It Began in Afrika

afrika burn africageographicBurning Man is starting to spread around the world, with Regional burns growing in other States of the US and other countries around the globe. We recently profiled the Aussie Burn, there’s a Kiwi Burn, but for some reason South America and Central America don’t have regionals yet. Anyway, the Deep South (so deep it’s on the other side of the Equator) are well represented with the largest of all the world’s regionals, Afrika Burn.

Here’s some great timelapse footage from this year’s Afrika Burn. Thanks to Burner Young Robert down under in Laguna for finding this one. You’re probably going to want to go full screen and click the HD button:

The movie was produced by @Riordan Allen and shot in gorgeous HD by Rory Allen:

The installations at AfrikaBurn usually have quite a short lifetime and with the huge amount of effort that is put into the planning, fundraising, building and eventual burning of these art pieces, we decided quite early on that this is what we wanted our film to focus on.

Now that looks like a proper Burning Man style party

Now that looks like a proper Burning Man party

Tankwa Town was our home for a total of 8 days as we formed part of The Toy Box campsite. We arrived 3 days prior to the start of the burn and found that not many of the installations were completed at this point. We spent the mornings shooting sunrises over the few installations that were completed and spent the days building geodesic domes, laying down colourful carpets and rigging lights and sound with friends and Toy Box leaders Andrew Wood and Travis Hyde.

We had no schedule as we decided to simply shoot when it felt right to do so. It was Rory’s second burn and my first and in order to experience it properly, we decided to let the festival dictate the schedule to us. Each day saw at least a few hours of shooting, except for the Friday, our only official day off, and over the 5 day festival Rory managed to shoot nearly 50 timelapses.

Unfortunately on the Saturday evening, the night of the main burn, we managed to loose a ziplock bag with 6 cards of footage. The cards contained a mass of footage, including most of the main burns and some day time installations. We spoke to everyone we could at the burn, posted all over social media and while everyone has been super helpful in getting the word out, the cards never managed to find their way back to us. We figure that someone without knowledge of what the cards were thought the bag was moop (matter out of place) and discarded it as rubbish.

While this severely affected our film we decided to put the edit out anyway. If the cards ever do turn up by some miracle, we may consider recutting the film but for now, this is our gift to all burners, especially the ones who built, burned and brought back x

Afrika Burn 2014 is April 28. We’re hoping to get down there next year with the Gooch Apparel crew.

There’s a ton more videos here, some great tunes in the soundtrack.

WIRED: Open Source is Like Burning Man

Is there something in the air? It seems that the theme for this Spring is tech moguls dropping Burning Man references. Burning Man, the Maker world, and the tech world are about to converge for a weekend at BurnerHack. Some people trace the demise of Burning Man to 1996, with the event’s first coverage in WIRED magazine in Bruce Sterling’s article. WIRED and Burning Man have always gone hand in hand, as have Burning Man and  tech. Despite the naysayers, they’re all still going strong. Right now it seems to be de riguer to work Burning Man into whatever you’re promoting to the technology world.

WIRED has recently done a story on Monty Taylor of Hewlett-Packard and OpenStack, the NASA backed offspring of the Rainbow Mansion that aims to run much of the infrastructure of the Internet. Monty is the engineer in charge of “Continuous Integration” for the OpenStack project, meaning he’s the gate keeper for all the developers out there who submit code to be integrated to the core. He’s a Burner, he wears pink sunglasses (Robot Heart, one wonders?), and he likens the open source movement in the software world to Burning Man:


Monty Taylor posing on New York’s fashionable High Line (photo Wired/Andrew White)

Though engineers are so often caricatured as single-minded introverts, Monty Taylor is an extrovert with a taste for more than software. “He’s super-technical,” says Mark Collier, who worked with Taylor at Rackspace and is now on staff at the OpenStack Foundation, the not-for-profit that oversees the project. “But he’s also so personable.”

No, you wouldn’t call him a typical software developer. But he’s not as far from the norm as he may seem. Whatever the stereotypes, software development is a social activity, and this is particularly true of massive open source projects like OpenStack. Taylor compares OpenStack to Burning Man, where a vast array of individuals, each with his own agenda, come together and share common ground. The OpenStack CI service is the tool that keeps this community going, ensuring that the collective doesn’t turn to chaos.

I’m always making big Burning Man metaphors,” Taylor says. “We want to give developers as much freedom as we can, but if you give them too much freedom, it turns into anarchy. You have to have a certain amount of structure and rules.”

