King Britt could have things a lot easier than he does. The Southwest Philly DJ-producer started his albummaking career with his neo-soul outfit Sylk 130, and their aptly titled record When the Funk Hits the Fan. He has had further hits with sample-heavy gospel hop, remixing the a capella preaching of New Orleans' fixture Sister Gertrude Morgan, as well as a gig spinning with Digable Planets when the hip-hop trio went No. 1, to say nothing of his own solo singles on the house and techno charts.
Yet, here he is now as the CEO of the avant-garde Fhloston Paradigm project, which just released its dramatic and emotional ambient soundscape After…, with wordless vocal texture provided by local opera singers. Fhloston Paradigm will debut After… live Tuesday at Johnny Brenda's.
So why spend time on the intricately odd and outré Fhloston Paradigm when he could continue to build his name DJing the house and hip-hop gigs that have made Britt a worldwide must-see ticket?
"That's a timely question, as this year has been most challenging," Britt said with a laugh. "Musically, I'm in the happiest place I've ever been. … You know how much I've embraced the avant-garde. But balancing such love and diving-in has been interesting on the financial front. I've shifted more to licensing for films and movies for a good chunk of making a living. Although I still DJ, I'm playing live more, which poses the challenge of making it work. It balances out, but I'm but trying to find my footing."
It's Britt's "heart and soul" that pushes him to do the wifty Fhloston Paradigm, a weirdo mini-epic that makes him happier "than any other sound I've done," he said. "It's limitless and new terrain. Don't get me wrong. Sylk 130 will always be amazing, so one day I hope to combine the two. But with Fhloston Paradigm, I resonate higher."
Fhloston Paradigm guitarist Tim Motzer has been Britt's partner in crime for decades: He played tasty, funk licks for Sylk 130 and Sister Gertrude Morgan, as well as fashioning arid ambient scrawl for Britt's off-kilter works.
"I live for experimentalism, progressive rock, electronic, improvisation, and the avant-garde, as it were, and so does Britt," said Motzer. "Working in contemporary dance has served me nicely as fuel in evolving the musical language and sound I've created. But the edge and the unknown always stirred my soul. As an artist, I need to be there."
With Britt's Fhloston Paradigm, Motzer is very much there. On Again…, so, too, is opera singer Pia Ercole, psychedelic spiritualist Ryat, North Philly poet and soundscape artisan Moor Mother, West Coast producer Nosaj Thing, and Kensington's one-woman Eurythmics Kate Faust — all working on a project named for an interplanetary paradise in Luc Besson's 1997 film The Fifth Element.
"Fhloston started in 2010 when I was pushing sonics more" over conventional rhythm and melody, said Britt. "I was watching The Fifth Element with a friend, and they were heading to Fhloston Paradise. I had said the name wrong, and there you have it. I started doing more cosmic space music under the name."
Britt released four Fhloston EPs on the Hyperdub label, but After… had to come from him, from a King Britt label, as its subtle twists on still-life melody and aching vocals from Ercole, Ryat, and Faust pull from a deeply personal, cavernous place.
"Everyone on this album's a weirdo," Britt said with a chuckle, mentioning how each of his collaborators brings his or her own avant-inspiration to Fhloston. "We all gravitated toward these songs because of vibrations. It's an unspoken thing. We are all music nerds."