Daedalus / photo by Phil Merkow
Editor’s Note: During their time at the Lightning in a Bottle Festival in Orange County a few weeks back, husband-and-wife Rawkblog contributors Phil and Jennifer Larsen Merkow took a break from the block-rockin’ beats to catch a few minutes with Do LaB executive producer Jesse Fleming. They talked about LIB, Do LaB’s happy relationship with Coachella and bringing the organization’s scene around the world. Might as well jump!
Rawkblog: Tell us about putting Lightning in a Bottle together — it seems like there’s a lot of people running around pitching in.
Jesse Fleming: There definitely are. We have, you know, our whole operation is basically a bunch of friends and everybody kind of steps up in areas where they’re knowledgeable or that they’re interested in. So we have three art curators — one does the live painting, one does the sculptures and one does the gallery. And then I book all the music myself. Then we have somebody else book a lot of the performances. And we just get a lot of minds together to spread it out and have a nice event.
RB: Was there someone who, who was really close that you were really excited about that is going to have to be on the top of next year’s list?
JF: Yeah. Pretty Lights, I think is the one that I wanted to get. He just blew up this year too. I was hoping to get him before. Now maybe now he’s too big, who knows?
RB: You guys have kind of tapped the hybrid market where it’s electronically-based music with a lot of live instrumentation and performance and showmanship.
JF: Yeah. It’s kind of going that way now, everybody’s using the laptops instead of DJing, but we’re really trying to just keep it all live performers and all original music. We have a handful of DJs this year, but I’d love to have it all just be original.
RB: You guys were doing a lot of scouting for your new venue, and I heard you were up and down the coast looking at every imaginable spot available.
JF: There were a few places in Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County that we had, we found some beautiful land and the landowners were totally down, but the local townships and everybody [were] just like “There’s no way in hell you’re doing this in our town” so… It’s unfortunate because the middle of California, the land is just… It’s beautiful. It’s like rolling hills with giant oak trees everywhere. And that’s where LIB has been the last three years, was in Santa Barbara. So we wanted to find the same kind of feel because that’s what felt like home for LIB. Unfortunately, where all the beautiful land is, it’s all owned by Republicans and they don’t like this sort of thing.
RB: So are you happy with this location so far?
JF: Yeah, we’re definitely happy with it. The first time we came down here, we were like “Well, it’s cool, but it doesn’t feel like LIB.” Then we kept coming down here for more visits and every time… we come back we find new little spots, for like the stage here, and installation there… We came up here a lot and just sat around and felt it out. We like to do things different than everyone else.
RB: What was the Irvine red tape like? Were there any surprises or was it a surprise that there weren’t surprises?
JF: No. Honestly we haven’t had any trouble at all because this venue does so many events here that the fire [department] and the police and the county –they’re used to it. So as long as everything — you’re just in touch with all the departments, it’s not a big deal. I don’t think anybody really has a full understanding of what’s happening here. I think it might freak some people out if they saw it. But we’re not doing anything wrong. You know?
RB: Is there an act that you haven’t seen before that is kind of your big-fish get that you’re most looking forward to seeing?
JF: I mean, Booka Shade last night was. We’ve been fans for years, we had the opportunity to finally book them and we were pretty excited about that.
RB: They were great. They have these headsets and they’re like real German pop stars.
JF: That’s the biggest act we’ve ever booked and it was exciting to see a big act on one of our stages. For us, it was kind of a milestone.
RB: Was there any one event that really, in your youth, sparked this passion to dedicate all of your attention and time towards doing the Do LaB?
JF: You know, I think there’s actually three events. One was when we were kids, our parents used to take us to the Philadelphia Folk Festival back in Pennsylvania, where we’re from. That’s kind of where we first got the festival environment. It was a little more like a hippie kind of a festival, free love or whatever. So that, that kind of put it in that back of our minds. Then Coachella. My brother and I stood on a field at Coachella like eight or nine years ago and just looked at each other like, “This is what we need to be doing with our lives.” And that’s kind of when we started throwing events. And then Burning Man is what got us really building art and doing everything creatively. So those three events, I think.
RB: When did your relationship with Coachella begin?
JF: Well this is our sixth year, so 2004, I guess? It’s fun. They give us a great opportunity to do that… [People] all over the world fly in to see what Coachella’s doing next, what’s the new thing? It happened to be us several years in a row, so we got calls from Ireland and Portugal and Japan. We got to go to some pretty cool places. Smaller installations, but the same thing — build art and party.
RB: Does that vary as far as what you put together? Art or music or both?
JF: Yeah, it definitely varies because not everybody can afford to do a full-on show. Like this summer, for instance, we’re going to England, Portugal, and Ireland. We’re doing, I think, twelve shows over two months. And some, we’re building some sculptures, and some we’re building stages, some we’re throwing parties. It’s different everywhere.
RB: Who are some of these folks who are bringing you out?
JF: We’re doing Global Gathering and Electric Picnic in Ireland and the Boon Festival in Portugal. Those are the three big ones.
RB: And when you go to those places do you bring your installations with you or do you build fresh every time?
JF: It’s different, too. In England, we’re shipping a container and we’re actually just taking over some of those pots there and some of our structures that we already have. In Portugal, we’re actually co-designing it with their team and we’re going to get everything there and just go out there for a month and just build.
RB: Very cool.
JF: Should be fun.
Live: Lightning in a Bottle Festival