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- ICA, London »
Hip-hop shows are tedious. Laptop sets dull. Electronica artists faceless and shows at art galleries soulless. All correct on occasion. Nothing like tonight.
Steven Ellison’s Infinity band – featuring the likes of Ravi Coltrane on sax and Stephen ‘Thunder Cat’ Bruner on bass – takes the albums released under his Flying Lotus moniker and twists ample soul out from beneath the layers of sequencer static, chopped beats and processed particles. These are forms anew, freeform and fabulous; like jazz, but to categorise this scintillating squall as such is to limit it by definition. Jazz is the loosest term, but its sides are stretched beyond recognition. It is, through no frame of reference, shapeless, intangible.
Appropriately, identifying tracks is not the easiest task – Ellison and company’s set shifts its weight across several feet of stage, every square inch filled with some device or other for punching soundwaves through still air, but any narrative is intentionally mislaid for tangents which are ravenously improvised. When Thundercat’s fingers go off like never before, everyone knows this is ‘Mmm Hmmm’; when Andreya Triana fills the tiny fractures between slurry percussion with her warm vocals, it’s apparent that ‘Tea Leaf Dancers’ is before us. But snatches are the only evidence of this music’s source material – everything else: on the hop, seat of pant, blind and boundless and desperate.
Triana’s ‘Lost Where I Belong’, the title-track from her solo debut, gets an airing – albeit far removed from the Winehouse-tones of its on-record guise, appearing in its dismantled FlyLo form. It’s a moment’s breath, an opportunity for reflection on what’s been, and what’s to be. Despite its medium pacing, it’s actually one of few instances where the crowd – individuals at close quarters, but never uncomfortably so – break into dance; often, the liquid flow of the musicians’ studied fumbling and furious soloing is unclassifiable as to be impossible to follow. Instead, backing grooves are locked onto, nails dug deep into whatever buoyancy there is to see where the unpredictable tides take us.
Climax: it’s left all lapped gently onto the other side of an ocean presumed impassable. Hip-hop with heart, a laptop set with substance. Ellison accepts his applause with modest grace – on stage he stands at the back, less ringmaster more reactor, augmenting his output to suit the wild flurries from Coltrane and Bruner. He is not one for the spotlight. But as we all knew already, it’s music from the fringes, from the shadows, that is the most wonderful of all when it explodes into brilliance – and tonight, he and they exceed even the most feverish of expectations, so blinding that they burn into next week.
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