We remember the sound of dial-up modems and the touch of rotary phones, make references to archaic cartoons like Jem and the Holograms and Legends of the Hidden Temple and laugh at our assorted childhood crushes from Saved By The Bell and Boy Meets World. The powerful product of the love generation, we’re toeing a thin line between Gen X and the Millennials, though in all honesty we’re somewhere delightfully in between. I was already well-integrated into my collegiate career when Facebook sprouted, like a rogue weed from the garden of the interwebs. Not to say I wasn’t already an avid Internet user, with multiple AOL and AIM screen names, frequenting chat rooms and discussing the latest music trends; but the social world was more or less turned on its head with the advent and evolution of Facebook and Twitter.
While the world spins itself into a frenzy at the latest and greatest “social” apps – like ‘Ello, Path, MySpace – my personal belief is that we’re losing our emotional and social intelligence in favor of quantitative statistics, figures and metrics; attributes that honestly have no foundation or basis within our communities. We’re a generation of dreamers and doers, who haven’t had it lost upon them that good things come with hard work and diligence; and we’re at a turning point in our lives where we desire to be a bigger part of a community, perchance even starting our own “tribe” with an intermingling of friends, extended family and blood relatives – or, a family of our own. We’re an enigma, we’re an entity; hear us roar.
As the children of hippies, whether we’ve known it or not, we’ve been raised with similar morals, ethics, a general lack of organized religion and push towards spirituality. And now that I’m engaged, turning 30 and settling down in my lifestyle a bit, I’ve found a new respect for the values that my parents implemented in my youth. Growing up, I was used to having . On the flip side, one of the beautiful things my parents did was opting for African-American and Native American Fables and tales over the Bible or the Torah. I always lamented that I was missing out on the community aspect of organized religion, but as I’ve grown older – I’ve discovered that, I’ve discovered that I can pursue and derive that community on my own terms, which is infinitely better. For me, that community is bas(s)ed on a shared love of music.
Raised on hearty Rock ‘n’ Roll riffs and Motown hits that I can now understand my parents were sarcastically referring to as oldies, there was something so enticing about music of my youth; from soulful storytelling, to moving melodies and music with a symphonic, harmonic message. As my musical tastes ebbed and flowed over time, I found myself front and center at rock shows, ranging from Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold, Bad Religion and Taking Back Sunday – the heart and soul of the music were there, but so was the pushing, raging, shoving and screaming. The concerts and shows I frequented, regardless of how big or small of a group I was with, became individual endeavors, a solo experience
Dance Music has been fueling my life for the last decade, starting with my first EDC while I was still in college…
“I remember walking in, arms firmly linked through a best friend on each side. I was trying to figure out which side of the rabbit hole I wanted to wake up on; I was trying to come to terms with my world spinning inside out and upside down. Girls in neon tutus blocked every other turn but we were always greeted with friendly smiles, open arms and PLUR handshakes.
About ten minutes into the festival, my friends nodded in symmetry and announced they wanted to sit down and chat. I nodded in turn, but in silent agreement that I wasn’t in the mood for those kind of shenanigans. I did a quick gut check and dove right in; or at least – tried to. I must have looked as out of place as I felt, because immediately a charming sprite of a girl grabbed my arms and insisted I follow her to the dance floor. “Is this your first EDC?” she mused, but didn’t wait for a reply because she already knew the answer. “You need to let it go…” she continued, her eyes dilating with excitement “…let it all fall down; shake it off and breathe it in.” She was speaking in tongues but I understood every word. One by one, my hands wound up entwined between her delicate fingers and then, with glee, she announced my next move: “Spin! Faster! And now, just let it go…” For the next five minutes, I twirled with the delight of a toddler and every preconception I had about that night washed over and off of my like Spring rain. She smiled whimsically, like whatever magicians trick she pulled actually produced a rabbit out of a hat. She smiled with satisfaction; I smiled back in wonderment. We hugged and danced off in different directions – but the lesson remains: I haven’t been the same since.”
I walked away from that event completely transformed, set off on a bold, new tangent; entering a new phase of life; evolving into the individual that I want to become. There was something so special about the outlying community, a group of strangers waiting to become your friends, equally enamored by the music and the sense of personal expression. But, after your ump-teenth rave with your friends, you find that instead of PLURing together – they start to blur together; basslines, sets, stages, days, events. Is there something more? And the answer is yes. My parents always quipped that doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is a form of insanity; after a certain amount of raving, I think the same can be said for the mainstream quotient of our current festival scene.
In the last five years, EDM has catapulted into the spotlight; but for those of us that have been there for years, and even before my time, EDM symbolized an underground movement where the freaks, the misfits, the lone wolves and wistful wallflowers could come together and become something greater, together. Now that it’s gone ‘mainstream‘, so have many of the concerts – held in large metropolitan areas with crowds in cookie cutter outfits, bobbing on queue to the same beat and ample amounts of vendors (whose money more often than not doesn’t go back into the community) and leaving the venue in a general state of disarray.
