This is a look back at the first 15 years of Brainfeeder, through the eyes and memories of its roster.
It features just some of the artists who have coloured the label’s hard-to-pin-down catalogue with sublime and unpredictable strains of jazz, funk, hip-hop and experimental electronic music. All every bit as mind-nourishing as its very name, and all entirely their own.
Founded in an LA apartment back in 2008, the label is the brainchild of Flying Lotus, the artist, producer, composer and director (FlyLo, AKA Steven Ellison, is out in New Zealand when we speak, working on his new sci-fi horror) who himself has spent the last decade-and-a-half propelling upwards and outwards across a cosmos of ideas, collaborations and mediums, leaving fans eager to see what he’ll do next.
This same commitment to, well, a less easily-defined way of life runs deep through the label, which has evolved from something more heavily homed in on LA’s own experimental beat scene to a global, award-winning powerhouse that still cites curiosity, creative freedom and an independent spirit as its core tenets. Its affiliates past and present, including the likes of Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Teebs, Salami Rose Joe Louis, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Samiyam – plus the late Ras G and Austin Peralta – have, in their own ways and at their own times, embodied this spirit entirely, making their connection to the label feel that bit more poignant. It can sound a little naff, sometimes, to clutch at the family angle while attempting to discuss clusters of artists such as these, but here, it feels completely appropriate.
So let’s get stuck in. Find out which releases 10 Brainfeeder artists – including new signee Hakushi Hasegawa, plus FlyLo himself – consider their favourites from the vaults below, and also hear some personal memories and tales from their time with the label. We also called up Brainfeeder’s PBDY for a specialist mix to further commemorate the occasion. You can listen to that here or below.
Brainfeeder creates a space for the mind to flourish and not be confined to the ideas and norms that we [can] experience. It used to be Lotus’ profile for a while – it said ‘the light behind your eye’. That is what Brainfeeder is.
I discovered Brainfeeder by way of being a FlyLo fan – I was definitely a fan of Flying Lotus before I met him. A lot of our friends would always say to us that we would probably like each other. Whenever somebody does that, it’s kind of like, ‘How does that make sense?’ It’s like trying to set your friend up on a date like… don’t try it. But yeah, we got together, and we both realised we do get on! It was funny, because we realised we lived down the street from each other. We’d spent so much time talking to each other – and that’s kind of the funny story in LA, to be honest with you. It’s like, ‘Oh, we should hang out, we should hang out’ and we go on for a while doing that. We finally get around to it and come to find out that we live down the street from each other. That’s how that began. In relation to me deciding to sign to Brainfeeder, it was relatively quick – within a couple of years of having started with him, or within the same year.
I feel like each and everything we’ve created together is a snapshot of the people that we were at the time. So it’s hard to really say there’s a favourite, because I love every moment that we’ve created together. All of Lotus’ work has been very meticulous and very important, and so to be honest with you, everything we’ve done has been different shades and gradients of who we are.
I guess the best way to describe [Brainfeeder’s growth] is that creativity has been busted through in many different directions. As everything does, there’s moments of growing and changing. There’s a bit of what you could call a signature – the types of artists and creative minds that it attracts feels very… as it should be. From Louis Cole to Salami Rose Joe [Louis], to things that are being released on the consistent from Teebs to Austin Peralta – rest in peace, of course. The growth is in many different directions, even to see where Lotus has grown to on a personal level, it’s like people are just now really understanding who Flying Lotus is. I think they’re just now able to really see a bigger scope of who he is.
I’m very proud of the genuine connection and collaboration that I have with different artists that are involved with the label. Because a lot of the time, with the idea of collaboration, there’s a part where it almost feels it can be forced, or something of that nature. But there’s a part of it where the natural gravitation to each other helps create special moments. A lot of collaborative work [as part of Brainfeeder] created some of the special moments to me.
I first came across Brainfeeder through a Myspace post from Flying Lotus. He mentioned a label was starting and had a really cool show flyer by Charles Munka with names like HudMo, Samiyam and Ras G on it. It was really exciting to see.
