Over the past few years the Do Lab has cultivated a strong following in EDM culture through their presence in Indio. In the midst of the organized chaos that is Coachella, the Do Lab stage has proven to be an oasis for those who give up on trying to see every act and give in to the festival spirit. When these converts inevitably learn that the creators of this magical area also hold their own music festival, it becomes almost a certainty that they will eventually attend Lightning in a Bottle.
What most people don’t realize about LiB is that it has been going on for the better part of a decade. What began as a campout for the Do Lab’s tribe of west coast burners has evolved through several iterations before reaching the position that it occupies today. The festival was born in 2004 in the Angeles National Forest and spent its childhood from 2006-2008 in the Live Oak Campground in Santa Barbara. It was then nurtured through it’s adolescence at Oak Canyon Ranch from 2010-2012 where it gained international acclaim -- grabbing the attention of festival fans everywhere with its visual splendor in addition to its sonic prowess as it fielded high profile headliners like Pretty Lights and Bassnectar. In 2013 the festival reached (young) adulthood and outgrew it’s former home, settling amidst the greener pastures of Temecula’s Lake Skinner.
For most of the festival going public this latest iteration represents LiB 2.0, but for the diehard Do Labbers it could be 3.0 if not 4.0. Regardless of what you call it this software analogy will still prove valuable because with each new version of technology the creators are expected to make it bigger, better, and more profitable. However, important aspects of what made the initial product so special are often lost or forsaken in the pursuit of these goals. As technology advances customers often have to sacrifice features that they once loved for a sleeker new interface that is more appealing to the masses. Such was the case with this year’s Lightning in a Bottle.
Overall the event was by most accounts a giant success, but at what cost? If this was your first LiB then you probably had the time of your life. However, for those of us who have been coming for years prior there was something distinctly different about this year’s LiB, not necessarily in an overwhelmingly positive or negative way, but different nonetheless. Regardless of your overall opinion of the festival it is clear that things have definitely changed from previous LiB’s, some for better, others for worse.
• The biggest/worst change to this year’s LiB was that the music shutdown at midnight. You simply cannot have an electronic music festival where all amplified sound is shut down at the time that most festivals kick into high gear. The fact that LiB is rooted in the culture of burning man sound camps and has cultivated a reputation for keeping the music on until 7 am only amplifies this problem.
• Normal festival goers who paid for their tickets had to wait in a 3-7 hour line before they were wirstbanded. While this may be standard with some music festivals it is absolutely unheard of at Lightning in a Bottle. Regardless of any plausible excuses this is completely unacceptable and resources must be devoted to make sure the situation is fixed before next year.
• This year’s LiB has made it clear that “pack it in, pack it out” is a concept that is flawed by design. While the intention may be good the outcome is always less than satisfactory. The reason behind this is simple; the campaign does absolutely nothing to incentivize the creation of less trash. Whether the trash is packed away in leaving cars or left on the festival grounds the same amount of trash is created. If we rely on imperfect human beings to pack up stinky trash into their vehicles after a weekend of partying we will most certainly always be disappointed. However, if industrial waste bins are provided (as they were in 2012) then most people can be expected to at least make a good faith effort towards cleaning up after themselves. The amount of litter left on the festival grounds in 2011 then again in 2013 compared to the relative cleanliness that resulted in 2012 brings into question the true purpose of the “pack it in, pack it out” program. Unfortunately, the most logical explanation is that this program was created to absolve promoters from having to spend extra money on more reasonable sanitation solutions. Industrial waste bins and a cleaning crew might cost a bit to implement, but when you consider the positive impact it will have on the environment as well as the festival going experience it seems like it would be money well spent.
• Last is the issue of the increased police presence at this year’s LiB. This has been a touchy subject in the media coverage that has surrounded the festival -- dividing people into different camps who blame the police, the Do Lab, or those who broke the law. The truth of course lies in the middle and is actually a combination of the 3. First, let’s remember that personal responsibility trumps most excuses when you are an adult. Though it is a music festival, drugs are still illegal. So if they are to be used, they should be used responsibly and clandestinely. That being said the Do Lab still bears a lot of the responsibility for the 58 drug related arrests that will forever haunt some of their most fervent supporters. It is common knowledge that LiB is a psychedelic wonderland where drug use has run rampantly in the open for years. In many ways the Do Lab should be congratulated for their ability to create a safe environment for people to explore different forms of consciousness without fearing for their safety or reprisal from the outside world. However, when they moved venues from private to public property they should have overtly warned their followers of the potential risks that they may face if they weren’t going to resort to major music festival tactics and subject attendees to thorough searches. Because they did nothing to alert people to this possibility they are tacitly complicit in the consequences. Since they did not say anything, they created the expectation that attendees could exhibit the carefree attitude towards drug use that has become commonplace at the festival. As one might expect most of the responsibility for this drug induced debacle lies squarely in the hands of a group of overzealous Riverside County Police Officers. Though some may argue that they were only doing their jobs, I would contend that they went far beyond what was called for and what was legally permissible given the circumstances. I personally witnessed an undercover cop ask a person nearby for some “L” and when the “perpetrator” jovially responded by handing the “officer” what was presumably a tab of LSD for free, the cop proceeded to throw twenty dollars on the ground before arresting the man and charging him with intent to sell a controlled substance. In another case that was related to me, a festivalgoer lit a joint of medicinal marijuana that prompted several officers to unlawfully search him for other contraband and arrest him. These types of tactics are ridiculous in any situation, but even more so at a music festival. In order to help alleviate the damage that the police have done to this community, the Do Lab needs to step up and devote resources to defending those who were arrested as well as investigating what actually happened to provoke these arrests. Furthermore, they need to move LiB back to private property where attendees can police themselves with the aid of a private security force.
