As the festival circuit grows more crowded with each lineup announcement and ticket sell-out, it’s never been more essential that a music fest provide more than just music and fun in the sun, offering everyone — from casual music fans to the hardcore festival aficionado — a consistently fresh and rewarding experience. Judging by the manner with which its organizers have been forging their very unique identity since 1996, Lightning in a Bottle is surely one of the finest festivals around, combining a festival experience unlike any other (where else could you find electro-superstar Pretty Lights, fire-dancers, and a lecture on sustainable living within walking distance from one another?) with an astoundingly welcoming yet close-knit community that manages to toe the line between major music fest and deeply spiritual, staunchly fringe art event, all while remaining unfettered by much of the commercial bullshit that plagues many other festivals (free water, all weekend!).
In addition, the close-knit nature of the Do LaB community allows for a widely shared spotlight (the festival closed out Sunday night in the Temple of Consciousness with LIB’s own take on Bonnaroo’s superjam: an impromptu jam session featuring some of the weekend’s finest performers sharing the stage for a four-hour jam session till sunrise), while the festival’s limit of two major stages acted as a sort of quality control (I went the whole weekend without witnessing a bad set, even as early as one in the afternoon). But the best part of Lightning in a Bottle is its aim to do much much than just showcase good music. For me, the best, most memorable moments came not facing a stage or forcing my way through a crowd, but sipping tea with some incredible people in the Lumi Lounge & Cafe, studying yoga with world-class instructors in the Temple of Consciousness, and seeing some of the most spectacular art installments I’ve ever set my eyes on.
Photo by Caesar Sebastian
Where most fests encourage you to study the days’ schedules and plan far ahead, Lightning in a Bottle is best enjoyed indeliberately as the day unfolds, allowing the light, pleasant breeze that wafts across the gorgeous Oak Canyon Ranch all day and night, the countless spectacles to be found on the festival grounds or any of your 12,000 or so fellow revelers to lead you along in the weekend’s adventures. Here’s how that went for this particular writer…
Friday, May 27th
Kaminanda – Bamboo Stage – 3:45 p.m.
A late-afternoon DJ set from Kaminanda, an upbeat blend of psytrance, house, and dubstep, was the perfect start to the weekend for the many festival revelers who were only just wandering through onto the grounds. The British Columbia-based producer, who’s also set to perform at this year’s Burning Man and Shambala festivals, occasionally played live synth/guitar lines over his own tracks, to stunning effect.
the Mowglis – Lightning Stage – 4:00 p.m.
The Mowglis, a bit of an insider secret for the Do LaB community — they’ve played a handful of shows at the collective’s Culver City hub, Area 33 — won over a whole host of new fans with their stellar Friday afternoon set. Their fun, flowery tunes — a curious midpoint between blues-rock, folk and country — was extremely well-received by the laid-back crowd, many of whomwere picnicking in the shade as the eight-piece performed.
Photo by Sarah Day-Ives
the Malah – Lightning Stage – 6:00 p.m.
An intriguing marriage of jam band sensibilities and deep, downtempo electro, the Malah‘s hazy guitar lines and frequent tribal drum breaks would’ve done better in a nighttime time-slot. The performance was great nonetheless, as Greenville, SC-based outfit’s mostly instrumental pieces smoothly meshing the occasional breezy vocal sample meshing with guitarist Brandon Maynard’s phased-out guitar work.
Emancipator – Bamboo Stage – 6:45 p.m.
Emancipator‘s smooth, slow grooves and elegant string samples drew the weekend’s first big crowd at the Bamboo stage, just as the sun began its descent. His debut record, Soon It Will Be Cold Enough, a mellow blend of jazz and trip-hop, was put out on noted live stunners STS9’s 1320 Records last year, featured heavily in his set.
Photo by Caesar Sebastian
Dub Kirtan All-Stars – Lightning Stage – 7:45 p.m.
Dub Kirtan All-Stars took the main stage just as night had fallen, bringing with them one of the most exciting performances of the weekend. The collective, made up of no less than 13 members onstage at a time, fused Indian raga rhythms and Hindu devotional chants with gritty dubstep, courtesy of David Starfire and FreQ Nasty. MC Solar Lion hyped up the crowd, cajoling the eager audience into singing, chanting, and shouting along with the multiple singers while monitors projected the mantras for all the crowd to see.
NastyNasty – Bamboo Stage – 9:45 p.m.
True to his moniker, NastyNasty‘s set was jampacked with some of the dirtiest bass music of the night. The Oakland-based DJ had no trouble keeping the restless crowd moving for nearly an hour, with a stellar selection of low-slung beats, glitchy hip-hop and, of course, dubstep for one of a high-octane set that was among the best sets of the weekend. The highlight? A ferocious throwdown of freak folk queen Joanna Newsom’s “The Book of Right-On”.