It’s a toss-up for my favourite release, but I’d have to say Samiyam’s Rap Beats, Vol. 1. Sam was my roommate for a good two years or so, around the time I finished my record Ardour. I have so many memories of Sam but a funny one is when I first got hold of a MS2000 – which was the first synth I’d ever used. He casually walked over and said, ‘You wanna see how to really use a synth?’ and proceeded to make something amazing within minutes that both inspired me and made me want to stop making music all together! I loved those years around him as he was like a brother and friend I could rely on during that time, which were some of my hardest years in life.
Every release on Brainfeeder makes me passionate to make music, and Rap Beats, Vol. 1 was no different. It was very unique to who Sam is as a person and seeing someone who used similar machines as I did to make such wildly different outcomes in music kept me in awe of the tools. I wanted to create more and try more things.
I’m proud of sticking with music [over the years]. Seeing the work through and staying true to myself throughout the process. I don’t come from a musical background at all and being around such legends with knee-deep history has brought on imposter syndrome from time to time. But I’ve learned that music is such a spiritual tool, and working and struggling in honour of it to later having my own history to share with my family and others to listen or even relate to would count as my proudest feats with Brainfeeder.
I met the Brainfeeder crew through Dennis Hamm, who plays keyboards with Thundercat. My band Knower opened for Thundercat and then Flying Lotus selected our song for FlyLo FM in Grand Theft Auto. That was cool because I had heard Flying Lotus’ music, and he was a kind of myth to me for a long time.
Thundercat’s The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam is a very moving album for me, especially Lone Wolf and Cub. I made friends with Thundercat around the time this album came out [in 2015]. It was an emotional time, and the songs really reflect that in a deep way. The record has inspired me; Thundercat has the ability to make great songs with beauty and strength in all the parts, all with a really cool vibe.
I’m pretty amazed to be on Brainfeeder because its roster is full of really amazing producers and I’m more song-y. I’m happy that they give me full creative freedom. I feel trusted and part of a great label, so I want to do my best.
Ross From Friends
I’d known FlyLo’s stuff since the album 1983, the artwork is so evocative for me now. I remember staring at it on YouTube for such a long time while listening to all of it – I know every detail of that cover now. But I didn’t actually know about Brainfeeder until FlyLo hit me up in like 2015, but I was stoked to be supported by one of my favourite producers.
I think Neō Wax Bloom by Iglooghost may be my favourite. It came out around the time I started releasing stuff with Brainfeeder and I listened to it tons when I was making Family Portrait. That album made me think a lot more into being unique and creating a world within an album. I wanted to do this with Family Portrait for sure.
The label, musically, has really spread its wings in recent years. I thought my music was really different compared to previous releases but now I see the variance in all the more recent stuff and it makes so much sense.
I’m most proud of my debut album when it comes to my work with Brainfeeder. It was such a gruelling challenge for me to put that together, but overcoming it and seeing how it spread was amazing.
Hiatus Kaiyote's Paul Bender
I’ve been a Flying Lotus fan since before Hiatus Kaiyote was even a band, so it was natural that I learned about the existence of a label that he founded. To be honest, when Hiatus Kaiyote wasn’t even a signed artist – when we first released Tawk Tomahawk independently – Brainfeeder was one of the dream labels that I hoped we might end up on. Just over a decade later, turns out that came true.
A release that stands out is The Golden Age of Apocalypse by Thundercat. I have an especially fond memory of hanging out with some friends in someone’s bedroom and blasting that album not long after it came out. We had this one really big communal bowl of cereal and we sat around passing this bowl around, eating mouthfuls of Coco Pops, bopping wide-eyed to the amazing combination of burning jazz fusion and George Duke-inspired synth-funk. It was a super wholesome listening party. Thundercat has definitely been a huge inspiration as a bass player and musician, from his insane skills on the bass to his humorous lyrics to his amazing contributions to many great albums.
It’s been really cool to see the scope of releases widen to include so many unique sounds and diverse genres. From the dancefloor stuff to the cosmic jazz to the super interesting new paths forged by artists such as Salami Rose Joe Louis and Genevieve Artadi, it feels like the label has gone from strength to strength since it first came on my radar.
I’m really proud that we finished our album Mood Valiant – it was a challenging album to make and we went through a lot to get to the finish line. I’m really glad that this important part of our legacy became part of Brainfeeder’s legacy, too. It feels like an important full circle moment, the culmination of our hard work and a longstanding dream. We are looking forward to finishing the next one, whenever that is!
