Modern Luxury: “RIP Burning Man (1986-2011)”

I remember what a shock to the Burner Eco-System it was when Town and Country magazine did a piece on Burning Man’s Krug-swilling society set. My how time flies!

Now, not even a mere year later, Burning Man is declared dead by no less a source of chicness than Modern Luxury – famous for such titles as “San Francisco”, “Miami”, and “Dallas”. What’s next – a turnkey Burning Man theme camp of your very own, in Robb Report’s annual “unique gifts” guide?


The journalist Adam Fisher attended 4th of Juplaya this year – which I guess can no longer be considered a secret, if it’s in Modern Luxury.

Juplaya, I’ve been told for years, is an insiders-only affair, a Burn for true burners, a scene only accessible to the manifestly hardcore.

     “When I go to festivals, I want to feel like I can do drugs and fuck out in the open,” said Hot Sauce, a pixieish thirtysomething blonde whom I met on the playa. “And I can do that at Juplaya.” Her friend Menkini, 33, demurred, but only slightly: “I just want to drive fast and blow shit up.” (The two activities haven’t been allowed at Burning Man proper for years.)

     Hot Sauce and Menkini’s idealized fever dream of the countercultural festival—rife with public sex and bounteous pills and explosions strafing the open desert—will be familiar to anyone who has been to Burning Man (and a lot of those who haven’t). The jaded-burner refrain is as predictable as it is constant: You should have been here a few years ago when it was really wild.

These two sound like a couple of chicks I’d like to have at my party!

The author touches on a current hot button in the Burner community, people being paid to work in camps:


Though it’s hard to notice on your first—or even your tenth—visit, the tracks of the capital-E establishment are now everywhere at Burning Man. You can see it at the improvised landing strip/airport set up every year for the jet-in crowd. You can see it in the art, such as the 40-foot-tall sculpture Bliss Dance, which was the star of Burning Man 2010 and has an estimated value of $1.5 million. You can see it in the camps: A decade ago the festival was plastered with prank flyers announcing that Hilton was building a burnable full-service hotel on the playa. Today there is a hotel, and it’s no joke: “Ashram Galactica” comes complete with a concierge and rooms that are doled out each night to lucky plebes. None of this ostentation would pose a problem if it didn’t introduce the one thing that is supposed to be strictly verboten at Burning Man: services—and with them the inevitable servant class to provide them.

 The author is almost embarrassed to admit that he enjoyed waitresses taking his drink order (like any of us can enjoy in any bar or restaurant in the world), or sleeping on clean sheets (again, really not such an in your face example of the 1%).

photo by Peter Ruprecht

I’ve even found myself at camps where a waitress came to take my order, and where the community art-building project was outsourced to hired artists. I’ve experienced the festival both ways: as a commoner, sleeping in a pup tent and surviving on gorp and jerky, and as a guest of the new burner elite. And though there’s nothing like arriving by Cessna and sleeping under clean, freshly changed sheets, many fear the effects of too much civilization on an event designed to be anti-all-that.

Cruising the barren wasteland, looking for a good time, the distant thump of Ghost Bass from the Fish Tank drew the author back to the party girls.

Finally, after rolling down the window to catch the warm desert breezes, I thought I heard something: It was just a thump carried on a gust of wind, but unquestionably a techno beat. “Ghost bass,” my buddy proclaimed. We chased after it, and this time we hit pay dirt. The bass emanated from a giant fish—really an art car called Fish Tank, a piece of rolling sculpture in the shape of a toothy anglerfish, complete with tank treads, a wraparound couch, blinking lights, a booming sound system, and a rotating disco ball. Jumping out of our SUV, we joined the party. The crowd was all we were hoping for: attractive, scantily clad, and clearly enjoying themselves. Whether their high was natural or chemical I could not say, but it was infectious.

     Soon I found myself in the midst of a passionate conversation about (what else) Burning Man. “The burner tail is eating itself; it’s imploding,” said my new friend Hot Sauce, recently transplanted to San Francisco by way of London. An eight-time Burning Man veteran, Hot Sauce is a stalwart of one of the biggest, flashiest, most high-profile camps on the playa—the New York City–centric Disorient. But after not getting her ticket in the lottery this year, she was having second thoughts about her allegiances (she eventually caved and bought a ticket). “Last year at Burning Man, I had the overwhelming feeling that I was being watched,” she told me. “There were police spotters everywhere, scanning the crowd. We’ve been at Juplaya for days, and I haven’t seen a cop yet.”

      Not 20 minutes later, two Pershing County sheriffs rolled up in a police truck to check on us. They displayed a surprisingly tolerant attitude about the Juplaya hijinks there and elsewhere. “I haven’t seen anyone really be a jerk,” said Officer Nathan Carmichael, “although there have been some education issues.” He cited the risk of fireworks setting nearby pastures ablaze, and of skinny-dippers inadvertently fouling the local hot springs.

     “Everybody is here because they don’t like authority,” said Officer Thom Bjerke. “I don’t want to arrest anyone, but my job is to get them to comply with at least the spirit of the law.” His main concern, he emphasized, was the health and safety of those who were on the playa. “It’s not Burning Man—there’s no safety net, and no medical staff out here,” he added, registering the massive fireworks being set off in the distance. “And it’s so easy to blow off a hand.”

Or a tire. The Pershing County officers were probably much happier with Juplaya because there was very little nudity and almost no kids.

For a glimpse of what life is like aboard the Fish Tank during 4th of Juplaya, check this out – you probably want to hit mute, there’s a lot of wind noise. No parade speed here! Check out the impact of hitting the playa serpents at about 0:30, yee-haaw!

10 comments on “Modern Luxury: “RIP Burning Man (1986-2011)”

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  6. I see the term ‘haters’ used quite frequently but am at a loss for what it means. Does it mean ‘people that think or feel differently than I do’ or ‘people that criticize something I enjoy’?

    Isn’t part of BM supposed to be radical inclusion and aren’t all viewpoints welcome? Is Piko! advocating censorship or some kind of litmus test for inclusion? Either way I find the term ‘haters’ idiotic and juvenile.

    • “haters” is someone who doesn’t approve of something someone else does, and therefore is critical of them. Why criticize others? Does it make you feel better about yourself? Lovers don’t need to do that, they find the best in everyone. You don’t have to agree with everything I do, but you should respect my right to choose to do it – if you don’t, you’re a hater. Which makes you idiotic and juvenile.

  7. you can have your prevost marathon motorcoaches, and burn how you like. i have no problem with it. we all burn in different ways. champagne & caviar VS spam & V8…who cares? not me.

    me, i’m perfectly happy in a converted school bus, the BLACK ROCK CITY SPARKLE PONY EXPRESS (a 1997 International/Amtran, with 7.3L Navistar turbo diesel engine with an Allison automatic transmission) that’s now my hillbilly RV. i’ll eat eat out of foil pouches and pop-top cans, drink gatorade and grey goose, and shit in the port-a-potties on the playa.

    there’s no time for haters on the playa.

    • right on Piko! I’ll be rocking in my 2000 RV that I bought off eBay last year as my festival vehicle. And I won’t look down on anyone with a tent, and I won’t turn green with envy at anyone with an Anderson Mobile Estate. I’ll be having a great time, and wishing the same for everyone else. Don’t hate the player, hate the hater!

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