Go Ahead—Spin the Bottle
By Dan MacIntosh
Lightning in a Bottle (LIB) describes itself as “a celebration of art, sustainability, music, performance and life itself,” and to say it’s different from other regular summer concert festivals would be an extreme understatement. Whereas events like the annual Coachella Valley Music Festival and Tennessee’s Bonnaroo strictly promote the wide range of musical acts on their multi-day bills, LIB leans more toward highlighting a much wider festival “experience.” For instance, neither of the aforementioned festivals can brag of having a Lucent Temple of Consciousness, a specialized place to “expand your mind and explore the science, playfulness, and the inner and outer reaches of spirituality.” With a unique approach, and a lineup to swoon over, LIB offers an experience not to be missed.
A Jaar Apart
2013’s Lightning In A Bottle headliner is Nicolas Jaar, a fantastic American-Chilean musician. Although he is oftentimes lumped in with other electronic dance music musicians, Jaar stands apart from his contemporaries the way Lightning In A Bottle stands out among its summer festival rivals.
For starters, back when many of his peers were still studying beats, Jaar was learning about comparative literature at Brown University. Not only is he measurably brainier than many in the dance music realm, but the tracks he creates are so much more emotional than the efforts of your typical electronic dance practitioner. Furthermore, while most techno/house tracks clock in between 120 and 130 BPM, many of Jaar’s compositions are significantly slower, closer to 100 BPM. He likes to call his individualistic sound “blue-wave.”
“It seemed wholesome,” Jaar says, when asked what initially attracted him to performing at 2013’s Lightning In A Bottle. “Wholesome” is rarely a descriptor used to describe typical debauched rock & roll gatherings. Think about it: there is no such thing as “wholesome” devil horn hand signs at say, the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival.
“To tell you the truth,” Jaar adds, “the people who are playing Lightning In A Bottle are fantastic, and I love playing with a good lineup.”
You might be surprised about the reaction Jaar hopes/expects to receive from his audiences, however.
“I like being an intruder,” he says, rather cryptically. “That really gets me up in the morning. I like the idea of people expecting humungous drops and very aggressive synths and I hope to basically give them the same reaction they would get with those things, but instead with maybe more subtle elements. So I like being an intruder and tricking people. I have kind of a deviant way to think about it. I don’t do it in a bad way; I don’t do it out of a bad reason. I do it only because I like the idea of tricking people into getting excited about something that may not be so bombastic and spectacular, and might be simpler.”
As you may already guess, many of Jaar’s musical influences are not what you might usually expect from someone that runs in his particular musical circles. “I do have to say that, growing up, I was very lucky,” he states. “My parents played very good music.”
“I remember the first time I heard Beck,” he elaborates, “or the first time I heard Portishead or the first time I heard some Ethiopian jazz or the first time I heard Eric Satie and being blown away. I didn’t know why I liked them. But they touched my heart very much. The more I listened to these people that I was very influenced by when I was young, the more I realized that I was probably very attached to the production qualities because Beck . . . no one sounds like Beck. I don’t know many records that sound like Odelay. The same thing with the first two Portishead records. A lot of Ethiopian jazz is recorded in a very specific way. Now when I see it, I realize I was just influenced by the production qualities. But back then, the songs just touched my heart.”
When Jaar comes to Temecula for Lightning In A Bottle, he’ll be supporting the Trust album. “Trust is the first release off my new label,” Jaar explains. “My new label is called Other People. It’s a showcase of the new directions we’re taking with this new label. I arranged the order of the tracks, but that’s about it. I was the curator, along with the two other people that run my label. It’s more of a sampler, or a showcase of what’s to come.”
Jaar obviously digs his role as a curator. “I enjoy talking to artists and seeing where their minds are at. I think we all need help from other people. I get help from other artists, from friends; it’s very helpful for someone to tell you, ‘Yes, that song is good. You should finish it.’ That feels nice. I like being there for artists in that way.”
Close to Earth
While Jaar takes a unique approach to creating electronic music, William Close, with his Earth Harp, is equally a spectacle like nothing you’ve ever witnessed before. He’ll be setting up this one-of-a-kind Earth Harp on the Lightning In A Bottle grounds, which has been described as the longest stringed instrument in the world, with strings that extend up to 1,000 feet in length. Kanye West may brag about a lot of things, but he certainly cannot boast about having an instrument like that in his bag of tricks.
