Upon arriving at Lighting in a Bottle Festival, the annual Do LaB-produced weekender, one can immediately sense the liveliness of the event, as well as the sheer abundance of activities offered. Driving into the campsite, our car is forced to stop to allow attendees participating in the festival’s 5K marathon to cross the street. Later down the road, we pass by the ‘Kidz Village,’ an area full of small children and their parents playing on swing sets, with teens practicing their hula hooping skills under the guidance of a hippie-looking instructor dressed from head to toe in fur garb and feathers. Even further towards the campsite, we notice a group starting their day with a peaceful meditation session followed by Vinyasa Flow yoga.
These first scenes were a testament to the transformative nature of the festival, which aims to combine cutting-edge musical performances and DJ sets with seemingly countless panels, workshops, and activities that encourage consciousness, personal growth, and sustainable lifestyles. In the past few years, we’ve seen the West Coast become inundated with more and more of these types of events, from Desert Hearts to Symbiosis, Lucidity Festival, Enchanted Forest, Sunset Campout, and more. The proliferation of these Burning Man-influenced festivals have made it increasingly difficult for organizers to differentiate their vibe from the rest, but with this year’s Lightning in a Bottle, LA-based production house Do LaB proved that despite the saturation, transformational music festivals can still be done in a fresh, mature, and truly inspiring way.
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What really sets Do LaB and their LIB lovechild apart from the rest is the production team’s acute attention to detail. This is first and foremost seen in their one-of-a-kind structural aesthetic, lead by the organizers’ goal to create “experience through architecture.” Famous for their curated stage at Coachella, which over the years has increased in both size and popularity, DoLaB’s structures have put the company on the map, attracting global festival clients such as Portugal’s Boom Festival, as well as corporate-leaning sponsors like Peet’s Coffee and the trendy beverage producer G&T’s Kombucha. With the debut of at least ten stunning new designs at this year’s LIB, including the shrine-like, indie-dance focused Pagoda, the elegant “Bamboo DNA Structures” by Gerard Minakawa, and the Woogie Wonton Structure (built in collaboration with LA design studio Vita Motus), we were not surprised to see an expanded presence of larger brands at the festival. And while some early LIB collaborators, especially those that lead the event’s efforts on consciousness and sustainability, frown on the “mainstreaming” of Do LaB (read about the recent lawsuit filed by Dream Rockwell of Lucent Dossier Experience), the notoriety and financial success of the company has undoubtedly resulted in more impressive structures and a higher level of musical sophistication.
Although LIB officially kicked off on Thursday afternoon, the bulk of performances began on Friday, and this was when Do LaB’s curation and programming strengths really started to shine. The house and techno-focused Woogie stage was consistently impressive; superbly eclectic performances on Friday evening from Keinemusik mainstay Adam Port and British selector Leon Vynehall set a stimulating and musically developed tone for the entirety of the weekend. The highly anticipated closing set from Nic Fanciulli seemed to be met with widespread feelings of mediocrity—a clear sign that the tastes of LIB attendees are becoming increasingly seasoned with each edition. Across the bridge at the bass-oriented Thunder stage, Soulection star Sam Gellaitry delivered an epic trap set that was completely soothing yet still upbeat. At the Favela Bar—a favorite afterhours spot curated by LA-based DJ Patricio—Public Works resident Rachel Torro proved her ability to dominate the dancefloors of packed San Francisco clubs as well as festivals like LIB, and Shawni finished off the night with an emotional slice of melodic house and techno.
On Saturday, with festival activities in full swing and the arrival of perfect weather, LIB’s magic became readily apparent. Festival attendees happily took advantage of the newly filled Lake San Antonio, with renegade parties on floating temples and families relaxing on inflatable cupcakes and unicorns aplenty. The musical offerings on Saturday were particularly awe-inspiring as well. German selector tINI delivered a relentlessly groovy two hours of party-starting tech-house at the Woogie, which was followed by a stellar performance from Innervisions-supported duo Eagles & Butterflies and a massive back-to-back session from progressive house icons Guy J and Hernan Cattaneo. Over at Lightning, Weval was a clear highlight, and Kaytranada closed out the stage with an even more exciting and diverse set than his phenomenal Coachella performance last month. But perhaps the most surprising set of the evening came from LA-based duo Dance Spirit, who closed the Favela Bar with a live, four-hour masterclass in evolving minimal techno.
Things felt more relaxed on Sunday; higher temperatures lead most to laze in the lake until later in the afternoon. Manjumasi co-founder Mark Slee, with his ethereal melodies and percussive backdrop, provided the perfect soundtrack to a chilled-out start to the final day—Retza’s remix of DOPPEL’s “Melt” especially stood out within the set. The energy of the day shifted when Russian up-and-comer Julia Govor stepped up to the Woogie decks, showcasing her sultry brand of emotive yet driving techno to a packed dancefloor. The crowd seemed to really appreciate her sound and charismatic stage presence, and Govor noticed: speaking to her after the set, she seemed very pleased, and explained that despite the outdoor festival environment, her set “was not much different from what she would play in a dark club”—we can only hope that the crowd’s overwhelmingly positive reception to her performance will mean more Julia Govor bookings at future American festivals.
This was also the case with the live set from Stephan Bodzin, a true master of epic melodic techno. The Woogie stage erupted in emotion in the final stretch of his performance, which contained signature elements of the track “Wir,” taken from his critically acclaimed album Powers of Ten. Also impressive at the Woogie was Christian Smith, whose propulsive style of deep house and techno was an ideal transition from Bodzin into the closing act, minimal techno pioneer Richie Hawtin—not much needs to be said about his performance...as always, it was incredible. The Thunder stage was also top-notch towards the end of Sunday: Machinedrum’s live set and melodic drum & bass trio Ivy Lab were a perfect break from the addicting house and techno at Woogie.
Now in its 12th year of existence, Lightning in a Bottle has swiftly grown into one of the most popular and renowned transformational festivals in America, now hosting over 25,000 at its Bradley, CA site. The festival’s trademark structural aesthetic, when combined with the countless yoga classes, lectures, panels, meditation sessions, local vendors, diverse food options, and family friendly activities, always make for an immensely fun and playful experience. But while some transformational events with similar offerings can tend to feel unrefined and even immature at times, LIB’s superb musical programming, innovative design sense, and commitment to sustainability not only points to the sophistication of Do LaB itself, but also to LIB as a real site for personal growth and celebration of life.