Low End Theory Festival 2015; Los Angeles, CA
I arrived at about 4PM, sadly missing the production workshops given by Low End Theory resident DJs. However, I did later jam on a massive public setup featuring a multitude of synths and drum pads which sufficed my creative urges. Despite that disappointment, the show was very organized with two stages playing music constantly throughout the day. You could either go outside and enjoy the California summer, or go inside and hear an absolutely insane sound system. Apparently, the sound system was specifically designed for the concert, and at points it felt like the bass was literally inside you.
Musically speaking, the show was a celebration of the famed LA “beat scene”. Most of the artists playing were either discovered via playing at the Low End Theory club, or are resident DJs there. If you aren’t aware of the music, think of hip hop beat makers like J Dilla or Madlib thrown in with EDM/trap based synth intensity, ALSO combined with the musical chaos of people like Charles Mingus or John Zorn. Many of the DJs and rappers proudly announced how they were at “the cutting edge of music right now”, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. There were a ton of artists playing throughout the day, and listing them all here would be an exercise, but some of my personal highlights were Free the Robots, Jonwayne, Daedelus, and Daddy Kev.
Unlike a lot of festivals nowadays, the attention was definitely on the headliners. The Gaslamp Killer, although not listed a headliner, stole the night away early (the second stage closed out at about 11pm, which was when TGK began). I don’t even know how to describe The Gaslamp Killer’s set; remember when I said the bass was literally inside you? He literally did things that I didn’t even realize were humanly possible, nor do I have the means to tell you what it was. If people compare Flying Lotus to John Coltrane, then The Gaslamp Killer is Igor Stravinsky. His sense of rhythm and ability to create sounds you’ve never heard (or have no idea how he made them) might as well make him the electronic Stravinsky. Behind him was a giant screen for visuals that literally vibrated WITH the bass (also, shout-outs to the visual guys playing scenes from Akira during people’s sets). In conclusion, go see The Gaslamp Killer.
Thundercat was the first of the headliners to go, and although I was slightly underwhelmed the last time I saw him, I was still excited based on the strength of his new EP, “The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam”. His bass was broken on a flight out to LA for the show, and within the day he had it fixed in time for his performance. It wasn’t even noticeable, because his trio was on fire. Even though I love jazz fusion, I’ve always loved Thundercat for his ability to funk it up while being technically proficient. Nonetheless, while his set leaned more on insane Return to Forever inspired shred-fests, it was endlessly entertaining to watch as it seemed his band was far tighter in jamming than their set in Denver last November. He still closed out his set with some funky jams though, ending with new hit “Them Changes”, and the modern day dance classic, “Oh Sheit It’s X”.
Earl Sweatshirt is trying to distance himself from his Odd Future days as much as possible, and his set seemed to mark a new era for him. He referred to his 2013 critically acclaimed album Doris as his “old sh*t" and played about 2 or 3 songs off of it. He then played songs of his new album, and ended with even newer songs. His infamous Odd Future tracks like "Orange Juice" or "Earl" might as well have never existed. On record, Earl can seem kind of introverted and mellow, but with the specially designed sound system, he decided to bring it. I had never heard Earl go this hard, even in his days of rapping about violence, rape, and whatever else shocking as a 15 year old. The bass added real power, and Earl came off as the most confident I’ve ever heard him. Considering that he’s a few months older than me, it was a trip to see his progression in the 2 years that he’s been active again. At Coachella 2013, he needed Tyler, The Creator and his music to help him feel confident on stage; skip two years later, he’s one of the hardest rappers going.
Flying Lotus had the longest set, and while he was still great, it wasn’t anything wildly different from the last time I had seen him. The problem with festivals is that sets are far shorter; FlyLo benefits from an hour and a half to two hour set as opposed to one hour. He still did what he could with his time, as did everyone, and if you hadn’t seen FlyLo at all since his latest album,You're Dead, came out last year then you’d be mind blown. However, I got to see his full production on his own tour, which fleshed out more of his musical and visual ideas. Nonetheless, he still ruled and the vibe was great; everyone around me was rapping freestyles over his beats (including a dude who looked exactly like Vince Staples).
While all of the artists were fantastic, one artist loomed over them all and wasn’t even in Los Angeles. Kendrick Lamar’s validity as a bonafide sensation and possibly the artist of our generation was really confirmed that day. Any time a Kendrick song was on, the crowd went wild. During Daddy Kev’s fantastic set, he played the hit social critique “Alright” and the crowd transformed from being sparsely packed to thousands of people all jumping and singing along literally within the first notes of the song. Another DJ threw in “M.A.A.D. City” and ended up just playing the song because the crowd was freaking out. Even Flying Lotus played his production credit on To Pimp A Butterfly, the P-funk inspired “Wesley’s Theory” which I was JAMMING to. So with this being said, GO ON TOUR KENDRICK!!!!!