Here’s the thing, musicians – and the unique world they curate – are by proxy, always evolving, ever-changing, catalyzed by passion and moved by the moment. And with the community surrounding Dance Music, one thing has become crystal clear: there’s a want for something more meaningful than just partying all night; something deeper than tossing back bottles and breathing in cigarette ash; something that resonates with you for longer than one night and inspires you, as an individual, to become a better version of yourself while engaging in your community.
Though I’d had my sights set on Lightning in a Bottle for a few years prior, Coachella was my gateway drug to Transformational Festivals; it was the first time I’d had my 360 view of the world turned upside down by my surroundings, and for multiple days at that. The costumes, the stages, the stage makeup, the bass frequencies, the art installations – the art !!, the theatrics of The Do LaB’s stage at centerfield, submerging myself in my first of many Lucent Dossier Experiences and an extreme sense of community and belonging. After two years of watching the Polo Fields turn from green to a muddy brown, strewn with garbage and leftover fabric from meticulously planned outfits meticulously while seven stages bled together, I knew that it was time to move on. With each and every one of their events, from large scale multi-day festivals to low-key concerts, The Do Lab unabashedly embodies the essence of Transformative Festivals all along the California Coast. From local level to large scale, their shows constantly offer up novel musical pairings in conjunction with a live painting, immersive entertainment and an enigmatic community of modern day Renaissance personalities.
After years of pining, months of planning and weeks of anticipation – I to LIB in the Summer of 2013; no expectations, just wild eyed in wanderlust, anxiously awaiting the next music laced adventure. Waltzing through sculptures that were thrice the size of my body, the live art humbled me – and was unfolding in front of me; I was amazed by the live acrobatics, performance art and creative prowess of not just the artists – but the community at large. Music takes the backseat to personal growth as bodies gracefully collapse underneath themselves during mid-morning Yoga sessions. Minds expanded and consciousness, both personal and communal, during group workshops and seminars featuring discussions on Sustainable Living, Music as Therapy, Meditation Techniques, The Art of Tantra, Self Actualization and so, so much more.
From that weekend on, my three day tango with Lightning in a Bottle manifested into a deep rooted curiosity with Transformative Festivals, Counter Culture and Permaculture, Burning Man ideology, flow performance art and the rich history of West Coast Bass Music. Plush with the fusion of art, music and culture, living in Los Angeles is the perfect catalyst to cultivate those feelings. Between Do LaB events, the Melrose Trading Post, the Downtown Art Walk, Venice Beach, Hollywood, the U R Art Festival, or a Sunday at Grand Park – this town is always painted some sort of neon, with shimmer, glitter and technicolor combined. Take one step outside of the city, and California – and the West Coast are essentially the Meccas of Transformative culture, and have been for some time. Burning Man, making Nevada weird for 26 years, started in San Francisco in ’86; the event is almost as old as I am and founder Larry Harvey is my mom’s age. When I gushed earlier about the commonality with my friendships being that we were instilled with similar values, I can easily parallel that to why we’re equally attracted to Larry Harvey’s brainchild; it’s roughly the same age as we are and the 10 Principles are incredibly reminiscent of the value system that my parents had in place, where individuality is coveted, creativity is rewarded, art is meant to be climbed on, hugs have more klout than handshakes and the weirder – the better. You call it new-agey hippie shit; we call it a lifestyle choice that we make on the daily.
At this point – I owe you a definition- Transformative Festivals are an ecologically friendly, multi-day counter culture events with equal focus on mind, heart, body and soul. They’re set in a lush, natural location so participants can return to their roots – not just as individuals, but as a community with workshops ranging from sustainability to personal growth and artistic expression paired with rich musical entertainment and a ‘Pack in, Pack Out’, or ‘Leave No Trance’ mantra. Over the last two decades, multitudes of these have sprouted all along the Pacific Coast – but most notably in California. Southern California’s Lightning in a Bottle has been going strong for 20 years, Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo, BC has been around for 17 and now that it’s 2014, you can take your pick from a slew of newer ones like Symbiosis, Lucidity, Youtopia, Sea of Dreams, Colorado’s Bloom Festival, Desert Hearts, Forever Never Land and Costa Rica’s Envision Festival – not to mention, the theatrics of live concerts from Emancipator, Beats Antique, Shpongle, and the Lucent Dossier Experience
The more I understand about the culture, the more I want to know – so I invite you to journey with me through my series on Transformative Festivals! I’ll be focusing on their rich history on the West Coast, the infusion of their principles into daily life and the unabashed creativity, energy, effort and curation of an ecologically friendly, socially innovative musical affair. I’ll be interviewing key players, dream weavers, festival organizers and musical tastemakers within the Transformative Community – all in an effort to help you, your friends and the music community both understand the necessity of these events and learn how to incorporate them into our daily lives.
Ps. This is one of my favorite TED talks – it’s by Jeet-Kei Leung, who’s since gone on to create the Bloom Series – which I’ll touch on in a future post. Enjoy!