Open Stack seems to be a combination of several “skunkworks” type projects being conducted by NASA, Google, and others, all rolled up into one in the salon at the Rainbow Mansion. It’s open to the world, and backed by more than 150 companies, including some of the tech world’s biggest:

So much software they needed a container

So much software they needed a container

OpenStack has many founders across NASA, Rackspace, and beyond. But several of the most important players were a regular part of the tech commune that thrives at the Rainbow Mansion, including Chris C. Kemp, 34, one of the freethinkers who founded the Mansion when they joined NASA’s Ames Research Center in 2006. “We were just looking for a place to live,” says Kemp. “But it turned into a place where the idea was to recruit interesting people — interesting people to have dinner with, to run into in the common areas, to be around a lot — people who could expand our understanding of the world.”

Kemp went on to become the chief information officer at Ames and later the chief technology officer of NASA as a whole. While there, working alongside several others with close ties to the Rainbow Mansion, he spearheaded the creation of NASA Nebula, an effort to bring Google’s web genius to the rest of the world. And after two years of struggle, a key part of this project — an open source platform called Nova — would merge with a complementary platform from Rackspace and give birth to OpenStack.

Like Linux, OpenStack is a bit of a miracle. The odds were against Kemp even getting Nebula off the ground at NASA — not only because it’s somewhat tangential to the agency’s mission, but because the NASA bureaucracy was so unsuited to the creation of something openly shared with the rest of the world. And NASA is only half the story. It’s even more remarkable that a project created at NASA would so quickly find a home among the giants of the tech world.

“This could have fallen apart in a million different ways, from the beginning. In fact, it all seemed impossible,” says Rick Clark, who worked at Rackspace when OpenStack was in its infancy and now helps drive the project at Cisco. “You have to please NASA and the NASA legal team and the Rackspace legal team and the Rackspace board of directors, and you have to do it in a way that still have something that’s palatable to developers everywhere else. It’s amazing that it actually happened.”

hive cubeOpen Source software means anyone can contribute to it; this shift in the concept of intellectual property has revolutionized the software industry, gutting the market for application software developers who are now lucky to get $3 in the App Store for their masterpieces. Google and Facebook were built on massive server farms running Linux, the variant of the UNIX operating system kernel developed as Open Source by Finland’s Linus Torvalds in 1991. The low-cost, easily modifiable software stack meant their server farms cost less to build and operate than their competitors. It’s safe to say that most of the Internet runs on open source these days – which still hasn’t stopped companies like Microsoft and Oracle making money. Their profits have increased, but some of their monopoly has been passed back to the people. This model is what is needed as evolution careens on its unstoppable course towards the Singularity…information wants to be free. The infrastructure and systems that govern our lives should be created by the people, and transparent to all – not purchased from IBM and Accenture for multi-billion dollar sums, the same systems sold over and over again to government departments and large corporations. Open source software is always evolving, can always be improved. It is free, made by the people, by those who want to share their skills and efforts for the benefit of anyone else who appreciates it.

slow progressSound like anything familiar? In likening the open source movement to Burning Man, Monty makes the point that “without some rules, it descends into anarchy – which is true, but misses the larger point about the organization of human beings. We need leadership, not just rules. Sure, we need rules. Without leadership, rules descend into bureaucracy, blandness, even tyranny. Rules for the sake of having more rules. This is kind of like the role Standards play in Open Source – a convenient way for the corporate interests to put their fingerprints all over emerging technologies, slowing down and steering their development in the name of “Open Standards” (which is not the same thing as Open Source). The Open Source projects that seem to work best are the ones where there is a media-friendly character involved, a geek prepared to have a slightly higher profile than the others perhaps. The mainstream media might have no idea who these characters are, but enough of the geeks know that they have the street cred required to get others to follow them.

This same point seems to be missed by Google’s Larry Page, in calling for “spaces without rules” where experimentation can take place. I agree we need these spaces – but even more, we  need the tribes that will fill them, the scouts who will convince the leaders to bring more of their tribe. In the nightclub world these would be called promoters, in the tech world they are called “thought leaders”. At BMOrg I believe the title is “social alchemist”. These tribes can operate in existing spaces and within existing rules, Burning Man is an example of a space (and challenge) that greatly facilitates the formation and connections of these tribes. What do they do to promote these tribes, and help them prosper? What sort of leadership do they provide to the inhabitants of their Temporary Autonomous Zone – and what will that look like in the future?


