The Do LaB Grows Up

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“Lightning in a Bottle in Orange County!?!? WTF? That’s what we thought, too.” – www.lightninginabottle.org

Jesse Flemming, one half of the brotherly duo that founded downtown artist and music collective The Do LaB, isn’t surprised to be asked how one of the premiere curators of LA’s underground scene (and champion of a very left-leaning environmental agenda), wound up hosting the arts and musical festival Lightning in a Bottle in Irvine, the money-soaked, Republican stronghold of Southern California.

“We searched California high and low, we drove all over the state and couldn’t find anything in time so we had to take 2009 off,” Flemming said in an on-site interview about outgrowing the Live Oak campgrounds in Santa Barbara where the fest was held before landing at the Oak Canyon Ranch in Irvine this year. “It’s a beautiful spot, it doesn’t even feel like Orange County,” he said.

Indeed, this year’s festival setting was less secluded, more manicured, more controlled. The crowd was more mainstream, the food more expensive, and the police presence more…well, present. But with full support from the Oak Canyon owner (“he’s been running around helping us out the whole weekend”) and its most ambitious agenda to date, the little festival that began in 2000 as a party with 100 friends, some Christmas lights, and a few turntables largely succeeded in retaining the magic of a small, community-based gathering despite the growing pains that come with increased popularity.

While The Do LaB’s Coachella installation highlights up-and-coming musical acts, Lightning in a Bottle had by far the biggest name to ever grace a Do LaB stage: Booka Shade. One of the largest acts in Europe’s huge dance music scene, they closed Friday’s show to a massive, happy crowd. Also noteworthy: EOTO’s live-two-man dub step production, Vagabond Opera’s vaudevillian madness, Lee Burridge’s silkily smooth house beats, and Shawna’s breakbeat grime.

In fact, it’s that filthy, bass-heavy sound that’s been mastered by The Glitch Mob and Bassnectar at many of The Do LaB’s events. Flemming admits that they were “in the right place at the right time” to usher in the sound. “A lot the acts that we book are actually friends of ours that have been in our community for a long time.” As the music becomes more popular, The Do LaB does too—and vice versa. That symbiosis is a prominent theme throughout Do LaB events, be it spiritual, musical, or environmental between man and nature.

That last tenet is how The Do LaB separates Lightning in a Bottle from its larger brethren: Coachella and Burning Man. One walk around Coachella has you swimming in a sea of plastic water bottles. Burning Man preaches “leave no trace” as a mantra to protect the delicate sands of the Nevada desert. But The Do Lab is taking environmentalism one step further: LIB not only stands for Lightning in a Bottle, but “Leave it Beautiful” and “Leave it Better,” as well. Shena Turlington, the festival’s in-house sustainability guru, explains that it’s no longer enough to “leave no trace.”

“We have to leave a very positive footprint rather than just do no harm,” Turlington said. “We’re planting 34 native oak trees to try to restore the native environmental habitat here and we’re trying to have people leave with a lot of knowledge about practical, do-it-yourself things you can do at home.” In addition to musical acts, LIB featured renowned speakers on green living and sustainability, and offered free water to those who brought their own containers. None of their food vendors served meat.

But LIB is an arts festival, too. From the stunning pieces in the Dialect gallery, to the intricate stages, to the floating photography exhibits, to the artists creating pieces on site in the middle of the mayhem for immediate bidding as part of the Lightning in a Paintcan benefit for schools without art supplies or the huge gauntlet of independent clothing artists selling their wares, LIB was a true sensory overload.

It’s Coachella minus the trash and the trendy crowd. it’s Burning Man minus the harsh climate and haphazard music. But to be fair, The Do LaB shed comparisons this year and graduated into its own niche. Coachella and Burning Man founders Paul Tollette and Larry Harvey (respectively) should stop by LIB next year, they could learn a few things.

Lightning in a Bottle was held at the Oak Canyon Ranch in Irivine, CA from Friday, May 28 @ 7 am until Monday May 31 @ 5 pm

Photographs by Amanda Yoshida