I came across Brainfeeder’s first release by following the work of Flying Lotus, just as a fan. The music coming out of the LA beat scene was a big influence on me at that time, especially when it connected with the similar movements happening in Europe. I was really excited to see a new label coming out representing that music from one of the scene’s rising stars.
Teebs’ Ardour is a favourite. I remember being really struck by the gentleness of the production; the gentleness and warmth of the feelings it seemed to be communicating. I felt it had a kind-hearted introspection to it. It felt a little wistful and dreamy, but human and organic, and present and elsewhere, all at the same time. Whatever the quality was, I related to it immediately and deeply. It felt kindred and I knew it was something I wanted to be much more intentional about including in my own music at the time. I’ve just been listening to it and it still has the same affect on me.
This release was probably was a factor in encouraging me to do something more fragile, shoegaze-y and personal than what I’d done before, more homespun and delicate. I’m thinking of the Dream Sequence EP and more so the Severant LP that followed. In fact, I remember noting down Teebs as an inspiration, to pursue that direction.
It seems like the label [team] form quite strong bonds with core artists and I think it’s quite remarkable how they’ve help form some really high-profile careers in recent years, but still clearly take on more niche, weird stuff – like me! I think that’s a reflection of how they genuinely love the music, I certainly feel that when talking with them.
Jaga Jazzist's Lars and Martin Horntveth
Martin Hornthveth: I came across Brainfeeder though Lars when he moved to LA and his contact with Austin Peralta, Thundercat and many more. I had been a fan of Flying Lotus for many years and saw him several times around Europe. FlyLo also played a support (!!!) show for Jaga in Brussels back in 2010. It’s so cool to think about now.
Lars Hornthveth: It’s a bit blurry, but I do remember seeing Flying Lotus playing at a really small club called Mono in Oslo – it must have been around his first album, in 2006. I knew his manager, who signed Jaga to Ninja Tune back in the day. A few years later, me and Joakim Haugland [the founder of Smalltown Supersound] decided to spend Christmas in Los Angeles. We didn’t know many people there so we ended up having his manager and some other friends of his over for a Christmas Eve dinner. I liked LA and the people I met there so much that I decided to stay. I ended up being in LA for almost four years. It was really cool for me to see how these people I met there turned into stars.
MH: For me, Brainfeeder has mostly been an inspiration for my own songwriting. It’s more the songs from both the catalogue and the musicians who are collaborating with each other and other artists. I’ve listened to Kamasi Washington’s The Epic a lot, and Louis Cole and Teebs’ albums. Our musical background is very far from many of the other Brainfeeder artists, so their combination of electronic, jazz, fusion and pop has been a ‘new’ way of looking at things. It’s not been any specific album, but more the way of thinking and making music. Growing up with jazz and hip-hop really resonated with many of the label’s artists and especially the man himself, Steven. Seeing him live with just a laptop but performing as he had a full orchestra with glitchy samples, stumbling beats, super hooks and awesome visuals was mind-blowing.
LH: Many of the Brainfeeder records come up as references all the time. The Hiatus Kaiyote album has come up a lot the recent years where I’ve been working on more r’n’b related music. As for making music for Jaga, it’s always really random what inspires us, but the free-spirited way of thinking that all of the artists are known for makes me wanna push harder and be more adventurous, for sure.
MH: Being on Ninja Tune since 2002 has made the move to Brainfeeder super easy. We work with most of the same people and it’s all a big family. We were really proud of being released on Brainfeeder as an ‘old’ band from Norway, quite far away from the palms in Los Angeles. Despite the distance and the time difference, my contact with the label has been closer than ever before.
LH: I’m so happy with the stuff that we’ve done so far!
Salami Rose Joe Louis
Back in my school days, a friend made me a mix CD of Flying Lotus and Georgia Anne Muldrow and I was lid-flipped and life-changed. Following their work and seeking out other artists in their orbit, such as Thundercat, is how I became hip to Brainfeeder.
It’s Thundercat The Golden Age of Apocalypse for me: foundational, game-changer, a very special record. At the time, I had never heard anything like it. It was like all the harmonic complexities of jazz and prog greats from the 70s – George Duke, Gentle Giant, etc – fused with the most fire grooves, housed in an authentic, fresh, heartfelt, and modern-sounding context. It inspired a whole movement of music in my opinion. A decade or so later and I think a lot of people are still trying to sound like this album. It has some of my favorite compositions to date. Also there is a playful weirdness to it that really spoke to my soul.
