Festival All-Stars: The Flemming BrothersArticle by: Graham Berry|@Festival_Writer
Tue April 10, 2018 | 15:00 PM
In the great universe of festivals there are many stars. While most glow for their contributions to worlds of art and music, others shine because they go a step further to ignite learning and growth. Some, like the ever luminescent Do LaB, even stir us emotionally with a fierce dedication to creative expression, community, and to throwing one hell of a party. It’s this caliber of festival stars that inspire the rest of us to festival better, together.
With the help of a loyal crew of Los Angeles creatives, the three founding brothers at Do LaB – Dede, Jesse, and Josh Flemming, alongside powerhouse co-founder Dream Rockwell (who recently left Do LaB) – have cemented a reputation as tastemakers thanks to an imaginative production aesthetic, eclectic arts and music lineups, and immersive experiences. Their year-round festival enterprise (which includes Lightning in a Bottle their famed Coachella stage, a stage in conjunction with Vita Motus at Boom Festival in Portugal, and co-production duties for Dirtybird Campout ) is celebrated for bridging the gap between festival communities, offering mainstream music festival-goers (at their Coachella stage, for instance) the chance to explore a world of boundless creative possibilities found at more alternative, countercultural festivals like Lightning in a Bottle, their flagship event.
In a rare interview (they are quite busy, after all), Everfest wrangled a talk with all three Flemming Brothers for a glimpse into their formative years. They also shared a bit about the evolution of the ethos that sets Do LaB events apart, and talked about the magic that makes a festival “transformational.”
Learning by Doing
Two of the three brothers never had formal schooling on colossal art or event production – only Dede went off to learn the business elements that make festival production management sustainable. However, Dede doesn’t attribute any of their success to academia. Instead, when asked about how school played a part in their current career trajectory, he said “It's not something that's learned, and I think a lot of it is quite the opposite. I know a lot of education is trying to get people to think creatively, but a lot of times they're encouraging people to think inside a box, and everything that we do is outside of a box.”
Josh perked up and added, “It's kind of proposing the crazy ideas that haven't been done before. There's no roadmap to get to the end result. So that's where the trial and error comes in, and it's very passion-driven and just motivated by the desire to see something come to life that's never been done before. But as far as learning how to do it, you just gotta jump in blind and figure it out.”
In this spirit, the crews working on Do LaB projects always find fresh approaches to creation and problem solving. They don’t simply execute a plan. Iterative learning is encouraged, and frequent experimentation with resources, designs and operations become part of an important and beneficial learning process that stretches further than most event producers are willing to go.
We asked about their first few projects together and they shared a pregnant pause, as if wondering who would be the one to spill.
At fourteen years of age the brothers started a DJ business, called “Tremors Disk Jockeys,” to provide music at school dances. They grinned with nostalgia. “We used to DJ middle school and high school dances for our school and some other schools,” said Josh. “And we would do private birthday parties and stuff. We even built a custom light show on a switchboard.”
“That’s right! We took electronics classes, so we built our own switchboards,” Jesse added. “We built our own strobe lights and even our own speakers and speaker cabinets, and we would put all this stuff into our parents' van, and they'd drive us up to the school on a Friday. We were like, 14. We couldn't even drive.”
While other kids their age were focused on sports, girls or video games, the Flemmings were deepening their love of music and perfecting their skills as DIY craftsmen. In a lot of ways this approach to parties is symbolic of who they would grow to become. Today, when Do LaB throws events, their stages, shade structures and even the people who participate are reimagined as vibrant pieces of art with that signature Do LaB flair. They could have simply bought high-quality DJ equipment; instead, they built the DJ equipment themselves. Therein explains the origins of the Do LaB name.
An Open Talk About “Transformation”
Another quality that makes these three brothers unique in their impact on the industry is the way they create realms for self-expression and idea-sharing. Take Lightning in a Bottle, with its vast array of workshops, immersive environments, performance collectives, and sustainability programs aplenty. Numerous life-changing experiences and tales of personal awakening have been credited to the event over its 11-year lifespan. While often labeled as purveyors of a “transformational” festival culture passed down from Burning Man's legacy, Do LaB and its founders have never used the word in their own branding. (Search the website, it’s true.)
Even so, the brothers often find themselves in the precarious position of speaking to, or on behalf of, a “transformational community” in which they now play a role. We asked what actually makes an event a “transformational” experience. Jesse was the first to tackle the question. “I think what really makes [a] festival transformational is healthy human interactions. A lot of people think that it's the spiritual components, but I think that's only a part of it, and that really does affect a lot of people in a positive way, but I think what it really is, is getting people out of their regular societal constructs and getting them into these small, intimate experiences inside the festival where they're comfortable, and they're friendly, and they're just open for a little while to connecting with other people.”
