Steve Lieberman is a top lighting designer for EDM nightclubs and festivals. Photo by Adam Kaplan/Ask Media Productions

Designer lights up electronic music festivals, clubs

The electronic dance music industry (EDM) has taken over pop music, and festival attendance has seen exponential growth. The fans come for the top-notch DJs, but lighting has become a huge part of the experience. And one of the top lighting designers for EDM nightclubs and festivals is Steve Lieberman, a 44-year-old Jewish resident of Agoura Hills.

Lieberman designed the lights for the Yuma Tent at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which ends April 23. The tent is an air-conditioned cavern of underground dance music with wood floors and finished walls. The DJs perform as Lieberman controls the complex lighting board.

“Audience members don’t necessarily look up and notice the lighting guy when everything’s going perfectly, but they certainly notice and look up when you’ve missed blatantly,” he said.

Lieberman has been designing lighting systems for the biggest EDM festivals for the past 25 years. His interest in electronic music goes back to when he was in high school on Long Island, N.Y., in the late ’80s. He and his friends would sneak into nightclubs in Manhattan.

“Things were a little more lax back in those years,” he said.

During the summers, he worked in a nightclub in Southampton, “which was a very Brooklyn, Bronx-centric kind of environment: a lot of guys in tank tops and a lot of chains and a lot of Camaros in front.”

In his senior year of high school, a friend took him to his first rave. In a nearby record store, they bought tickets that came with a crudely drawn map that directed them to the parking lot of a supermarket in Sheepshead Bay. Beside it was a field filled with thousands of other teenagers.

“We hung out and danced till 6 in the morning to thumping, thundering techno music, hard core. After that, I just looked at my buddy and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is it. This is intense. When’s the next one?’ ”

Before long, Lieberman was carting around lights in the back of his Chevy Blazer and setting up before shows. He studied history at the University of Arizona but continued producing raves there and back home during summers.

“So that was kind of the first real entré into it,” he said. “I didn’t really know what was going on. I didn’t know which end of the cable went where. I didn’t know how to turn the controllers on, and I didn’t know what the lights were called, but I knew it was an awesome environment.”

After graduating, Lieberman taught himself AutoCAD, a computer-aided design and drafting software program. Before long, he was using the program to design lighting set-ups. Over the next two decades, his hobby turned into a full-fledged career. Lieberman has designed the lights for massive festivals like Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas and Nocturnal Wonderland in San Bernardino, and for more than 200 nightclubs across the country.

When Lieberman started out in the music scene, the special effects at techno shows consisted of “six lights set up on stage, and maybe a smoke machine and two strobe lights and a DJ playing on a banquet table,” he said.

As technology progressed and the industry moved from underground to mainstream, the lighting systems have become more complex and costly.

“It‘s not like 25 years ago when I started going to nightclubs, Lieberman said. “It’s an educated audience. They’re expecting LED walls. They’re expecting a thousand moving lights. They’re expecting scenery and dancers and fireworks.”

The EDM industry now accounts for more than $7 billion a year, and about a quarter of all live music concerts in the U.S. are now electronic. Last year, nearly 400,000 people attended Electric Daisy Carnival, a three-day festival that went until sunrise every morning.

“It’s a fantasy world,” he said. “You walk into Beyond Wonderland, you’re in the middle of Alice in Wonderland. You just went down the rabbit hole. You’re going to walk into one stage and the light show’s going to run you over like a truck. And then you’re going to walk into another stage and there’s going to be a giant caterpillar puffing on a hookah, sending smoke rings into the air. And then you’re going to walk into another stage and there’s going to be carpet on the ground and a beautiful chandelier overhead, in a completely 360-degree environment.”

As the EDM industry expands, audiences’ expectations rise as well. Now, the light show is immersive, covering nearly every square inch of space. It’s up to Lieberman to keep pushing the envelope, something he says he enjoys.

“I’m an obsessive-compulsive, neurotic, Jewish kid from Long Island. So there’s something in my DNA that makes me a little bit crazy,” he said. “So that actually lends itself very well to design, because I have expectations of myself and what I’m going to produce and what my office is going to produce.”

Lieberman is not the hard-partying college kid he once was. He’s married with two children, and last year, he took his son, 10, and daughter, 13, to Coachella and Lollapalooza.

“So that was their first entré into daddy’s world, and they both took an interest in standing in front of the console, which is really cool,” he said.

At the Sound Nightclub in Hollywood, which has become a must-visit destination for underground techno fans since opening five years ago, Lieberman described the lighting system he designed. It features a long mixing board, with buttons and handles that control various elements, such as the colors, patterns and movement of the lights. He programmed the controls on the board, as well as a computer monitor that shows which lights are in use.