That album came out when I was still rocking my CD Walkman and flip-phone, if you can believe it. The golden age of my attention span, when my brain receptors were still fresh and zesty. I remember burning this to CD and walking to class with my Walkman and a whole new world opened up before my eyes. It has been hugely instrumental. There is a confidence exuded in this album to do whatever the fuck you want and embrace your own weirdness. The unashamed reverence for lush harmonies and melodies is so bad-ass and wonderful. It inspired me to make the music I want to make and to try to not shapeshift for anyone. This record is from the heart and you can feel it and that is one of the most powerful ingredients to any sauce. Of course you need other ingredients too – like the compositions are so very beautiful, and don’t get me started on some of the basslines, and the playing, production [and] singing performance. It’s just one of those special iconic records.
Over the years, many artists have grown and changed, and maybe certain artists’ production has gotten more hi-fi. But the level of musicianship and weirdness and innovation is consistent. The label’s catalogue has widened its spectrum of sounds and has a more varied catalogue. I love the new records of Genevieve Artadi and Terence E.T.C.
I have a hard time being proud of my work as I’m a huge critic of myself. But I am proud of the way I have grown as a producer and composer since signing to Brainfeeder. It’s intimidating company to keep and I don’t take the honour of being on the label lightly! I definitely feel like a newborn baby amateur in juxtaposition so I’ve tried to put in the work to get better at mixing, production, keys, drum programming, composition and conceptual aspects of the album creation. It’s terrifying to be surrounded by such greats, but the pressure keeps me striving to be worthy. I think the best music collectives are those who have a standard so high you’re always stretching.
I was in high school when I came across Brainfeeder. I remember listening to DJ PAYPAL’s Sold Out without knowing it was released on Brainfeeder, and when I heard Jameszoo’s Fool, I realised for the first time that they were both released on the same label, which was quite confusing.
I could name dozens of favourites, but the ones I particularly like and that stick deeply in my memory are Iglooghost’s Neō Wax Bloom, Jameszoo’s Fool and Thundercat’s Drunk. As I recall, all three titles are associated with memories of tears: the first time I heard Iglooghost’s Bug Thief on the floor, I was running all over the floor crying, and I’m sure it was a very notable part of the night. When I heard Jameszoo’s Flu, I remember shedding a very unhealthy tear about why I hadn’t written it. And when I heard Thundercat’s Bus In These Streets, I repeatedly cried about how beautiful the interplay of chords and melody could be.
I am very strongly influenced by all of them. Iglooghost shows me how inseparable rhythm and texture are, Jameszoo shows me the impressions created by absurdity and their temporal usage. And Thundercat is always telling me how many unexamined subjects are hidden in what is considered as already studied.
I feel that it can be said that Brainfeeder has changed, but at its core, it remains the same. As I mentioned earlier, in the past I could not imagine a label where DJ PAYPAL and Jameszoo would exist together, at least not in the same place. If you follow Brainfeeder’s discography, you can see how chaotic and diverse the label has been. Their approach – the sound, compositions, and how they stand as a label – seem to have changed in a modern way, but the chaos contained within seems to have not changed at all.
As a new signee to the label, what I feel I should do with Brainfeeder is to re-present the chaos that Brainfeeder has fostered as a new form. That is the first thing I am looking forward to. I am deeply grateful to Flying Lotus for giving me this honour, and I am determined to return it in any way possible. I am also very excited about the possibility of working with the Brainfeeder musicians, whom I adore. However, perhaps because I am so honoured and nervous, I am not able to envision the details of what will happen. I also think that a person who can imagine the detailed future would not be running around the floor in tears.
I’ve been a day one fan of Brainfeeder to be honest. I remember the day the Myspace page began for the label and I had been chatting with FlyLo since I was 17 or so on there. He’s been a big brother to me for as long as I can remember now so, for me, Brainfeeder was always there and in my life since the label’s inception essentially.
Choosing a favourite is really tough, but the answer that kept coming back to me was Austin Peralta’s Endless Planets. It’s just such an amazingly powerful album and a major statement in terms of the diversity and future of where the label would go. Austin was such an incredible being and the emotion put into that album just hits me very deeply. A true masterpiece in my mind always.