The Rainbow Mansion (photo Wired/Ariel Zambelich)

Back to OpenStack:

That’s what OpenStack is: a way for the rest of the world to compete with Amazon. “Amazon [is] at war with every IT vendor out there,” says Sebastian Stadil, the CEO of an open source cloud management outfit Scalr, the founder of the Silicon Valley Cloud Computing group, and a former resident of the Rainbow Mansion. “I think one of the reasons OpenStack is getting so much traction — despite, to be frank, iffy stability — is that it represents the industry’s only hope to survive.”

All these massive companies – and NASA! – teaming up just to fight in a war against Amazon, over a business that’s not even doing $1 billion a year? With technology coming to us from the Rainbow Mansion, 15 minutes down the road from NASA Ames? And it’s our only hope to survive? Something smells fishy to me here. This has the pungent reek of 20th century thinking, nicely packaged in a fetid veneer of pseudo-openness. It stinks of open source for the wrong reasons. It seems more like the eternal cycle of computing, from the server room to the client and back again. A whole new excuse to sell hardware and services to customers who already bought them 5 years ago when the buzzwords were different.

Anyway, the point is that  Open Source ultimately wins over proprietary monopoly. If BMOrg want to monopolize their control over Burning Man, they will eventually be subsumed by something more open. People want their voices to be heard. Information wants to be free. The energy and spirit of Burning Man want to be free too, and gifted to the world.

Burning Man is the epitome of the crowd-sourced event. The cremé-de-la-cremé of BYO parties. But in a way, the rules for it get crowd-sourced too. It starts with the 10 Principles – what are they, Rules? Commandments? Then rules get added to the mix from BMOrg, from the authorities, from Burners doing stupid stuff. New ideas, new rules. Every year, more people, more rules. Without leadership, the creativity will be stifled by the imposition of systemic authority. You can see this happen all day long in Silicon Valley – the founders get kicked out of the company once it grows past a couple of hundred people, the early staff quit, because it’s “not the same” as things get bigger and more complicated and the rules come in. This is why big companies can’t innovate – they just buy innovation with their giant treasure troves.

Here’s what Monty thinks about the rules:

Taylor and team have also built a tool called Zuul, a means of efficiently testing the enormous amounts of code produced by the project, and unlike most CI systems, it tests all code before it’s merged into the collective, so that the community can move as one — and move much quicker.

The other key thing to realize, Taylor says, is that the process is automatic. No human can merge new code into the project without the approval of the system. With a massive project like OpenStack, he explains, you need a process that doesn’t favor the wishes of any one contributor. You don’t want anarchy, but you don’t want dictatorship either.

“You can’t have human enforcement of the rules. That lends itself to corruption. We want rules to — as much as possible — be sensible and machine-enforced. You can’t have someone laying down a rule because they don’t like you. They have to be rules that apply to everyone.”

The ultimate aim is to create a project that is truly communal — the sort of thing that so rarely happens in the real world. “We can’t do this in normal human life,” Taylor says, “but we can do it in source code.”


"The Freaks Come Marching-In" - they asked Burners to draw self-portaits. Image credit Todd Berman

“The Freaks Come Marching-In” – they asked Burners to draw self-portaits. (Todd Berman)

We can’t do this in normal human life – but Burning Man has the size, ingenuity, and weirdness that maybe it could be a chance for us to create a project that is truly communal. Not controlled by a small group of privileged insiders. And  not just in one way, repeated ad infinitum…but on an ongoing, repeatable basis. For example, why do we have to build the same city layout, again and again? Is it for occult reasons? We want to change things, then “Jupiter” becomes “Juniper”, and we can all feel more edgy? Let’s mix it up a bit. Experiment with different ways of living together, and see what lessons we learn. Try something new, and burn it at the end. If not at this event, then perhaps other, new ones to come.

Free Software Guru, Rochard Stallman

Free Software Guru, Rochard Stallman

Burning Man can have increasingly more rules and still thrive, so long as there is leadership. They would do well to learn from the successes of Open Source, and ideas like Burner Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons. Burning Man is the ultimate creative commons, in the original sense of the term commons. Now Lessig, and Open Source demigod Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, and even the Pirate Party which is gaining legitimate political support in Europe, are promoting the next big thing: the Free Culture movement. Enrich humanity, by sharing our cultural heritage with each other. Hollywood and the record companies still make money, Burning Man will still make money.

