Lightning In A Bottle 2015
San Antonio Recreation Area; Bradley, CA

It is impossible to summarize a festival like Lightning in a Bottle with only a thousand words and some photographs. Over 20,000 people descended on the San Antonio Recreation Area in Bradley, Calif., on 2015’s Memorial Day weekend, a myriad of Burner hippies, old-school ravers, and young clubbers, all of whom had dramatically different experiences. The sprawling festival grounds featured the three main stages, the frontier town of Grand Artique, Amori’s Casino & Burlesque, the Pagoda and Favela bars, and tons of workshops, lectures, and sessions at the Village and the Lucent Temple of Consciousness, the latter with yoga, a learning kitchen, and meditation temple. No one could have seen everything; everyone saw something completely different. Yet, the attention to detail in making every space distinct and immersive meant that, while there was always something happening, you never felt like you were missing anything. You were always in the place to be.

Bradley is a long drive from Vancouver, BC. A few friends had convinced me to go, having had a blissful experience the year before. Some things definitely changed this year. This has been a festival in flux since its humble beginning as private birthday party in 2000. It has bounced around a few locations since going public in 2005, skipping 2009 entirely, and losing their Temecula venue after a severe crackdown by law enforcement. They’ve only been at Lake San Antonio since last year. Clearly, every year is a learning experience. The festival added more shade to its stages after the record breaking heatwave last year, but that meant stages were more confined this year. Combined with the fest’s first ever ticket sell-out, there were bigger lines at vendors and washrooms, and tighter crowds at stages. Yet, the vibe survived with a generally respectful and friendly crowd.

There was an element of restraint and personal responsibility at this festival that I hadn’t seen in my six years attending the high energy Shambhala and litter-laden Sasquatch. Having won many awards for its green initiatives, LIB lives by its motto as a “leave it better; leave it beautiful” event. Attendees pack out the garbage they bring in, so they’re more conscious of the MOOP generation. All the main stages shut down at 2 a.m., a couple bars and smaller stages open a little past that, with the Silent Disco greeting the sunrise with listeners picking from two channels for headphone rock-outs, so you never heard a tired, overworked system frapping out, and the timing of the camps were naturally regulating (in other words, people slept).

LIB also is a family-friendly event, with stages dedicated to both teen and child entertainment, a no-nudity policy, and visible law enforcement. DanceSafe, Zendo Project, and other harm-reduction strategies were in effect, and the Lightning without a Bottle tent for those seeking help with sobriety was centrally located.


Generally speaking, the entertainment was top notch, going well beyond the typical club DJ set. Thursday was 80s prom night at the Pagoda bar, rocking out to the likes of the Beastie Boys and Indeep as people donned their best Cosby sweaters, neon leggings, and trucker hats. Thanks to a Pez tablet a friendly random gave me while waiting in line for pizza, my Friday became a blur of seeing someone eaten by a sandworm at Bubble Gutter and the twerking weirdness of La Sirens, with a dash of Odesza’s sublimely tweaked downtempo in between, the evening capped off by a rousing singalong of “We Are The Champions” at the tail-end of Griz’s set.

Lantz Lazwell

Saturday’s highlights included the Lucent Dossier Experience, which was like seeing a traveling Cirque show, with intense costumes, choreographed dancing, aerial routines, and fire-spinning. Lantz Lazwell and the Vibe Tribe followed up their birthday bash at Amori’s on Friday with some more funky rock ‘n’ soul jams at the Grand Artique, again accentuated by the belly-dancing of scimitar sorceress Jayna Manoushe. Opiuo expanded his funky glitch-hop sound with a full band, playing everything live. Flume delivered a fairly straightforward presentation of his poptronic beats, though he was assuredly cute. Bristol duo KOAN Sound closed the night with their impressive exploration of bass, from trip-hop and funk to dubstep and IDM.

Fungineers

Sunday was all about the Fungineers at the Grand Artique, their intergalactic beatboxing puppet show featuring a dance battle and rapping triceratops dropping rhymes about shoes and mops. They’re always a trip, but you couldn’t pick a better setting in which to see them than right there, with a bowl of the finest borscht in your hands. Hermitude dropped one of the festival’s best sets, the duo actively tweaking their hip-hop laced downtempo to keep it fresh. Sending most campers to bed for the last time, RL Grime mostly hyped himself onstage rather than performing, but the crowd was super into his decent, varied trap/hip-hop pieces, belting out the hook for “No Type” by Rae Sremmurd, so it must speak to a Los Angeles experience with which I’m not familiar.

The Herbert Bail Orchestra

One of the most impactful experiences I had came Saturday morning. Media folks were invited to a press conference and mimosa mixer wherein a festival organizer laid down a kind of mindset for our jobs, that all the love and care the organizers put into this festivals creation we should pay forward to our readers. He related the story of Woodstock, how few living people there are who actually attended the festival, and what remains are the stories: the press clippings, documentaries, and interviews. Left to stew on this as the Herbert Bail Orchestra performed a few tracks as a duo with only accordion, acoustic guitar, and vocals in a red tent with a couple hanging paintings and a chandelier (yup, even the press area was fabulously appointed), the responsibility to tell this festival’s story to my little piece of the world felt heavy, but in a good way.

Certainly, heaviness surrounded you here. The lake itself was made by man in 1965, but dried up in 2013 in the wake of the ongoing California drought. To get to the world’s smallest Ferris wheel or the giant skiball game, you had to walk up an old boat launch, which still has the boating rules and mussel warning signs up slanting down into the pile of dust and weeds. It’s hard not to contemplate our natural resource management, and the general un-sustainability of the human race in such a setting.

Yet, it was difficult to stew on inevitable extinction with so much perfection around you. There was a good flow throughout the grounds, no line to get in at the gate around noon Thursday and no line to get out Monday morning. The addition of bridges became a high-five conveyer belt, while the Funn Machine and its residual renegade stage resting between the Woogie and Grand Artique and the Kazbah rewarded dusty hikes. People howled at the sunset, every night louder than the last, yet it was quiet enough to hear Tycho finishing up from a tent in the camping area.

While the festival program had something for everyone, some of the best music I heard came from other camps, people dancing in their own space to everything from Ratatat and Phantogram to Flying Lotus and Venetian Snares. The food and shopping was the best I’ve seen at a festival, with mind-blowing interactive installations and a fantastic art walk to boot. Lightning in a Bottle has achieved a kind of balance that few other festivals have even attempted. It is a pinnacle of electronic music culture.

Flume

RL Grime

Hermitude

Lucent Dossier Experience

[Photos by Caily DiPuma]

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