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The Do Lab Built a Massive SoCal EDM Community. Next Stop: Egypt

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Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 3:30 AM
click to enlarge Left to right: Dede, Jesse and Josh Flemming - KEVIN SCANLON
  • Kevin Scanlon
  • Left to right: Dede, Jesse and Josh Flemming

It's a hazy afternoon in early fall and the three brothers Flemming are working from home. In the living room of a converted Venice duplex, Jesse and Dede flip through invoices and stacks of library books written by radical Egyptologists. Out back, Josh paints bamboo panels with his girlfriend. For the better part of a decade, the Flemmings have been known to the Los Angeles electronic dance music community as founders of the Do Lab, the exuberant collective of artists, builders and promoters that has improbably jelled into a lucrative event-production enterprise.

Dede, the youngest at 31, is the one with his feet on the ground. The business works, he says, because his brothers have the vision and he takes care of the logistics. "We have these roles," Dede says, "so we can support each other."

He's texting with his office staff, preparing for a show he's booked tonight at the King King, a cavernous club in Hollywood featuring the electronic bouillabaisse of dubstep, house, trance and reggae favored by the Do Lab's denizens.

Defined broadly, they're a subculture of club kids who seek higher consciousness through dancing, not by meditating in an ashram.

Through a shock of brown hair curled over big round eyes, Jesse scans his laptop. Thirty-four years old, he's the brother behind the Do Lab's Coachella stage, a miniature musical city of handcrafted canvas tents and 100-foot-tall pastel art towers designed by his twin brother, Josh.

"We don't just build a stage," Jesse says. "We bring the party."

Fall is usually when he prepares for Lightning in a Bottle, the Do Lab's marquee music and wellness festival, a multimillion-dollar event held at Irvine's bucolic Oak Canyon Ranch. Since 2004, it has brought the Burning Man experience to a younger generation of low-wage EDM fans and hippie-chic artisans.

But this year is different. The guys are focused on the Great Convergence, a three-day musical event in Cairo, which kicks off with a party they've booked at the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It goes down Dec. 21, the night the planet begins a 26,000-year-long era of enlightenment or enters a Mayan-divined apocalypse, depending on your source.

An ambitious planner, Jesse's in love with the epic implication of soundtracking a pivotal moment in modern spirituality to Do Lab music. That includes sounds provided by close friends from their warehouse days (Oakland-based polyglots Beats Antique and the peripatetic singer-DJ Random Rab), chill-out tent regulars (Bluetech, Govinda and Desert Dwellers), recent allies steeped in minimal house and glitch (Berlin's Apparat, San Francisco's Eskmo), and the Moontribe DJ collective, trance-music royalty at whose outdoor raves in the '90s the brothers first dreamed of going big.

The Great Convergence is more luxury travel package than music festival, a potentially immersive experience diced into priced tiers. Tickets to the music and Egyptology panel discussions start at $555. Five-star accommodation plus board is twice that. Take a guided trip to an ancient ruin, or a camel ride to a bazaar, and it creeps up more. (Bag lunch included.) Stick around for a five-day cruise down the Nile River, and a ticket to the Great Convergence can cost an attendee up to $3,400 -- 15 times the price of a weekend at Oak Canyon Ranch -- and that's before the round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to Cairo.

Considering that the majority of their fan base is unlikely to shell out, the break-even plan is to convince a few Burning Man lifers to forgo their annual trip to Black Rock City in favor of top-shelf treatment on the Nile, and to use some European festival connections to court high rollers on holiday.

Later that week, Josh works in his fabrication shop in Lincoln Heights. He's focused on a massive, caterpillar-shaped tent called Quinoa, which he intends to rent to a summer festival looking for an edgy food court. While his brothers concentrate on booking shows and festivals, Josh is the artist. Curators at festivals in England, Ireland and Portugal pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars to design and install lights, tents and stages, which he rents out repeatedly until they break. (He's best known for those lit bamboo pods called lumis that you see at Coachella.)

After years of relying on volunteer labor, Josh hired a full-time studio manager in 2010, and he regularly contracts to a pool of carpenters, painters and seamsters.

"When festivals call up and ask what we've got, it sounds like we're a catering company," he says, affecting a faux-business voice and naming his installations. "'Well, we've got Quinoa, Scrambled Eggs, Eggplant.' Even our colors are named after candies."

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