A WORLD DISCONNECTED: LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE, 2014

By TIM WUT
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Truth Be Told…

It’s taken me a couple days to get myself geared up to recap this year’s Lightning In a Bottle (LIB). It’s an odd quirk, but there’s just something about the decompression period following a festival of this scale, and the value of mentally cataloging these experiences.

This past Memorial Day weekend was one of the most all-encompassing festival experiences I’ve had. Thinking back, it’s been three solid years since the last time I attended my last LIB (with all the natural life baggage that comes with). And while attending as an older, snarkier blogger may have affected my experience in some ways, I’ve also learned to appreciate some new, previously overlooked aspects of the LIB experience that really resonated with me this time around.

Fair warning, this might be dense, so kick back and relax [takes a deep breath].

Photo credits to The Do Lab, Lightning In a Bottle, The Confluence, Watchara Phomicinda, Guru KhalsaJosephine Silverwolf, Victor Almeida, Julia Bernstein, Aaron Glassman

LIB Cloud Map

Word cloud of the last time I covered LIB. Some things changed, some didn’t :).

For Those Who Aren’t Familiar with LIB

LIB stands at the crossroads for many people – 12,000 this year to be exact. One part music, two parts camping, infinity parts experience and art, LIB intersects high production value (massive stages + some of the biggest names in “eclectic” music) with a weekend disconnect into the world of conscious living. What’s that mean?

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Well, if you were interested in watching Moby come out of festival retirement to throw down a devastatingly insane electro/techno set, that was an option. If you preferred to spend 7 hours a day stretching your muscle fascia to the instruction of renowned yoga instructors, that’s also available with LIB’s fully stacked yoga stage. Perhaps attending a workshop at the Learning Kitchen with its hourly sessions covering the usage of healing foods is more your speed? The lady’s favorite talks was an hour long discussion on the history and cooking properties of dates.

Does channeling aliens, discovering your inner Goddess, tantric lap-dancing and cybernetics for the modern soul sound good to you? All of these and more with an endless opportunity of activities to fill any interest you have, emphasis on any, will all be yours to experience. 

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A weekend at LIB invariably means exploring less than 10% what it has to offer.

Hot Days, Warm Mind

So while my 2011 trip to LIB included very little in the ways of workshops and talks, I had a newfound enthusiasm this year to make time for day activities – even at the expense of sacrificing a few late night shows to conserve energy. Blasphemous, I know.

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However, if needing to prioritize energy sounds odd, it would make sense to those who were there to experience the intensity of the dry desert heat (and are probably having flashbacks). This year’s LIB was easily the harshest festival conditions I’ve ever seen (echo’d by many, including those who’d gone to Burning Man) with the sweltering mid 90’s dry sauna heat, combined with hill grades steep enough to make Mt. Wilson feel like a day in the park.

Hilarious quote by Swong of my campmates, overlooking the beautiful hills of LIB:

“Holy crap, looking at this is exhausting!”

Of course, good things come to those who hustle. And hustle we did up steep ass hills every day to get from one end of the festival to the other. Traveling across took about 30-60 minutes of walking, depending on how many stops you made at any one of their hundreds of handicraft vendors).

Daytime Learnings

And while braving the midday heat ultimately yielded the most gnarly sunburn/bro tan I’ve had in years — dark arms, light everything else — yet it was worth it to hear and gain insights from individuals who I would otherwise have no opportunity in normal course life to access. My personal highlights included:

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Moby’s inspirational talk on the benefits of music therapy and his support of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function. The IMNF uses musical therapy to rehabilitate patients with physical impairments from brain trauma. My favorite takeaways from this talk? 1) Music heals in astounding ways, 2) Moby’s dry humor is DAMN hilarious and 3) Actively showing appreciation toward the simple things in life: time with loved ones, listening to music and being in nature nature will benefit your brain development in huge ways.

Jedi Training School  and their alternative method to learn fire staff spinning through the school of Kungflow. This was hands down the best hour long flow class I’ve taken and included mind blowing tidbits into Jedi folklore, mental programming and applied learning. Big takeaway here? Shut that negative voice in your head down. The next time you’re learning something new, tell yourself “this is easy”.

Youtube Co-Creator Chad Hurley’s Q&A on the beginnings of Youtube and their subsequent sale to Google. Yes, this talk actually happened at LIB. And while Chad’s answers were actually very dry, they were actually pretty insightful in their simplicity. No matter how hard the dust covered audience tried to get Chad to give inspirational, cognitive answers on the vision behind Youtube, he stuck firmly to his guns by sticking to two basic points of advice: Build what you want NOW and take it one day at a time, which I can only assume holds a meta-meaning to dissuade aspiring entrepreneurs and artists from dwelling too long on what ifs and empty ideas. Temperature-wise, this talk happened on probably the hottest and most insufferable day of the festival. Pretty hilarious.

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The Party Life, Sort Of…

And in 1,000 words we finally come to what most would consider the main draw of a festival like LIB. Music. To be honest, if we were talking in that respect, I’d actually have to say fellow e-pubs Vice and LA Music Blog did a stellar job with their music/festival recaps. Vice’s writer Jemayel Khawaja gives you an in-depth look into darkest recesses of the thumping night with a great list of electronic crowd movers. On the flip side, Lesley Park from LAMB provides a great account of her mixed genre lineup.

