RECAP | The 10 Best Sets We Saw At Lightning In A Bottle 2024

Having now gone my third Lightning In A Bottle in a row, I can confirm: this is my favorite festival. Put on by the Do Lab, this camping festival is one of the few independently operated left in the country.

At first glance, the logistics of getting to this festival are intimidating. Five days of camping in the middle of California farmland in desert-like heat aren’t for the faint of heart. But as a result, this festival truly attracts the best kind of people. Everyone is so kind and accepting. There’s no judgement – you can dance like a fool, wear whatever you want, and have the freedom to be your truest self.

There’s really no other way to describe LIB except as a magical playground for adults (and kids, given that its all ages). There are so many adventures that the Do Lab sets up for festivalgoers to find, from giant wooden snails you can climb in, to a treehouse with a working piano, old-school barbershop, and alcove filled with a wall of VHS tapes and a retro TV playing Mulan on VCR.

Before the scheduled music even starts, each day contains so much programming – yoga classes, sound baths, shibari workshops, and lectures like “The Secret Life of Worms,” to name a few. There are roaming art cars playing their own DJ sets at all hours of the day – my favorite of which was a new addition this year: a giant, glowing cuttlefish with moving eyes and tentacles.

Photo Credit / Juliana Bernstein

And we haven’t even talked about the music – with 8 different stages, there is music going literally 24/7. When the lineup dropped, I couldn’t believe how blessed we were to have such a stacked lineup. But then we got some insane surprise sets, including ones from Skrillex and RÜFÜS DU SOL, who are headline worthy in their own right.

While my final set count is over 20, read on to hear about my ten favorites.

10. Sinego: His debut album Alterego was one of my favorites of 2023, so I was so excited to see his live show. In addition to the guitarist (who also provided vocals), he played live drums over several of his “bolero” style house tracks, which included sonic influences from all over South America. Although he had the tough luck of performing at the same time as the surprise Rufus Du Sol set, I had so much fun dancing with the crowd. Everyone was so engaged and truly lost themselves in the music; there was even a massive game of limbo.

9. Labrinth: This man has infinite amounts of swag. With the help of a full gospel chorus, he gave us an unforgettable performance with his powerful voice. He played many of his top hits from the Euphoria soundtrack that he produces, but he also played a few deep cuts, including some from his LSD project (with Sia and Diplo). Between songs, he preached to the crowd about living in the moment and gratitude. It was a great reminder to be present in the festival and thankful for the people we were spending it with.

8. Aluna: The mark this woman has left on dance music is immeasurable. Not only has she been a featured vocalist for almost every major electronic artist, but she also produces and mixes her own songs too. She treated us to the first listen to some of her upcoming songs, which are sure to be songs of the summer if her insanely deep discography is any indication. From Disclosure’s “White Noise” to one of her more recent collabs with Chris Lake “Beggin’,” her set was a giant euphoric dance party from start to finish.

7. James Blake: Although he may be best known for his R&B work, James Blake’s electronic genre side quests made themselves known during this set. Of course he played many of his classics like “Retrograde,” but he went surprisingly hard, with multiple techno interludes complete with strobe lights. He truly has the voice of an angel. His goosebump-inducing cover of Frank Ocean’s “Godspeed” had everyone utterly captivated. His set was a nice moment to reset and simply enjoy some beautiful live music.

6. Nia Archives: Since releasing her debut album Silence Is Loud earlier this year, Nia was one of the sets I was most looking forward to, and she did not let me down. Despite jungle still being an emerging genre in the US, the crowd still got down as she started off with some heavy selections from OG junglists. As she transitioned to playing some of the hits off her new album, she emerged from behind the DJ booth to sing along live with the tracks. Her sound is perfectly nostalgic and sentimental; listening to her sing gave me the feeling of listening to Avril Lavigne for the first time in the early 000s. As my best friend put it after her set ended – Nia Archives is for the girls.

5. Mura Masa: I had high expectations for Mura Masa, but I didn’t expect his set to be so much fun. He had a female vocalist MCing and hyping up the crowd (I think she was NAO but I couldn’t hear her introduction) as he ripped through genres like UKG, drill, and hyperpop, which made perfect sense for his depth as a producer. Considering his music was the soundtrack to my college years, I was already feeling nostalgic, but then he included some major throwback tunes, including a New Orleans-bounce version of “Apple Bottom Jeans” and “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” My only wish was that he played more of his original music after opening with “Firefly” and closing with “Love$ick.”

4. Bomba Estereo: Without a doubt, Bomba Estereo was the most spiritual set of the weekend. The stage design reflected the psychedelic electronic music of this Colombian duo with its giant glowing mushrooms and rainforest décor. The raw emotion of their music brought out the inner child of everyone in the audience, making us feel so seen and safe. While the fun bass drops of their songs had everyone dancing like crazy, I was blown away by their instrumental solos, which included some incredible flute work and tribal drumming.

3. Glass Beams: Despite LIB’s reputation as an electronic music festival, they still make sure to feature some of the best live acts from other genres, one of whom is Glass Beams, the up-and-coming psychedelic jazzy trio from Australia. I’m still coming down from the unbelievable high of this set. They played at golden hour, with the sun beaming down and illuminating the gold masks the anonymous band dons. Complete with guitar, bass, and drum solos, rippling chimes, and Indian textures, this set was a rich sonic feast for the ears.

2. Maddy O’Neal: Denver’s own queen of bass Maddy O’Neal electrified the Thunder Stage. This set was maybe the hardest I danced all weekend, if not the sweatiest (although maybe that was the fire dancers who performed sporadically throughout the set). She played music from all over the electronic spectrum, including cool new liquid dnb songs and some sick unreleased remixes of Troyboi and Barry Can’t Swim. The tracks that had my group dancing the hardest though were her signature wubby bass ones.

1. Skrillex: There’s really no one doing it like Skrillex. He really embodied the spirit of the festival as he not only camped onsite (almost unheard for such a big artist) but also played a surprise pop-up set from 3-4 AM at one of the smaller stages. Although I’ve been listening to Skrillex since high school, I’d never actually seen him live, and all I can say now is WOW. Between his surprise set and his closing headlining spot on the Lightning main stage, he put on an absolute masterclass in spinning and mixing, encompassing all sounds and genres heard throughout the festival. He started with hard techno before transitioning into his OG dubstep hits like “Bangarang” and his remix of “Cinema.”  Someone said he DJs like he’s playing an afters in someone’s kitchen and not on the main stage, and that couldn’t be more true. Despite garnering the largest crowd of the festival, it still felt so intimate. He really fosters a sense of friendship and community with the crowd. I really don’t know who had more fun, him or us. He was mashing up the most random combinations – Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” with “Believe” by Cher and somehow it worked perfectly. My neck and back have only just started recovering from all the headbanging.

Photo Credit / Juliana Bersntein

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