“I got kicked out of high school for some weed-related shit,” says Flying Lotus, the current king of progressive instrumental electronic music and head glitch-merchant of the Brainfeeder movement. He’s been reminiscing about his school days–a period the L.A.-born and raised producer spent feeling like a social outcast until, in a moment straight out of a cheesy ’80s teen movie, he wound up being sent to reform school. Suddenly surrounded by fellow “misfits,” he felt at home and began to discover his artistic chops. Ahead of a performance at the Electric Zoo festival this weekend, and right as a nation’s worth of teenagers get ready to go back to school, here’s Fly-Lo’s graduation story.
People associate you and your music with L.A. Did you enjoy growing up there?
Well I lived in Winnetka, which was like a weird suburb in the Valley. It was really dark. It wasn’t too grimy but it was like… it was weird, man. It was like a fuckin’ middle class ghetto, I guess you could call it. You had your bullshit and then you could see that there were some people who had made things happen for themselves, but it was all very vain. In my days as a kid I didn’t meet anyone from the Valley who was passionate about art or creativity. They were just about commerce and they were more focused on making money however they could even if they weren’t happy. That really freaked me out. Even people I grew up with, in their heads they were in totally different places to me. I always felt like an outcast. To this day I don’t know anyone who I grew up with in school who’s doing anything artistic or having any success in it.
How did you cope with that?
You just make friends with the weirdest people you can. You make friends with kids who aren’t the nicest people in the world. A lot of my friends were selling drugs and selling acid and robbing people and shit. Those were my friends. No one liked us. It was weird, man, especially high school. I got kicked out of high school; that’s on some other shit.
What were you kicked out of school for?
I got kicked out for some stuff I probably shouldn’t talk about [laughs]. But I did some illegal shit.
What were you like at high school?
Well everyone knew who I was even though I wasn’t a super popular kid cause I was one of the kids who got stoned early! I was on some other shit telling the kids about it. They were like, “Oh my god, here’s that stoner guy coming up trying to get us high again!” I was like the scheme-y kid, always scheming. But you’d have to ask those people. I mean, I got kicked out of school for some weed-related shit and then years later in senior year everyone’s getting high. So suddenly it was like, “Steve’s a G cause he was getting high way before everybody!” Whatever, it was silly. But I graduated before everybody which was really funny.
What subjects were you good at?
I was really into science and English. I’m not a bad writer, actually. That was something I really enjoyed.
Can you remember any teachers you did or didn’t like?
Yeah, that’s funny you made me think about this shit, cause I haven’t thought about this shit for a long time, but I had a teacher–I can’t remember his name now unfortunately–but this guy was the first gay person I’d ever met, and he was my teacher. I learned a lot about that perspective of life. It was at a time when a lot of people would talk terrible things about gay people just because they’re ignorant–call them fags and queers and shit. It’s like it’s cool when you’re young to say shit like whatever, but I’d never really been exposed to it before. But he was a teacher who was a really super cool cat; he worked in movies as well. That was where I was heading: I really wanted to go to film school after high school, and he was in the movie business so it was cool to talk to him and get his perspective.
Did you go to film school?
Actually, when I got kicked out of school they put me in this school with all these misfits–the faculty and the kids were just completely messed up. It was like a school for recovered drug addicts basically. The principle was like a recovered alcoholic, my English teacher was a recovered crack addict–he’d tell me about being an addict. And they had all these recovery programs that we’d have to do every week. A lot of the kids where there because they were kicked out of their previous schools for drug-related stuff.
Can you remember your first day there?
“Yeah, I do. It was really interesting, man. I was just surrounded by all the weird kids. Think of all the weird kids from school back in the days, like all the goth kids who were fuckin’ junkies, and the kids who were just too bad beating other kids up, but now everyone was cool and getting along. I felt at home. For the first time in my life I was like, this is it, these guys are going to be my friends. I had a great time at school after that. It was like 30 kids.
What sort of fashion were you into at that time?
I was wearing a lot of dark clothes, a lot of black. And to this day I still wear a lot of black.
So did you ever make it to film school?
Yeah, I went to film school actually and I graduated and I went to two different film schools and worked on a bunch of stuff. I did sound design for films there, I produced things, I shot things. I actually shot a feature film. A lot of people don’t know, but I was director of photography on this indie feature. That’s actually something that after this record [Cosmogramma], I want to start getting back in to.
What was the indie film called?
Cold Road. It’s kinda like, it’s a teen thriller–these high school kids are being killed off in a house one by one [laughs]. It’s kinda like a whodunit thing and it goes from bad to worse. There was no happy ending.