Words by Landin Evans
As the sun rose early Thursday morning, the anticipation in the air was as palpable as the first specks of dust trudged up from the earth. Lined up along a rural road in Bradley, CA, hundreds of cars began to pour into the festival grounds searching for perfect spot to pitch their tents and form their surrogate nest for the Memorial Day weekend. As you reach the site for Lightning in a Bottle you're greeted with a stunning view of the sprawling hills and mountains of California's Central Coast, and peppered amongst them are handful of artfully designed stages, and a wide array of other small venues and vendors preying on your distractions as your trip and stumble aimlessly around the festival for the next four days.
This year's LiB sold-out for the first time in its 15-year history, with the final count being somewhere around 20,000. Run by The Do LaB, an LA-based events and arts promotion outfit, the festival has become an annual pre-Burn pilgrimage for the swelling ranks of Cali's alternative rave crowd. This year's festival hosted the Lightning Stage, which focused on live and visually arresting performances, the Thunder Stage, which shook questionable tribes of rowdy bros with snarling trap and bass music, and the underground-focused Woogie stage, which dished out upbeat funk during the day, and deep tech-house as the sun went down.
Aside from the main stages there were countless other places where you could find whatever kind of vibe you were looking for. The Favela and Pagoda bars played to the smaller, niche sounds throughout the night, and Amori's Casino and The Silent Disco were giving everyone some low-key sanctuary from the bigger stages.
While walking between stages you could stop and enjoy some live art, step inside the Temple stage to listen to a speech about sex, dragons or rock 'n' roll, or even decompress in a fur-lined yurt while the sounds of wonky digeridoos, Tibetan singing bowls, corefelt "Ohms" and rain sticks washed around the throbbing tunnels inside your brain.
While we can wax endlessly about the strength of the vibes, the quality of the music on show at LiB was undeniable. Early Friday afternoon the Desert Hearts don Mikey Lion got the crowd hyped up at the Woogie Stage with his trademark dusty house sounds. Later on Mano Le Tough threw down some dank tribal house and techno to the intimate crowd that huddled away from the packed main stage, where electro favourites Odesza were booming. Mano's set perfectly transitioned into Âme as he pushed our heads under, bringing a distinct sound of deep futurism that kept the crowd constantly moving.
On Saturday afternoon we found ourselves holed up at the Woogie stage for Slow Hands and Pillow Talk, and capped the night with a mind-blowing two and a half hour tech house lesson from Danny Howells. The Sunday was full of great sessions, but ended with a scheduling clash that left us traipsing frantically between stages, fucked. Legend John Digweed channeled the classic Woogie vibe as he strutted into the zone and sent the crowd deep into the night with a big chunk of funk. Tycho and his live band dished out his trademark lush framed by his typically beautiful visuals, and Mixmag favourite RL Grime blew up the jam-packed Thunder stage with his nasty-ass trap house and tectonic bass drops.
While the most noted and lauded element of the Lightning in a Bottle experience is always going to be the hedonistic, integrated vibes that the Do LaB has consistently managed to create, there was a divide that could definitely be felt between opposite sides of the festival. On one side, the Woogie stage, Favela bar and other smaller spots emanated a deeper love and family vibe which spread through the spiritual areas and healing tents, while back on the other side, the Thunder stage and Thunder bar were distinctly more abrasive. The Thunder stage was bursting with coked-out bros who were there to "go hard" and get fucked up. Spending time there wasn't easy and heading back to the other side of the venue always felt like a relief. There's certainly something about the burner vibe and sense of family that really made that end of the festival a special place to be.
LiB leaves most people wondering where they've been for the past four days. Through the dust, heat and binge of the weekend we came out the other end rinsed and fried but with a strangely heightened sense of clarity, taking away a new sense of self-love and appreciation for the common consciousness and family connection that comes with the dynamic community at LiB.
[Images via Jamie Rosenberg]