Since BMOrg do not exploit our photos for their own commercial gain, why do they need to have such onerous copyright policies? Why not use a creative commons license, so that we can all share together the rich tapestry of unique culture that we create and add to with every Burn. Sure, there’s stuff on YouTube, but we could do better. Everyone’s experience at Burning Man could be shared with everyone else – if they chose. Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat – we live in a world of sharing now. Not taking, controlling, hoarding. Sharing, giving, remixing, improving. Burning Man would only gain from this way of thinking, and so would the Burner community. It’s the value of the inclusive approach – it’s a party that’s created by its participants, so encourage their participation in the design and governance of the city, and the spread of the movement. Don’t try to own and control; instead give, and share, and open, and include. Its 2013, we speak the Language of We. Sharing is the new owning.

THE POOR MAN’S BURNING MAN 2: The Glamorous Life of a Model

by Whatsblem the Pro

Houston, we have a Whatsblem.

Houston, we have a Whatsblem.

[Whatsblem the Pro is embedded in the International Arts Megacrew for the building of THE CONTROL TOWER, a sixty-foot “cargo cult” version of an FAA control tower, equipped with lasers and flame effects and other interactive features. This series of articles begins with The Poor Man’s Burning Man: Part One, and shows you how you can attend Burning Man even if you don’t sleep on a giant pile of money at night.]

The Control Tower project is still in fundraising/proof-of-concept mode at this relatively early date, which is possible because the actual build will be so much easier than a frame structure like the IAM’s Temple of Transition in 2011. The Tower’s main structural members are all bamboo, so there won’t be much to do for the hammer-swingers that made up the bulk of the crew for the Temple build. The Tower would represent a daunting challenge to an untested group, but it’s going to be a cakewalk of a build when compared with projects the IAM already has under its belt.

We proved that in the last week by assembling a twelve-foot 1:5 scale model of the Tower, to test the ease of construction and structural integrity of the thing. Ken Rose opted to go with lengths of bamboo that are actually only two-thirds actual scale in diameter; if these are sufficient to build a solid model, then we can be supremely confident that the real thing at sixty feet tall will be generously overbuilt in terms of structural strength.

The Tower uncrowned, at 1:5 scale

The Tower uncrowned, at 1:5 scale

The model went up like a dream. A little light tugging and measuring was necessary to pull it into true, and then lashings of hemp rope were applied at the intersections of the bamboo poles. Even with only the lower lashings in place, you can reach out and give the thing a good shaking, without it needing to flex more than about a centimeter to absorb the shocks. The Tower will be light, but incredibly strong and flexible, and should be able to easily withstand even the strongest gusts of wind we might encounter.

The crew is still a small core group, with casual labor on hand when needed, mostly thanks to locals from the 2011 Temple crew. Right now it’s a matter of pulling together the top technical people – our laser expert, our flame effects specialist, our Arduino guy, etc. – with IAM’s architect, Ken Rose, and letting them hash out the best ways to accommodate each others’ work.

It’s also fundraising time. This project won’t happen without funding, and the Org has chosen not to give the IAM a grant this year. All the money has to come from the generous contributions of burners who have enjoyed the crew’s past work, and want to see more. As I write this, we’ve got just half of the $25,000 we’ll need, with only eleven days left on our Indiegogo campaign.

At this stage, my role has mostly been related to that need for funding. The IAM is a non-profit organization with a 501(3)(c) conduit that allows us to give a tax deduction on most donations of money, goods, or services; I spend my mornings and the early afternoons on the phone and the computer, calling business owners and managers and asking them to kick something, anything, into the pot that we can use to defray our costs. Computer parts. Welding rod. Bottled water for on-playa. Stuff we can raffle off at fundraisers, like dinner for two at a nice restaurant. Food for our crew.

A lot of people say no, but a good many say yes. The local mom-and-pops are as good to us as they can afford to be. Some big corporations say yes right away, but they have protocols in place that prevent them from helping out too much. Every little bit counts, so we take what we can get gratefully; still, it seems a shame that a giant “big box” store chain with literally billions in their coffers can only give us a maximum of $25 worth of goods, while a struggling local business can find a way to make underwriting hundreds or thousands of dollars of our expenses a net positive for them too.

Sometimes it’s a total win-win when you call someone on the phone and ask what they can do to help out with your project, even if they don’t have a lot of ready cash. I chanced on a company that makes solar water heating systems using a patented heating element they invented themselves; they’re still a start-up, and poised to expand, so they don’t have the liquid assets to just dump cash on us. . . but when I mention Burning Man, they tell me they have been wanting to build a self-contained water-recycling shower trailer using their solar heaters, so they’ll have something to take to festivals and show off. After a meeting with the company’s partners, the CEO, a gentleman in his sixties and a deacon at a local church, comes to visit us at our build site. He likes what he sees so much that he actually ends up signing a site waiver and climbing up a twelve-foot ladder to help assemble our scale model of the Control Tower. As we break for dinner and part ways, he shakes my hand and tells me they’ll build their shower trailer project for our crew to use on the playa. I let him know that he won’t be able to do any kind of advertising out there, but he’s fine with that; he wants to see Burning Man for himself and will put off using the shower trailer as a rolling billboard until he can haul it out to some other festival.

