Like a mini-Burning Man, just an hour away, Lightning in a Bottle beckoned. Behind the Orange Curtain. By the long, skinny, lake.
An early arrival opportunity paired with my not-ready-for-playa-time self had made for a hectic week before. My shit was not together. No air pump. Not packed. No food. A Wednesday night arrival would be a stretch, if not an out and out bad idea.
So I opted to arrive Thursday, by noon. Land a minute after and I’d be waiting till 4, I’d read. And I believed it. If LIB was going swim not sink with a tidal wave of creative humanity literally doubling attendance at the event from last year, its producers were going to have to be able to follow their own rules. The Do Lab did.
Reached the box office in the back of the Santiago Canyon College parking lot at 10:15 to be safe. No one even there yet. Maybe 8 early birds in the parking lot and a couple of friendly staffers at the Arrival Tent. Were they ready for the mob scene that would ensue when gates opened 6 hours later? I’m told the wait was up to 5 hours. True or apocryphal, long lines at the start of a big event can feel like forever. One Arrival Tent for all those people. Brave Staffers. Needed 3 tents at least. But from my POV, before the deluge hit, they got me going with a smile.
Dropped off my gear on the grassy west camping area almost exactly noon and drove to the ginormous parking lot at the far end of the property. Moved the car as close to the campground as I could, which was a wise idea. I’d be walking there again, and again, and the walk was substantial. Gotta be ready to do some walking at LIB. Bikes are allowed, but not too practical, especially with the big old hill separating the east side from the west.
Savored the walk from my car to my camp, a slow stroll over what was about to become the weekend home of Southern California’s hip, aspiring, and just plain curious. To many, and a lot of these many being women, LIB is Burning Man with showers, and without the dust and the 12-hour ride up the coast. So while the women of Burning Man are extraordinary, the women of LIB are abundant beyond even the wildest California Dreams. But please don’t LIB simply for that or it’ll ruin it.
For the next two days, a city of tents, cars, campers, shade structures and as much of the BRC portable petting zoo that could reasonably be brought to the OC flourished across this landscape. Would love to see a timelapse video of it. Envision this city expanding from the bottom of the hill to the lake and all the way back to the parking lot in the east. Not fully jampacked. But close. Orderly cities built in the flat, east basin, including the pornjy puddle of my homies in Lushville. The west side was equally well organized, if not exactly so linear. Lots of hillside camping kept the angles interesting. Gravity is not exactly your best friend on a tilted camp sight.
Nor is the wind, which occasionally pummeled my brand new tent purchased for the occasion. It went up pretty well and stayed put mostly considering I didn’t find the spikes until I put the thing away. Better to locate these things first so you can use them while you’re actually camping. Next time. And note to self: remember not to forget the iPod speaker and my bath towel when packing for Burning Man. Thanks, Lina, for the extra towel. It’s being washed and folded with care.
After a quick tour of the grounds with my biz partner Art Cruz’ awesome wife Tonya, whose designs totally rock and completely killed it in the Vending Village, I ran into The Spaceman at the Lumi Cafe (named after me), and watched Lou E. Bagels rock worlds with his midwest magic on the toasted cheese grill. Back to camp by 4 for a quiet night’s sleep with an assist to my brand new mattress pump — three days and nights of music on the horizon.
Decided that Friday I would take a long, slow walk east across the campgrounds and land in Lushville. Began with a little family time with friends Regan, Jason and Mira in the celestial Temple of Consciousness. Bumping into Lina, we hit the Lightning Stage for Onamare and The Mowglis, then were totally charmed by Kaminanda’s spritely set before connecting with our peeps in the Land of Lush.
In and around Space Island and the Playa Surfers was a trio of pink EZ-ups connecting a consortium of Disorient, the Mozaic Lounge and friends of Ryan Jesena, DJ Lush Bunny. With a plush community chill zone and a cuddle puddle that would be my landing pad on Sunday morning, Lushville was home away from home at LIB. Thanks to Ryan, Joni Day and crew for that slice of heaven.
