In the ever-evolving universe of music festivals, an event must work hard to distinguish itself. With the corporate machinations behind festivals curating increasingly redundant lineups, the lines have become further blurred for events to remain relevant and successful without selling their soul. Year in and year out, the DoLab accepts this challenge, stepping up every Memorial Day weekend with an astounding celebration, Lightning in a Bottle. The largest “transformational” music festival takes place in Bradley, California, at the sprawling, dusty Lake San Antonio. LIB, as it’s affectionately referred to, boasts an assortment of the eclectic, the electric, the avant-garde, the crunk, the curious, and the spiritual—all whirled together in a four-day bender soaked in kaleidoscopic wonder.

One of the main components of Lightning in a Bottle since its inception in the early 2000s is its diverse and progressive educational programming. As is the norm at these self-identified transformational events, some of the material presented could be considered “factually dubious”—part of the fun is learning to discern and taking it all with a grain of salt and an open mind. That stated, there was an infinite menu of experiences available, no matter what your vision quest. Formerly a major cog in the LIB wheel, yoga was present but not quite as prominently; large practices in the yoga domes turned into dance parties, while word on the street was that the Kundalini session was thoroughly rewarding.

There’s an open dialogue in the community as to the direction of the DoLab and of LIB as a whole, and it was clearly evidenced in the shift in priorities and the crowd they attracted. Conversely, there is a newfound, unbridled energy brimming from folks just finding LIB, coming in from the cold that is corporate festivals. Despite witnessing some unfortunate behaviors, we chose to focus on the positive and enjoy the ride for what it’s worth, but one must acknowledge the changing of the guard when it comes to festivals in general, and this one in particular. Big art and interactive art both appeared to take a backseat to the music—art projects, in general, seemed to be downsized in comparison to years past.
Jess Bernstein Photography

What wasn’t downsized was the ticket sales. Reportedly, over 35,000 people attended Lightning in a Bottle in 2018, making it by far and away the largest gathering in the event’s storied history. Aside from all the amazing attractions and serendipitous connections abound, maybe most alarming was the influx of young people seemingly bent solely on imbibing, rumored to be the reverberations of Coachella, where DoLab was born, and where they have created a foothold. Even still, this year’s LIB massive seemed very focused on the party, and not quite as conscious of others, or themselves.

And then there’s the trash, heaping mounds of garbage littered the grounds, much to the chagrin of an event that prides itself on a leave-no-trace, Pack it in/Pack it out ethos.  To their credit, the DoLab did everything they could to make it super easy for newbies to sort and drop off their refuse. After the final set on the main stages, every night the loudspeakers played “The Clean Up” song, a reggae ditty that is exactly what it sounds like. But it was quite distressing to see the mountains of waste left everywhere.

In more ways than one, it appears that this festival is at a fork in the road, but rest assured, LIB remains a top-tier event of its kind. Any event like this experiences growing pains as it evolves, and becomes more mainstream. The majority of longtime LIB  patrons have firm faith that the DoLab and LIB community will continue to lead by example, in showing us all a better way to be, and giving people the tools and understandings necessary to effect change.

Jess Bernstein Photography

Some jaded veterans are disgusted with what’s become of the formerly utopian event, while other leaders and believers have taken a more measured “Each One Teach One” to schooling the next generation. A hot-button topic both during the festival and in its aftermath, the direction of LIB may not be aligned with its intention, though it no doubt remains a potent and transformative endeavor, if you allow yourself to surrender to the flow.

The hilariously original Soapbox Derby was back for a 3rd consecutive year; there was a Pots & Pans Parade, a 5k race around the festival grounds, and a laundry list of both the tawdry and silly. Sadly, beloved institutions like Amori’s Casino and Lightning Inn did not return in 2018. Among the most enjoyable features of LIB was, again, Meditation Lookout, where people could ascend to the top of a hill, under lovely treeline shade, amid mandalas and humble works of art, and view the sunrise, sunset, or just have a serene, birds-eye view of the festivities.