Close is not worried about those that may look at the man’s wildly embellished musical instrument—which is just one of the many specialized devices in his repertoire—that assume his music is little more than some sort of auditory gimmick. “Anyone that’s ever seen any of my shows has never said that,” he says most assuredly. “The Earth Harp, with the way the strings work, is a real acoustical process, very similar to the sound of a cello. The strings are going out over the audience and attaching to the architecture of the stage structure or the building and actually turning the theater—and in this case, the festival—into the instrument. There’s nothing really hokey about it. It’s the real deal.”
Lightning In A Bottle promises to be a fascinating experience for those fortunate to take in the live playing of Earth Harp.
“At LIB, the installation will be pretty tricky,” Close explains. “The strings will be about 400 feet, and they’ll be going from the big stage platform in the audience, and strung up to the main stage architecture. So as the audience is listening to the instrument, they’re under the strings, so they’re between the instrument and the main sound system of the main stage, so it should be pretty powerful.”
Recently, Close and the Earth Harp Collective appeared on America’s Got Talent, and impressed both the judges, and the viewers at home. In fact, they finished third in the competition.
“It raised general awareness of what I do,” says Close of the experience. “It expanded my audience a lot and opened up the minds of a lot of people that hadn’t experienced music in this unique way before.”
The Many Bails of Life
Further proving how Lightning In A Bottle is one of the more eclectic festivals happening this summer, Herbert Bail Orchestra brings a kind of gypsy-americana vibe to it, that is all its own.
“Herbert Bail is like the collective alter-ego for the whole band,” says its singer/guitarist, Anthony Frattolillo. “Hebert Bail was my grandfather’s first name. And toward the end of his life, I found that out. I was raised knowing grandpa as “Grandpa Jack,” and his license said John McCarter. But toward the end of his life, we found out he was born by another name and actually had another life and another wife and a whole other family. And in homage to him, and to the fact that we all lead many lives, we decided Herbert Bail was very appropriate.”
To ask Frattolillo to describe the Herbert Bail Orchestra’s musical style—as with asking such a question of most any performing act—is dicey at best. “If I had to describe it,” Frattolillo says, “I’d say we move between kind of gypsy folk music, with songs like “Holy Smoke,” to more western kinds of ballads, kind of fused with more modern rock & roll or electric guitar or something, as heard on “The Nature of Things.” So, I think it’s eclectic. I think that’s what we’ve been trying to do; is be intentionally eclectic.”
The Human Experience
Indeed, you might also say the Lightning In A Bottle festival, overall, is intentionally eclectic. There is the musical duo Purity Ring, which draws as evenly from airy 90s R&B, lush dream pop and the powerful, bone-rattling immediacy of modern hip hop. Then there’s Kalya Scintilla that infuses his love for nature, tribal healing, sacred geometry and Hathor wisdom into his individualistic sound. (The latter, by the way, is much cooler than the hologram of any dead rapper).
It’s not just about music, either. There is a whole lineup of speakers, too. These talks range from spiritual lectures, to environmental experts to political activists. Examples include Daniel Pinchbeck, who is slated to discuss planetary initiation and the future of human consciousness. Also, Jamie Janover will speak about unified field theory.
If you have even a passing interest in yoga, you will have plenty of opportunities to learn about this traditional practice. The website has almost as many yoga representatives listed as musical artists.
If you’re more of an active person, and the very thought of sitting still while somebody talks or plays music gets you restless, maybe you’ll want to take part in the multiple workshops scheduled. Some of these have extremely intriguing titles, too. For instance, Eva Clay is offering a workshop titled, “The Sacred Dance of Sexuality – An Ecstatic Dance Experience.” Another unusual dance experience includes Anna-Lena Shama Gustavsson’s Trance Dance workshop. One last example is Laura Fredrickson, who is offering Afro Booty Primal Fitness. Needless to say, you probably can’t find any of these workshops at your local YMCA or fitness center, so some of these workouts may just include a few once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Technically, it is impossible to capture Lightning in a bottle. However, without a doubt the Lightning In A Bottle festival is like something you have never experienced before—especially if you’ve never attended it. Sure, you can go to the same old music festivals, with many of the same people you see performing there every year. Or you can let your imagination run wild at Lighting In A Bottle. The answer seems obviously easy, but the choice is yours. Go ahead—spin the bottle.
Lightning In A Bottle Festival at Lake Skinner, Temecula. (951) 926-1541; lightninginabottle.org. July 11-15. Tickets $90-$275. All ages.