How Coachellas Do LaB Tent, With Its Unpublished Lineups, Became the Festivals Coolest and Biggest Open Secret
Coachella is a polarizing festival. Arguably the flagship North American music fest, it started as a groundbreaking place for alternative artists and the setting where pioneering groups would reform, but now is seen by many a pop playground for youngsters where Jumbotron headliners overwhelm the festival’s lineup.
But there is hope for music lovers looking for a non-mainstream experience in the blistering desert. It comes in the form of the festival’s electronic music-focused Do LaB tent. Every year, marquee names that don’t appear on the Coachella flyer — or have already performed their advertised slot — hit the Do LaB stage. Skrillex, Major Lazer, Richie Hawtin, LP Giobbi, Rüfüs du Sol, Bob Moses, Madeon, SG Lewis and John Summit are some of the top-tier names that have surprised audiences with cutting-edge sets in the tent.
When Coachella announces its set times, however, the Do LaB tent’s name is absent from the grid. Its presence is acknowledged, more often than not, at the bottom of the Coachella flyer as part the festival’s art installations.
As the creation of the Pennsylvania-bred, California-based Flemming brothers — Dede, and twins Josh and Jesse — Do LaB got its start at Coachella in 2004.
“It was super last-minute,” Josh recalls about that first experience. “They gave us the green light a week or two before the festival. We set up a dome, some sculptures, a fountain and made this creative zone. We don’t go anywhere without bringing speakers and playing music, because we’re party people. A bunch of our friends DJed. Nobody was paying attention to us. The main stages ended at midnight. They didn’t tell us we couldn’t keep playing. Everybody came over to where music was. It was a little unofficial renegade party in the middle of Coachella.”
This attitude is still at the core of Do LaB at Coachella, albeit on a much larger scale — and with the endorsement of the festival. The tent has quadrupled in size, rivaling Cirque du Soleil in its colorful design, with water as its central theme. It is situated in a plum central location and serves as an oasis in what can be a brutal desert experience. According to the heatmap generated from festivalgoers’ wristbands, Do LaB brings the heat more consistently than any other stage at Coachella … while cooling down festivalgoers with water guns.
In addition to having elaborate artistic elements, the music at the Do LaB tent doesn’t stop. Entirely separate from Coachella, the tent’s lineups are announced toward the end of March, less than a month before the festival’s first weekend. They are listed on Do LaB’s site and its socials… and sometimes even in conjunction with Coachella.
This year, on Coachella’s first weekend, Do LaB will be hosting Whipped Cream, the Glitch Mob, Aluna and DJ Tennis, among others. On the second weekend, the Brothers Macklovitch (A-Trak and Chromeo’s Dave1), Mikey Lion and Elephant Heart will be among those making an appearance at the Do LaB tent. The unannounced names could be anyone from Diplo and Bonobo to Chris Lake or Sofi Tukker. No matter the artist, playing the Do LaB tent is a sought-after experience.
“We’re not trying to curate a lineup that’s going to draw a certain amount of people,” says Dede. “We’re not trying to sell tickets. We can book music we like. It’s really fun for bigger artists because when they get booked to play festivals, especially Coachella, they have to come out with their hits. They have to play the bangers. They have to play the shit that people want to hear. But when they play the Do LaB, they know they have creative freedom. They get to be experimental and maybe play what they are messing around with in their studio. It’s cool because they get to be an artist again.”
Do LaB’s roots can be traced to Jesse dropping an ecstasy tablet upon moving to Los Angeles, attending a rave, and convincing his brothers to join him on the west coast. They worked in television production during the day and threw aesthetically detailed parties for their friends in the evenings.
They took their cues from Burning Man and Coachella, as well as their parents’ gatherings. “Our parents were always entertainers,” says Jesse. “We grew up going to events and parties, or helping put them together. We were the stage crew for the theatrical plays in school. We started to go to concerts and organized tailgate parties online. We started a disc jockey company, playing school dances and kids’ parties. We couldn’t drive so our parents dropped us off and picked us up. They would take us to the Philadelphia Folk Festival and that really inspired us. It was not just about music, but art and creativity. “
Starting from warehouse parties in DTLA, the brothers focused their attention on underground events they called Lightning in a Bottle. The event has evolved into a full-fledged five-day festival that takes place Memorial Day weekend in California. It celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. A cross between Coachella and Burning Man, LiB has the professionalism of the former and the grassroots ethos of the latter, attracting audiences from both sides.
In a way, Coachella’s association with Do LaB gives the festival a touch of cool cred. This is amped up by Coachella playing into Do LaB’s spirit and not lumping it with the festival’s “official” lineup. As far as who Do Lab will have as its surprise guests this year, all they reveal is: “We have a couple of Grammy nominees.”
Says Jesse, “Part of the fun is, we always wait to book our closing slots until the very end — sometimes literally hours before. Sometimes people are around and are down to do it; other times, we’ll get to the end, no one’s there and we just put one of our buddies on that we know can handle the crowd. Most of the time if [people are] at the Do LaB, they don’t care who’s playing. They just want to party.”
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