Jess Bernstein Photography

The educational programming that we found most fantastic and engaging was almost always centered at The Compass, a multi-faceted, interactive campus of sorts that offered a Learning Kitchen, workshops, talks, and lectures on a variety of topics du jour. The brainchild and vision of Isis Indriya and Eve LadyApples, along with their dedicated teams, the Compass has revolutionized the educational arm of LIB. Cases in point: Jamie Janover enlightened people with a sacred geometrical take on ancient civilizations; there were lectures on Cryptocurrency, and Introduction to Blacksmithing, to Shamanism and Religiosity. These fascinating topics were discussed all day long at a variety of Compass venues, peppered among appearances from the likes of Amy Goodman (Democracy Now), and the Women Protectors of Mother Earth.

With the plethora of top-flight entertainment forwarded at LiB’s three primary stages—Lightning, Thunder, and the famed house/techno mecca The Woogie—in order to see one sought-after artist, you are forced to miss several others. Professional “Libbing” endorses the strategy of catching half of a Lightning headliner’s set and the backend half of a simultaneous Thunder performance, something we saw forced into action with the unfortunate billing of Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals (Lightning) against the mighty Dave Tipper (Thunder). We were again faced with this dilemma on the final night, where we had to navigate a ZHU/Emancipator matchup to close out both stages.

The stages are located fairly close to one another, and at times this year, the sound would bleed. But all things considered, kudos to the DoLab for maximizing the space and soundwaves without encroaching on people’s senses or safety. The Woogie, and its nearby kissin’ cousin, Favela Bar, operate in a sort of parallel universe from the Lightning/Thunder zone, and Woogie culture is the colorful antidote for the super-Shanti vibes found at The Compass, or the enormous, aggressive crowds at the other two main stage areas.

Jess Bernstein Photography

In spite of the myriad of opportunities at Woogie, Lightning, and Thunder, the flyest and brightest crowds knew to storm the smaller stage parties, such as Pagoda (bass music headquarters), Patricio’s famed Favela Bar (the sexiest deep house you ever heard), and all over the festival grounds at little saloons and speakeasies like Jive Joint, Hideout, Unicorn Palace, and so many more. It was at these tiny diamonds in the rough that you would stumble upon a folk artist doing a David Bowie cover, or find The Fungineersraging a glowing ice cream truck with hilariously dope hip-hop sessions until the sun came up.

The Compass was also the hottest spot for the highest dancefloor vibes found anywhere at LIB, as the musical programming welcomed a chill vibe coupled with frenetic, feverish dance energy. Whether it was Jhene Aiko’s thrilling serenade at the Beacon, which saw the chanteuse strip her sound down to light percussion and a Fender Rhodes for a short, sweet set. Immediately thereafter, shamanic sorceress Sasha Rose took to the decks and laced up a firestorm of fierce feminine energy, throwing down a masterful blend of styles as the teeming masses erupted in fits of whirling dervish. One could curiously amble over to Memory Palace and discover Osiris Indriya spinning dreamy, ambient, and liquid drum & bass, saunter into the Beacon for some scorching slow-and-sexy house from Migaloo, or cruise up to the Crossroads to find world-class ethno-house merchants from around the globe. Be Svendsen—who would rock a b2b set at the Woogie alongside Unders midday Saturday,—delivered a magnificent midnight Crossroads set before handing off to the luscious deep house duo KMLN.

[Video: Chaz De Visser]

A duo of longtime Nevada City, CA pals, Brian Hartman and Nadi, unified their theory as HearTropicalwhile Lemanjo blew soaring trumpet atop the intoxicating riddims—the results were astounding, and the natives were restless. Twas a three-hour tour into a worldly-excursion in sound and vibration: from the islands to the jungles to the Ivory Coast, through Afro-Cuban styles and Latin American sounds, all the way to the Kingston yard and back again. For the final set of the festival, Viken Armin was a flippin’ dreamweaver, dealing something divine with the earthiest, dubbiest grown and sexy rhythms to grace these ears in years.

