Making the Band

Ivy League Idler

I wish every weekend lasted three days. That would really help me in my tireless quest for idleness. I spent the luxuriously long Columbus Day weekend with my grandparents. They are retired, and their quiet Princeton home is a veritable shrine to doing nothing. But it’s a very different flavor of down time from my Harvard-idling. There is no Wifi. There is no alcohol (yes, I went there willingly). There is limited TV-watching. There are, however, lots and lots of back issues of the New Yorker—a lifetime’s worth to be exact, since my grandmother has been a subscriber for almost 60 years. They should give her some kind of medal.

Reading back issues of the New Yorker is arguably as useless as pinning things to boards on Pinterest, and yet I feel less guilty doing the former. Do I feel less guilty about doing nothing at my grandparents’ because I am doing so in a quaint, retro, vaguely ’60s-ish way? Because I bake pecan pie in between naps on the chintz sofa? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because for my grandparents, who worked well into their seventies, this environment of calm is utterly deserved and appropriate. As a visitor to their idle abode, I too am entitled—no obligated—to do nothing. Doing schoolwork would be a disruption. It would be rude.

While I was in Princeton, a friend took me to see Flying Lotus play at Terminal 5 in New York City. While Flying Lotus is by no means obscure among electronic music listeners, he is not a household name, certainly not for my octogenarian grandparents. “What kind of music does he play?” they asked, earnestly. And that’s just the problem. He doesn’t play anything. “He’s sort of electro-hip-hop,” I floundered, their blank expressions indicating how little that phrase meant to them.

The concert was fantastic: visually arresting, weed-infused, and bass-heavy. But throughout Flying Lotus’s artfully crafted beats and samples of songs from the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” to Kanye West’s “Mercy,” I couldn’t help feeling like his music is lazy—not just his, but his whole genre. It doesn’t create, it synthesizes and mixes and retools. It is parasitic, only thrilling to listen to in the same way that a favorite film is fun to watch drunk. The sounds, (minimal) lyrics, and hooks are all familiar, but somehow the sensory experience is somewhat enhanced

It happened to be Flying Lotus’s birthday the night of the concert. A tall, muscular, imposing black man, he paraded out onto the stage to a raucous “Happy Birthday” from the audience. The stage was Spartan—just a lone Mac laptop on a platform in the middle, and a screen in back onto which the visual effects were projected. No drum kit gleaming in the low light, no mics, no wires, no nothing. Because “FlyLo” doesn’t need them. FlyLo doesn’t play music, he makes it. Right there, in front of your eyes. He mixes new tracks at every show. His equipment-light setup gives him license to improvise. There are no other musicians to collaborate with. He is his own master of music mixology.

Onstage, FlyLo is certainly not lazy. He’s furiously switching between laptops, sometimes swaying to the beat, sometimes standing perfectly still, statuesque, unmoved by the pounding base. He is like an electro profit behind his Mac pulpit bestowing his beat bounty on the masses. But the line between glorified disc jockey and original artist is a fine one. On the rare occasions that FlyLo stepped away from the Mac to waltz around the stage, leaving the music to play, I was instantly reminded how little he actually does to make the music happen.

At these points it felt like FlyLo was just throwing himself a rather large birthday party, and being very aggressive about his playlist. Whatever. At least it was a killer playlist.

—Columnist Anjali R. Itzkowitz can be reached at aitzkow@college.harvard.edu.

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