Architect Ken Rose -- Photo: Mark Hebert

Architect Ken Rose — Photo: Mark Hebert

There are just two snags: one is that they’ll need a little help with the labor; that’s no problem at all. The other is that they don’t have any cash to put into the shower trailer project, and they are lacking the filtration system they’ll need to turn greywater from the shower’s drains back into potable water ready to be used again. They’ve got everything else necessary to build the high-tech closed system they envision, but we’re going to have to come up with two different types of filter on our own. One type we can make ourselves cheaply and easily; the other type that we’ll need will be expensive.

On my way home, I stop at a large pool and spa store, and the owner happens to be there and not at all busy. We have a friendly talk and I tell her about the Control Tower; she’s been to Burning Man and promises me that once I figure out exactly what size and type of filter we need, she’ll donate it.

People are pretty generous, and just plain great in general, when you give them a good opportunity to be that way for a cause that excites their imaginations.

Aside from fundraising, I’ve been pitching in on things like painting the wooden parts for the scale model, or doing whatever else needs extra hands, but that’s been pretty light work.

I’ve also been gearing up to do some indirect fundraising, by making swag to give to people who donate to our Indiegogo. I hand-carve and tool leather, so I thought I’d decorate some leather panels and stitch them around metal liquor flasks. I finished my prototype yesterday; you can’t buy one at any price, but if you donate $250 to the Control Tower I’ll make one for you for free. . . and if you come to the Control Tower to collect it on-playa, I’ll even fill it with Scotch for you.




Pioneer Days – Burning Man in 1990

burningman_1990Shout out to Laughing Squid for breaking this story, which we caught over at SFist. Here we have some original Super 8 footage of the Man being burned in 1990.

We’ve written about the history of Burning Man before here, and mentioned it more recently here. Although the video shows a statue of a very familiar looking Man, the event itself was not called Burning Man at this time. It was still promoted as part of the Cacophony Society, and there was only one portapotty. Gnarly!

Laughing Squid points us to some of their historical coverage of Ye Olden Dayes of Burning Man.

In September 1990, Bob G. captured this Super 8mm film footage of San Francisco Cacophony Society’s Zone Trip #4–”Bad Day at Black Rock“– the event more commonly known now as Burning Man. 1990 was the first year it was held out at Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

With the release of the book Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society it’s been fun to revisit some of our previous posts about the early days of Burning Man, like these:

Bad Day At Black Rock (Cacophony Society Zone Trip #4)

Burning Man 1990-1991: Early Camp Life on the Playa in Black Rock City

Burning Man 1990-1995 Photos, The Birth of Black Rock City

Danger Ranger’s Photos of Burning Man 1990

video by Photopanorama

Thanks Kevin Evans!

I get a sense that in these early days, “creating a temporary city” was more of a priority than “burning an effigy”. Did that ever change? Or did the rave culture then appear, and “throwing a party” took over as the prime directive?

Ranting and Raving

Our recent piece stirring the horny nest hot-button issue of kids at the Burn prompted an amusing comment from Burner St Addis of Paul.

DebBurningManLeave it to burnersxxx to get to the real issue here — are babes spoiling the “true meaning of burning man”? (i.e. DJs and the people who love them) You’ll just have to think of kids as living, breathing little Freebirds-at-Temple-burn, and I’m sure Mr the Pro would counsel you that that’s the kind of thing you just have to suck up and deal with in the name of freedom. Personally, St Addis finds it a little troublesome that there’s limited medical care in the event that a kid gets hurt, and thinks that anyone who sticks a kid in a car seat for an 8 hour exodus needs their head examined (i.e. I hope all those kids come in RVs, anything else seems cruel) but there were kids around burner culture long before there were international DJs with dusty cocks in need of sucking, and anything that forces people to realize that burning man is something other than “the world’s largest rave” is probably a good thing.