One button on the board shines a spotlight on a glittering 8-foot fiberglass shark covered in mirror panels and Swarovski crystals. When it’s not hanging in the Yuma tent at Coachella, it’s here at Sound. Other buttons trigger the lights to flash all at once, and a blackout button can plunge the club into darkness. The lighting accentuates the music, especially during a drop — a moment when the music builds to a climax, suddenly drops out for a second and then comes back.

The booth at Sound sits across the dance floor from the DJ booth, enabling the DJ and lighting operator to communicate directly. It’s a far cry from past times, when the person in charge of lights was delegated to a closet with a TV monitor.

“There has to be some sort of symbiotic relationship between the artist performing the music and the artist running the lights and the visuals,” he said. “There’s that human touch that a computer can’t ever replace.” he said.

The set-up looks similar to what an electronic music DJ would use, except instead of beats and samples, Lieberman is triggering light displays. The way he flicks the handles, turns the knobs and hits the buttons is like a choreographed dance. As he runs the board, he nods his head and sways his hips, listening to the imaginary music in his head.

Struck by Venice lightning: A first person account of a chaotic day at the beach

On Sunday afternoon, I was knee-deep in the ocean, right next to the Venice Fishing Pier, when the deadly lightning bolt hit the water. This rare bit of weather would kill at least one person and injure 13 others, making national news. But I didn’t know it right then.

I had gone to the beach with my college roommate Amanda, who had flown in from Arizona on Thursday for the weekend. On Sunday, a few hours before her flight home, we finally found time to try the beach, as a brief stop on the way to drop her off at LAX. On the way, we picked up another friend, Sam, who lives on a houseboat in the Marina. Finding parking at the Venice Fishing Pier took 20 minutes; after a stop at Starbucks, we had 45 minutes to dip our toes in the sand before heading to the airport.

From the coffee shop, we made our way past packed cafes serving brunch to locals and tourists alike. Before approaching the sand, we slipped off our shoes and walked alongside the Venice Fishing Pier until the chilly water was up to our calves. The sky was overcast, and the ocean water was refreshing. I was relaxed and happy as I soaked in the idyllic combination of crisp air, toes in the sand and the company of my closest girlfriends, one from middle school and one from college. I missed this. I grew up taking weekend trips to Perry’s Beach Café with my dad on Sunday mornings, driving up PCH to The Reel Inn in Malibu to eat fish on paper plates, and celebrating birthdays with picnics in Zuma.

Walking in and out of the surf, we shared a beautiful 30 minutes, and stories of ex-boyfriends, college classes, and our mutual struggles to be vegetarian. We were standing in a triangular formation; I was up to my knees in water facing Sam and Amanda. I had been digging a hole in the sand with my feet, burying my ankles in it as water rhythmically filled and emptied it.

Without warning and without a second to look around, an explosion erupted above my head. My heart skipped about 10 beats. An enormous, white light broke the sky above me. A huge roar echoed across the beach, and my body refused to turn around, for fear of seeing that a bomb had gone off around me. I still had my Starbucks coffee and flip flops in my hands, but those hands had gone numb.

Seconds later, the bright light disappeared and the thunder was replaced with sounds of chaos on the beach. We ran, out of instinct, to shelter, which was out of the water and under the pier. As Sam and Amanda caught their breath, my attention was focused on my left kneecap, which was tingling. As I reached down to touch it, I became very aware of my hands. The joints in my fingers felt tender and my hands were suddenly tingling, as well.

As I glanced around the beach, trying to make sense of the last 10 seconds, I heard Amanda telling Sam that it was lightning. Amanda told me that the bolt had hit the water directly behind me, just 30 or so feet away. I would later learn, via the Weather Channel, that the lightning strike electrified the water for about 50 yards around it. I had been standing knee-deep in what they called the “hot zone.” My left leg was closest to the deep water, so the shock may have entered through that extremity and exited through my hands.

From under the pier, I watched as dozens and dozens of people poured out of the ocean, sprinting, while others ran into the water to attend to surfers and swimmers who had been struck. The line separating the water from the dry sand was swarming with frazzled men and women. Sunbathers sat up straight. Families with picnics and umbrellas farther up the beach were quickly packing up to head home.

I began to regain sensation in my hands, and ignored my tingling knee, as we joined the mass exodus from the beach. We walked past the surf shops and restaurants again, this time overhearing conversations between strangers about the lightning. As we climbed into my car, I brushed the sand from my feet, which sent a small but sharp sensation through my ankle. The sand felt more grainy than usual on my fingertips. Perplexed, I gave up cleaning my feet and started the car.

