Explaining Lightning in a Bottle to the uninitiated is a delicate deed. Equal parts art amalgam and open-minded music festival, the Do Lab‘s gem on Lake Skinner is a little slice of Burning Man with less oppressive weather conditions and a more stage-centric focus. Showcasing forward-thinking dance music scenes that revolve mainly around the West Coast, from crusty Colorado bass music to Bay Area downtempo and progressive trap, the festival has been known to open many an East Coast eye. My very own were no exceptions.
I arrived in Los Angeles the day before the festival with lingering laryngitis from Wavefront and no concrete plan for getting there. In typical serendipitous fashion, I stumbled upon a ride-share with an ebullient dubstep DJ in a Spyder convertible. We spent the entire drive talking about meditation and making sweeping life changes against a soundtrack of muscular wobbles. When calamity hilariously struck upon the discovery that the supposed tent my friend had lent me was actually her father’s baseball pitching net, complete strangers opened their hearts and storage tent to shelter me from the sun’s searing rays. They weren’t strangers for long — that’s the kind of crowd this festival draws.
An exorbitant wait time to collect wristbands and enter the festival was the only hiccup in an otherwise exemplary production, and the festival organizers made it clear that issue would be addressed for the following year. After finally making it inside, festival-goers were treated to a smorgasbord of stimuli ranging from neon-drenched art installations and vibrating meditation chambers to a full Western-themed Frontierville general store and venue area that played host to psychedelic bingo games and impromptu open mics. With four dedicated music stages and a multifaceted Temple of Consciousness area that featured no shortage of yoga, meditation and mindful speakers, one could literally walk between worlds with ease.
Friday belonged to the Woogie Stage, a colorful birdhouse platform perched in a massive tree, with Dirtybird denizens Christian Martin and Worthy fittingly squaring out a standout house music lineup. After a transportation snafu forced him to switch time-slots with Worthy, Martin delivered a signature helping of funk bass in his late-afternoon set, mixing such recognizable tunes as the family remix of Kill Frenzy’s “Make That Booty Clap” alongside patient builds into driving chord progressions that elicited cheers from the colorful crowd. Worthy took the reins and continued the booty-bumping bonanza with a set replete with choice tech-funk cuts and bass-heavy grooves. Amid cheeky chants of “We are not worthy” and an assortment of hoisted curiosities on sticks, the DC native expertly built up the vibe before pulling a homegrown trap ID from up his sleeve that sent the Woogie faithful into conniptions as the sun set in their stead.
If Friday had an arguable Woogie focal point, Saturday was so stacked with talent that one would be remiss not to walk around and experience the varied sounds emanating from each of the sun-soaked stages. Early meanderings saw standout afternoon sets from Jobot and Andreilen on the perennially bumping Bamboo Stage while eclectic Los Angeles producer Eskmo delivered a highly-regarded aural experience on the Lightning Stage. However, as night began to fall, I found myself drawn back into the Woogie’s warm embrace for Thugfucker. Playing the magical sunset slot to an early evening crowd, the Life and Death duo delivered a memorable performance characterized by deep dark beats and menacing vocal samples. Adopting a patient approach that several times featured simply a plodding kick over minimal atmospherics, Thugfucker relished the time they took in builds through creeping static and phased vocal snippets on tracks like Trentemøller’s “Moan” before finally dropping the beat on their enthusiastic audience.
