The Do Lab Built a Massive SoCal EDM Community. Next Stop: Egypt
Josh is built like a rock climber, and like Jesse his wide grin is framed by a curl of brown hair. (Josh's dangles to the right.) After a brief tour, he bounds up a floor-to-ceiling storage rack to grab a ratty yellow bag. Inside is a diced-up 80-foot parachute, which he stretched on tree branches to light some of the earliest incarnations of Lightning in a Bottle. "When we first started out, this was our whole business," he says. "That and a red pickup truck."
The brothers hail from Morgantown, Pa., a small farming community on the edge of Amish country. They got into the party business as teenagers, rocking high school dances as Tremors Lights and Sounds. One played Guns N' Roses and Biz Markie on a set of CD players, another worked a homemade dimmer rack and the other lined up the gigs and convinced their dad, a screen printer by trade, to print beer koozies.
Years later, they moved to Los Angeles to get into television production. While Josh and Jesse learned the ropes of sound, camerawork and postproduction, Dede was soliciting for game show audiences on Hollywood Boulevard. "We actually thought it was going to be a creative outlet," Dede says.
The details are fuzzy now, but the brothers recall that the local Burning Man scene was big for them in the early 2000s. On weekends, they hit up generator-powered "tribal gatherings" in forests and deserts and showed off their lighting designs at parties in the warehouse district. Jesse worked the rig and Josh made the filters.
"I still remember the first time we got paid $500 to set up some lights," Jesse recalls. "I couldn't believe it. Just to hang some fabric up there."
Thinking they could make it big with their own lighting company, the brothers maxed out their credit cards and took out a lease. Hoarding discarded equipment from work, they put together a portfolio of intricate and increasingly architectural designs and showed them off at a summertime birthday party at a popular raver ranch in the Angeles National Forest. They called the party Lightning in a Bottle.
In 2004, Coachella took notice. Philip Blaine, a legendary rave promoter who'd been curating their installations, commissioned the brothers to build a summer-themed dome for a few thousand dollars. "They totally overdelivered and kicked ass," says Blaine, who later joined Insomniac and now is independent. "I was just transported. So next year, I gave them a bunch more money to turn it into a complete environment."
The brothers booked a day's worth of DJs to spin inside a cardboard tree and recruited two dozen volunteers to build a 60-foot dome in exchange for free tickets and kombucha. "You weren't at Coachella," Blaine recalls of their second year. "You were at the Do Lab."
With money from festival commissions and a side stream of commercial TV lighting jobs, the brothers in 2006 moved Lightning in a Bottle to a campground in Santa Barbara, and a $25 ticket to pay for generators and DJs became a $100 ticket to cover site rental and parking fees.
To expand the audience, the brothers invited friends and artists to build their own installations, and they established an on-site boutique marketplace for independent designers. A meditation temple and sustainability workshops followed.
By 2010, the festival had pulled in 14,000 attendees, attracted top-shelf talent like Shpongle, the Glitch Mob and Thievery Corporation and, most importantly, allowed the brothers to pay themselves handsomely and hire their most dedicated volunteers as full-time staff.
"It got bigger because it was so good," says Jesse. To this day, he adds, "We can afford to keep adding to it because we know tickets are gonna sell."