Just a few short years ago, the idea of Brainfeeder hosting an event at the Hollywood Bowl would have seemed far-fetched, to put it mildly. The Los Angeles-based record label/music collective has built its reputation on representing some truly off-kilter, left-of-center electronic/hip-hop music.

But in recent years, the meteoric rise of its star players — namely Thundercat, The Gaslamp Killer, and founder Flying Lotus — has been hinting at the culmination of such lofty goals. The Brainfeeder at The Bowl event was substantive proof that the crew has come a long way from its early days.

Flying Lotus. Photo: Theo Jemison
Flying Lotus. Photo: Theo Jemison

The concept of “future funk” was certainly an applicable theme of the night. It’s not difficult to draw parallels between the more jazz-influenced progressive stylings of an act like Thundercat and the foundation that pioneer George Clinton helped to establish decades ago.

The former has helped to bring that musical vernacular into a more mainstream conversation, thanks in no small part to his pivotal role in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly album and through the success of his two solo albums on Brainfeeder.

Clinton’s influence reigns supreme over all those projects (and not just because he’s present on the first track of that album, “Wesley’s Theory,” which was also produced by — you guessed it — Flying Lotus); the recent announcement that Brainfeeder will be releasing Clinton’s next album is all too fitting, as the lane that Flying Lotus occupies owes much to his daring experimentation and disregard for constricting musical boundaries.

Thundercat w/ Michael McDonald. Photo: Theo Jemison
Thundercat w/ Michael McDonald. Photo: Theo Jemison

Thundercat’s set was as free-flowing and powered by instrumental virtuosity as one might expect, as the frontman led his trio through cuts from his most recent project, The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam. The biggest surprise of the night came during his set when, with just a few songs remaining, he welcomed none other than Michael McDonald to the stage. They jumped right into a grooving cover of the Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes” and then went into the set closer, Thundercat’s own “Them Changes.”

George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Photo: Theo Jemison
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Photo: Theo Jemison

But McDonald wouldn’t be the last music veteran to take the stage, as George Clinton and Funkadelic would follow with a sprawling set that featured more than a dozen band members ripping through tracks both new (“Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?”) and classic (“Flashlight,” “Atomic Dog”). Though Clinton’s role in the onstage madness has certainly diminished over the years, he certainly seemed thrilled and engaged with the warm response that The Bowl had for him. It’s hard to think of any other 75-year-old men you can take to a loud concert, let alone get to perform at one.

Flying Lotus. Photo: Theo Jemison
Flying Lotus. Photo: Theo Jemison

But of course, the real poster child of the Brainfeeder movement is Flying Lotus. As the night’s headliner, he plowed through a DJ set that was powered by some of the most intensely spectacular visuals I’ve ever seen. While incorporating stunning projections into his set isn’t particularly a new element in his live show, the resources of the Hollywood Bowl as a venue upped the jaw-dropping factor to the tenth degree.

Flying Lotus. Photo: Theo Jemison
Flying Lotus. Photo: Theo Jemison

When he wasn’t traipsing about in the shadows behind the massive screen, he took to the catwalk to rap as his once-secret-alter-ego Captain Murphy. Pulling from his vast catalog, Lotus seamlessly tweaked and edited tracks from his Reset EP, Cosmogramma, his most recent record (You’re Dead!), and more.

Shabazz Palaces. Photo: Theo Jemison
Shabazz Palaces. Photo: Theo Jemison

It certainly seems as though Brainfeeder has an exciting trajectory ahead of it in the coming years, with its scheduled new slew of album releases and the announcement of Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder film division. Surreal as it might have seemed to witness this celebration at the Hollywood Bowl, the night also reaffirmed that such grand spectacle may soon become more of the rule than the exception for this trailblazing crew of visionaries.

The Gaslamp Killer. Photo: Theo Jemison
The Gaslamp Killer. Photo: Theo Jemison

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