Ever since Flying Lotus started Brainfeeder in 2008 in Los Angeles, the world of beatmaking has never been the same. Already a relatively successful artist, Flying Lotus (real name Steven Ellison) always knew that he was interested in creating a label, so when he met future label members Teebs and Samiyam when he moved into an artist-based apartment complex in LA, the puzzle pieces came together. The name Brainfeeder was initially used for a 2007 radio program on dublab, a non-profit radio station, hosted by Ellison and frequented by his peers; a year later, Brainfeeder was officially born.
Perhaps unknowingly, Brainfeeder set itself up for a successful trajectory by not only carving out its niche as the experimentalists of the LA beat scene, but also by allowing that same willingness to take chances extend into the decision-making process of whom they signed to the label.
"There really isn’t a clearly defined answer [to who we sign], to be honest. We have a very diverse roster that has continued to expand in many directions, and each artist we work with has their own signature style that we were drawn to," Brainfeeder manager Adam Stover tells Reverb LP. "In most cases, Flying Lotus connects with artists and brings them to the label to work on all aspects of their record once they’re signed. We are a family and a community as much as a record label."
Soon after its creation, Brainfeeder began to bloom from the LA beat scene like a technicolor mandala into Afrofuturism, modern gabber, jungle, and jazz. The late Ras G—who died this summer at age 40, following a series of health issues—was the embodiment of the label's Afrofuturism, while its jazz inclinations got a boost from Kendrick Lamar, after he decided to tap Brainfeeder-related artists Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, and Flying Lotus to work on his Grammy Award–winning album To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015.
“We did indeed begin with beat-heavy records and expanded in a natural way to release records in various genres that ranged from experimental to something more 'traditional,' I guess you could say,” says Stover. “But, there is an aesthetic or common thread you can find in our catalog that makes it a Brainfeeder record, and makes it fit alongside the other releases that came before it. We are defining ourselves in real time.”
To celebrate the fifth anniversary of Flying Lotus’ game-changing release Your Dead!, we present a guide to Brainfeeder in eight records.
During the early 2000s, Daedelus had chipped out his place as one of the innovators and early champions of the diverse LA beat scene with his jazzy, off-kilter beats, and then got involved with Brainfeeder early on, it showed that the label was onto something. Billed as a “soundtrack-of-sorts to the Boxer Rebellion," the eccentric, mutton-chopped producer’s 2010 record Righteous Fists of Harmony is a dreamy LP that makes heavy use of swaying woodwinds and lush strings to convey an air of nativity and mystery of the rebellion.
Daedelus’ wife and collaborator Laura Darlington’s vocals also appear on Harmony. She can be heard intertwined on several tracks, but her smooth lounge-style delivery is best when put at the front and center like on “Succumb to” and “Order of the Golden Dawn,” with her smooth lounge-style delivery. Although the grand themes Daedelus tackled come as muted, the record still succeeds in creating wonderful background music for a rainy Sunday and comes off as one of the tightest releases of the label’s early days when left-field beat-making was still the norm.
In 2011, Leaving Records co-founder and electronic artists Matthewdavid released his debut Outmind, which ranks as one of the more obscure, and divisive releases on Brainfeeder. To some, the album was received as the product on synth experiments in heavy redux use, sweeping filters, and chopped, industrial use of beats. And to others, a hypnotizing portrait of a smog-filled LA. Opinions on likability aside, Outmind is above all, a record full of tracks, including a grainy feature from Flying Lotus on the track “Group Tea,” that’s certainly going to induce a foggy head phase.
For Stephen Lee Bruner, aka Thundercat, music is a family business. The bassist’s father Ronald Bruner Sr. has laid down drums with the likes of Diana Ross and The Temptations, one of his brothers Jameel "Kintaro" Bruner is a member of the Grammy-nominated band The Internet, and his oldest brother Ronald Bruner Jr. plays drums for the contemporary jazz group Stanley Clarke Band. After years of session playing and a stint as a member of Suicidal Tendencies, Bruner went solo, adopting the name Thundercat along the way. In 2011, he released his full-length solo debut The Golden Age of Apocalypse. However, it wasn’t until his 2013 follow up Apocalypse—a record dedicated to his late friend and label mate Austin Peralta—that he found his voice.
Apocalypse is a glorious mix of everything Brainfeeder had to offer at the time: beats, funk, soul, and psychedelia. After a gentle nudge from Flying Lotus, who doubles as his best friend, Thundercat was inspired to add more of his vocals than on his label debut. The bassists high whispery voice proved to be more versatile than expected, adding an extra splash of soul onto some truly great hooks such as on “Oh Shiet it’s X,” and heightening the emotions of tracks like the album’s heartbreaking closer “A Message for Austin / Praise the Lord / Enter the Void.”