True. And it’s nice to know people are reading this blog enough to get the point. I’ve got no problem with other things going on at Burning Man beyond the hundreds, if not thousands, of raves. Indeed, I enjoy many other aspects too. But anyone who tries to deny it’s the world’s largest rave is crazy. Maybe Coachella, EDC, Ultra, TomorrowLand get way more numbers, $100 million+ just on tickets in some cases, $1 million+ for artists…but Burning Man is a CITY. We live in this rave. We ride bikes from stage to stage, or get a ride on a stage itself. We can turn our own camp into a stage if we want, anyone of our friends can get up and DJ, if the music is good people will come over and dance. Burning Man has it all over every other party in terms of its physical dimensions, number of DJs, and number of stages – especially feathered raverwhen you consider that pretty much every art car is a mobile stage too. That’s about 500 stages right there. Music is everywhere! Unknown DJs mix with local heroes who mix with international superstars, who are often playing for free and incognito. This has become a fundamental part of the party, and explains most of the increase in numbers from 15,000 in 1998 to 68,000 now. They can get away with $400 ticket prices, because that’s about right for what people would pay to see these artists at a festival. A festival that is paying for the artists, of course.  Look, I’ll grant you, it doesn’t all have to be dubstep, that’s for fucken sure. More psy-trance, more trance! But that’s an aside. Raves have always incorporated the art and lighting elements, as well as loud music and packed dance floors.

Now these days in 2013 we have “EDM”, this week there was a fantastic article by DJ Pangburn in Death and Taxes about the building EDM “bubble” in the United States. It seems doof has been a slow burner (if you pardon the pun) in this country, but right now it is on fire.

St Paul’s comment triggered a certain curiosity in me. Which did come first, the “pollo fuego” or the Eggstasy?

Which came first: raves or Burning Man?

Burning Man was a bit smaller in 1998

Burning Man was a bit smaller in 1998

It seems that the first events the Burning Man founders had on the Playa did not feature electronic music. I do remember losing my Burginity in 1998 and rave was there, but maybe 2 or 3 camps that you had to find by listening for the bass. Anyone with more information, please let us know.

Wikipedia has slightly conflicting information on when Burning Man started, between the official Burning Man entry and the Cacophony Society. The movie Dust and Illusions goes into this in some detail. The first Burning Man was held on Baker Beach in 1986, a fire ceremony. Burning Man claims this as the start of their party, but in fact it was the Cacophony Society in 1986 and they claim it became Burning Man in 1989.

The first Burning Man on the Playa was in 1990.

The first raves were held in the 1980’s, and the first description in the media of “Acid House Parties” as “raves” is claimed as 1989 – by Genesis P.Orridge, an occultist from the band Psychic TV . By 1991, the rave scene was no longer undeground and they were throwing legal parties in the UK for upwards of 30,000 people. That’s right, 20 years ago, they were throwing official, permitted raves – with electronic music – a comparable size to Burning Man.

What about the US? Wikipedia says:

scott hardkissAmerican ravers, following their early UK & European counterparts, have been compared to both the hippies of the 1960s and the new wavers of the 1980s, due to their interest in non-violence and music.

In the 1990s, one of the most influential Rave organisers / promoters in America was San Diego’s G.U.N., Global Underworld Network known as Nicholas Luckinbill and Branden Powers. They were made famous for organising and throwing the internationally known OPIUM and NARNIA raves that reached in size of 60,000 plus people in attendance, a feat unheard of at that time. Narnia which would become famous for a morning hand holding circle of unity was featured on Mtv and twice in LIFE magazine being honored with Event of the Year in 1995. Narnia quickly became known as the “Woodstock of Generation X”. These festivals were mostly held on Indian Reservations and Ski Resorts during the Summer months and were headlined by well known DJs such as Doc Martin,Dimitri of Dee-lite,Afrika Islam and the Hardkiss brothers from San Francisco

So we have San Francisco DJs and San Diego promoters throwing parties for 60,000 people in the early 90’s. The Woodstock of Generation X. I think it’s safe to say that rave was well on the scene in California before Burning Man was anything more than some loosely affiliated people camping together in the desert for free. If you read the story of the first Burning Man on the Playa, it seems like it was viewed more as a Cacophony Society event back then. For about 80 people. According to the respected source Dr Dre Started Burning Man, they applied for their first permit in 1991 and Dr Dre took it over in 1995.

Just kidding. That video sure stands the test of time though. And raises more questions than it answers. But let’s go with Wikipedia instead of Dr Dre:

1996 was the first year a formal partnership was created to own the name “Burning Man” and was also the last year that the event was held in the middle of the Black Rock Desert with no fence around it.

