LOS ANGELES’ BEAT SCENE has outgrown its humble beginnings at The Airliner’s Low End Theory, a weekly showcase founded in 2006 by Alpha Pup Records owner Daddy Kev that has welcomed some of the scene’s most notable names to its stage. This melting pop of genres has expanded beyond LA’s city limits into a worldwide phenomenon, but it’s local talent that up-and-comers are looking to for direction.
As the grand-nephew of jazz pianist Alice Coltrane, it’s easy to see why Steven Ellison, née Flying Lotus, gravitated to experimental music. Straddling hip-hop and EDM, Flying Lotus’ style is similarly improvisational, and he first caught the public’s ears in 2006 after submitting instrumentals to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Within a couple of years, he had launched his own record label Brainfeeder, which is now home to some of the most prolific artists in the industry, including Thundercat and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Working with everyone from Erykah Badu to Thom Yorke, Flying Lotus’ recent production credits include Kendrick Lamar’s award-winning To Pimp a Butterfly.
It’s no secret that the beat scene is overwhelmingly dominated by men. The good news is that’s slowly changing thanks to musicians like Kate Ellwanger, known by fans as Dot, who took matters into her own hand and started her own female-driven label under Unspeakable Records. Inspired by the punk-feminist Riot Grrl movement that has its roots in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, Dot moved to Southern California at the age of 17 for school and began interning at Alpha Pup records with Daddy Kev. Soon she was attending Low End Theory every week and somewhere along the way her stage moniker Dot was born. She went on to join beat cyphers TeamSupreme as their only female member and frequently scores for TV and film. With a sound that ranges from psychedelic to ethereal with influences from her classical upbringing, Dot aspires to become the first woman to win the Grammy Award for Producer of the Year.
Not many current artists can say they got their start on the all-but-forgotten Myspace social network, but native Southern Californian Jennifer Lee, more commonly known as TOKiMONSTA, went viral on the site before we knew what the word meant. TOKiMONSTA was classically trained as a pianist, but went to college at UC Irvine for business and later worked as a video game producer. Like many of her contemporaries, TOKiMONSTA got her start at local events like Project Blowed and Low End Theory. She was the first woman to sign to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, but in 2014 released her album Desiderium under her own label Young Art Records. In March of this year she released the mini-EP Fovere, which featured rising r&b talents Anderson Paak and Gavin Turek and cemented her status as a pop producer to watch.
William Benjamin Bensussen became Gaslamp Killer after earning a reputation in the Gaslamp District of San Diego, California, for killing the so-called vibe with his experimental DJ sets. He moved to LA in 2006 and helped found Low End Theory, where he remains one of their weekly residents. In 2013, he nearly lost his life in a fatal scooter accident that incapacitated him for the remainder of the summer. Just four months later he defied doctor’s orders and took to the stage at the Mayan Theatre with some of LA’s finest instrumentalists in tow, performing his original compositions live to a sold out crowd of 2,000 people. In 2015, he released The Gaslamp Killer Experience: Live in Los Angeles on his label Gaslamp Killer Music and performed with the same crew at Coachella. Though his spleen was removed in his accident, he hasn’t let that slow him down and is set to release a new LP Instrumentalepathy on September 16th.
Another LA native, Joe Kay is the co-founder of Soulection, a DIY radio show that grew into a global platform in just a matter of years. Now their radio show has over 200,000 loyal listeners and went from streaming on Long Beach’s college radio station to broadcasting to over 100 countries on Beats1 via Apple Music. Serving as the collective’s Head of A&R, Joe Kay can take credit for their diverse lineup of artists, nearly half of which are women. Between that and hosting their radio show, he rarely has time for live performances anymore, but there’s no doubt that the music start-up he co-founded is influencing a new generation of artists with what they’ve dubbed “The Sound of Tomorrow.”