I have to admit that as I headed to Lightning in a Bottle I thought that this year would be good, but nothing compared to last year. I went to my first LiB in 2011 and absolutely had the time of my life. Everything about it was spectacular, and I considered it my best festival experience ever. In my mind there was absolutely no way that the Do LaB could do it again. Little did I know that the name Lightning in a Bottle was not chosen simply to be clever.
The term Lightning in a Bottle refers to catching a fleeting moment in time, holding on to it, and extending it beyond its transient existence. This phrase can be applied to most good music festivals, which extend a joyous communal feeling for days on end. Time passes, the music changes, people wander to and fro but an amazing aura permeates the entire experience. The visionaries at the Do LaB rightly appropriated this phrase for their festival because they are able to do this not only for a few days at a time, but year after year.
There are so many amazing things going on a Lightning in a Bottle it is hard to put your finger on exactly what the magic ingredient is. It could be the beautiful people, the earth shaking bass music, the mind-bending art, the informative workshops/speakers, the gorgeous venue, or maybe in this special case the whole of it all is greater than the sum of its parts.
The thing in the front of most people’s minds when they think of a music festival is obviously the music. In this respect LiB never disappoints. The massive headlining electronic music superstars and the stacked undercard of up and comers provide a very well rounded line up. However, I felt that while last year the headliners Pretty Lights and Beats Antique stole the show this year was ruled by the smaller names.
In fact I might go as far as to say that the headliners were all a bit boring. Though I am a Tipper fan, I think that a 90-minute headlining set might have been a bit much. His tremendous soundscapes, while engrossing, weren’t very danceable which was what I was craving on a Friday night. The same can be said of the Glitch Mob who came out to much fanfare but ended with a much smaller crowd. The most egregious was Bassnectar, for whom I consider myself one of his biggest fans. Having seen him numerous times I know what kind of high energy bass-driven sets he is capable of, but their was no evidence of this on Sunday save for an interesting punk/dubstep remix of Pennywise’s “Bro.” Not to say that any of these guys phoned it in, I just think they assumed that the entire audience was tripping balls on LSD and tailored their sets as such.
On the other hand, numerous members of the undercard threw down break out sets that will undoubtedly earn them a bunch of street cred. Friday’s highlights included PLM label mates Gramatik and Michal Menert, both of whom played insanely danceable sets of glitched-out bass peppered with hip-hop and soul music samples. Then came Minnesota, who may have been my favorite performance of the weekend. Everyone should watch out and listen up for this up and coming producer and his unique take on dubstep. Other highlights include Russ Liquid/Jupit3r/Sugarpill, a trio of Headtron artists who ruled the Bamboo Stage for several hours on Saturday and the side projects of Beats Antique members Sidecar Tommy and David Satori on Sunday.
Sandwiched between the underwhelming headliners and the energetic lesser-known artists were the two highlights of the festival, Eoto and Big Gigantic. These bands fuse electronic music production with improvised instrumentals to incredible results. Both sets were danceable, sonically interesting and had light shows that could melt your brain. If you have yet to be introduced to the jammy side of electronic music, give these two bands a listen.
What many people don’t know about LiB is that in addition to the 3 stages that house the official artists there were at least 5 other sanctioned stages. After 2 am when the headliners end the people move to these smaller themed stages, one of which looked like Jaba the Hut’s barge from Return of the Jedi, where unknown electronic artists spin their wares into the wee hours of the morning to keep the party going.
The art scene at Lightning in a Bottle is unlike anything I have encountered at any other festival. Beyond just having an art gallery (or 2) The Do LaB commissions numerous artists to simply come to LiB and express themselves. Throughout the festival these guys are all hard at work creating murals, sculptures, and multimedia pieces that evolve as the days pass. Then on Sunday they bring all of these works of art to the center of the venue for an art show and auction. It’s a perfect place for revelers who are wandering through the universe to touch down and enjoy before blasting off again.
In addition to the numerous official artists that wander the festival there are thousands of artistic revelers. Everywhere you look your fellow festivalgoers are decorating themselves, their campsites, the port-o-potties (for better or worse) and adding little touches that give the festival personality. You can’t help but get swept up in the communal environment of artistic expression. By day three even the staunchest opponents are participating, painting their faces and letting their freak flags fly.
To talk about the art simply does not do it justice. I have tried to include some interesting photos, but these are just drops in a giant bucket. Do yourself a favor and go to CrowdsEye to see more pictures of the art and general happenings from LiB.
Lightning in a Bottle takes place at the impossibly scenic Irvine Lake in Silverado, California. Though only a couple miles outside of civilization, you feel completely removed from society. Once you pass through the security checkpoint you are transported to another world comprised of the venue, upper camp, and lower camp.
The main venue is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen to hold a concert. It is covered in grass, surrounded by trees, and filled with art installations as far as the eye can see. The best part about LiB is that the venue is completely flush with the lower camp. There are no security checkpoints or obstructions—you are free to wander to and from camp with no fear of being harassed. However, this is one of the only draws of staying in lower camp, which is much less scenic than its upper counterpart and twice as dusty.
Both camping areas suffer from an excess of dust and a lack of trees and grass. But once you get over the initial shock of having to stake down your tent into a bed of granite with a sledgehammer a number of positive aspects begin to outweigh the negatives. Both areas are filled to the brim with amazing campsites, roaming art installations, themed side stages, and beautiful people. If you aren’t interested in sleeping you can always go to lower camp, where the party literally never stops. However, if you are like me who treasures a good disco nap while at a festival then stay in upper camp.
The people are what really make Lightning in a Bottle spectacular. At first I was worried about this year’s crowd, given the Do Lab’s rising popularity and their increased presence at Coachella I thought we might be overrun by bros. Luckily, this was not the case. Instead I was greeted to a lovely community of like-minded people who support one another while raging their faces off.
The Do LaB, rooted in the culture of Burning Man, bring the same set of values to LiB that you would find at Black Rock City. A distinct ideology is what separates LiB and the burn from most music festivals. Instead of just drugs, music, and partying the people here care about family, community, cooperation, expression, peace, and love. In normal life this might be considered a bunch of hippy dippy nonsense but I defy even the most serious businessman to spend a day here and not be forever changed. Lightning in a Bottle represents a high point in humanity reminiscent of the glory days of late ‘60s, an ideal society where everyone works together toward a shared goal.
In the beginning of the festival booklet it says, “we invite you to abandon your preconceived notions of what this weekend is about, forget your expectations, and embark on a journey of exploration and discovery with us.” It took me two trips to LiB to understand this concept that is so central to this experience. This festival isn’t about the music, art, workshops, or people. It is about the experience. It isn’t about any one thing, but everything. Which is why regardless of the line up, crowd, or location LiB is and always will be the best festival ever, because the Do LaB has mastered the art of catching Lightning in a Bottle.