Thus it seems we should call the official start of Burning Man 1996, when they built the fence, created the company, and called the thing “Burning Man”…and get back to my rant about raves. First, we should define “rave”. Wikipedia is good enough for me:

Juno Reactor - ultimate live rave band

Juno Reactor – ultimate live rave band

According to Gibson (1999) rave is a spatial practice, which is done through the harmonization of dance, music and lighting. A part of a growing global subculture, and a powerful entertainment industry, the rave party is an event through which individuals can experience trances, religious rapture, deal with personal issues and of course have a really good time.[3]

St. John (2003) claims that raves pride themselves on their friendly atmosphere and welcoming attitude, by both the employees of the event and the guests. With a specific code of conduct, and a developing spiritual philosophy, rave culture can, according to St John, be viewed as part of new religious movement, as well as a re-invention of shamanistic or pagan spiritual practices.[4]

Shamanistic? Pagan? You mean, as old as time then. Going all the way back to the Dreamtime. Reading this definition, you could argue that Burning Man already was a rave, as soon as it started. has a history of rave culture (yep, we do our research here at Burners.Me)

A rave is an all night event, where people go to dance, socialise, get high and generally have fun in an uninhibited way with other likeminded people. Some say it’s about the creation of a community and re-connecting with something perceived as lost. Others just say it’s about necking loads of pills and getting wasted with your mates in a field.

They have some informaton on the origin of the term:

The term rave first came into use in Britain in the late 50’s referring to the wild bohemian parties of the time. It was then briefly revived by the mods, but didn’t come back into fashion until the illegal London warehouse party scene in the mid eighties. However it is likely that the term ‘rave’ came from Jamaican usage rather than a revival of any previous usage in Britain.

Wikipedia provides further clarification:

In 1958 Buddy Holly recorded the hit “Rave On,” citing the madness and frenzy of a feeling and the desire for it to never end

So, Buddy Holly was the first American raver. Right on, Rave On.

And also, Eric Clapton (she don’t like cocaine) and Paul McCartney were ravers. Now it all makes sense – Ravers, Red Bull, gives you wings, yard birds dazed and confused…ah hah!

From Wikipedia:

Tomorrow Land, the world's biggest rave since Love Parade 2000 in Berlin

TomorrowLand in Belgium, the world’s biggest rave since Love Parade 2000 in Berlin

In the late 1950s in London the term “Rave” was used to describe the “wild bohemian parties” of the Soho beatnik set.[5] In 1958 Buddy Holly recorded the hit “Rave On,” citing the madness and frenzy of a feeling and the desire for it to never end.[6] The word “rave” was later used in the burgeoning mod youth culture of the early 1960s as the way to describe any wild party in general. People who were gregarious party animals were described as “ravers”. Pop musicians such as Steve Marriott of The Small Faces and Keith Moon of The Who were self-described “ravers”.

Presaging the word’s subsequent 1980s association with electronic music, the word “rave” was a common term used regarding the music of mid-1960s garage rock and psychedelia bands (most notably The Yardbirds, who released an album in the US called Having a Rave Up). Along with being an alternative term for partying at such garage events in general, the “rave-up” referred to a specific crescendo moment near the end of a song where the music was played faster, heavier and with intense soloing or elements of controlled feedback. It was later part of the title of an electronic music performance event held on 28 January 1967 at London’s Roundhouse titled the “Million Volt Light and Sound Rave”. The event featured the only known public airing of an experimental sound collage created for the occasion by Paul McCartney of The Beatles – the legendary Carnival of Light recording

Burning Man can trace roots prior to 1996 all the way back to the Cacophony Society, I’ll give you that. But the first raves started out of the Factory in Manchester, even earlier than that. Wikipedia accredits this to the Stone Roses in 1985:

The first warehouse parties in Manchester were organized by the group The Stone Roses back in 1985, when to get around the licensing laws they would play a gig and book a line up of DJs under the disused arches of Piccadilly train station. These parties were then advertised as an all night video shoot, and the kids who bought tickets for £5 would have a 1p piece sellotaped to the back as their fee for being extras in a video shoot, thus for several months the forces of law were kept at bay

24 hour party people…but that completely overlooks the role of Tony Wilson, Factory and the Hacienda in Manchester in shaping the career and sound of the Stone Roses, and New Order in the Factory prior to that. I highly recommend the movie 24 Hour Party People, starring Steve Coogan, which is the story of Factory Records. I have friends who were there and they assure me the movie is pretty close to the true story. New Order were the absolute pioneers of electronic dance music, of course they were not the only ones, but their 1982 track “Blue Monday” is the biggest selling 12 inch of all time. And I’m not talking dildoes. It used to be in every DJ’s vinyl collection.