Photo: Alyssa Keys

There was such an abundance of amazing music on display over the four days, it would be impossible to include every artist that impressed us; as a testament to the high art that was hoisted upon us by the DoLab, here’s a run through some of our favorite performances of LIB 2018.

Live Bands at the Grand Artique: All weekend long, phenomenal and eclectic live music could be found in Frontierville—a Wild Wild West outpost set in the Gold Rush of 1849, known as the Grand Artique. This beloved anachronism played host to a smattering of tremendous live-band sets that blazed deep into the night. Con Brio’s sexy funk, Too Many Zooz‘s spastic circus, and Beats Antique’s raucous “Lightning Orchestra” raged the early morning and were just a few of the glorious romps that took place at the Grand Artique this year.

The Librarian: At the Pagoda on Friday night, British Columbia’s demure empress came, saw, and conquered with a phenomenal tour of progressive bass styles. Andrea Graham can command a dancefloor like nobody’s biz. Her graceful touch is always upper crust, and belies a gully rotation of the cutting edge in womp, grime, and low-end theory. The Librarian is a steely-eyed leader in West Coast bass culture, and her well-attended get-down set the vibes real bright, as the enormous moon that blanketed Friday night.

Naughty Princess: At the Unicorn Palace on Friday night, Los Angeles’ shanti-ratchet royalty delivered a sizzlin’, sexy set well into the wee hours, while the Highlove Vitality flowed freely and the freaks came out at night. The Naughty Princess has got a drop for any occasion, and her custom-crafted throwdowns are starting to make more than a little noise. Jasmin Fraser, daughter of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, the late Andy Fraser (FREE), is one to watch for. The Naughty Princess’s slow and steady rise in the scene is something special to behold.

Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals: At Lightning Stage on Saturday, the festival headliner and all-around swag champion Anderson .Paak drew the largest crowd of the weekend, and deservedly so. The man they used to call Breezy Lovejoy threw down a monster concert complete with all the hits, including the seismic “Come Down”, a thrilling re-work of “Carry Me”, titanic new single “Bubblin’”, and his cataclysmic Kaytranada collabo “Glow’d Up.” “You got me all the way out here in Hippieville… and I’m high as shit!” .Paak exclaimed. Trust that every soul at the Lightning believed him, because they were flyin’, too.

[Video: colecut]

Jimbo James b2b DADON: MusicIs4Lovers’ annual “Sunset Spanking” remains the funkiest party all weekend long, and took place once again during sunset on Saturday, at the Favela Bar. The San Diego LoveLife firestarters kept the house pumpin’, giving us disco and deep with a little Talking Heads and Bee Gees for good measure.  Just when the house music would begin to tire us out, the duo would cue up a mercilessly funky break or garage groove, and people would lose their minds. This tension/release went on for three glorious hours. The famed Favela plays host to this writer’s favorite house jam every LIB, and this year would not disappoint. Music is still (and will forever be) for lovers, and the wild dance-floor energy can attest to its aphrodisiac prowess.

BOGL: On Sunday night at the Pagoda, Bay Area bass bully BOGL was yet another hidden gem to discover. The Soundpieces bossman took no prisoners with an aggressive take on hip-hop, trap, bombastic bass, and so much more at the expanded Pagoda. BOGL stayed focused on the tasks at hand, manning the decks and controller, while a masked, corn-row’d hypeman made ferocious rap hands and absolutely spazzed out all over the stage. The venerable selectah knew when to cue the Missy Elliotremixes, which injected the weathered crowd with a sensual shockwave, further proving what so many of us already knew: BOGL is the truth.

Tipper: At the Thunder Stage on Saturday Night, pitted against the huge .Paak performance, Dave Tipper’s uncharacteristically low-volume face-melter with Android Jones’ visuals was a bit of head-scratcher… if only because the audience was insufferable. This alien workshop brought a high-energy set that satisfied a smaller-than-expected Thunder crowd. Those that showed up for Tipper did their best to show love to their fearless leader, but something just seemed off with the sound in that dome. It wasn’t, however, any fault of Tipper, who atypically tossed tourmaline tunes that ransacked many a pineal gland.