My personal schedule sat somewhere in the middle with the following artists: Gramatik, Lucent Dossier Experience, Ryan Hemsworth, Baauer, Moby, G Jones, William and the Earth Harp, Dimond Saints, Tourist, Little Dragon, Amon Tobin (DJ set), Sweater Beats, and Slow Magic, with electrifying dance performances by and Quest Crew and The Furies Circus.

My personal roster included the unexpected groovability of Gramatik, Dimond Saints, and Tourist as well low, slow, and sexy daytime sets by Sweater Beats and Slow Magic.

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What stole the show for the weekend for me was an absolutely INSANE Amon Tobin x Quest Crew + Furies Circus collaboration. Catching Quest Crew’s ten minute dance set — complete with powerful B-Boy aerials and acrobatics — had us pushed perfectly to the front of the press pit banister for Amon’s DJ set. But what caught everyone completely off guard was the epic hour-long pop and lock battle between the two crews during Amon’s set. Just imagine some of the best dancers in the game throwing it down: staggered, popped, and fluid, while Amon played menacingly dark broken beats and drum ‘n’ bass switch ups.

Though I was kicking myself for forgetting my ear plugs, I was GLUED to the stage and totally okay with being assaulted by non-stop bass infused kick drums.

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Photo courtesy of Lesley Park, LA Music Blog

An “Incomplete” Lineup

Though my volume of artists might have been aggressive for a single day fest, it was only a drop in the bucket for the total artists desired. In fact, I even caught a good scolding from a friend for missing the Woogie stage entirely.

Of my original list, I had missed out on seeing a huge list of artists: Claude Von Stroke, TokiMonsta, What So Not, Gold Panda, Goldrush, Phantogram, Beats Antique, The Polish Ambassador, Simian Mobile Disco, Cashmere Cat, Lee Burridge, Max Cooper, J-Phlip, Tara Brooks, Idiot Savant, Desert Dwellers, and Damian Lazarus.

The circumstances that caused me to miss these artists came from a variety of reasons: Prioritizing dinner with campmates, waiting for people to get ready, being glued to an already awesome set, sometimes simply not wanting to make the 30 minute uphill treks to barely see ten minutes of a set. And here’s the kicker: I actually missed a huge chunk of artists to sleep early on a Sunday night…

…If hearing that offends you, trust me, I was disappointed too. But with the same reaction I gave my buddy who chastised me for missing the Woogie. Meh.

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The Experience Is What You Make Of It

Ultimately, this brings me back to my original musing about the difference in my mindset from 2011 to 2014. Assumably, if these circumstances had happened in 2011 with me carelessly missing so many “must see” artists, I’d probably have spent an insane chunk of this article talking about how disappointed I was. Today? No big deal really.

Though part of me chalks it up to simply being older and more laid back, there’s one thing I’ve learned from a couple years of festival hunting (which Moby echo’d beautifully in his panel discussion). And that is to always emphasize appreciation for your present experience and moment.

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Is it worth it to lament on missing an artist’s set because your group was lagging at an art install? Or could we choose to remember the conversations we shared while staring at that flame-spewing structure with a dozen fur clad strangers? Do we complain zealously about how the crowd had changed over the years? Or do we open our hearts to the advances of strangers, to exchange a few positive words and genuinely happy smiles?

Point being (and why I’ve loved Lightning In a Bottle) is, as long as the attendee reaches the minimum prerequisite of keeping an open and responsible mindset, there’s no way not to enjoy oneself.

Another Side of Lightning In a Bottle

By now I hope we’ve been able to paint a novel, alternate view of the LIB experience.

As Vice’s article put it so brilliantly:

“Everyone at Lightning in a Bottle is a weirdo in some sort of way.” – Jemayel Khawaja

I’m very much inclined to agree after taking those words to heart and lining them up against the formal definition of ‘weird’. And that’s because at festivals like these, the same weird things that require a double take in the “default world” are the same things that bring people together. Crazy outfits (which range from funny, scanty, to beautifully artistic), unbridled dancing, “counter culture” interests, these are the norm in the world of Lightning In a Bottle.

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And in the way that seeing certain things in 2011 made me squeamish and uncomfortable (the presence of small children), I was able to discover a new found solace in revisiting the similar sights from my past LIB experiences.

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So while some might believe bringing children to a festival like this seems “crazy”, LIB has actually made it a point to provide a safe, supportive community for families. And this year is where I really saw the deeper meaning behind that. One observation: The parents I chatted to gave off a very strong sense of confidence to give their little tykes an early start to opening their minds to bigger perspectives of human experience.

Before I go too far down that rabbit hole, I’ll end things here. :).

(If you’re interested in hearing my personal story of the most beautifully moving run-in I’ve ever had with a family at a festival (During Sweater Beats’ set of all places [lol]), feel free to reach me on Twitter).

This year’s Lightning In a Bottle was an amazingly fun and eye-opening experience. Be sure to get yourself there next year!.

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