Megan James of Purity Ring during the 2013 Coachella Valley Music &… (Getty Images for Coachella )
Amid the recent crush of dance-music-focused festivals in Los Angeles, Lightning in a Bottle never joined the arms race to get bigger.
The plucky music and activism event, produced by the performance-art rogues at the Do LaB and rooted in the Burning Man subculture, hasn't taken infusions of cash from major promoters like Live Nation. It hasn't forked over six-figure fees to superstar headlining DJs. Yoga workshops and "Temple of Consciousness" events are as much a part of the weekend as the music.
But this year could be a turning point. The fest didn't cash out or change its aesthetic for 2013, but it did become significantly more attractive to dance fans who wouldn't otherwise go in for yoga workshops with their raving. With a slate of crossover electro acts like Purity Ring, dubstep spitballer Rusko, noise-jazz artisan Nicolas Jaar and the psych-rock explorer Tycho, this year's event may have crossed a threshold where casual electronica fans give the woodsy and earnest Lightning in a Bottle fest a fresh look.
"We always wanted to get bigger bands, and this year we really did try to book things beyond what us and our friends listen to," said Jesse Flemming, who along with his brother Dede runs the Do LaB. "We have our core audience, but we are expecting a lot of new people this year."
The Do LaB presents shows year-round and is perhaps most visible to mainstream L.A. dance fans for its massive annual installation at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival (that's the stage located in the middle of the field that's populated with desert-apocalypse dancers and DJs wielding water cannons). But Coachella's radius clauses — where bands and DJs who play the fest can't perform in SoCal for a wide window around the fest — had made the Do LaB's own event difficult to book, especially as Coachella started cornering the market on rising electronic acts.
Moving Lightning in a Bottle from late May to July freed up more groups to perform there, and the 2013 lineup suggests it was a smart move. Purity Ring's mix of trap-music drums and starry-eyed vocals have made them beat-scene stars; Nicolas Jaar has been destroying large clubs with his mix of experimental electronics, jazz instrumentation and deft nods to the dance floor. Rusko has become a major theater headliner without losing his reggae and noise-weirdo angles; and Tycho sold out two recent nights at the Troubadour (and stole the show at the most recent FYF Fest) with its heavy, dreamy atmospheres.
Even the more traditional dance and beat fare seems infused with new energy. The fast-rising minimalist Acid Pauli, San Francisco's ambitious Kastle and the fizzy beatsmith Giraffage could change the nature of the sounds that fans associate with the Do LaB's events.
Alongside all the electronica, there's a significant roots-music and folk presence, vegan lifestyle workshops, Occupy-inspired economic lectures, gobs of yoga events, and yes, a few seminars like "Divine Cosmos — The Synchronicity Key: Hidden Intelligence Guiding Us."
"We try to focus on the whole experience, and that's so much more than just music," Flemming said. "But it can't just be about a big light show. We're hoping that the people who come for Purity Ring or Nicolas Jaar will find themselves in an interactive area seeing some performer they never knew existed, and getting their minds blown."
But even at such an enthusiastically crunchy electronica fest, the specter of corporate capitalism is hovering just beyond the walls. As fests like HARD and Electric Daisy Carnival have captured the popular zeitgeist, they've earned huge investments from Live Nation, and other promoters like SFX Entertainment and Las Vegas megaclubs have suggested that perhaps billions of new dollars are coming to the dance music sphere.
The Do LaB has a dedicated audience, experience in producing visually astounding music-fest installations, and has new weight to throw around in the mainstream electronica-booking world. If this year's experiment works, it could make a major-firm promoter get his accountant on the phone to see what it might take to get onboard.
But those promoters should be prepared for this gang of seekers to be really skeptical.
"We're so proud of growing organically and not jumping on this bandwagon," Jesse said. "Our lineup is so small compared to other festivals, but people come because they trust us."