Hours waft by like tiny rain drops in the puddle, and I somehow managed to catch only mere moments of two really important sets – Mark Zabala at the Woogie and Stefan Jacobs at Bamboo – while hustling to the big stage (Lightning) for Freq Nasty and David Starfire’s Dub Kirtan All-Stars. Headline artists joining forces to create something more in collaboration. With live instruments, call and response, and generous Dub collaboration (not easy), it rocked sonically and spiritually. A harbinger of good things to come.
Wandering back to the Lumi, I was pleasantly surprised to catch rising stars and LA Disorient favorites Love in the Circus performing an absolutely mesmerizing, acoustic set in advance of their main stage appearance on Sunday. The band was picture perfect in this intimate space, and lead singer Leanna Rachel shyly sexy, subtly smoldering, utterly dazzling the flock of 300 that had gathered around. Always leave the audience wanting to know your name. LITC got that done at LIB. Twice.
A few inspiring moments with Random Rab then a big pow wow at the Woogie (which absolutely rocked all weekend long, kudos to Sammy Bliss and Jesse Wright) with Rafa, Beau, Brooke, Karoline, Marques, Ryan and Ivy to catch a superb set by Claude von Stroke. Tight, fun, and funky, with his signature animal grunts and snorts crystal clear on the Funktion One.
High recommendations for NastyNasty proved to be warranted, and after a few amusing glitch-funk throw downs from PantyRaid we moved onto Lucent at the Lightning. Lucent Dossier delivers eye candy of the highest order, a sexy steam punk circus that continues to expand in artistry and complexity. Friday’s Lightning stage headliner MiMOSA was so original and spell-binding that I had to be dragged away to the last half hour of Nick Warren’s pulsing, tribal prog house set at the Woogie with Charlene, DAK, Dale, Debbie, and Kai. Worth the trip, yet left me wanting still more MiMOSA. He got me hooked, and I will be there for his next LA performance.
Once the music stages closed at 2, Marques Wyatt dropped a magical, late night deep soul session on a renegade music stage in the shadow of the Woogie. A perfect way to round out a thoroughly satisfying night of music for the many gathered tribes.
Saturday was a different kind of day because a music project materialized thanks to Lush Bunny and Rafael de la Cruz. Love and thanks also to the enormously talented Zomes crew (a white, wooden temple shaped like an onion parked next to East camping across from the Woogie) and the generosity of LIB for providing a generator to keep us powered through the night. After several hours of set up by day, I abbreviated my Saturday music rounds to be ready throw down an electro-house set in the Zomes at midnight. A worthwhile barter if ever there was one.
Before that all went down, I quite fortunately ran into LABA’s Patricio (dressed for the day as Cockzilla) with girlfriend Shawn, who led me to one of the finest sets of the entire weekend – Joplin MacColl at the Woogie. Having heard so much about her, I’d never gotten to see Joplin really do her thing, and on Saturday at LIB she was completely in the zone. I could see the sparkle in her eyes as she accepted glowing congratulations back stage.
Joining Patricio, Shawn and friends at the Vending Village, where I’d soon find the perfect sport utility vest I’ve been seeking. Patricio got hooked up with a sweet pair of shorts and a proper shirt, which I have to say was a relief to many in light of the aesthetic onslaught that was Cockzilla.
Heyoka’s hair will rule the world if we let it. His set was playful and elegant at the same time. Loved Sammy Bliss’ gorgeous twilight set, and then enjoyed but couldn’t quite come to love what seemed like a subdued performance by Beats Antique before returning to camp to get my gear.
Arriving at the Zomes, the party was already under way with DJ Marco from SF on the decks rocking some classic house. Jumping on at the stroke of midnight, I spent an hour going from deep to techno to electro, ultimately dropping a phat and phearty phunk excursion into the intimate, house party vibe before Lush Bunny took the stage at 2. Lush’s sound and his audience continue to evolve very organically, and while he wasn’t totally satisfied by his set, which was interrupted by the generator giving out in a consistently misting rain, the vibe was perfect as the audience continued to build, bump and groove.
From there Beau Robb (The Temple Monkey) and Rafael de la Cruz took the wheel and steered from 4 a.m. to well past sunrise. Rafa’s deep and world-influenced house balanced perfectly with Beau’s round-the-world house ethos: from Balinese Progressive to Sunday morning Gospel, turning the Zomes into a playa-fied tribal party zone all night long.