Though there are spiritual elements like yoga classes, ceremonies and temples at LIB, the festival's immersive elements provide plenty of intimate social interactions for attendees. The Do LaB Stage at Coachella provides a similar family vibe that serves as a haven from the larger, sprawling festival.
Dede thought aloud, “To have a transformative experience, in my eyes, is like, you go into something as a certain thing, as a certain person, or with a certain mindset, and you come out of that having had this shift. Whatever that shift may be. Doesn't mean that you're more spiritual when you come out. Doesn't mean that you do more yoga when you come out. Doesn't mean that you're more of a conscious individual, but you had a dramatic shift. A lot of us have trouble with [the term] only being about more conscious, spiritual, yoga, meditation-type festivals, because a hundred thousand people are going to go to [Electric Daisy Carnival] again next year, and a lot of them are going to come out transformed. No one would ever say that EDC is a 'transformational festival,' but they're going to have a hell of a transformative experience at that event, because it's such a powerful, impactful spectacle for human beings to take part in, and they're going to meet amazing people that are likeminded.”
For the Flemmings, the secret sauce in the recipe for transformational festivals is the boundlessly creative people who make it all possible, behind the scenes and in the audience. The "Do-ers," the community. This of course means that placing events like LIB in the transformational box limits what we can understand in that experience. But more importantly, if we say that LIB or Burning Man or Envision in Costa Rica are leading the way in transformational festivals simply because of the conscious components to them, perhaps that’s not quite fair to other events and other festivals that routinely change lives through sheer fellowship and love.
What’s a Festival Without Art?
Festivals come in all shapes and sizes. While many make their lineups the focal point, the Flemming Brothers believe there’s a lot more to making a festival special. Music is undoubtedly one of the most powerful forms of artistic expression, but for a festival to add layers to its inherent meaning, other elements are required. This is why the brothers placed the art before the music when they chose the name "Lightning in a Bottle Arts and Music Festival."
“A festival without art is merely a concert,” declared Dede Flemming. “And putting the art first is because, with our events, whether it was the smaller party in the woods like back in the day, or LIB, or a Coachella installation, it's the visual component that comes first. And the music's obviously a huge part of it. But having that environment where you get to feel like you're lost and in a different place physically enables you to enjoy the music aspect much better.”
Making this the central focus has garnered an appreciation for Do LaB events from the art community, and over the years that appreciation has birthed a mutually beneficial relationship. Jesse Flemming sees partnering with creatives to be a key ingredient in the Do LaB recipe. “We’re friends with all of the artists at our festival,” he says. “We're side by side with them making art, helping them, and they're helping us. I think, compared to most festival organizers, it's a different way of doing things. We want to be in the field with those guys making the art and creating. And I think it means a lot to the artist that we're actually out there with them.”
According to Dede, “We're creating a big festival experience for attendees, but we're also creating big festival experiences for artists. [Early on,] Coachella was a huge launching pad for our company and for our careers because [they had] given us this place to create whatever we wanted. We didn't have rules. We didn't have approval processes or whatever. They would just give us a budget and free reign to go big. And every year we would go big, bigger, and bigger.”
With that freedom the brothers ironed out their own build processes and deepened their knowledge of structures, events and the community of artists at large. In addition to working alongside artists, the Flemming Brothers believe that part of leadership is about making space for the next big thing. “In talking to some of the artists that come to LIB,” Dede continued. “[Like] the Grand Artique, I think they feel the same way about us as we do with Coachella. We're giving them the platform to go bigger every year.” Who knows? It may not be long before the guys at the Grand Artique cook up an event of their own.
Why The Do LaB Matters
Jesse, Dede, and Josh Flemming. Photo by: Daniel Zetterstrom
Perhaps the most inspiring hallmark of the Flemming Brothers and Do LaB is their innate ability to lead by intuition. To do this, the brothers maximize creative freedom so that each participant throughout the festival ecosystem has the chance to become a source of inspiration to others. This strategy not only cultivates better festivals, but a richer community through thought-provoking learning experiences wrapped in epic memories.
By combining a let’s-make-it-better-ethos, radical self-improvement workshops, and a fun-loving, house party vibe, the Flemming Brothers have helped bring deeper, forward-thinking transformation to the scene while defining a subculture in the process. These efforts plant the proverbial forests of creativity that can shelter and nourish the dreams and ambitions of future generations, where being weird, fostering community and learning from another are not only accepted, but actually encouraged as a way of life beyond festival grounds.
This article was originally published in October 2016 and has since been updated.