The sun has set over Bradley, California. A dust-covered crowd of hippies, burners, and soul searchers dances amid a background of iridescent art structures. At the helm of the gyrating mass, Damian Lazarus sits perched within a tree, DJing from a giant nest. Across a dry ravine, Lucent Dossier Experience is mesmerizing the main stage crowd with their mind-bending circus theatrics. Further down the road, past the bustling bazaar, Ryan Hemsworth is commanding a crowd of bass heads on the Bamboo Stage. Above these world-class acts, ten thousand stars blanket the immaculate desert sky. This is Lightning in a Bottle.
For the uninitiated, Lightning in a Bottle (LIB) is a music festival and spiritual retreat put on by the Do LaB. For those who have experienced the art collective’s innovative stage at Coachella, the Do Lab’s premier camping festival is a similar experience but on a much grander scale. Integrating performances from incredible artists like Gramatik, Phantogram, Claude VonStroke and more with yoga classes, spirituality seminars, and Q&A sessions with industry phenoms, LIB is a truly one of a kind festival experience.
Photo Credit: Watchara Phomicinda/LIB Official
The first day of LIB boasted no shortage of compelling performances, with Thriftworks, Russ Liquid, and Gramatik showcasing their beautiful brands of bass music. The night’s best, however, included a four-hour tour de force of techno and house from the talented hands of Damian Lazarus and Claude VonStroke.
Taking the reigns of LIB’s Woogie Stage, Lazarus led the crowd through one of his signature auditory journeys. As usual, the Crosstown Rebels boss kept the energy more moderate for the first hour, throwing in plenty of weird curve balls to keep the audience guessing. As time passed, it was near impossible to not become utterly lost in Damian’s mixing as songs melted into each other seamlessly. Instances of various genres pervaded the performance, from moments of worldly and ethnic percussion to sequences of trance-ier progression, and certain transitions just didn’t make sense. For instance, at one point, the drums slowed down into a whipping LFO, continuing to accelerate into a potent whirlwind before eventually turning into a waterfall of noise and unleashing the next beat. It is moments like that make a performance from Damian Lazarus truly breathtaking.
As Damian reached the end of his set with his new single “Lovers’ Eyes,” Claude VonStroke could be seen hovering behind him in the rainbow nest of the Woogie. I couldn’t help but take a chance to appreciate the beauty of the sight: two of dance music’s biggest label heads and underground legends standing side by side, curating four hours of delectable house and techno for LIB. As Claude began subtly mixing in his track, it felt as though Lazarus was handing over the vibe to VonStroke. Immediately, the difference was evident as Claude’s bouncier selections picked up the intensity and had the crowd grooving relentlessly. I couldn’t help but think to myself: this is intelligent dance music. Not in an elitist kind of way, but in the fact that it appeals to one’s curiosity. With each new beat, it’s as if your brain has to figure out the mode of the track. What is the bassline? How does the track work? Where is it going? The sense was enhanced by the special speakers of the Woogie Stage, a new space-age sound system developed by Pure Groove Systems. The clarity of the speakers were unlike anything I’d heard before, offering a ridiculously loud yet non-overbearing output with clean sub harmonics and a comfortable mid and high end.
Photo Credit: Sam Koshfam
Throughout the weekend, Pure Groove’s revolutionary system powered such acts as Pumpkin, J Phlip, Lee Burridge, Max Cooper and more. While Pumpkin offered a respite from the stage’s harder techno selections, Burridge enjoyed the serenity of a three hour sunset timeslot, taking us into the night with his comfortably paced tech house selections. Max Cooper, still buzzing off the success of his avant-garde Human album, was easily one of the most innovative of the weekend, mixing everything from his soulful original “Adrift” to 90s jungle into his two hour performance.
Outside of the Woogie, acts like Phantogram, Beats Antique and What So Not captivated crowds with their innovative sounds. Once Phantogram’s set got going, the music nearly didn’t stop, jamming from one synth rock ballad to another. Beats Antique provided the perfect desert soundtrack for the weekend with plenty of ethnic instrumentation to power their worldly productions. Finally, taking over after Tokimonsta (whom I am now convinced is one BAMF), Emoh Instead of What So Not was on hand to deliver an absolute mixing clinic, oscillating between the Australian duo’s quirky originals like “Jaguar” and overtly melodic, Rustie-styled bass tracks.
When all was said and done, I was left sunburnt, deafened, and irreversibly dusty, but with an indomitable smile on my face. Lightning in a Bottle is truly like no other festival out there. The community it attracts is comprised of some of the most friendly, environmentally conscious, and spiritually enlightened people I’ve ever encountered. Over the four day period, I attended a talk by YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, participated in a dancing meditation, climbed a spiderweb made of ropes, and listened to enough new artists to hold over my music exploration for the coming months. If you’re looking for an atypical festival experience with an emphasis on love and spirituality, Lightning in a Bottle should be at the top of your list.