As of early Saturday afternoon on the first weekend of Coachella, the founders of The Do LaB have no idea who that night’s special guest will be. The previous night it was Tycho, but brothers DeDe, Jesse, and Josh Flemming have yet to pin someone down for the 11:45 p.m. – 1 a.m. slot.
And for Sunday night, “We don’t have a fucking clue,” Josh says. “We usually kind of leave it — it’s usually a last-minute scramble, which has been fun in the past, but now it’s getting a little nerve-wracking,”
“Next weekend, we don’t have it either,” Jesse adds. “None of them.”
Yet it always comes together, with acts like Bonobo, Major Lazer, or Barclay Crenshaw — better known as Claude VonStroke of Dirtybird. (Ultimately, Saturday and Sunday’s mystery sets wound up being RÜFÜS and Skrillex, respectively.) But it’s not easy: Either acts don’t want to go up against their friends sets on other stages, or their management convinces them that playing a relatively small stage after a much larger stage would be poor optics somehow. The first point is fair, bu the brothers are rightly dismissive of the second objection.
“Nobody’s gonna look at you playing the Do Lab stage like your career’s going down the hill,” Jesse says. “It’s something cool you do on the side. It won’t impact your trajectory.”
Coachella 2017 represents the 13th years in a row that The Do LaB has had what might be called an “official-unofficial sixth stage,” a compact circus tent with plenty of misters to keep the writhing hordes hydrated in the heat. Whereas the main stage attracts people who are ready to picnic and the Sahara stage gets packed to capacity with everyone who wants to lose their minds to Empire of the Sun or Röyksopp, the Do LaB is just the right level of hypnotic, luring top names like Justin Martin, Jan Blomqvist, or Liquid Stranger.
After starting out by booking their friends and building a network, the Flemmings don’t recruit anyone; people come to them. The trick, they say, lies in keeping a balance between drawing big names and staying true to the underground. And they’ll have another chance to do it over Memorial Day weekend at Lightning in a Bottle, the six-day festival (May 24-29) in inland Monterey County that, for the first time in years, will have plenty of water flowing by it. The date is fitting, too, as 23 Memorial Day weekends ago, the brothers held what they jokingly referred to as Flintstock, a party in their Pennsylvania hometown that got busted up by the cops but which launched their careers.
One of the best sets I saw all weekend at Coachella was Richie Hawtin, a pioneering Detroit techno DJ whose live-looping and impromptu adjustments were the best proof that EDM isn’t merely the art of “just press play.” His performance, “CLOSE — Spontaneity & Synchronicity” achieved two things at once. It made a sizable stage feel intimate, and it kept things sweaty and nasty. And he’s royalty, too. Hawtin played — twice, actually — at the first Coachella in 1999, and he’ll be at LIB next week.
Meanwhile, the Do LaB collective gets bigger all the time, now counting at least 25 full-time people plus hundreds more who consider themselves a part of the madness. Every other year, they participate in a Portuguese festival called Boom that goes on 24 hours a day for nine days. (The next one is in July 2018.)
But they’re unmistakably excited for Lightning.
“We’ve been on a dry lake bed for three years up there, and we never imagined the lake would come back,” Jesse says. “But it rained so much that within a month, it filled up to 53-percent full. So from most of our stages, you’ll be able to take a short walk and just dive into the water, listen to music. We’ll have boats. It’s definitely a game-changer for us.”
All told, it’s an operation that involves about a thousand warm bodies. And to no small extent, Coachella feels like a warm up.
“We go to catering, or we walk around on-site and so many of our friends and people that work with us at LIB or in the office or at other festivals or events are out here working in different departments for Coachella,” DeDe ays. “And they’re all wearing their different LIB hoodies and shirts.
“It’s a proud moment for us, because we’re building up a festival community behind the scenes as well as with the audience,” he adds. “To see them at one of the world’s biggest festivals doing what they do best and something that they’ve learned working with us? It’s proud for us to see, these Do LaB shirts sprinkled all over Coachella.”