in a dilapidated cabin-like room. The grotesque figure of a wolf, stiff in rigor mortis, is wheeled in front of them. From the full screen projection at the back of the stage, the face of David Lynch is slowly revealed from the opening jaws of the fox, and we are pulled into the beast of the show with the repeated line, "Fire is coming." Ellison enters the stage to thunderous applause. Dressed in a square shouldered open-front gown, he gives a nod to the North African styles that have informed much of the iconic fashion of afrofuturist movements and bears a pharaoh-like silhouette. His name illuminates the hall in bold, three dimensional steel letters, and we are plunged into a near two hour movement through Flying Lotus’ creative psyche.

It was difficult to identify a set-list from the show. He moved through his material sampling an extraordinary range of sounds and styles. Tracks had no beginning or end. Rather than having the chance to hear his repertoire live, we were guided through a complex landscape of his musical perspective. Throughout the main body of the set, there were only two opportunities to applaud his work in the suspended quiet of the town hall. His prerogative was clear from the outset: forget what you believe a live show ought to be. Forget about ‘songs’. Forget what you imagine the world really is. This is a chance to experience an alternative reality build on a complex history of afrodiasporic sounds, audio-visual engineering, and the truly singular mind of the man leading the way in his field.

The visual backdrop of the show was mind-bending. Used equally to celebrate Flying Lotus’ euphoric material and to reach deep into the disturbing corners of his darker sound, the ‘3D’ element was executed with great success. From the side of the Town Hall floor, Flying Lotus could be seen prowling and weaving around his desk. Those in the circle saw the sheer scope of the visual show. From the centre of the floor where I spent the majority of the performance, Ellison seemed to take on a messiah-like presence with his 3D graphics following in his wake of sound.

Gentle stormy textures turned into grid formations in a constantly repeating pattern moving ever forward. Golden human figures in rolling sands form an endless army that we snake through. A giant red face, cracked with golden light, looks down slowly upon us between the turning figures of two nymph-like statues. A winding mask leaves a swirling trail of fire and ash as it coils toward the audience. Tunnels of light are broken with snaps of vintage footage and cut-outs from newspapers and comics. Disturbing compilations of visuals that flutter before the audience at a rate designed to keep them just out of our interpretation surrender us to an experience of transcendence. And for the entirety of the show, the audience is completely in the grip of Flying Lotus’ vision of what art can be when we are unconfined.

It seems that Flying Lotus has been breaking ground with every step he takes. His latest live work is no exception. For those hoping to understand just why his music is so important now, and why a future with his work is so exciting, this live show is all that you need to witness. It was an intelligent homage to his creative ancestors, a celebration of his sound, and a glimpse into a future unlike anything I had seen before. Ali Nicholls


Click on the thumbnail images below to view the full gallery of Connor Crawford's photographs of Flying Lotus 3D...


Flying Lotus 3d
Flying Lotus 3d
Flying Lotus 3d
Flying Lotus 3d
Flying Lotus 3d
Flying Lotus 3d

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Links
flying-lotus.com/
facebook.com/CrawfordxPhotography

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