I felt more scattered and anxious than usual, but I had to drive. I dropped Sam off at her boat, and took Amanda to LAX. Then, while driving away from the airport, I made the uncharacteristic decision to try to get back to South Pasadena without using any smart navigation apps. I could hardly focus on where I was going and desperately didn’t want a voice coming out of my phone micromanaging my driving, so I got on the freeway and drove straight until I felt like changing lanes.

I read “Norwalk” on a freeway sign, and not knowing where that was, took the exit. I was preoccupied with my own thoughts, replaying the surreal scene of families, couples and small children running out of the ocean. In that moment of aimless driving, I wanted to go to a bookstore and skim the shelves. No, I wanted to go shopping for workout pants. Shaking my head, I decided I wanted food. I was starving, my arms were suddenly sore and I wanted to stop driving as soon as possible.

I gave in and turned on Waze for directions to Fresco Community Market, my favorite grocery store. I spent about 45 minutes walking around, forgetting why I was in that aisle, staring at the Greek yogurt choices, walking away and then coming back. I was dazed, but didn’t recognize it. Finally, I bought a loaf of bread, fig jam, and several types of cheeses and drove home. After making myself a grilled sandwich with my new ingredients, the chaotic day melted away as I watched “Chopped,” the Food Network show, and drank orange juice.

A few minutes after finishing my meal, my parents walked in the door and I told them about my wild afternoon. I insisted I was fine, and I really thought I was. Once I finished my sandwich, I stood up.

This is when things took a turn. My mother watched me with a close eye as my legs grew weak and my fingers began to tingle again. Within seconds of standing, I had hardly enough energy to bring my plate into the kitchen and left to lie down in my bedroom.

I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I have a long-standing sensitivity to fluorescent lights in the kitchen. But usually the dizzy feeling brought on by visits to the kitchen goes away within seconds. Not now. My eyes wanted to close, and suddenly my body felt cold. I reached up to itch my neck and froze. I looked down as I ran my finger across my neck. The tingly feeling I had felt in my knee and my fingers earlier that day was spreading. It felt as though there were eight layers of skin between my fingertips and the rest of my body.

The inside of my elbow became achy and my muscles became sore with every second that my arm was elevated to reach my neck. The nerves throughout my body felt both electrified and numb. I lay very still as I called for my parents to come upstairs. When they arrived, my eyes were glassy and my shallow breaths came and went quickly. It felt like an electric wave was moving up and down my left leg, across my torso. I squirmed on my bed to try and shift the sensation but it had no effect.

My parents started asking me specific questions, such as where my shoes are, if I remember the names of my medication, and what I ate today. I stared blankly at them and didn’t speak. A few minutes later, I watched as six or seven paramedics walked through my bedroom. A paramedic asked for my name and age; I answered quickly to focus on following the electric current through my body. They took my blood pressure and asked me other questions, to which I murmured answers.

The paramedics said that I seemed fine, medically speaking. But the fatigue was overwhelming, and a loud beep from a paramedic’s walkie-talkie gave me a sudden and raging headache. I tried to explain how I was feeling but the paramedic interrupted to say that they couldn’t answer specific questions because of liability concerns. The paramedic offered me a ride to a hospital, but I shook my head quickly. If I was in any real danger, I figured I wouldn’t have been able to operate the car as I did after leaving the beach. Within minutes, the paramedics were gone. 

The electric wave moving across my body had slowed down since I began dealing with the paramedics. When I awoke and joined my family later that evening, I felt tired, but the tingly sensation had stopped. I contacted Sam and Amanda, who reported no ill effects.

I feel fine today as I recount this. The rare lightning bolt was a surprise to Angelenos, as were the heavy rainstorms earlier in the day. We’re not used to such things. I hadn’t known, on Sunday morning before my trip to the beach, that lightning follows thunder, or that untimely rainstorms are something to worry about. I know now.

Kelsey Hess is a sophomore at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a sustainability journalism fellow at Zocalo Public Square, for which she wrote this.

700 menorahs lit simultaneously

Some 700 people lit Chanukah menorahs simultaneously.

The guests at the Merrick Jewish Centre lit the menorahs on the second night of Chanukah in order to break the world record for the most menorahs lit at the same time.

If deemed successful, it would beat the previous world record set in 2009, when 358 people lit menorahs simultaneously at a nightclub in Moscow.

