steve lieberman

In the Right Light

SJ Lighting founder Steve Lieberman energizes and illuminates Coachella's Yuma Tent.

Erin Peters Arts & Entertainment

steve lieberman
Steve Lieberman lights up a show at the 2016 edition of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

The big beat drops, timed perfectly with spectacular light choreography, are responsible for those glorious goose bumps and contagious grins on the dance floor.

And the man driving these emotional responses and sensory overload at nearly every large EDM festival around the world will be at the Yuma tent again during Weekend 2 of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Steve Leiberman has dedicated his life to enhancing the audience experience, starting with nightclubs in 1987. His SJ Lighting of Westlake Village has orchestrated Beyond Wonderland, Ultra Miami, and last year’s Escape Psycho Circus in San Bernardino.

Palm Springs Life had a chance to view the Yuma tent from Lieberman’s control board during Weekend 1 at Coachella, and spoke to him later.

PSL: It was great to meet you. That was so much fun. Such a different experience to see it from that view.

Steve Lieberman: Seeing it from the control station is always…Well, you get the perspective of the operator, of the designer. It’s always, for me, typically the control booth is what we call ‘front of house’ so it’s actually facing the stage. This environment is unique because it’s a nightclub style design so we put it next to the DJ booth, which is very typical in the nightclub.


Steve Lieberman: “The music plays and the audience dances to it, but the lighting and the visual show kind of reflects that experience.”

PSL: You’ve been around the club and DJ circuit for years, before it was mainstream.

SL: It was just very much sub-culture before then.

PSL: What draws you to it. What do you love about it?

SL: You know what? At a young age, I would say the music was probably the most inspiring. Just the social camaraderie of it and the whole experience, so from the second you walk into the club and then the music and the colorful people that were in there…it’s kind of just like going on an adventure.

PSL: Why do you think lighting is important at a festival or a club?

SL: It kind of fulfills the whole experience. We have cliché’s between the different trades. The PA guys say nobody comes to listen to the lights and we say nobody comes to watch the audio. Right? So, it completes the experience. It’s a symbiotic relationship.


PSL: What kind of changes have you seen over the years? What’s the reaction from say, millennials, who were just being born in the 1990s?

SL: I would guess they have nothing to compare it to short of their just walking in and getting an experience. It’s a lot more polished nowadays than it was then. The technology’s changed. Design philosophies have changed, budgets have changed, and musical formats have changed. Right there, it’s already kind of geared toward today’s youths.

At the same time though, it’s also attractive to people more my age to come in and say, “Okay, this is reminiscent of a show.” But it’s a cleaner, polished show. It’s proper ticket sales. It’s organized. It’s a safer environment. It’s not an illegal, underground party, you know, in a factory warehouse that we broke into some industrial areas of Brooklyn.

PSL: How do you put together a show? Do you just know the music that well and it’s instinctual?

SL: We just know the music. If you’re going to be a good operator, you have to have a good sense of timing. You could be a good programmer and not be a good operator, because there’s syntax and it’s a programming language and you have to understand how to get from point A to point B in the desk.

But, knowing the music and understanding kind of the rhythm, being able to anticipate what the music is, for me, it’s just, this music makes sense. I know when it’s going to break down. I just understand it. I just always have.

So, as long as you have your console set up in the right format, you should be able to predict that music and on the breaks, on the beats, on the builds, you should be able to execute the next look that you want, instantly, right on time. Because if you’re a millisecond before or a millisecond after, it’s noticeable and it looks off. So timing is critical. It is absolutely not pre-programmed because we don’t know what the DJ is going to play.


Steve Lieberman