Coachella’s Do LaB Stage is one of the festivals main-attractions, as a completely immersive creative space it has solidified itself as a pillar to the Coachella experience and is a must-attend for music and art lovers. What started out as a small, DIY instillation in the early 2000s of Indio’s largest festival now hosts some of music’s most recognizable names, and is a production built from the ground up by Pennsylvania-born brothers Jesse, Josh, and Dede Flemming. The trio are also the creators of Southern California’s Lightning In a Bottle music festival, which celebrates it’s 20th anniversary this year.
The art structure of the stage evolves throughout each year, with the current iteration consisting of 53 panels of custom-dyed fabric bound together by a suspension cable that spans across 35,000 square feet. Named Warrior One, the structure’s shape was inspired by Egypt’s historic scarab beetles, creating a shaded sanctuary to provide an escape from the desert sun while also offering a variety of color to enhance the audience experience.
2023’s line up consisted of A Hundred Drums, Kasablanca, Bambi, The Funk Hunters, and several more, with surprise guests routinely playing at every weekend each year. In the tent’s past, musical legends like Major Lazer, RÜFÜS DU SOL, and Skrillex have made guest appearances, helping to make a legacy out of the Do LaB Stage.
Flaunt spoke with Jesse and Dede about the beginnings of Do LaB, the reality of being a small, independent business with big respoinsbility, and what it’s like to work with family.
What was your intention when you first started Do LaB? How did you guys come together for this?
Jesse: The whole reason we started the Do LaB in the first place is because we were just young artists making art and people wanted to hire us to do projects and decorate their events. But we had no way to actually receive payment with checks to put it into banks. So we were like, ‘Oh, we need to start a business so we can actually take payments from people.’ So the company just really exists to support us in being creative every day and making art and kind of throwing parties.
And how do you think it's evolved over the years? It’s the almost the 20th anniversary, right?
Jesse: This year is the 20th anniversary of Lightning in a Bottle. The Do LaB was probably about 15 or 16 years old.
Dede: The Do LaB? Uh, no, 19.
Dede: Yeah. We have a weird, interesting beginning because we started Lighting In a Bottle, I think in 1999 as a birthday party for Jesse and Josh, Jesse's twin, and then we were going to Burning Man for fun and we're really inspired by that. Then, in 2005, we got invited to come out here to Coachella and do an art installation. And we started, like Jesse said, doing these cool art projects and people were asking us to come decorate their parties, stuff like that. So then we put a name to it, we called it the Do LaB. And then the Do LaB started producing Lightning in a Bottle, because it was us. So we have this weird, gray area of the true beginning and how it started. At the end of the day, it was an art project. It wasn't a business. I think that's how the most special and beautiful things actually begin.
How do you now balance the business aspect and the art? Where do you find your inspiration now? Do you feel like it's different than when you first started?
Jesse: It's definitely different. In the very beginning, it was all art all the time, and the business was just an afterthought. But it got so big over the years, we had to spend way more time doing business things and keeping the business running and that tracks from us actually just focusing on art and creativity. So, it's changed quite a bit in that way. We're still doing a lot of big, bold projects, but we have to spend way more time on business than we’d like to. We're not business people, we just have to run a business.
Dede: It's hard because I'd say in 2004 to 2010 or 11, we'd get a phone call, someone would want a piece of art or a stage or something at a festival somewhere like Japan, in Portugal and Ireland, and we'd be like, ‘Yeah, cool. Let's do it.’ We'd get a little bit of money, we'd get on a plane and we'd go make cool art. And we didn't really think about anything else. If we could put a little money in our pocket, awesome. If not, whatever. But we were just having fun traveling with our friends. That's all that mattered. But as the business grew, we couldn't take those small jobs because they didn't bring in enough money to pay the bills and all the nonsense. So the business kind of stifled the art a little bit, but we still find inspiration in work that other people are doing. Artists that inspire us, music that inspires us. We still find cool ways to build cool shit.
Sometimes as you expand as an artist and then you have to do other shit you really don't wanna do–how do you balance that?
Dede: I think that's the challenge. One day we woke up and we were running a company and we had an office with a lot of people. And all that comes with that, I think we retracted a little bit, you know, the pandemic helped us realize that maybe we don't want so many employees in such a big office. I think there was a time where we were maybe trying to grow and compete with the big promoters and stuff. I think we realized at one point maybe we don't want to go in that direction because we're always chasing something. We wanted to simplify it a little bit and just focus on making Lightning In a Bottle really cool. And you know, always doing Coachella because it's a part of who we are, and then finding other cool projects that inspire us to go after.
What are some of the recent artists or musicians who’ve inspired you?
Dede: That's a good question. Jesse and Josh focus more on the art, so I'm going to throw this question back to him.
Jesse: You'd have to ask Josh, he designs all of our structures and most of our installations. My twin brother. He always pays attention to anything from bridge designs and engineering to like the latest architectural building that comes up or other artists kind of in the scene. So it's just everything all the time. Like you never know where the inspiration is going to come from.
Jesse: Like this stage, he conceptualize the whole thing, built it all, sketched it all out, put it in computer models, and then had it all engineered. He really understands–his brain just understands how tension and engineering and different forces, closing forces work. It's pretty crazy what you can do.
