Last Thursday, the prolifically experimental, Los Angeles-based record label known as Brainfeeder took over the Fox Theater Oakland. Filling the venue with the brand’s diverse roster of talent and flavor, label founder and futuristic producer Flying Lotus headlined a massive lineup that included its latest acquisition, Parliament-Funkadelic, in addition to performances by Thundercat, Shabazz Palaces and The Gaslamp Killer.
The Gaslamp Killer ushered in the early arrivals with his signature sound of instrumental psychedelia, revving up the sold-out crowd with his visceral beats and transient energy. Shabazz Palaces followed in a somewhat uncharacteristically stripped-down set. Missing their usual visual art-infused stage production, the duo muted its typical abstract style and instead delivered a hard-hitting set that relied on Ishmael Butler’s (aka Palaceer Lazaro) and Tendai “Baba” Maraire’s intense vocals and percussion.
Subsequently, free-form jazz virtuoso Thundercat (born Stephen Bruner) took the stage and feverishly plucked his way through a comprehensive set of solo material and collaborative hits that he worked on with Flying Lotus and for Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy-winning album To Pimp a Butterfly last year.
Parliament-Funkadelic, who signed to Brainfeeder last month, elevated the funk vibes to their highest level before Flying Lotus’ headlining slot. To kick off the set, George Clinton threw the audience for an unexpected loop and shifted the mothership’s groove into uncharted territory with some unreleased, aggressively charged hip-hop. Though some longtime fans were put off by the new tracks, it did seem appropriate that the forefathers of the Afro-futuristic movement showed their penchant for pushing the envelope, especially in this particular context. But by the fourth song, P-Funk had returned to their signature sound before bringing out the entire Brainfeeder family to kick the show into hyperdrive and get fans on board for the galactic journey they were about to embark on.
Brainfeeder founder, producer and unapologetic cultural mouthpiece Flying Lotus (born Steven Ellison) ended the night with a mildly controversial headlining set. Walking onstage and making what any FlyLo fan would recognize as an off-colored comment on the current presidential race may have proven too brazen for those not used to his brand. He let Captain Murphy out of the box a little early and road the wave of confusion into a heady, bass-driven assault on the conflicted crowd, providing the distinct audio punctuation point for the night’s bill of artists. Playing several tracks off of his 2014 LP You’re Dead! as well as various hits from high-profile hip-hop emcees like Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar that he has produced over the years, Ellison stunned us all with his double-screen, audio-visual stage setup and plenty of bone-rattling bass drops.
The three-night Brainfeeder showcase, which included a stop at the Hollywood Bowl last weekend, was truly an experience to behold. Regardless of who you went to see, eyes were opened and brains were fed — so to speak — thanks to the sonic diversions that continue to make the label one of the most important players in shaping the future of music.