Coachella's music fan fave Do LaB is back!
After a two-year hiatus during the pandemic, Coachella roared back for the first of two weekends. The music festival's lineup included Billie Eilish, Danny Elfman and The Weeknd. One of the many stages set up in the California desert is a perennial fan favorite: the Do LaB.
Under the Do LaB's 200-by 200-foot wide tent made of colorful, lightweight triangular fabrics held together with tension wires and cables, DJs spun pulsating beats and musicians serenaded with House, R&B and electronic music. Aerial dancers floated down from colorful fabrics. The Do LaB space was a shady spot under the hot Coachella sun, with water misters to cool off the crowds. Every so often, someone would come on stage to spray the audience with water guns decorated with flowers.
"Amazing people, amazing vibes, everyone's here for a good time," is how 27-year-old Branden Robbers put it. He came to Coachella in fishnet stockings and chaps.
He and his 24-year-old friend Scott Wasierski camped out at Coachella last weekend. "It's good to be back," Wasierski said. "For so long, we've just been cooped up by the pandemic."
At night, laser lights, confetti and streamers enhanced the party mood and the Do LaB crowd swelled to 10,000. The first weekend's lineup included surprise guests such as the 11-piece techno marching band MEUTE, Rebecca Black and Diplo.
"Our history at Coachella has been very renegade," said Josh Flemming, who oversees the design and structure of the Do LaB stages, which evolve every few years. His twin Jesse curates the music, and their younger brother Dede manages the logistics. They've been a presence at Coachella since 2004, when they snuck in some speakers after hours. One of their DJ friends started spinning music.
"People started coming into our dome and dancing," recalls Dede. "Then we were like, wow, how are we getting away with this? No one's stopping us!"
They also set up an unofficial art sculpture and 60-foot geometric dome draped with fabric. "We look at it today and we roll our eyes. It was just, well, ridiculous," Dede said.
"But it's not just about the visual for us, it was about the experience. So we had this dome and we built a waterfall fountain out front," Dede said. "It was 110 degrees. And people would just be dying of heat. And we would walk around and hand out trays of sliced orange peels. It was about 'come on in to our oasis.' That's what we called it. An oasis."
The 43-year-old twins grew up DJing middle and high school dances in Pennsylvania. After college, Jesse moved to California and began working on a TV show. He met a friend there who invited him to a rave in the Angeles Crest mountains outside L.A.
"Somebody gave us some ecstasy and boom! That was it. We started raving every weekend," Jesse said. "I called my brother and was like, bro, you got to come out here and we got to do one of these parties for our birthday."
Josh said followed Jesse to California to record audio for the ABC show 20/20. And they made that birthday party happen. "We got some speakers and a bunch of cheap Christmas lights and paper lanterns, whatever we could get our hands on and we threw the best party we could in the woods," he said. "Every year we kept doing it, more people kept coming."
Soon, Dede joined his brothers and worked as a production assistant for a slew of reality TV shows.
The brothers began calling their gatherings "Lightning in a Bottle." Inspired by Burning Man and Coachella, they quit their TV production jobs to host parties full time. They convinced their parents to co-sign the lease for a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. They lived upstairs and threw massive underground dance parties and fashion shows below. In the warehouse, they had an art gallery and rehearsal space for the avant-garde circus troupe Lucent Dossier.
"We were part of this underground Burning Man music scene," said Jesse. "A scene that included The Glitch Mob and other musicians who were up and coming."
Jesse said when they found out the warehouse had once been a meth lab, they decided to name their group the Do LaB "because we were always doing stuff."
Eventually, their underground party house got shut down by the police and fire department. Josh said it was a wake-up call.
"Having been busted was a blessing in disguise because it forced us to start doing things by the book," he said. "It forced us to learn how to be above ground and do proper events so we could grow without being illegal."
The Do LaB stages have morphed over the years, and the brothers have turned their enterprise into a small, independent, family-run business. Dede said it was gut-wrenching when Lightning in a Bottle was canceled in 2020.
"My brothers and I had to tell everyone that we didn't have the money to give back to them because we had spent that money to throw the festival," Dede said. "We didn't spend that money on ourselves. We spent it to create the magical show that we always provide to them. I think we were a little naïve in thinking that they'd understand. But you know, this was at a time when people were losing their jobs, there's so much uncertainty in the world. They were outraged. And all of a sudden we were the villain."
Dede said they scraped up whatever they could to offer partial refunds and prepayments for future festivals. "Some people still feel shafted, and I get it," he recalls. "But we did right by as many people as we could."
Josh, Jesse and Dede said they're happy to be back on the scene, and that Coachella has always given them the freedom to create interactive experiences with an underground vibe.
"It would be hard to imagine Coachella without the brothers involved," said Paul Clemente, who manages the festival's large-scale art program. "They're still doing it all these years later and really have created a whole, very unique vibe and culture and tribe and just an energy that people really want to be around."
This weekend, the Do LaB continues its party with The Glitch Mob and others. And in a month, they host their own ongoing festival, called Lightning in a Bottle.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.