Brainfeeder Label & Collective: The LA Beat Scene’s Next Generation

[The Brainfeeder family, illustration by Dr. Strangeloop.]

The current incarnation of Los Angeles’s constantly evolving beat scene started with a couple of sparsely attended events at a small club named Little Temple in 2003. The nights were mainly frequented by producers and would often spill out into the parking lot, revolving around a boombox and lots of smoke. Soon after that cypher faded away, the Low End Theory party exploded and helped launch the career of Flying Lotus, a beat maker who seemed to touch hearts and minds all across the globe. Now, with his success cemented, FlyLo has continued the cycle of nurturing, and is using his Brainfeeder label and collective to bring up the next generation of sounds and producers.

“When I first started out, I was lucky enough to have great people take me under their wing and point me in the right direction,” the former Stones Throw intern explains. “I’ll never forget it, and I try to do my best to do the same for people I believe in. I know that what my peers and I are doing is really important, and I feel the music we’ve created is something that speaks to a new generation, so it’s our responsibility to nurture and guide this movement we started.”

[Flying Lotus -- "Two Bottom Blues", his first release, included on Carlos Niño's Sound of LA compilation in 2006.]

This early setting was a period of cultural fermentation, one where people motivated each other and challenged one another to progress. “It was like a sport!” FlyLo recalls. “But there was no hating on anyone’s shit, because everybody had crazy shit. We’d all go home mad inspired.”

What was it about LA that allowed this to develop? “I have a different idea than most,” posits Gaslamp Killer, “but I honestly think that it’s because nobody gives a shit, or nobody gave a shit for so long, that we were just able to do our own thing, and ANYTHING goes.”

[FlyLo in the Dublab studios, where Brainfeeder actually began as a radio show.]

While it obviously revolved around instrumental hip hop, a main ethic that the scene encouraged is one of originality. That artists need to come through with their own style. “I think the bottom line is that you gotta come with your own shit, just push it forward,” says Take, a producer who helped start one of those nights called Sketchbook.

Most of the Brainfeeder roster is vocal about this ideal. “Though we might have similar roots, we have branched out into our own unique sound,” says Tokimonsta. “I always get to hear something fresh from my LA music fam.”

[Tokimonsta -- "Simple Reminder" from her debut full length, Midnight Menu.]

Although she has yet to release anything on the label, Toki has dropped a full length on Listen Up out of Japan, and an EP on the British label Ramp. Her sound on the Midnight Menu LP, for the most part, is rooted in the crate digging tradition. She’ll take a couple samples and layer over them some beats and bass – but the sounds she creates for this aspect, and the overall production quality, are solidly forward thinking. Other releases find Tokimonsta grinding out mid range bassiness and glitchy aesthetics.

“A lot of us would fucking play anything, Gaslamp adds. “It didn’t even matter – you know what I’m saying? We’d just play anything, and it changed and developed into other things. We just created our own shit, and we still are.” His work is maybe the most eccentric and volatile of the Brainfeeder collective.

[A video by Dr. Strangeloop, Brainfeeder's resident video master and occasional beat maker.]

Primarily a DJ known for sets that tumble along a broad range of sounds from dubstep to folk, Gaslamp is still trying to find his own sound as a producer. His work is often dark and synthetic, but includes a broad array of global samples, touching on sounds from places as diverse as Turky and India. “I hope that I stamp my own personality on the music, even though I’m taking these influences from a lot of different places. I don’t just want to quote these amazing, awesome people.”

The label’s most recent release is the Ardour LP by the young producer Teebs. His efforts are washy doses of psychedelia, glistening in the forest like THC dew, moved casually along by a single kick that refuses to go away. Harps and reverb drenched effects float about like feathers with a hazy glow of sunshine about them.

Daedelus’s first album for the feeders, Righteous Fists of Harmony, was a folksy soundtrack that skips about various string samples, a scene performed in expansive fields and viewed through grainy color photos. It was “conceived as an imaginary soundtrack to the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1899.” He participated in Dubspot’s LA workshop last week.

[Lorn -- "Army of Fear", from his debut full length, Nothing Else.]

And then there’s the Midwest’s Lorn, whose Nothing Else album dropped on Brainfeeder this summer. His sound often features engine-like basslines set to miltant beats and hard synthlines. “I don’t sit down and make music with the intention of making something ‘dark’ or ‘angry’,” the producer says, “It just apparently comes out that way for others. I’m trying to dig deep to uncover a lot of shit, so probably more than anything ‘unsettling’ might be a better word.” Here and there, Lorn sounds a bit like Ratatat, with his beat pacing and bass melodies. We recently had the pleasure of hosting Lorn, who came to Dubspot and hosted a workshop and made us a mixtape.

[Another video by Dr. Strangeloop.]

For all this momentum, Flying Lotus sees upsides and downsides for the LA community: “I feel like a lot of kids, a lot of halfway kids, come out here, kids who started making beats six months ago, thinking they can get on stage because their drums are off. This kind of stuff annoys me.” But of course, with the limelight comes opportunity, and he notes that now, they “have a forum to do things that benefit bigger conversations.” Brainfeeder has certainly become a topic of conversation. - MS

Make sure to catch the Brainfeeder crew when they come to your area as part of the Magical Properties tour.

  • Soundsdefygravity
  • 11/15/2010

great piece on LA’s deconstruction of beat culture. Brainfeeder is working steadily in the background and this was a nice roundup of things I’d missed

  • Further Ramblings | Culture System
  • 11/15/2010

[...] artists like a piece on Ramadanman, an interview with A Made Up Sound, and a spotlight on Brainfeeder. CS blurbs are also on Twitter and Facebook. There’s even more, but that’s a secret. [...]