A long, chilly morning walk didn’t seem so long or chilly with all that warm vibe in the air. After an extended stop at the Wench for deep space sets by Jupit3r and Stefan Jacobs, Quade, and iMagika Om, I fell back into the puddle for a sunrise snooze. Awakened, with bacon, in the puddle with Sabine, Miguel, Roxanne, Ted, Ilan, Vanessa, Chuki, Gaby, Michelle, Vanita, Ruby, Jason, den mother Hruby and more, Sunday day was a bit of sleepwalk until Love in the Circus dropped a groovy, bubblicious set on our pornjy existences.
Landed at the Woogie for the last moments of Syd Gris’ electro-breakbeat feast, before what might have been the best set of the entire weekend (apparently, yet again) by L.A.’s favorite son Pumpkin. Trying to explain Pumpkin’s sound is only part of the fun because the guy is all love to begin with, and his sets are so full of good ideas, familiar songs “all glitched up,” and a vibe so warm that his giant heart-shaped sunglasses end up becoming an understatement.
Joined the love-fest with Kimmie and Matt, M-80, the Spacenutz and Will and Diva backing up on-stage. Here’s the best explanation I’ve come up with so far: imagine that you’ve just met the love of your life, and upon heading home, basking in the glow, you make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Pumpkin’s music is the happy feeling you get every time you eat a PBJ forever more because it tastes like the day you fell in love.
I would also add that Pumpkin’s sound combines the spirit of the Beach Boys with the more modern promises of glitch. And that’s all I’m going to say about Pumpkin because everyone’s already saying so many nice things that the guy’s head’s going to blow up like a giant hot air balloon and we’re not going to be able to afford to have him play our parties anymore. ☺
After a trip back to the West side for more layers, and a catch up with Tim n Tessa, caught a delicate set by LYNX, then the middle of Lee Burridge’s three-hour marathon fusion of minimal house and techno. Gorgeous. My buzz act of the weekend, Baths, was a one-man wrecking crew, twisting knobs on Ableton Live. Cranking the glitch-bass, banging quirky beats, and rocking the mic, he’s a Tasmanian Devil once untracked. And a monster of chill when dialed down.
Enjoyed Eskmo but didn’t love that his name reminded me how cold it was getting. Warmed up a bit with Jacob and Diana on the bridge over the lake, and Deborah, Bagels and J*Labs (who brought the thunder late night Saturday and Sunday, too) in the d i a l e c t art gallery next to Lightning Stage. The same gallery that housed the by-then indispensible space heater. Bonobo’s set, which I caught with Farid and David, was superb, dancey and worldly at the same time.
Seraphim was hot, literally and figuratively, providing a fittingly Burner transition from Bonobo to Thievery Corporation’s Outernational Soundscapes. While I like them best as a live band; LIB’s DJ set was a worthwhile testament to the range and breadth of their prolific career.
Finally, freezing, out of gas energy-wise and a little concerned about succumbing to the elements, I began the walk home with a stop at the Woogie for John Kelley’s remarkable closing set. Funky desert breaks infused with moments of lightning and thunder on a cold, clear night. Suitably epic; so new it’s old. Great one, John.
It got pretty freaking cold Sunday night, and I was starting to feel crappy. Nose running, dogs barking. Hated to miss sets by David Starfire and Electric Dandelion on the Wench that I’m told were off the hook. Had to get warm and hit the hay to conserve energy for what would prove to be an eventful day of packing up and getting out of Dodge. Left it all on the playa, as they say, or in this case, in the O.C. on the hill overlooking the lake.
More helping hands at the gates included J.K., who graciously facilitated my exit by 4 on the dot Monday. You gotta hand it to The Do Lab. They successfully cultivated a weekend-long, professionally curated art and music sleep-over for more than 10,000 with broad participation from the entire Southern California Burning Man community. And they doubled the size of their Big Annual Event without creating a gigantic O.C. clusterfuck. Southern California’s biggest Burning Man regional — Lightning in a Bottle 2011. The Do Lab did it right.