Of course, the name on everyone’s lips was Nico. Having seen the Chilean-American prodigy outdo himself with divergent sets at Movement Festival in Detroit and Wavefront Festival in Chicago, I had high expectations for Jaar’s Lightning Stage set. Following a unique performance by William Close & the Earth Harp Collective using their namesake instrument that stretched across the sky above the stage, Nicolas Jaar arrived to glitchy fanfare against a glowing yellow backdrop. Aware that he was playing to arguably the most open-minded crowd of his summer festival tilt, Nico delivered a meandering musical journey through deep valleys and patient peaks. Starting funky but slowly escalating into darker and driving material, Jaar exhibited no fear for completely eradicating the progressions he had built, plunging the Lightning Stage into prolonged static and drawn out synth heavy breaks for minutes on end before gradually shifting into the next set of overlapping and finely entangled songs. There was no finer example of this than the nihilistic manner in which he prefaced the climax, drawing down the sound to silence just long enough for one to begin wondering if there had been a technical issue. But as the burgeoning elements of “Stay in Love” painstakingly filtered in, the full measure of Jaar’s genius was on display as he swept the show into his masterstroke mash-up with “Space is Only Noise.”
Those who turned in after tiring from Nico’s sprawling sonic journey missed a superlative closing set from Detroit bass music producer Griz on the Bamboo Stage. The 21-year-old is clearly a multi-tasker, striking a rare balance between soulful jazz, dynamic dubstep and glitch hop, and noodling live on his saxophone while simultaneously manning the decks and massacring the crowd. Ending his set by enthralling his audience with signature twists on familiar hip-hop anthems, Griz joined Jaar among the pantheon of most-discussed sets in the neon night to follow.
Sunday arrived with scalding sunlight and high-degree heat, forcing many weary campers to retreat to the shelter of the tree-laden Woogie Stage area. Fortunately, the festival gods smiled upon such shade-seekers with a bumping assortment of sets from the funk-infused stylings of Gigamesh to the rollicking genre-defying reworks that Pumpkin provided. An indelible highlight of the afternoon came in the form of Lee Burridge, the globe-trotting architect of All Day I Dream, who ushered the sun beneath the horizon with an easygoing and intricate melodic soundtrack that captivated all in attendance. Meanwhile, the energy was electric for acts like Herobust, Gladiator and Eprom on the sweltering Bamboo Stage, where glitchy melodic trap and spaced out bass music ruled the day.
The singular set of the evening was imparted by An-ten-nae, a dynamic bass music veteran with a shock of black curls and the vigor of a man half his age. The Bamboo Stage swelled with a swarm of crunchy bass heads drawn from the low end meccas of Colorado and the Bay, a constantly moving tattooed mass of mohawked vixens and dreadlocked dudes who not only had the credentials to get onstage as architects of their scene, but sported the sort of dance moves that radiated pure passion for the music on exhibit. An-ten-nae delivered a set that left him wide-eyed and speechless after the show, pummeling the crowd with a stiff cocktail of beats, bass and breaks while throttling his MIDI controller about as though it were possessed. After sending the assembled crowd into convulsions with a vigorous rework of Daft Punk’s “Doing It Right,” he ended all grins on a low-key note with his somber and brilliantly minimal remix of Daughter’s “Get Lucky” cover.
After checking out Pantyraid‘s bombastic trap firefight on the Lightning Stage, my curiosity once again pulled me back to the Woogie confines. Haven’t you ever wondered about the kind of company an enigma like Nicolas Jaar must keep? If your answer lies somewhere between synthesizer junkie and mad scientist, then you’re right on point with Acid Pauli. The bespectacled German artist, signed to Jaar’s Clown & Sunset label, closed out the Woogie Stage in glorious tripped out fashion with futuristic pulsing arpeggiator progressions and a jaw-dropping downtempo rework of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
Lightning in a Bottle is a “Leave No Trace” event in accordance with Burning Man’s principles. So as the sun rose on Monday, tents were collapsed and trunks were loaded. Geodomes were dismantled and colorful costumes spirited away. But in the swiftly disappearing sand-strewn wreckage of the week’s festivities, a few sleepless sojourners continued to make the rounds with painted faces and gleaming smiles, greeting whomever should cross their directionless paths with genuine gusto. While Lake Skinner may show no sign of the magic that manifested last week, it’s clear that Lightning in a Bottle made its mark elsewhere.