[Video: Wake aN Blake]

Random Rab: The wizard that’s known to us as Random Rab has long been a celebrated producer and mixmaster in the community, with his contributions going back to the pre-LIB era. Yet nobody can rock a sunset serenade quite like Rab, and he delivered a darker-than-usual detour into the annals of emotion at the Thunder Stage on Sunday. Focusing on minor chords and ominous tones, as well as reaching deep into his voluminous songbook, Rab ushered in the night with a graceful energy and benevolent soul. There’s nothing like the communal vibe that permeates around a Rab set, and though it took a moment to establish, that ethereal energy took shape within the Thunder, and soon spread out into the ether.

Gone Gone Beyond: The debut of Gone Gone Beyond’s live band was a rousing success, as the ornate and emotional music transmitted through both live instrumentation and programmed beats. At the Lightning Stage on Saturday afternoon, the show was captained by the ever-lovable David Block, also known as The Human Experience, and augmented by multi-instrumentalist Semes, vocalists Danny MusengoKalibri, and the always-enthralling Kat Factor. The spirited contingent seemed at home on the enormous stage, and welcomed a violinist to the mix for a few tunes. Gone Gone Beyond forwarded songs from both their warm debut record and forthcoming sophomore release, all of which were soaked in the sun by a sparse-but-enveloped audience.

CloZee: On Sunday night, French producer extraordinaire CloZee drew the single largest crowd at the Thunder Stage, and it was not even close.  For anybody who questions where exactly women stand in the West Coast festival scene, look no further than both the turnout, and people’s visceral emotional reactions to CloZee’s musical offerings. Fans from all over the LIB map converged on her 75-minute folk-bass and global-glitch joyride. Chloe Herry left no stone unturned, unveiling emotional slabs of futuristic sounds bathed in flute, acoustic guitar, and hauntingly beautiful chorales that rang out into the heavens. The future of bass music is bright with CloZee at the wheel; the unbridled positivity that’s embedded in her music speaks to people from all walks of festival life and beyond.

[Video: Drowzz Works]

Mad Zach: Bay Area production wunderkind Mad Zach delivered a cacophonous set of bombastic bass gymnastics and intelligent sound design on Saturday night at the Thunder Stage, upstaging the alien who took the same stage a few hours later. This is a new frontier of psychedelic bass music, yet it is incredibly danceable and easily digestible despite its rugged brutality. Mad Zach was certifiably insane; the finger-drumming whiz and sound-design scientist repeatedly cooked up murderous thunderclaps of glitchy hip-hop, future-bass, and psychedelic dementia that broke it all the way down to the bone bristle.

ZHU: Late on Sunday, the final Lightning set of the weekend was likely the finest we took in over the three-plus day odyssey. Taking over after a celebrated set from Fever RaySteven Zhu uncorked what can be confidently termed an instant classic.. Bathing in plumes of smoke and iridescent white lights, ZHU provided a veritable tour-de-force through wonderworlds of deep house, post-trap, contemporary hip-hop, and so much more. Opening with “Dreams” and careening through Migos’ larger-than-life “Bad & Bougie”, ZHU was flanked by live guitar and sax and captained an emotional escapade through the upper-crust of mainstream electronic music culture.

An otherworldly performance that included a touching tribute section, paying homage to dearly-departeds Avicii and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. ZHU followed in the LIB footsteps of Jamie XXin 2016, where innovation and execution of high art won out over commercialism and pop success. The crystalized essence of ZHU’s genius shined through, and he converted the masses with heaping mounds of ungodly, sexy grooves, wheeling out two hours of epic that satiated the thirst of all who came to dance.

[Video: Drowzz Works]


Jess Bernstein Photography

words: B.Getz

photos: Jess Bernstein Photography