Artists Converge After ‘The Passion’


Christian children wearing their Sunday best for last week’s Easter services understandably could forget, amidst their Easter egg hunts, that the Last Supper of Jesus was a Passover seder.

But in this season of Easter and Passover, connections between the holidays has inspired an art exhibit showcasing Christian and Jewish artists motivated by religious themes. The exhibit is housed in downtown Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Its aspirations and the artworks themselves are impressive, though the effort has suffered from uneven presentation of the artwork.

The “Passion/Passover” exhibit could be viewed as a positive response to Jewish-Catholic tensions surrounding last year’s “The Passion of the Christ” by filmmaker Mel Gibson. His film was praised by Catholic church officials, though many Jewish leaders said the film unreasonably cast Jews as villains.

The exhibit’s 14 artists — seven Jewish and seven Christian — have displayed some 23 pieces interpreting each faith’s respective Passover and Easter themes.

“People began to see there were comparisons between the two holy seasons,” said Gordon Fuglie, director of the Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University.

Featured Jewish artists include Santa Barbara-based Laurie Gross. Her “Miriam and the Women” is a dozen folded and twisted strips of fabric that call to mind a tallit.

“A number of the pieces that I’ve done use biblical woman,” said Gross, who described “Miriam” as “part of a journey of my Jewish heritage. Miriam is one of the women that we look to as a role model — of leadership, speaking her mind, speaking out.”

The exhibit grouped art pieces by religion, with Jewish art grouped together and Christian art grouped in separate clusters.

As a result, in Gross’ view, “there wasn’t anything integrated about the exhibit.”

Still, the exhibit displayed the work of Jewish women, she said. And the art, taken as a body of work, shows how, “we’re trying very hard as women today to pull those voices out of text. Women are writing contemporary Midrash,” she said. “I feel what I do as an artist is visual Midrash. That gives us a role in carrying on the tradition, filling in the blanks.”

The pieces by Christian artists in “Passion/Passover” are noticeably larger — such as the crucifixion watercolor by the exhibit’s co-curator, the Rev. Michael Tang, the chair of the art and art history department at Loyola Marymount University.

“Catholics particularly are used to a tradition of commissions of large-scale works,” said Ruth Weisberg, dean of USC’s School of Fine Arts and a member of the cathedral’s arts and furnishings committee. “All the Catholic artists but one [had] done very large-scale work. The Jewish artists had all chosen smaller works.

The lesser-sized Jewish artworks created a sort of metaphor set within the hugeness of the Catholic cathedral, suggesting how the world’s 12 millions Jews live among hundreds of millions of Christians.

UCLA art department chair Barbara Drucker, who contributed her work, “Calendar Notation,” said that unlike some of the pieces by Jewish artists, the Christian artworks were not “questioning the existence of God.”

Many of the large pieces by Christian artists are displayed in the cathedral’s chapel-like alcoves, including one with walls and lighting akin to a traditional art gallery. The smaller Jewish pieces are more likely to be found in less well-lit spaces — at least four of the Jewish artists were unhappy with the lighting and presentation.

No disrespect was intended, said those involved with the exhibit. Some exhibit issues simply couldn’t be helped, such as dealing with a large Christian piece on loan from a museum. The artwork’s space and lighting requirement mandated that it go into a large alcove.

“The works in the Christ-themed room were larger and more monumental,” Fuglie said. “For the next time around, somebody really needs to understand how the space works.”

USC’s Weisberg said the cathedral’s arts and furnishings committee, “is concerned and wants better lighting. This is their first time out with contemporary art in the cathedral.”

Financial backing for the exhibit featured a pronounced interfaith theme, with support from philanthropists, including Roy Disney, Eli Broad and Stanley Gold.

Despite the glitches, artist Deborah Lefkowitz said she was “quite interested in the resonance my work might have when exhibited in a space devoted to prayer.”

“Passion/Passover: Artists of Faith Interpret Their Holy Days” runs through May 1 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 680-5200.


Kids Page

Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the days between Pesach and Shavuot, will be celebrated on May 20. The letters lamed and gimmel, which spell the word “lag,” have a value of 33.
It’s a time to light a campfire with your parents and friends, and to make toy bows and arrows (my kids love to make foam-tipped arrows).

Here is a story told about Lag B’Omer: For many weeks, Rabbi Akiva’s students were struck by plague. It is said that it happened because they were disrespectful to each other; 24,000 students died. But, on Lag B’Omer, the plague stopped. Rabbi Akiva began to teach his five remaining students. From that day on, the light of Torah began to spread again. This is one reason given for lighting bonfires on Lag B’Omer.