Video walls have been done. Pyro’s passe. How does a modern concert experience push boundaries? We asked the visionaries behind FlyLo’s super-surreal 3D live show.
Saying that a live, in-person performance from a living musician is going to be presented “in 3D” at Intersect seems deeply redundant. They exist in the same universe as we do, so it would be weird if they didn’t occupy the same number of spatial dimensions as the rest of us.
But it means something a little different when the artist in question is Flying Lotus.
As a boundary-pushing artist (not to mention a former film student) FlyLo has always put a little extra into the visual presentation of his live performances, using projections and custom-built stage sets to play with audiences’ sense of perception. In 2012 he debuted a show called Layer 3, which featured a translucent screen that let images seem to float in front of him, and three years later followed it up with Hypercube, where he played inside a cubical DJ booth that created a surface for depth-defying projections. In 2017 he took the show to a new level by incorporating LED screens that, for the first time ever, allowed him to create visuals that could look fully 3D and appeared to float in midair, without needing a surface to project onto.
“It’s not only immersive,” says John King, who’s been working with Flying Lotus for the past decade, and co-creates the visual experience. “It’s quite intense. This isn’t a lightweight show. This is something that’ll throw you down a rollercoaster, maybe without your harness attached.”
Creating the show has been a bit rollercoaster-ish for King and co-creator Dave Wexler. “The first version of the 3D show was an experiment,” King says. The LED screens, created by a company called 3D Live that invented the proprietary technology behind them, were not only new to the FlyLo team, they were still new to pretty much the entire field of live entertainment. And unlike Wexler, who met FlyLo back when they were in film school together, “I didn’t have a background in visual art or programming or production,” King says. “I was just an enthusiastic guy who wanted to show him some ideas.”
Fortunately, the experiment’s results were positive. Hypebeast called it a “groundbreaking new performance experience,” while Consequence of Sound called it, “a trippy experience unlike any trippy experience he offered in the past.”
For Flying Lotus, Wexler, and King, the only obvious direction was towards bigger and more ambitious things. Since unveiling the 3D show they’ve been continuously tweaking and expanding it, often adding new gear as soon as it hits the market. The incarnation of the stage setup that they’ve been using on the tour to promote Flying Lotus’s new album Flamagra, released earlier this year, incorporates 3D Live’s screens alongside projections, custom built lighting rigs, a DJ booth shaped like a spaceship (inspired by the iconic French sci-fi and comics artist Moebius), and state-of-the-art gadgets like fog machines with built-in LEDs to light up clouds of haze from the inside.
Intersect Festival attendees will get to experience the production in its ultimate form, since the Intersect stage can fit features that smaller venues can’t handle, like the biggest screens available, plus a giant plexiglass riser underneath the spaceship that shoots a wall of light up from below.
“We’re going bigger than pretty much any other version of the show that we’ve done,” King says of their Intersect plans.
"We're going bigger than pretty much any other version of the show that we've done.
The show includes work from around 20 animators–some from Wexler’s Strangeloop Studios, which has also created visuals for Intersect artists Anderson .Paak and TOKiMONSTA, and some recruited by King from social media. But despite being insanely complex, it’s not all preprogrammed and sequenced the way that many larger-than-life concert experiences are. FlyLo’s an instinctive improviser, so the visuals need to be able to follow him when he goes off script, which happens a lot.
“There’s a different dynamic when you’re playing with an artist who likes to play a song that they were just working on that night,” King says, “or stop the show entirely to talk to the audience.”
“It’s more like jazz or something,” explains Wexler, who generates some visuals on the fly using a live video feed from a camera mounted inside the spaceship, manipulated by software that he “plays” with a MIDI keyboard. “You’re trying to push the limits. It’s one of the things that makes it exciting. If you saw it two days in a row it would be two different shows.”
Wexler and King say that as FlyLo’s 3D show has evolved, it’s only allowed the audience to experience the music in a deeper way. “A 3D show requires a type of focus and attention that no other show really requires,” King explains. “At a regular show you can close your eyes and zone out and dance. You’re not required to give it your full attention. When they’re wearing 3D glasses the crowd becomes a lot more focused and attentive. It’s a different energy.”
“It’s all cinema,” Wexler says. “I feel like we’re making a movie in real time. Like a really tripped-out, hyper-dimensional movie.”