Photo by Kat Parry
Lucent Dossier Experience – Lightning Stage – 11:25 p.m.
The Do LaB’s signature act, who’ve performed at every Lightning in a Bottle and multiple Coachellas since LIB’s inception, were — judging by the huge crowd gathered — one of the weekend’s most anticipated performances of the weekend. And perform they did, in their typically unbelievable fashion, thoroughly blurring the line between virtuosic live music act and thrilling, theatrical performance art with a stunning, hour-long performance.
Saturday, May 28th
Phutureprimitive – Bamboo Stage – 1:45 p.m.
Phutureprimitive‘s early afternoon set was easily the biggest breakout performance of the weekend. The Portland-based DJ’s mind-blowing set drifted between dark, intricate psybient trance and huge, crowd-pleasing bass-heavy rhythms, with the occasional ethereal, BjÃ¶rk-ish vocal sample (courtesy of fellow Portland native Alyssa Palmer) adding deeper dimension to his meticulously crafted sound. Expect big things from Phutureprimitive, whose latest offering Kinetik just dropped last month.
Octopus Nebula – Lightning Stage – 3:45 p.m.
Colorado natives Octopus Nebula, who’ve shared the stage with some of electronic music’s heavy-hitters OTT, Shpongle and STS9, brought their moody live show to the Lightning Stage. Fleeb Thomas’ bass groove laid the groundwork for the band’s tight jams, which occasionally peaked in big, breakneck drum-n-bassy sections.
Photo by Sarah Day-Ives
Heyoka – Bamboo Stage – 7:00 p.m.
Heyoka‘s pre-sunset set was one full of stunners. The Northern California resident, who released Mandlebass EP earlier this year, is a true master of dynamics and crowd control, not unlike fellow NorCal beatsmith Bassnectar. Heyoka bounced ably between heavy-hitting dubstep and blissed-out glitch hop with relentless energy, capping off his set by setting the crowd on fire with a killer remix of the Revels’ “Comanche”, as made famous in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
KRADDY – Lightning Stage – 8:05 p.m.
One of the biggest names on the lineup, it was a bit of a shock not to see Kraddy subheadline one of Lightning in a Bottle’s three nights. The Los Angeles-based producer, who was a founding member of glitch-hop standouts the Glitch Mob, has long been making waves in the electronic music world with his dancefloor ready blend of hip-hop and dub rhythms, especially after his “Android Porn” got picked up by America’s Got Talent last season. Taking the main stage just after sunset, he led the adoring crowd with wild dance moves while working the decks masterfully, making it well known by the time he was done that it’s all uphill for him from here.
Beats Antique – Lightning Stage – 10:05 p.m.
Photo by Kat Parry
Even as the term continues to be tossed around indiscriminately, Beats Antique are among the few contemporary artists who’ve really mastered the idea of genre fusion, melding authentic world music from the far reaches of the world (they often deal in Indonesian Gamelan and Egyptian bellydance standards) with all manners of electronic music to create a truly one-of-a-kind musical vision. Their Saturday night set channeled said vision with stunning clarity, drifting between far-flung styles and genres with practiced ease. World-renowned tribal fusion performer Zoe Jakes danced centerstage while Tommy Cappel and David Satori handled percussion and programming, respectively.
Virtual Boy – Bamboo Stage – 11:30 p.m.
Virtual Boy‘s glitchy, but somehow very emotive brand of electro made the Californian duo a perfect pick to close out Day Two at the Bamboo Stage. Their latest EP out on L.A.’s burgeoning Alpha Pup Records, Symphony No. None, delves deep into electronic music, fuses the glitch-hop of their early work to more experimental, spacier soundscapes, all rendered in cinematic widescreen. Their live set, however, was full of much more upbeat fare, sticking to the glitch-hop they’ve quite near perfected, only occasionally dipping into their recent, more pensive material.
Pretty Lights – Lightning Stage – 12:30 p.m.
Photo by Kat Parry
Derek Smith, the man behind Pretty Lights, is quickly becoming one of the biggest names in electronic music. The Denver-based producer had perhaps the largest draw of the weekend, unifying Burners, PLUR kids, and everyone in between into a vast sea of neon and glitter with his singular sort of funky house and grimy dub, incorporating the occasional familiar soulful sample, to huge cheers. Smith alternated often between his MPC and Monome sampler, working the crowd like a pro, while touring drummer Cory Eberhard pounded away at his kit. What’s more, he continues to release all of his music free of charge and urges fans, as he did during his epic Saturday night set, to download his music from wherever they can. Looking to join in on the fun? Pretty Lights is booked to play Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Glastonbury this year. Three chances for you.
Sunday, May 29th
Dela Moontribe – The Woogie– 1:30 p.m.