It’s difficult to overstate the impact Kamasi Washington has had on jazz in the 2010s. As previously mentioned, his work appeared on Kendrick Lamar’s groundbreaking works To Pimp a Butterfly and Damn, arguably two of the greatest rap albums of the decade and his solo releases have introduced a whole new slew of listeners to the genre.
Shortly after his appearance on TPAB, Washington releases his appropriately named debut The Epic a nearly 3 hours long debut. Here, Washington revealed himself to be one of the rare jazz composers who can capture the attention of new listeners, thanks to his combination of approachable compositions influenced by hip-hop and R&B and the adrenaline pumping daring improvisation of the ‘60s.
Since The Epic, Washington has gone on to release two more albums, the tight 30-minute EP Harmony of Difference in 2017 and 2018’s double album Heaven and Earth (which included a hidden third disc called The Choice, as well as hit the road with keyboard legend Herbie Hancock earlier this year.
DJ Paypal is an innovator in a genre created by the innovative. The mysterious Raleigh, North Caroline native spent his teen years spinning footwork at highschool parties. Then, after years of studying the blistering hi-hats and rumbling subs of DJ Rashad and RP Boo, he started making his strain of the dizzying dance music. Not much later, he had one foot in the premier footwork label Teklife, and another in Brainfeeder.
Enter: Sold Out. In 2015, Paypal released his most realized release, a compact record that features two of the, arguably, most recognizable names in the genre DJ Earl and DJ Taye. Sold Out is an amalgamation of Paypal’s ability to take absurd, humorous samples and turn them into dreamy footwork masterpieces like “Say Goodbye” or a bombastic track “On a Cloud,” which he said reminded him of “Willy Wonka and munchkins doing the Oompa Loompa dance,” in a 2015 Pitchfork profile.
Iglooghost’s 2017 breakout album Neō Wax Bloom is a masterclass in maximalism. For its entire duration, the Irish producer packs every inch of sonic space with his bizarre production style that has all the polish of a PC Music release mixed with the speed and aggression of UK gabber. It doesn’t sound like it belongs in the future, or the past, or anywhere except some colorful alternate reality whose inhabitants operate at high speeds.
Iglooghost both stands out and blends in with the Brainfeeder cast. Like others, he’s an experimentalist focused on pushing his brand, however, there’s no questioning that his more abrasive sound is a step to the left of many of the jazz and soul-inspired work of his peers, a testament to the label’s overarching belief in forwarding momentum.
Following Neō Wax Bloom appearance on numerous "Best of 2017" album lists, Iglooghost, who maintained a wonderfully strange online presence, followed his debut up with a pair of twin EPs Steel Mogu and Clear Tamei that expand on the world-building elements of his previous releases.
Ross From Friends seem to have sprouted up out of nowhere, taking over our YouTube algorithm with his hit “Talk to Me You’ll Understand,” and injecting it with countless other lofi house hits (although the musician rejects the term due to the negative connotations it warrants from certain fans of club music) overnight. Soon, his work hit influential ears and landed him and the two other artists who accompany him on the road, spots at Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, and Berghain.
In a similar fashion to his abnormal rise to fame, Ross From Friends was picked up by Brainfeeder in an abnormal way: Twitter. While traveling between shows, Flying Lotus, a production idol for the young producer, reached out to the young producer and asked him if he’d be interested in making an album for Brainfeeder. The result is Family Portrait, Ross’ most comprehensive work to date, an ethereal record that endearingly wears its influences on its sleeve. The release marks a new era for Brainfeeder, one where musicians who grew up listening to the label in their impressionable years are now able to get in on the action. Comprised mainly of simple beats surrounded by grainy atmospheres and cheeky vocals, Portrait sounds like a natural extension to the early Brainfeeder work.
Brainfeeder X is an entry point and a celebration. Ten years after the first Brainfeeder release Samiyam’s Rap Beats Vol. 1, Brainfeeder X hit the shelves with tracks from all the artists mentioned above, George Clinton, BADBADNOTGOOD, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and more. It has hits and rarities, old and new, all of which come together in a comprehensive way that showcases the underlying aesthetic similarities between all Brainfeeder artists.
For new fans, X is a way to catch up and sample all that Brainfeeder has to offer. For those who’ve been around since the beginning, the compilation is proof of the label’s dedication to a mission statement, to keep evolving, dig deeper spiritual and to make dope shit with your friends.