There it is. Sunday night and I’m wearing a grin that feels bigger than my face and all the aches and pains of four days of nonstop stage hopping, dancing and group yoga fade into glee as I realize I don’t need a thing in the world more than what’s in front of me. Sounds flow through the air in every direction, beauty fills my vision and warmth beams out from every pore of my body.
At first, Lightning in a Bottle intimidated me. Experiencing the festival scene in the reverse order of most—going up to a bigger festival from the world of intimate ones—I didn’t know what to expect. Covering it as a writer in any conventional sense was out of the question, as there was no end to the festival’s immense offerings. From music and visual art production to healing workshops, vendor life and the art of “greening” the festival grounds, Lightning in a Bottle offered an infinite platter of niches for me to explore. Where would I begin?
Right off the bat, I knew I’d be traveling off the beaten path for music most of the weekend. Not that the lineup wasn’t outstanding—Odesza and Flume have earned their places at the top of big bills with their chart-topping original sounds and remixes—, but I entered LIB looking for something different from the increasingly mainstream sounds of the airways. Repetitious trap, electro-pop and melodic singles remixed dozens of times over would do little to satisfy my thirsty ears, for I lusted to tap into the deeper realms of dance and the soulful, psychedelic electronic sounds that originally pulled me into festivals.
Life at 125 BPM
I rose Friday morning to the deep house tunes of the Woogie Stage. Just a little over a hundred yards from the stage, my campsite was filled with funky, tropical and experimental house beats all day and night, making it impossible not to collect good vibes from the four-to-the-floor thuds emanating from the speakers each time I ventured out from camp. Fun, danceable music was virtually always just a hop away.
However, my sonic adventures for the weekend truly began not at a stage, but on a mat. For over a year, I’ve dragged my yoga mat to every music festival I’ve attended, but never actually made it beyond my campsite for a true festival yoga session. But when Friday afternoon rolled around, I happily found myself sitting cross-legged at the center of the Yoga Om Temple preparing for a ninety-minute class led by California instructor Gigi Snyder.
Jazzzz in Ya Bones
Accompanied by the harmonious instrumental sounds of electronic producer David Block, a.k.a. The Human Experience, Gigi’s class was a perfect balance of strength, inward focus and communal love. With budding yogis and curious trippers mostly keeping to the fringes of the temple, the center where I found myself was filled with yogis intent on practicing as they would back home. Block’s downtempo tunes paired well with Gigi’s calm but persuasive instruction and I couldn’t resist moving to the music as nearby yogis began dancing through their vinyasas all around me. I left the class feeling gently worked, open, centered and most of all, accomplished and ready for the adventures that laid ahead.
The first dance party of my weekend (for there would be many!) came on Friday afternoon at Pumpkin’s set at the Lightning Stage. This California dance floor favorite has built a cult following associated with the funky sounds of LIB’s notorious Woogie stage and he easily brought the same atmosphere to the main stage. With a feel-good set that drew upon musical genres spanning the ages and the sonic spectrum, his music proved irresistibly danceable and brought out the best in one of the kindest and most smile-prone crowds I’ve ever seen. White sails pitched high overhead seemed to move in unison with the house-injected sounds springing from the speakers as costumed performers on stilts and a thirty-foot-long worm creature moved through the crowd, creating a carnivalesque feast for the senses that I will never forget.
Balance in Everything
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon—I regrettably missed GRiZ the night before and found little had changed in Phutureprimitive’s unique but all-too familiar sound—and I found myself approaching the Thunder Stage for Govinda’s set. Having never seen this violin-wielding conductor of world electronica play live, I didn’t know what to expect from the sensuous and drippy eastern sounds I knew him for… But I was curious and excited. I knew the dance element would be there, but wondered in what capacity for a daytime set sandwiched between two downtempo producers at an otherwise bass-forward stage.
Walking into the bass range of the superbly-placed Funktion-One speakers splayed outside the stage, I began moving to the music even as the waning sounds of the Lightning Stage still echoed behind me.
Within the speaker’s full embrace, pulsating beats and glitchy artifacts stacked over squishy instrumental layers were creating a sonic experience unlike any I had heard all weekend. From my roots to my crown, my body seamlessly writhed through a set that felt perfectly balanced for a range of dance styles, aural tastes and psychedelic intensities. Just when the beats would reach a crescendo, live violin would intrude and redirect the flow to a more astral state. Better yet, Govinda had dialed in the levels so perfectly during the first few songs that I did not need the noise filters I normally wore in my ears. The audiophile in me rejoiced as I floated across the dance floor, grinning like a child in what would stand out as one of my favorite sets of LIB. That it came as the sun still hovered above the horizon illustrated the power of good music to satisfy the senses without pretty light shows and the mystery of darkness, making all the more impact on my perception.
