The vibes are running high at Do LaB’s offices. The team, spread out amongst a stylishly designed loft with views of downtown L.A., is deep into planning mode. They’re just weeks out from Coachella, where they host their own stage—for which they not only curate the performers, they also literally design and install their own stage—and only two months out from their own signature festival, Lightning in a Bottle.
There are posters up on the walls reminding the staff that they’ve promised ticket buyers “the most fun you will ever have in your life,” but if the pressure is on to live up to that bar, they’re playing it cool. Maybe it’s just that they’re so well grounded; mindfulness, health, and sustainability are core values for all their events. And, following those values, they’ve set out to reshape the entire festival experience into something that’s better for mind, body, and planet.
All of what is now Do LaB started somewhat by accident, when founder Jesse Flemming made an impulsive decision to move to Los Angeles.
“When we were 19, I dropped out of college. My best friend at the time was, like, ‘I’m quitting school and moving to California.’ I said, ‘I’m coming with you,” he says. Shortly after, his twin brother Josh Flemming came to visit him. During that visit, the pair threw a party for their birthday, intended to just be a small mountain rave for a group of Jesse’s friends, and the event turned out to be a far bigger hit than they ever expected. That birthday party was the first Lightning in a Bottle.
After that, Josh decided to stay in L.A., and the third Flemming brother, Dede, moved out to join them. They rented a warehouse space just outside the Arts District, where they would live and work for the next six years.
“In the early days, we were just making art. People would ask us to come out to their warehouse parties, make them more festive, and it just kind of snowballed from there,” Dede says.
They credit being in Los Angeles with some of their success. “I don’t think we would be doing what we’re doing if we were in any other place,” Jesse says. “Especially not when we started doing it. We were feeding off what was around us, and tapping into the creative energy.”
The location also gave them proximity to other festivals, just as the trend for megafests was taking off.
“At that time, we were frequenting Burning Man and we were going to Coachella every year, first as spectators, then as the Do LaB,” Dede says. “We were already doing Lightning in a Bottle as a smaller event, but inspiration from those festivals pushed us to make Lightning in a Bottle so much bigger and turn it into the proper festival it is now. We knew we wanted to bring in some of the best elements from Burning Man, from Coachella, but also do it our own way, with our own style, and do it all with a sustainability focus.”
In 2005, the young company had a mainstream breakthrough with an invitation to do its first installation at Coachella, a collaboration which has continued ever since. The team is the only outside entity given free reign to design, build, and curate their own portion of that festival. This year, that sees them hosting performances from up-and-coming talent like Chris Lake, Lauren Lane, Sacha Robotti, Brasstacks, and Father Bear, under a color-saturated tent designed by Josh Flemming.
“We do a new stage design for Coachella every other year,” Josh says. “There was a time where we would wait right up to the last minute to get it made, and then force ourselves to work around the clock, practically killing ourselves to get it done in time. This year, it’s ready to go.”
Josh Flemming oversees all the design of every stage and structure that Do LaB creates, which includes the Coachella and Lightning in a Bottle facilities, as well as ones used for Dirty Bird Campout, ones rented out for other festival and events around the world, and custom builds for clients. His largest design to date was created for Portugal’s Boom Festival in 2016, a massive 255-foot tent that took four months, and a team from 60 different countries, to fabricate and assemble.
“I didn’t have any kind of professional design or architecture training when I started this,” Josh says. “I look back at some of the things I made early on and think, ‘This is crazy. How did we think this was a good idea? How did we actually make this work?'”
These days, they’ve brought on a team of architects, engineers, and artisans to help with the process, but it still starts with Josh’s whimsical concepts.
“Josh keeps pushing the limits of what you can do architecturally,” Jesse points out. “Our engineer is, like, ‘Why can’t you guys ever do anything simple?’ but it all works. And maybe it’s more difficult, but that’s how you make something new. Doing something difficult is how we learn and move forward.”
Complex build-outs aren’t the only challenge Do Lab has embraced. For Lightning in a Bottle, they’ve also made an effort to be as environmentally conscious as they can, even as attendance at the now five-day event has grown into the tens of thousands.
“We try to have as small of a footprint as is possible. We use solar-powered generators, we make sure every food vendor uses compostable materials, we have a large-scale waste management team that separates every single piece of trash and recycling that gets generated out there,” Dede, who handles planning and logistics as well as being Do LaB’s CFO, says. “We worked with the county were LiB takes place to get to be able to compost, because when we started, it wasn’t really a thing there, and now we’ve collaborated with them to create a composting project. As the festival has gotten bigger, it’s really hard to keep that going at that scale, but we try, and we keep that at the forefront of what we do.”
Do LaB’s festivals also set themselves apart with a focus on the health and mindfulness of attendees. That means that, while performers take to the stages, there are also yoga classes, education areas, wellness workshops, and other programming going on as well, much of it supervised by executive producer Monica Fernandez.
“You can’t survive a five-day festival, walking around all day, dancing all night, if you don’t take care of your body,” Fernandez says. “It’s just a good idea to get into a yoga class and stretch it out, lay down, breathe deeply, get that reprieve. Festivals can be very over-stimulating, so I think it’s important that we have lots of opportunities to mentally re-ground yourself, be really mindful, and keep yourself balanced.”
The learning and culture programming at LiB, co-directed by Eve Bradford and Isis Indriya, is constantly expanding as well. This year, that includes partnerships with organizations like NEXUS Labs and the Indigenous Environmental Network, hosting a new Wisdom Council with elders and spiritual leaders representing diverse global traditions, and organizing immersive dining experiences that celebrate Meso-American culture through food and performance. At its heart is a center they call The Compass.
“The Compass is intended to utilize the platform of festival culture to create a modern day village environment for cutting edge alternative education,” Indriya says. “[We’re] focusing on personal inquiry, ritual arts, earth skills, and activism.”
And, if any of that has earned Lightning in a Bottle a bit of a reputation as a hippie-leaning festival, Fernandez thinks the general audience has come around.
“We had a reputation for that in the beginning, but now our audience reaches across all kinds of people,” she says. “Festivals in general have kind of become more mainstream, too. Now everybody wants to check it out, wants to participate in what’s going on. And we create an experience that, for a lot of people, they leave feeling totally stoked out, and they want to go home and talk about it, and share it with their friends the next year.”
If they do return, festival-goers can always count on encountering something new each year. Among this year’s innovations is an emphasis on interactive art installations.
“Right now we’ve shifted a lot of the focus from the more installation and sculpture type art—which is still amazing and we love creating a lot of that stuff—but we’re looking now at the attendee’s interaction with the art, making them feel that they’re not just spectators looking at cool art, now they’re part of it,” Dede says. “That’s something we’re really putting energy into right now and people will be seeing more of soon.”
Just as the Flemmings never had a specific plan to launch a business, they’re not entirely sure where Do LaB will be heading next. They dream of creating a permanent amphitheater—which, Josh promises, would be “really radical, kind of a game-changer in the concert industry”—but they haven’t yet found an investor ready to back the project they have in mind. Beyond that, what they care most about is continuing to create events that make people feel connected to art, music, and one another.
“Since the beginning, this has always been about community for us,” Jesse says. “Even when it was really small, it was a small community of friends, artists, and like-minded people getting together to create. Even as we get bigger, we want to always try to maintain that vibe. We’re trying to bring people together and have them be inspired by what we’re doing, inspired by each other, and carry that inspiration out into what they’re doing with the rest of their lives.”
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