There were breathtaking moments in FlyLo's set Wednesday night, but his unforgivable antics took over the narrative.
It’s not news anymore that Stephen Ellison (Flying Lotus) can be whiny. Last year, frustrated by the plight of producers in a rapper-centric hip-hop industry, he tweeted that “hella rap artists are rape artists.” His anger may have been justified, but the statement was tone deaf and prompted reputable publications to put out ridiculous think pieces like this one.
The controversy caused by that tweet should have put FlyLo on notice that public figures can’t simply say whatever they want without consequence anymore unless they’re the president, but last month, he struck again when he took a stand for his colleague, accused rapist Gaslamp Killer, at the end of his show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in L.A.
“The Internet is a fucking liar. Ain’t nobody judge and jury but the fucking law,” he said, after ending his set with a Gaslamp Killer track. “Let truth and justice have its day.”
Ellison later apologized for the incident, telling HipHopDX: “I wanted to sincerely apologize for my comments at my show. I realize they were insensitive. This is a tough time for all of us, as men and women. I’m having trouble finding my voice in all of this. I am truly heartbroken. My stage has always been a place for what’s in my heart until now. I feel as Internet-wielding people we have to learn to give each other space to feel, to honor each other’s reactions and experiences without bullying. I care about this community and its impact so much.”
It might be possible to explain away all of FlyLo’s insensitive Internet behavior as immaturity if he weren't 34, and if his behavior didn't extend into real life as well. Wednesday night at the Joy Theater, he derailed his own show with the most unprofessional antics I’ve ever seen onstage. Luckily, there was no more rape commentary during the set, although he did introduce “Friend Zone,” a Thundercat song he worked on, with a cringworthy speech about how “It’s a weird time, and men are thinking deeply and feeling a lot of emotions, but no one fucks with the friend zone.” Ellison seems not to get it.
The bigger issue this time came when he began to rail against the venue when he noticed an issue with his monitor shortly after the set started.
“I can’t hear myself up here,” he said repeatedly, directly calling out the Joy Theater and the sound crew, which was part of his own touring team. He seemed to think the problem was occurring in the audience too, but it wasn’t. The mix was fine, and there were no glaring front-facing sound issues. As the set went on, his impatience and banter got worse.
“I’m gonna try a little experiment,” he said, proudly informing the crowd that he had an “amazing” new booth control, but that his effects weren’t working properly because the venue was screwing him over. He then played a track, cut it short, tweaked the mix a bit, and concluded, “It’s a conspiracy.”
Part of the issue was probably the crowd, which was downright awful. The overwhelmingly male audience decked out in glow sticks and various weed-related accessories spread themselves throughout the Joy like a virus. Everyone I stood in line with for the bathroom had been to Suwanee Hulaween over the weekend. There was literally a guy wearing a Deadmau5 mask.
None of this is entirely FlyLo’s fault. He’s one of the most talented and innovative DJs around, fusing jazz, hip-hop, eclectic electronica, and sounds from other planes of existence into his work. You’re Dead was one of the best albums of 2015, and a lot of good music came out that year. But when it comes down to it, you get the crowd you deserve. While FlyLo’s has made some undeniably great music, he hasn’t done much to distance himself from the Excisions and the Bassnectars of the world aesthetically. His emphasis on visual art is admirable, and the 3D experience he offered at the Joy on Wednesday—projected by his team in real time to go along with his music—created some breathtaking moments, but it often boiled down to Stuff that would be really cool to look at on acid.
One patron Wednesday night may have contributed significantly to the show’s downfall. Every time FlyLo spoke, someone near the front of the crowd would yell "WHAT?!" which may have been part of the reason he thought no one could hear him.
Regardless, there was no excuse for Ellison’s behavior. He trashed the venue for ruining the show repeatedly, reminding us that he has “one of the simplest setups ever,” and wondering how anyone could mess it up. No one in the crowd would have known the difference if he’d just kept his mouth shut, but because he harped on it, people in the balcony halfway through the set talked about asking for their money back. "How could they do this to him?" someone wondered. "Someone needs to get fired over this," another fan said.
FlyLo came out for an encore after finishing his set with the megahit Kendrick Lamar collab, “Never Catch Me,” but he immediately noticed some feedback issues with his microphone. He pointed it out to the audience, playfully moving the mic back and forth near the problematic speaker, which brought on the telltale buzz.
“I’m sorry, y’all, it’s a conspiracy,” he repeated, prompting a shout of "Death to the sound boy!" from someone in the crowd. Everyone applauded. After another minute or so, he spiked the microphone into the ground and left the stage for good.
It’s too bad. FlyLo’s music sounded great Wednesday, and I wish the sound had been the story, but the tantrum took over the narrative. Stephen Ellison is 34 years old now, and he needs to grow up.