Funkadelic Bass Music
Later that night, I was back at the Thunder Stage as Opiuo and his band of funkadelic instrumentalists prepared for their primetime set as a bass-drawn evening of dubstep, trap, and hip-hop came to a close. This was the performance I had been waiting for since LIB’s lineup first dropped. How appropriate that it would be The Opiuo Band’s first performance in America?
I quickly got the sense that virtually everyone in the crowd wasn’t there just by accident. After repeatedly receiving looks of confusion when I mentioned Opiuo, Random Rab, and even GRiZ to new festival friends in the proceeding days, I can’t even say I was surprised.
“But I’ll definitely be at Flume,” I’d hear, or “Odesza, I can’t wait!”
This caused me to feel like a sonic alien for much of the weekend, but on Saturday night, I found my home—and my sonic companions—at the Thunder Stage. This was a dance floor populated by fans and curious wanderers who had decided to defy the pull of the main stage. Defiance of the status quo would be rewarded almost immediately.
The air felt electric in the moments leading up to the music. As if everyone knew things were about to get turned up to eleven really fast, the crowd was silent and still, preparing mind and body for something inescapably new.
The band wasted no time bringing the crowd up to speed, dropping Meraki’s explosive album-opener “Snorkle” on us right away. I’ve never gone from zero to 100 so quickly. Where Opiuo’s sounds already seemed complete to me, his band added new dimensions at virtually every point via clean and boisterous sax, stylish guitar riffs and sultry vocals laid over earthshattering bass hits. The live drums added yet another layer of percussive diversity by filling in the gaps between the crunchy beats emanating from Opiuo’s signature drum pad. This wasn’t just another DJ set… This was a show.
Compared to Opiuo’s glitch-tinged, heavy-hitting electronic sound, the band came together to produce something altogether more musical and diverse—something that balanced ecstatic drops with downtempo interludes and shining instrumental solos with emotional vocals that never wandered too far from the intensity dancers like myself craved. This was the plain where glitch, funk and soul met, and the pairing was divine.
For me, the set’s energy concentrated during Opiuo’s “Good Thymes” remix of Ray Charles’ timeless rendition of “Let the Good Times Roll.” Brief yet charged with carefree energy, the song’s modulated jump-blues and swing-rock tones combined with looped vocals, warm glitch elements and quirky trumpet flutters—along with an undisturbed interlude from the original song—to put one massive, connected smile on the crowd. Thematically perfect for a music festival and highlighted by one hell of an epic drop, this tune was the best remix I heard all weekend at a time when taking the old and shining it up with a fresh sound has become the golden standard.
All Good Things…
Though Lightning in a Bottle’s sonic offerings expanded far beyond what I found in my hunt for the “perfect sound” to tie my weekend together, my experiences there taught me a great deal about the modern festival landscape.
Where smaller festival budgets pull in narrower crowds that can be catered to with more focused sounds and offerings—the mushrooming Desert Hearts community is a great example—Lightning in a Bottle casts a much bigger net into the world. The infrastructure and offerings required to process what that net brings in—young EDM lovers and adventurous mainstreamers, festival junkies and conscious wanderers, psychedelic virgins and seasoned Playa vets—means that no single taste can be overwhelmingly favored over another.
I’m not sure where big festivals fit into the small island universe that is my life. Though LIB is still a far cry from the Coachellas of the world, I have no doubt its reach will grow significantly in the coming years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, so long as organizers stay true to their seemingly unshakable foundations of self-development and healing, art, spirituality and perhaps most importantly, environmental sustainability.
Having now tasted a bite of the big festival fruit, I happily retreat to the havens of smaller regional festivals with the lessons I learned at Lightning in a Bottle. Regardless of what my future festival adventures hold, I will always remember the sweet sensation of completing my camp by the Woogie Stage, cracking a beer and sitting back to let the landscape, alive with melodic whispers and kaleidoscopic inhabitants, wash over my senses. Every person on this planet deserves such a moment of respite, if only for a weekend, and if they’ll go looking for it, Lightning in a Bottle is just one of the countless places they’ll find it.