When I was still living in Phoenix (where I grew up) I would always end up listening to music in my car in my driveway at night. It was just a quiet space for me to disappear and immerse myself in music and thoughts. I remember listening to this album and crying one night – just the beauty and what it would conjure up in my mind was gorgeous, but also hauntingly sentimental. I didn’t even know Austin yet at the time when this came out and I never really got to express how that record affected me, but I feel like in the cosmos of things he knows now.
I think this record really inspired me in terms of storytelling and the arc of sounds. It flows so magically and feels like a movie score almost at moments. I’m by no means a jazz musician at all, but this record always felt like more than a purely jazz album – sonically, it felt ethereal and large, and I strive to make things with that same impact in mind.
Having been there since the start, I’ve truly seen the change [within Brainfeeder] with my own eyes and to me, the biggest thing I’ve noticed is just the overall scale of the work. The music has always been fantastic and now there is a certain level of a larger scale – and, as I mentioned earlier, the diversity is just so amazing. The label has grown into something even more poignant. It’s a beautiful thing to watch growth in its purest form.
My proudest moment with the label was releasing my first solo album Careworn. That was just such a huge thing for me and I was truly honoured to have released it with Brainfeeder. It took me years to finish that album and Lotus was so supportive with me doing so. He encouraged me to push myself to the next level and look at things bigger; go further and create something unique. To be a part of this family means more than I can express in words. It’s truly special and heartwarming.
It all started really just from my apartment; working with Samiyam and having [him] be my next-door neighbour, and Teebs be my next-door neighbour – and Ras G in our orbit. [We were] just always hanging around and it was like, ‘Why don’t we do this ourselves?’ We didn’t know any better but we just went for it, and put in the time and effort, got our shit together. And now it’s become such a well-oiled machine, and I’m really proud of what we made.
There are so many releases [I have strong memories of] from the last 15 years – but one that I’ll throw in there that just came to mind though is Sam Baker’s Album [from Samiyam]. I feel like I was around for the making of it; watching it be made right across the hall from me, I got to observe how this thing came together for someone else. I felt very emotionally invested in seeing someone’s vision come to life. I was really trying to put this selfless energy into another project, and just be a support system as well as a friend and all that. Sam was my best friend at the time, and it was really special to see his vision come to life the way we all kind of hoped it would. I don’t know how it was received in the world, but that doesn’t really matter in this case. You know, there are other records I could say [that] have been successful, like, monetarily or whatever – or just social awareness level – but that was an emotional one for me, just being part of that.
Looking back at the label’s legacy, another obvious one would be It Is What It Is – getting a Grammy and winning that with Thundercat and the label and everything. Another one that is also obvious is Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. He was always great, but the stars just aligned, and I think we really helped bring him to the world stage. He’s just killing it. He’s the new jazz hero, you know, and it’s really beautiful. He deserves it because he is that guy!
What do I look for? I always listen for people who I’m like, ‘Oh, well I don’t do that – but I really liked that. I find this really interesting’. But I also don’t try to extend my invitation to people who wouldn’t really need or benefit from my involvement, or the label’s involvement. I only try to make it feel like we could win together if we worked together on something. Like, there’s something that our collaboration can do for each other. There are some things were I’ll just be like, ‘I just want to see this person do well’. There are those cases too, where I just want to give this person a platform to do their thing.
It all comes from being a fan of music, and trying to just keep my ear out and trying to be the kind of person I hoped to find when I was up-and-coming. I feel like a lot of people opened their doors for me when I was coming up. I know it’s hard to make it, and so I always try to pay that forward. I had a job at Stone’s Throw when I hit the scene, and I was just kind of around and meeting people. People were very welcoming in the community and I was able to make the right connects and moving. I just always feel the need to pay that energy forward too – not be some kind of gatekeeper and more just like, ‘Yo, this is dope’. Like, what is the reason not to do something or say something? Obviously not everything was perfect, and not everything is perfect. I just hope that we can help the next generation do its thing too. There’s no reason not to.
Our lasting legacy? That’s hard to say. I hope it will be the independent spirit and the spirit of curiosity; us trying different things and being eclectic. Hopefully we just keep keeping it interesting…