Almost two years ago, L.A. producer Flying Lotus released Cosmogramma -- not just one of the best albums of 2010, but one that featured some of the most ambitious, sophisticated and fearlessly personal music in recent memory. It was cosmic like Sun Ra, incendiary like the free-jazz musicians of the '70s and bristling with electronic beats, beeps and bass. And though he didn't exactly start the instrumental post-Dilla, hip-hop-but-not-quite "beat music" that's become a signature Los Angeles sound, he was there at the beginning, playing one of the first Unreleased Beat Invitationals at the now-legendary club night Low End Theory, and launching his label Brainfeeder as a home for forward-thinking friends both local and international. A lot has happened since the musician, whose given name is Steven Ellison, worked his last day at his last job at storied L.A. label Stones Throw in the winter of 2005. Ellison laughs: "I knew when I was leaving, music was gonna be it -- or I'd die hustlin'!"
Among a certain group of musicians, Ellison is a visionary -- which is probably why Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu are just a phone call away for him -- and right now, he's got Cosmogramma's unnamed follow-up incubating on the computer in front of him. He'll be premiering parts of it at Coachella in April, once he manages to sift out what he's going to keep from the current 41 finished tracks. "I just wanna tell the right story," he says.
Ellison's label Brainfeeder -- for which he selects and produces albums, though he releases actual Flying Lotus records on Warp -- is built on a strange mix of idiosyncratic L.A. locals, like bass space-man Thundercat, bizarre-fi beatmaker Matthewdavid and beauty machine Teebs, as well as hand-picked standouts from all over the world, like propulsive Dutch electronic veteran Martyn and lush U.K. producer Lapalux. What they all have in common, Ellison says, is that they're seekers -- musicians using music to find out something about themselves: "It's such an awesome thing to be a witness to. I want to help."