Since 2006, Lightning in a Bottle has been a staple of Southern California’s dynamic festival scene. Between its enlightening and eclectic line-ups, beloved rituals and encouraged debaucherous behavior, the three-day event has rightfully stood its ground as one of North America’s highlighted “transformational” festivals.
Taking place annually on Memorial Day Weekend, over 30,000 people forego parties in any other given part of the world and leg it into the Lightning in a Bottle for an experience most might consider well off the beaten path - a sustainable and creative gathering around music and art set on the bank of a placid reservoir. But with six stages, each exquisitely constructed and designed by one of the leading events standouts in the country, The Do Lab, it’s certainly no small proceeding… and one that shines with a flair that is all of its own.
The main “Lightning” stage offers a wide variety of big-league acts from a variety of genres, hosting artists such as Anderson .Paak, Sofi Tukker, Zhu, TOKiMONSTA, Monolink, Fever Ray and more. Five additional stages are admirably curated to fit the crowd’s diverse and specific musical preferences. Over at the Woogie and Favala Bar, groovy, house-oriented tunes pour out of the speakers while the Thunder and Pagoda stages are locked in a consistent assault of bass music. The outlier of the group is Grand Artique, an open-air building plucked straight from the set of a Wild West film, with casino games and honkey tonk whiskey vibes and all, soundtracked by an assortment of unpredictable, lesser-known and live musical acts.
Lightning in a Bottle is a playground not only for activities, but for people who don’t fit any one musical mold. There’s a little of this and a little of that, but the festival’s roots lie in bass music. Early editions billed artists like Pretty Lights, The Glitch Mob, Random Rab, Tipper and Beats Antique, which helped establish the event as a must-stop on the West Coast festival circuit. To this day, those same names remain huge pulls for the event’s most recurring loyalists.
“Acts such as The Glitch Mob and Bassnectar came up with Lightning in a Bottle. We’re honoring that tradition,” Talent buyer Megan Young says. “We're keeping that fanbase, friend base... and at this point, ‘family base’ happy, but we also want to expand. Personally, I want to see more diversity on our stages.”
Megan and the rest of the festival have certainly started to chip away at reaching that diversity metric with a total 231 artists locked in for this year’s edition. While staying true to its bass roots, Lightning in a Bottle is made up of a comprehensive range of sounds. At a given hour of the festival, attendees can choose between getting down with Griz’s powerful, jazzy saxophone and funk-filled belters or feast at the banquet of bass being cooked up by Alix Perez for his steadfast supporters - all of whom are watering at the mouth with an eager appetite for tracks off his and EPROM’s forthcoming SHADES album. Others chose to get down with their bad selves and watch Purple Disco Machine create dancefloor magic under the moonlight with a selection of funky house cuts such as his original ‘Street Life’ groove and sparkling crowd-pleasers like ‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire.
As varied as Lightning in a Bottle’s line-up might feel, the free-flowing atmosphere of the festival permeates to its attendees, helping to breed a sense of openness and adventure that might convince even the most devoted of Dirtybird fans to take a break from a bumping Walker & Royce set to check out what the swagger from beat scene leaders like TOKiMONSTA and Bleep Bloop is all about.
As groups of friends consistently split and reassemble amongst the chaos, one reunion takes on the appearance of a battle scene from Braveheart as two large groups spot each other and charge with big, loving battle cries. One side of a crew enthusiastically explains their favorite moments of The Black Madonna’s set while the others pull out their hair while acting out a play-by-play of Modeselektor’s heaving techno triumph. They all embrace, link arms and venture onwards towards a new sound in the distance.
Away from the major stages, a number of small creative environments scattered around the grounds - such as the festival’s Compass, Crossroads and Yoga Sol arenas - allow for a variance of unexpected musical experiences. Tucked away from the hyperactivity, weary ravers lay piled on top of one-another to take disco naps and observe psychedelic displays of both synthesized and organic sound meditation. Throughout the day and well into the night, voyagers stand still and exchange looks of gratification and amazement when stumbling upon various cultural music ambassadors execute shamanistic performances.
“I came across a gong sanctuary earlier. It was just a circle of gongs and people singing into microphones but wow… totally incredible!” Bass artist and first time Lightning in a Bottle performer Woolymammoth tells Mixmag. “My friends and I laid there for an hour and I had to stop myself from pulling out my recorder because I’ve never heard sounds like that before. There is no way I would have experienced that outside of a place like this.”
In many ways, it's these small sonic environments that help weave the event’s musical experience together. Be it a campsite throwing down a jumping bassline set or a busker playing his cello for numerous passersby, the music you both seek and stumble upon at Lightning in a Bottle is the beating heart of its intrepid energy.
Despite the fact that the crowd often seemed divided by genre preference, the festival’s overwhelming aura of love and good citizenship creates an air of genuine curiosity and acceptance rather than distaste in terms of the gathering’s cleft musical preferences. Most importantly, the medley of LIB’s diverse musical offerings is bringing new blood to California’s transformational festival scene while managing to maintain a dancefloor ethos that hits the mark in terms of representing what of dance music culture around the world prides itself on achieving.
Check out photos of Lightning in a Bottle 2018 below.
Photos by: Jessica Bernstein | Get Tiny | Watchara | Jamal Eid | Eric Allan | Aaron Glassman | David Shadrake
Cameron is Mixmag's US Digital Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter here