The Do LaB: How A Band of Brothers Went From Pranksters to Creative Festival Masterminds
You can't get a cow into the back of a van, so when you're smuggling farm animals from your local school board President, you should go for the goat. Just ask the fellas who run The Do LaB, Los Angeles' hyper-creative and colorfully conscious event and environment organizers.
It's a company run by three brothers and their childhood best friend. Dede, Jesse, and Josh Flemming started this endeavor at the turn of the Millenium with their friend Jesse “Y2” Shannon (a woman named Dream Rockwell was also a co-founder of The Do LaB and Lightning in a Bottle, though she is no longer affiliated with the company). With help from mom, dad, and others, it's a true family affair, but before they were throwing California's Memorial Day escape Lightning in a Bottle, or helping craft unique experiences for Coachella and the Dirtybird Campout, they were just a couple of punk kids looking to make “creative trouble.”
That whole goat smuggling misadventure? Some misguided, Pennsylvania high school teacher actually gave the boys a set of keys, so they stole the goat in the dead of night and let it free inside the campus. When kids came to class Monday, they met a furry new mascot.
Not all of the Flemming energy went to horse play and high jinks. In the sixth grade, they found a way to turn fun into an industry.
“We started a DJ business,” Dede says. “We made our own speakers. We didn't buy them. We made our own light rigs to put on little lights show. We started calling it The Violent Flemms, and our parents didn't like that at all.”
They rebranded as the Tremors Disc Jockeys, and for $35 to $40, anyone could hire middle schoolers with front-loading CD players to drop jams for eight hours. Lucrative it was not -- but who cared? They were looking for a good time. “That's what it was all about,” Dede says, “and that's still the idea.”
Things became professional after Jesse and Y2 packed up their Pennsylvania lives and moved to California in 1999. They didn't know a soul, and at 19, they were too young to hit the bars. They got their kicks sneaking into movies, until a purple-haired coworker of Jesse's invited them out to a rave in the mountains.
“We went up there with a case of beers -- I don't know how we got the beer -- but we ended up locking the keys in the car with the beer,” Jesse remembers. “We didn't know anybody, so we were 'like, oh shit,' and then somebody offered us some ecstasy. That was it.”
“Game changer,” Y2 laughs.
“Every weekend for the next 10 years, we were going to raves,” Jesse says. “We were so inspired by that mountain rave that I called Josh, my twin in New York, and I was like 'you should come out here, and we should do one of these for our birthday in July.' We got together some other friends. Someone suggested we call it Lightning in a Bottle, and that was that.”
In 2000, the party was free. About 150 people showed up, and the guys were hooked. Lightning in a Bottle stayed free for the first five years. The Flemmings convinced Dede to come out and get on board, and when they did start charging in 2006, they only asked for $20.
“We were really nervous about it,” Jesse says. “Now we ask for $20 times 10. It's expensive to put on a show, and we don't hold off on anything. We go crazy. We spend way more than we need to on art and just cray stuff.”
That growth was heavily inspired by the crew's first trip to Burning Man.
“A friend of ours was like 'hey, I heard about this rave in the desert,'” Jesse says. “So 20 of us got together, and none of us knew what we were getting into. They were like 'look, everybody wears costumes, people go out and build things. We gotta do something.'”
They hit Black Rock with a theme camp running, but the Flemmings soon found they were one of the few dedicated to making ideas work. It turns out a lot of people are dreamers, but not everyone is a Doer. It could have crushed their spirit, but it left them renewed.
They started a company, and named themselves The Do LaB, an homage to their unending desire to just do something cool. There was no Lightning in a Bottle in 2005. They found the venue of Live Oak camp in Santa Barbara, Ca., and returned in 2006 with the first incarnation of the official Lightning in a Bottle Art and Music Festival, a Memorial Day Weekend extravaganza about community, creativity, education, and experience.
“We brought all these different crews in to host and book a stage, or do yoga,” Dede says. “We just started adding massive amounts of content, and it wasn't just us curating everything, but us reaching out to people and saying 'come and create, come and do what you do best. You can have this whole area and just fucking go for it.' It wasn't about our vision and it has to be like this. Let's get all these people together in one place and let them thrive.”
“It's way more than just music,” Jesse says. “At Coachella, you can see all the biggest bands in the world, which is great, but it's just a series of concerts spread across a field. With Lightning in a Bottle, we're trying to get people into more intimate spaces. There are a few big spaces, but we wanna get people down into these tiny, intimate spots and have human interaction.”
Funny enough, the Do LaB vibe of a close-knit, colorful community saw them hired by Coachella to curate a unique stage, from design to musical programming, from 2003 to the present. It's become a fan favorite known for its fun-filled environment where dancers are sprayed by flower-covered water guns and special surprise guest sets form the likes of Louis the Child and Skrillex.
The Do LaB is also a partner in the Dirtybird Campout that brings fans and artists together in Silverado, Ca. Everyone participates in activities, from canoeing to tug-o-war, alongside Claude VonStroke, Justin Martin and the rest of the freaky flock. By the end of the three days, you're all a part of the family, and that's a thread that runs throughout the projects the Do LaB sparks.
It all comes back every year to the flagship event. Lightning in a Bottle is truly a Do LaB creation, which means it's collaborative, intimate, and educational. Respecting the environment is a key component of what the guy's preach. They're always cutting back on the carbon footprint. They offer bus rides to and from the festival to cut back on cars, and they try to instill a “leave no trace” philosophy, modeled after that of the National Park system. They're cooking some ideas about compost toilets, but that's maybe a bit in the future.
What can be expected this Memorial Day Weekend is a new lake (thanks to the rain that finally hit the West Coast) where people can actually swim and play. There's also a new hub of learning called The Points of The Compass. If you went to Coachella, you'll recognize the pineapple tent as the main lecture and presentation space, although The Compass will be made up of six areas total, offering classes on crafting, environmental activism, music and dance, spiritual healing, healthy cooking and esoteric studies.
“We're just trying to take the vibe, personal connections, and things people love about the festival and give them more tools to bring it out in their everyday life,” Y2 says. “What makes it different from a lot of the festivals is the way people treat each other and interact. That's what brings people back, and that's what makes a lasting impression.”
Lightning in a Bottle comes to San Antonio Recreation Area Wednesday through Sunday, May 24 to 29. Visit The Do LaB online for tickets and more information.