Since 2008, Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label has peddled some of the most future-facing, genre-defying mainstream(ish) music available. This new compilation, ‘Brainfeeder X’, seeks to encapsulate its essence over the course of 36 arresting, diverse tracks.
As is often the case with wide-ranging, stylistically diverse compilations like this, it’s the extremes that work best. As distinctive as the public “sound” of Brainfeeder might be – that gleeful, magpie-like fusion of hip-hop, jazz, ambient techno and psychedelia – its roster houses some impressively individualistic divergence. The fibrous house of Ross From Friends’ ‘Squaz’, for example, bears little immediate resemblance to the galactic bossa nova of Daedelus’ ‘Order of Golden Dawn’ or the elegant future-funk of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s ‘Kazaru’, yet these juxtapositions sit neatly side-by-side under the label’s vast umbrella.
Perhaps because of this dazzling range of approaches and textures, the subtler archive cuts here, like Lapalux’s ‘Without You’ or TOKiMONSTA’s ‘Fallen Arches’, do labour a little. It’d be unfair to dismiss them as unsuccessful tracks – they just aren’t being showcased in a sympathetic context.
As the compilation progresses, it hammers home the influence that Flying Lotus and Brainfeeder have had on the state of the modern music landscape, an influence that dwarfs the label’s relatively brief 10-year lifespan. Without this nucleus of restlessly inventive electronic and experimental instrumental music bubbling away on America’s West Coast for the past decade, would we have had such era-defining records as Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ or Kamasi Washington’s ‘Heaven and Earth’? (Kamasi released his debut on Brainfeeder) How differently might artists like Odd Future and Vince Staples have turned out were it not for FlyLo’s mischievous influence? Were it not for the widespread success of albums like Flying Lotus’ ‘Until The Quiet Comes’ (released on Warp, but you get the point) and Thundercat’s ‘Drunk’, would similarly maverick artists like GAIKA, Oneohtrix Point Never or even the jazz-inflected likes of King Krule been able to rise to such prominence as they increasingly enjoy?
While those questions are debatable, the naked fact that this compilation raises them is significant in itself. Brainfeeder is a remarkable label; long may its twisted reign continue.