Lightning in a Bottle hits its stride with its return to Bradley, California
For the first time in its 10-year history, Lightning in a Bottle officially sold out. With the final attendance tally around 20,000, the festival attracted its largest audience to date. It’s quite an accomplishment for what was once a boutique arts event catering to bass music lovers, hippies, and burners. While the crowd may have changed a bit — attracting its fair share of hawaiian shirts and neon tanks — the ethos behind the event has not. Still centering its community around principles like sustainability, awareness, and compassion, LIB is as spiritually conscious as ever.
The Do Lab promised some major improvements for their return to Bradley, California, and they unequivocally delivered. The most notable change was the construction of custom bridges to allow easier travel across the myriad of sand dunes and ditches that blanket the desert landscape. In addition, the Do Lab arranged more shade structures than previous years, including some much needed protection from the sun on the stages themselves. Lastly, the small bars which previously served as side entertainment became just as enticing as the three main stages themselves. The Favela Bar, for instance, boasted a full Funktion-One sound system and saw collectives like Desert Hearts and Music Is 4 Lovers host takeovers throughout the weekend.
Far and away, the Woogie Stage remains Lightning in a Bottle’s crown jewel. For house and techno lovers, it’s the perfect sanctuary of a great sound system and perfectly curated lineup. Beyond that, however, it’s the entire vibe of the stage that attracts festival goers of all kinds. There’s a sense of community to the Woogie that isn’t found on the other stages. It’s almost impossible not to run into familiar faces from the night before or make new friends in the process. Musing about the architecture of the Woogie is enough to leave any psychonaut in awe. It’s an entire stage built around a single tree. Everything from the tornado-shaped art structures to the speakers, vendors, and tables extend out from this central origin of branches and leaves.
Throughout the weekend, the Woogie offered some truly rare performances. New York duo Bob Moses, for instance, put on a stirring, live deep house show with guitars, vocals, and keys all laid over their delectable 115 BPM beats. Mano Le Tough brought one of the classiest sets to the weekend, providing a slow-rising tide of downtempo, deep house, acid house and more. Shaun Reeves and Lee Curtis showcased the sounds of Detroit unearthing the raw stylings of Visionquest for a good four hours.
The great Âme of Innervisions fame closed out the first night, putting on what was likely the most technically impressive set of the entire weekend. Though only one half of the Berlin duo was in attendance, Âme demonstrated the most coveted quality of a DJ: complete control. Throughout the two hour stint, one got the impression that he could go anywhere he wanted at any moment in time — and he did. One second it would be complex, mechanically layered deep house; the next, it would be riveting, melodic techno. One never quite knew where he was headed, and ultimately, that was the best part. The entire crowd was just along for the ride, privy to the wisdom of the Berlin mastermind.
Outside of the Woogie, artists like SOHN and Opiuo put on engaging performances, each with a live band in tow. Flume headlined his first festival outside of Australia, bringing what was easily the largest crowd of the weekend to the Lightning stage on Saturday night. With a wealth of new material at his fingers, Flume went on to debut countless new originals and remixes, many of which are certainly destined for his impending sophomore album.
The Digweed Show
LIB offered plenty of enticing options to close out the weekend with. One could choose between an intimate set with RL Grime in the Thunder tent, a hypnotic display of downtempo and post-rock from Tycho on the main stage, or a two hour set from the legendary John Digweed on the Woogie. Naturally, I went with the latter, as a chance to catch Digweed on LIB’s techno stage proved too compelling to miss. As expected, Digweed delivered the top performance of the weekend. Slowly progressing from grooving deep house to pummeling techno, he delicately controlled the momentum of the set. Like a growing snowball of four-to-the-floor force, each new track built on his existing foundation, upping the intensity successively until we were left with an unstoppable amalgamation of excitable techno energy. Such was the mastery on display — two hours felt more akin to four, and the entire crowd was lost in constant fascination to the Digweed show. When all was said and done, John received one of the longest crowd ovations I’ve ever seen.
Ultimately, Lightning in a Bottle is so much more than just a music festival. From esoteric speaker panels on mysticism and sustainability, to the biggest yoga classes you’ll ever participate in, The Do Lab goes above and beyond to make sure each facet of the event is done exceedingly well. The art on display — from the huge installments to the myriad of psychedelic paintings — is far and away the coolest you’ll come across all year. The food is exotic and friendly to all diets, and the camping experience is second to none with festival-goers setting up tents everywhere from alongside the stages to up above the grounds on secret hilltops and lookouts.
If all goes well, Lightning in a Bottle has found a permanent home in Bradley, California, and just as they did this year, we have no doubt that they will continue to improve their festival experience with each successive event.
Photo Credit: Elli Papadopoulos