Photo by Caesar Sebastian
LIB’s smallest stage was also its most dance-friendly. While the Bamboo and Lightning stages featured all of the lineup’s heavy-hitters and all acts of all sorts of genres, the Woogie was home to nonstop, feel-good dance music. dela Moontribe stuck with an unenviable spot at an outdoor stage just after noon on the final day of a three-day fest (which also happened to be its hottest) brought euphoria via heavy, heavy bass to the parched crowd who braved the early-afternoon desert heat to dance their asses off. Hat tip.
Desert Dwellers – Lightning Stage – 2:45 p.m.
The nomadic dub-lounge collective have been ambling across deserts all over the world for years now, but felt right at home on the Lightning Stage Sunday afternoon. Their spacious brand of psytrance meets Putomayo lounge made for a suitable soundtrack to the festival’s lazy, breezy final day and was very well received by the assembled crowd, who moved and grooved to their airy, sensuous tunes.
Love in the Circus – Lightning Stage – 4:35 p.m.
Love in the Circus‘ slick alt-pop was yet another of the many surprises Lightning in a Bottle had to offer. Led by their enchanting frontwoman/bassist Leanna Rachel, Love in the Circus instantly won the crowd over with their haunting melodies and danceable rhythms. As their name suggests, the Southern California-based outfit write world-weary love songs imbued with a playfulness that could’ve only been picked up after years on the circus circuit, lent by the inclusion of the High Priestess and Leah Zeger on harp and violin, respectively.
El Papachango– Bamboo Stage – 6:15 p.m.
El Papachango‘s wildly divergent sonic palette, which bears a strong tropical dub lean, was a change of pace from Love in the Circus’ full band sound and Desert Dwellers’ desert jams, but exciting all the same. The San Francisco-based, Argentine-born DJ lashed huge tribal beats to his samba and dub sensibilities for a positively upbeat experience for everyone involved.
Photo by Caesar Sebastian
LYNX – Bamboo Stage – 7:30 p.m.
LYNX‘s wistful folktronica tunes made her a natural fit for the weekend’s final sunset at the Bamboo Stage. Armed with a mandolin, banjo, sampler, and floor tom, the singer-songwriter leapt between a variety of genres and instruments without a hitch. Her practiced croon, not unlike that of Sara Quin, is layered under her many instrumental talents and beatboxing. Her plaintive arrangements and reflective lyrics cut a sharp, refreshing contrast against the droves of electronic acts she shared the stage with all weekend long.
Baths – Bamboo Stage – 9:05 p.m.
Will Wiesenfeld’s debut, Cerulean, won him huge acclaim and comparisons to everyone from Brainfeeder maestro Flying Lotus to chillwave standout Toro Y Moi. His live set does well to bring his acclaimed studio work to fruition, breathing fresh life into an album I heard over and over last year with an unbridled energy that initially came as a bit of a surprise, given the serene nature of his music. Baths‘ performance was certainly one of the most unique of the weekend, combining the ethereal, melodic strains of his voice with off-kilter beats that tie him to L.A.’s thriving beat scene.
Bonobo (DJ set) – Lightning Stage – 10:25 p.m.
Bonobo‘s brand of trip-hop is usually rendered live with a seven-piece jazz ensemble, but producer Simon Green had no trouble bringing the party to LIB with just him and his decks, spinning an expansive hour-long set that dipped its feet into a shockingly wide range of styles. As DJ sets continue to overtake festival stages the world over, said DJs scramble to include more and more visual spectacle to keep audiences engaged and many groan over the tedium of watching of a man work a mixer and two turntables, Green proved to be a master of the DJ set, working in much of his own work, while knowingly dropping the obligatory familiar tracks. The best of the bunch? A show-stopping rework of the xx’s instant classic “Crystalised” and set closer “54-46 That’s My Number” by reggae legends Toots & the Maytals.
Thievery Corporation (DJ set) – Lightning Stage – 12:30 p.m.
With their patented fusion of dub, bossa nova, Afrobeat, trance, and psychedelic rock, Thievery Corporation have spent over a decade as one of the preeminent voices in world music. It’s pretty telling that even if the duo behind the famed collective’s lush arrangements, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, don’t perform with their entire ensemble, they still have the pull of a festival headliner. Their set, though comprised of the sort of tranquil lounge music they’ve made their name on along with a mixed bag of modern, crowd-friendly electro, was perhaps the only letdown of the entire festival. As far as DJ sets go, this one was a bit of a dud: the old stuff sounded tired and when the duo attempted to prove they weren’t as old as they seemed with a dash of hip, new music, it didn’t quite fit into their set. In hindsight, the duo would’ve done better with an earlier timeslot, allowing a livelier, more exciting act to close out the weekend.
Photo by Kat Parry