• The most significant upgrade to this year’s LiB was definitely the change of venue. First off there was so much more room, not just in the main festival areas but also in the campgrounds that comfortably accommodated all 15k attendees. Secondly the camping situation was so much better, although most of it was still on the dirt it was at least on level ground that wasn’t rocky which eliminated the need for shuttles. The real game changer when it came to camping was the addition of RV camping with hook ups, which given the extreme heat easily justified spending the extra money. Speaking of the heat, the new choice of dates and the resulting weather was an immense improvement. Though some might complain that it was too hot, most would agree that the 90-degree sunny days combined with very temperate evenings was perfect for a summer festival. Lastly, the vast expanse of grassy fields that comprised the main festival area proved to be an ideal setting for LiB, where even after the music had stopped festivalgoers were more than happy to simply wander around admiring the visual splendor.
• Though the splash pad was technically a feature of the new venue, it bears mentioning explicitly that this oasis was easily the best addition to this year’s LiB. The splash pad was on par with other top music festival’s H20 related efforts, almost reaching the heights of What the Festival’s pool and surpassing Electric Forest’s off-site water park. Though it did not run consistently throughout the day, this almost added to its charm. For the diehard few that lived by the schedule the twenty-minute eruptions were some of the most raucous parties of the entire festival.
• Another important upgrade was the increased quality and variety of the food/beverage vendors. Even though LiB already has a reputation for amazing food they took it to a whole new level this year. Vegans, vegetarians, and health conscious eaters could find their fill of juiced concoctions, frosty smoothies, delicious salads, as well as whole-wheat pizzas. But the most exciting thing about this year is that they wheeled out more delicious offerings for carnivores, most notably the freshly shucked oysters from the Aphrodisiac Lounge. Luckily while at LiB if you ever tired of eating the traditional fare that your campsite had to offer, there was always a plethora of reasonably priced treats just a short walk away.
• I felt that this year’s overall lineup was not on par with 2011 or 2012’s. The headliners simply weren’t as big, the undercard not nearly as stacked, and since the schedule was truncated due to noise restrictions it felt like there was a lot less to see. However, what the lineup lacked in the aforementioned areas it made up for with diversity and fervor. Whereas in the past the lineup was mostly made up of purveyors of west coast bass music, this year fielded much more variety. Furthermore, this year I noticed that every single artist really brought their A game and left it all on stage. Here are the highlights:
1. Jobot - Though he was slated with an early afternoon set time, Jobot coaxed the crowd into forgetting how hot it was and got everyone dancing in the sun. A perfect representative of the Headtron family of artists, Jobot exhibits a penchant for bass, soul samples, and live mixing. The fluidity with which he incorporates his live vocals combined with his powerful stage presence makes Jobot a must see at any festival. Also, the fact that he was the only performer I saw at LiB that brought out a live rapper definitely earns him some extra style points.
2. Papadosio - Most of the variety in this year’s LiB can be attributed directly to Papadosio’s inclusion in the lineup. Papadosio is a five-piece band of live instrumentalists that incorporate elements of jam band improvisation, livetronica grooves, and conscientious lyricism into a form of mind-altering performance art. These small town boys from Ohio haven’t gotten much play west of Colorado yet, but consider this the beginning of their west coast takeover. Their set drew a decent sized crowd of open-minded LiB attendees who were astounded by the only real live tour de force performance of the festival.
3. Griz - Griz threw down one of the most intense and exuberant festival sets that I have seen all summer. He hit on all the high notes that you could possibly hope for -- laying down dubstep, trap, glitch, and hip hop as he serenaded us with stunning saxophone solos. I seriously intended to go see a bit of Rusko, but once Griz started wild horses couldn’t have dragged me away.
4. Lucent Dossier Experience - Heralded by many as the centerpiece of the Do Lab’s events, the Lucent Dossier Experience is usually transcendent and surely never disappoints. Their mixture of carefully choreographed dance, ethereal costume design, and aerial acrobatics set to a soundtrack of intense electronic music always produces an event experience that you have to see to believe.
Even though in many respects this year’s Lightning in a Bottle was a step down from last year’s, I still think Lightning in a Bottle is easily one of the best music festivals that anyone could possibly choose to go to. In terms of music, art, community, and conscientiousness LiB is still head and shoulders above most commercial music festivals. The problem is that Lightning in a Bottle was never intended to be a commercial music festival and is currently dealing with the growing pains of this transition. All things that grow suffer from periods of transition, like the terrible acne of an adolescent or the harsh reality young adults face when they leave home. Will LiB find it’s way? Most likely. As long as the Do Lab treats LiB more like a living creature that needs to be nurtured to grow, rather than a commodity like software that they can simply upgrade and sell, then the possibilities are endless. If the super organism that is LiB is allowed to grow up at it’s own pace then the Do Lab will have truly mastered the art of catching lightning in a bottle -- and lightning will strike twice, thrice, onwards and upwards to infinity and beyond!!