From Flying Lotus 3D To Virtual Artist Label Spirit Bomb, Strangeloop Studios Keeps Innovating

Flying Lotus
Nick Maresh
– Flying Lotus
experimental music is highlighted on stage with graphics by Strangeloop Studios.

While studying film at Academy of Art University in San Francisco in the early 2000s, David Wexler was making music on a laptop – which he notes was “fairly unusual at the time” – when his classmate Steven Ellison asked what he was up to. 

“[Ellison] saw that and was like, ‘You can make music on a laptop?’ I was like, ‘You can just put together little mini sequences and stuff,’” Wexler says. “He already had a background in music with his family, being the nephew of Alice Coltrane. I gave him a copy of [digital audio software] Reason and showed him the basics, and he started producing pretty incredible music very quickly.”

Ellison went on to become best known as the experimental musician and producer Flying Lotus, while Wexler has carved out his own niche at the intersection of film and music as the co-founder of Los Angeles-based media production company Strangeloop Studios. Ellison and Wexler have stayed in touch, with Wexler releasing music on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label and Strangeloop joining Flying Lotus on the road to provide stunning, avant-garde visuals for his shows.

“I always thought of doing live visuals as basically some form of cinema, but where the rulebook hadn’t been written yet entirely,” Wexler says.

As Strangeloop Studios co-founder Ian Simon points out, concert visuals have come a long way since backdrop screens on stage were used as just a spot for band logos, rather than utilizing them as huge canvases for the “kind of storytelling we wanted to do.” 

Working with Flying Lotus and Skrillex in 2012 led other musicians to reach out for visuals, with word of mouth and past shows being the best advertisements. Strangeloop Studio’s client list includes some of the biggest names in music, such as Kendrick Lamar, David Gilmour, The Weeknd, Erykah Badu, SZA and Pharrell.  

“With any project, we’re always trying to bring ideas to the table and be receptive to the vibe of the artist,” Wexler says. “What they’ve done in the past, where they’re moving to in the future and their existing iconography. And so it’s a balancing act bringing all those elements together.” 

The rise in festivals over the past 10-15 years led to a “corresponding production arms race to not get left behind,” Wexler says. “And that provided a massive opportunity for artists like us to work with musicians who saw it a whole new avenue to express their music visually.”

After a breakout moment for Strangeloop Studios at Coachella 2015 with Flying Lotus’ LAYER3 show, which was developed with visual artist Timeboy and featured 3D projection mapping and layered animations, FlyLo has continued to wow recent audiences with his 3D tours. For the 3D tours, created in collaboration with Timeboy and 3D vendor 3D Live, Strangeloop Studios used the software Notch to come up with real-time visuals on the fly in tandem with FlyLo’s music. 

Strangeloop was set to return to Coachella this year – designing visual elements for Duck Sauce, TOKiMONSTA, and Danny Elfman – when COVID-19 brought the live industry to a halt.  
During the pause from live, Strangeloop is focusing on its latest endeavor, a virutal artist label called Spirit Bomb. Artists collaborating on Spirit Bomb include Nosaj Thing, as well as Matthew Davis and The Glitch Mob’s Justin Boreta, who record together as Superposition.

“It took on this whole new significance in COVID lockdown where suddenly these characters that we were creating and their ability to move across digital media became even more desirable to artists who were restricted in how they could move,” Simon says. 

Courtesy Strangeloop Studios
– Xen
Strangeloop Studios introduces the world to Xen, one of the artists from its virtual label Spirit Bomb.
Alongside human artists, Spirit Bomb’s virtual artist Xen made her livestream debut in May as part of Renraku Global Media’s “Global Relay” festival, broadcast on Twitch. 

Over the next few months Strangeloop will release music behind Xen to officially launch the character. Notes Simon: “Central to having people care about these characters is having people really care about their musical output.”    

Up next for Strangeloop is the July 9 debut of the animated short film “Children of the Void,” which combines 2D and 3D animation and features music composed by Wexler.