“Heat.” The word that’s stuck in my mind is “heat”. Coachella is filled to the brim with art, music, and food, yet the only thing I’m thinking about is the temperature.
This happens to be one of the few instances during Coachella when I don’t have any artists to watch. It also happens to be the year when our campsite isn’t just a short jaunt away from the entrance.
“Let’s go to the Do LaB,” said a friend of mine, and in the spirit of open-mindedness, I said, “Fuck it, Why Not?” Anything was better than remaining in the heat.
At that point I hadn’t been to the Do LaB yet so it’s fair to say I had no idea what to expect when I made my way through those unmistakable segmented trees.
First of all, I certainly didn’t anticipate the heat to disappear by way of shade and water cannons, but it did. Secondly, and more importantly, I had already been in the Sahara tent plenty that weekend and no one in there was dancing like in the Do LaB. It didn’t matter that I didn’t recognize the music, and it didn’t matter to anyone else either. It was like I entered a world where inhibitions didn’t exist.
After a solid amount of partying in there, I remember wondering if there was another place like the Do LaB besides at Coachella. To find a place like that-where people felt obligated to be themselves-is rare.
Luckily for me I couldn’t have been more right. Do LaB is constantly creating environments like that, and their influence on festival culture extends all over the world.
According to one of the founders of Do LaB, Dede Flemming, they accomplished this tremendous feat by saying, “Fuck it, why not?”
“Why can’t we do these things? We can. Anyone can,” Flemming said. “You get to a certain point where you want some new fun challenges and you kind of look at it and say this may be crazy but why not?”
Putting on a festival might not seem crazy in this saturated market, but Do LaB has a whole different definition of crazy. This is something I learned after Sidecar Tommy of Beats Antique informed me of a festival Do LaB held at the Pyramids in Egypt back in 2012.
Yes that’s correct. Do LaB put on a festival at the foot of the Great Pyramids. It was called The Great Convergence, and it was an eight day journey into one of the most historical places in the world.
To most people that is absolutely out of this world. To Dede and the rest of the people at Do LaB it’s just another “why not?”
“Why can’t we throw an event at the Pyramids?” Flemming said. “Just do it. Get on a plane. Fly to Egypt. Meet some people. Figure out how to make it happen…Our whole existence has been about taking risks.”
That’s what it comes down to after all; taking risks. Believing in yourself and the people around you to the point that anything is possible. Without doing so, Do LaB could not have possibly grown into what it is today.
There is another component, however, which is equally vital to that growth; the component that makes the risks worth taking. It goes by many names: values, reasoning, intentions. In the case of Do LaB it goes by a single name: family.
“One thing that sets us apart is the family atmosphere of the team and the people that put it on… We do as much as possible in house with a really close knit group of people. The passion that goes into the littlest things really shines through and can really be felt by the people that come to our events,” Flemming said.
Of course, the people that come to the events are members of the family as well. So are the artists, volunteers, vendors, and everyone else who contributes. For Do LaB, it’s been that way from the start.
Like many organizations connected to the arts, Do LaB came from humble beginnings. Lightning in a Bottle, Do LaB’s flagship festival, began in 2000 as a birthday party.
Consider that for a moment.
What started as a private birthday party is now a massive festival selling over 20,000 tickets. The difference in scale of those two events is mind-boggling, especially when compared to the roots of other major festivals.
Coachella started as a huge Pearl Jam concert at the Polo Grounds. Lollapalooza was always a touring music festival. Those two festivals might be “bigger” than LIB at this point, but they had the groundwork laid for their evolution all along.
LIB, on the other hand, transformed into something entirely new through the hard work of the people at the Do LaB. Together, they collectively took risks to expand their family, and the results have created a unique festival community.
“Once [the festival] is going on, the team is out there contributing to the experience and not just punching a time card and leaving then waiting to come back for strike,” Flemming said. “A lot of musicians who are our friends, they come out to LIB and spend the weekend. This past LIB Bassnectar came out just for the weekend. It was the first time he went to a festival he wasn’t playing cause a lot of his buddies are there and he got to come let loose and hang out with everyone. That just shows the family atmosphere that we’ve created.”
One of the reasons Do LaB is able to curate such an atmosphere is because of their openness to collaboration. They’ve had a stage at Coachella since 2005. They recently closed the books on the second Dirtybird Campout. They’ve been working with Symbiosis since 2009. Now all these festivals are a part of the Do LaB family too. By contributing to other festivals and events, they are learning to improve their own while simultaneously expanding their values.
“The whole festival scene is our university for learning,” Flemming said. “When you go to other events you get to see it from a spectators eyes rather than a producers eyes. So every time we’ve worked with other festivals whether it’s from a festival component or providing structures or a stage like at Coachella, we get to meet some great people both behind the scenes and out in the full experience and you learn something every time you do that,” said Flemming.
In reality, collaborations like those are a risk as well. By exposing their ideals and artistic vision, Do LaB opened the door for others to attempt imitation. Festivals are a competitive market, and promoters will do whatever they can to stay relevant as more festivals pop up and more people attend them.
Festival attendance has increased significantly in the last five years, and every promoter has had to make changes as a result. Lightning in a Bottle had to move to a larger location in 2014 to accommodate the rising demand. As these festivals become more popular though, many people within the community are longing for something more intimate.
Adapting to inverse trends such as these isn’t an easy task. To do so requires even more risks on the part of Do LaB, but they can take these risks in confidence because they produce events for their family.
“Sure we have more people coming but that doesn’t mean make the main stages bigger to hold more people. It means provide a lot more smaller areas where you can have more intimate environments. Last year we shifted some of the focus away from installation art and sculpture art and shifted it more towards interactive areas. Those interactive areas are where small groups of people can get together and have more of a curated intimate experience,” Flemming said.
At LIB this past year, the evidence of this shift in mindset was all over the festival. Other than the impeccable intimacy of the Woogie, there were multiple mini-environments all with a variety of themes. A few examples are The Lost Hotel, The Grand Artique, The Fungineers Living Room, and Amori’s Casino and Burlesque. Each of these places provided something unique for the festival whether it was through practice or presentation. In truth, the only aspect these areas had in common is that they would all play music.
Even beyond Lightning in a Bottle, Do LaB continues to promote curated intimate experiences through other ventures as well. Do LaB’s all-house-and-techno mini festival Woogie Weekend is already a huge success. So is Dirtybird Campout. Not to mention the dozens of one-nighters Do LaB hosts all over the country. If the Do LaB is involved, curated intimacy is to be expected.
In thinking back to that first time I walked into the Do LaB, that’s really what it was; a curated intimate experience. There isn’t a lot of intimacy left at Coachella, but Do LaB made it happen; most likely by saying, “Fuck it, why not?”