Did you guys use to build all the art by yourselves?
Dede: Yeah, we still do.
Jesse: We still build it all by ourselves.
Dede: We design it, we work with an engineer who's a close friend, and then we do a lot of the fabrication ourselves and we, we build it all ourselves. We’re still very hands-on.
Jesse: It's kind of ridiculous. We do way too much stuff from running a business and building the art and booking the music and throwing the party. We have our hands in everything.
How do you go about choosing the musicians?
Jesse: It changes every year with the genres. On this stage, you kind of just go with the flow of the times, like what's kind of popular and hot right now? We get a lot of submissions from all the agents and we sift through all the submissions and try and put together what we think will be a good party with a bunch of recognizable names that people will love to come see, but also a bunch of new upcoming stuff that people don’t know yet, but in the next couple years, they'll blow up. So I'm trying to balance out that curation.
What's the next project for you guys?
Dede: Lightning in a Bottle. It’s Memorial Day weekend, so the end of May. So we leave here and we have like a week, four days to dust off and then we go right to Lightning In a Bottle, and we do that for the month.
So it takes about a month to build out?
Dede: Close to it, yeah.
You said that you got here like a week ago?
Dede: About two weeks ago.
Do you guys built all this in two weeks?
Dede: A little less, yeah.
And, you only get that much time every year?
Dede: I mean, that's how long we need. If we had more time, we'd stretch it out, but it's more efficient to just come in, get it done, and work late nights.
How many people are on your team now? You downsized, and then expanded again?
Dede: Well, we expand when the season comes around. We bring in a lot of contractors and people that work on specific projects. But for Coachella here, it's probably, 25 of us during the build week and then running the show over the weekend, we bring in about another 10 or 15.
What is it like working with family?
Dede: It’s great, it’s a lot. There's been challenges. You know, we always hear from people, ‘I could never work my brother, I could never work my sister.’ We've had our challenges, but we've been doing it for 20 years. The reason why we're here 20 years later is because we are family. If we weren't family, this would've fell apart a long time ago.
Jesse: It took us a long time to find our roles and respect and trust each other in our roles. It's like each of us runs a different thing. I do music creation, Josh is the creative director, and Dede oversees all of the logistics and the business side – everything from permits to being the main liaison with Coachella to dealing with the fire marshall, the police.
Dede: They're all different. They're all hard. They're all really challenging in their own way. Mine might be the most thankless because the reward at the end of the day is fucking, we're allowed to do it, you know? Booking the music and doing the art and the creative is fun and inspiring, what I do is give everyone the ability to be able to do the fun stuff.
Jesse: Without what he does, we wouldn’t be able to do it. He goes into counties and he puts on a shirt and tie and that’s how he convinces people to let us throw a massive party.
Dede: It's hard, it's grueling, but you know, all of us have really hard jobs, but the cool thing is like we all support each other in our roles.
Do you have other siblings?
Dede: No, it's just the three of us.
Your parents must be so proud of you.
Jesse: They've been a big part of it since 2006.
Are they in the arts as well?
Dede: I mean, they've always been like friends of the arts that support us of the arts. They're not artists, but they always has great respect for the arts.
Jesse: Our dad's here. Our dad's been at the last 15 Coachella with us or something.
Dede: This is his fourteenth Coachella with us.
Jesse: He helps do all the plumbing and the misters and sprinklers and stuff. That's his role.
You're kidding me, you put your dad to work?
Jesse: He loves it, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Where are you guys from?
Jesse: Amish country. Our parents were small business owners, so we came up you know seeing them hustle and, and work hard. We started working for them when we were like 12 years old, so we just kind of grew up with this nice work ethic.
What kind of business did they have?
Jesse: They had a screen printing business. So making hats and shirts and stuff like that.
Dede: It's a creative industry.
Jesse: That's where we got our work ethic from. We grew up–I was just glad we learned to work hard all the time.
What are you guys looking forward to next? I know Lightning In a Bottle, but beyond that, what are your hopes and aspirations for this year and next year? What are you manifesting?
Jesse: I'm manifesting a vacation in June. Honestly, it's been a rough ride the last few years between the pandemic. Now, like, you know, recession kind of stuff. Like, it's, it's been really challenging to be like, we're independent, we're a small, independent company. People think we're a big company, especially because, you know, we do this project here but you know, it's challenging to, to be in charge of this whole thing and have to make every decision and, and like when we lose money, we have to figure out how to juggle that. We’re just looking forward to pushing forward and, and getting things back on track and being stable and being able to Continue doing what we love to do, you know? We're really blessed and fortunate that like we wake up every day and it's hard as it is. We're doing what we want to do, like we're doing what we choose to do every day.
Dede: It occurred to me during the pandemic, looking around how it's not easy to have a business for 20 years. A lot of businesses don't make it that long. And somehow we have and we learned the fragility of it during the pandemic and just appreciate the fact that we're still here able to do what we love.
Jesse: Especially this business, the festival business, everybody thinks it's easy money. Like, 'Oh look, line ourselves with tickets, make a fortune.' But it's a gamble. We are gambling every single year hoping there's no guarantee that one year to the next people are going to come back. And some years they don't come back. And then you have to scramble to figure out why and fix it and get people to come back again. And it's gambling every single year.