You're Dead! – the fifth album from Flying Lotus – does not explore morality in a typically sombre way. It warps its seriousness and mocks its melancholy, taking the darkness of death and twisting it into a dizzying supernova. In a performance brimming with this chaotic and clear sound, FlyLo aka Steven Ellison immersed Manchester Academy in a celestial, mind-melting funeral. Dressed in a black suit, facial features covered by a mask replacing eyes with two large illuminated sockets, Ellison stood centre stage to apocalyptically proclaim ‘oh my friends… you’re dead!’
As the chaos of album opener 'Theme' was unleashed on the crowd, rapid flashes of visuals struck the giant canvas hypercube which encased the decks. Known as ‘Layer3’, the unique audio-visual structure projected acidic animations of floating bodies, cosmic explosions, warped and unusual characters both alive and dead. These graphics – designed and controlled live by visual artists Strangeloop and Timeboy – were a novelty that never really wore off, captivating the audience and keeping them enthralled, evolving seamlessly with the music as it dived into the abstract.
FlyLo’s glitchy, jazz-tinged interludes and thunderous basslines took time to warm the crowd, taking a double-speed sample of Drake’s 'Know Yourself' to properly kick things off. Expanding outside of the realm of You’re Dead!, the Cosmogramma cut 'Zodiac Shit' accompanied the trippy visuals of its music video, the crowd almost pulsating to its hypnotic melody. When six-string bassist Thundercat joined Ellison, he’s greeted with a momentous reception; whilst his vocals felt awkward at parts, the live rendition of 'MmmHmm' was an ethereal, calming respite. Captain Murphy also made an appearance as Ellison threw off his mask and stormed front-stage for 'The Killing Joke', its grittier brooding sounds grounding the otherworldliness.
Taking to the mic numerous times, Ellison’s engagement with the crowd felt quite personable. He made a conscious effort to break the boundary between an eyes-down DJ and audience, his shadowed body gestures mimicking the twists, turns and drops of each song played. He commented on playing a venue such as Manchester Academy as a welcomed switch-up from the usual Warehouse Project locations, which he is ‘sick and tired of playing.’ It gave a totally different vibe than had it been in some disused industrial space in the middle of Salford Quays. Indeed, there was something quite cinematic about the ‘Layer3’ visuals bouncing off the black-walled square space just off the student union, with an audience wide-eyed, facing forward and neck cranked up to absorb all of the theatrical performance.
For all of its imagery of the deceased, there’s a playfulness and goofiness that Flying Lotus unabashedly embraces. He might be thematically rooted in purgatory, but Ellison is in the midst of his boldest reincarnation.
Words : Josie Roberts