“Blue Monday” was described by the BBC Radio 2 “Sold On Song” feature thus: “The track is widely regarded as a crucial link between Seventies disco and the Dance/House boom that took off at the end of the Eighties.”[12] Synthpop had been a major force in British popular music for several years, but “Blue Monday”, by encouragement of the band’s manager, Rob Gretton, was dance record that also exhibited influences from the New York club scene,[12] particularly the work of producers like Arthur Baker (who collaborated on New Order’s follow-up single “Confusion”).


Earthcore Australia, 2007. A proper Bush Doof. The lineup for their 20th anniversary in December is outstanding - click image for details

Earthcore Australia, 2007. A proper Bush Doof. The lineup for their 20th anniversary in December is outstanding – click image for details

And then, we go back to the New York club scene. Possibly all the way to the synthesized disco beats of the 1970’s. Detroit and Chicago have strong arguments for creating the house sound, Derrick May in particular is viewed by many as the main creator of techno in 1987. Before that we had Kraftwerk from Germany. Jean-Michel Jarré from France – in 1986 he was doing shows with 1200 projectors, for 1.5 million people. Pink Floyd. Techno sound. Electronic sound. David Bowie, Brian Eno. All ravers. You follow the rabbit hole far enough, and you get to Lucy. Not Lucy, our common ancestor, the genetic originator of humans. The first one dancing to the beat of the drum, at the original rave in a cave. No, I’m talking about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. LS ‘n wonder lanD. The preferred trip of the trippers. Acid. The founding DNA of Burning Man, the Rave Scene, and 50 years of culture and creativity emanating from San Francisco, bringing peace and love to the world through art and music and invention.

If you really want to dive down this particular rabbit hole, consider this particular take on Rock and Roll history in the mid 60’s. There are 22 parts in total to it, quite the read.


Entrance to the Hive Mind, by Vitaloverdose

You wanna argue that Burning Man can claim  hippy purity  by tracing its San Francisco roots to the 60’s acid freak scene of Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and the Grateful Dead? I’ll argue back that the electric guitar is electronic music. So Hendrix is one of ours, the Doors. Obviously we claim the synthesizer, meaning Transhumanist leader Ray Kurzweil is a raver. This Founding Father of the Singularity is now Director of Engineering at Google, BTW. He’s building a mind there. Actually it’s an Artilect, a Godlike Massively Intelligent Machine – an Artificial Intelligence Hive mind that will be plugged into all our emails, appointments, movements, and everything we see and hear and do through our phones, cars, homes and glasses. And, given that Google makes $3.5 billion profit per quarter and has $50 billion in cash, it’s probably fair to say his budget has no limits. So ravers got robots. It’s a mistake to classify all of us as drugged up and obsessed only with hotpants, glowsticks and deep bass.

Yep, he’s a raver. A hard core one – he pops 200 pills a day. No idea if we can claim him as a Burner – but I would be astounded if that guy had not been to Burning Man. Especially to get a job like that at Google, who seem to have already fast-forwarded the Singularity timeline about 20 years. The Age of Spiritual Machines was an amazing book, and most ravers I’ve met are very spiritual people – though not necessarily religious.

Anyway, do I need to get medieval on your ass? We come from the old skool:

Here we have electronic music even before acid. But let’s go back even further. Ecstasy was invented by Merck in 1912. Where were all the hippies then? Thomas Edison was inventing electric cars and the phonograph – AKA vinyl. The wheels of steel. This was back in the days before USB sticks son, before the DJ had to put a mirror ball on his head and hop around to his laptop. This was when music was first

Art Car - in 1912. And it was electric.

Art Car – in 1912. And it was electric.

being electrified. The National Parks Service was created in 1916; Silent Spring wasn’t written until 1962.

Yes, that’s right. You heard it here first – Burners.Me BREAKING NEWS. Thomas Edison was a raver. Quite possibly the first one. Think about it – he had the turntables, he was recording beats in 1878. Then he needed to develop the low-emissions, off grid art car and  system so he could get to the doof, set up the sound system and the blinky lights, he was all about the blinky lights. 10,000 failures to get his light bulb going, that’s persistent. I bet he would have loved the Burner blinky light geniuses of today. He had electric cars, like Burner Elon Musk – whose car is named after Edison’s rival, genius Nikola Tesla. Put them both together you get AC/DC, true fact. Sounds very Burning Man.

So, perhaps predictably, I’m gonna have to call this one for the ravers. We were on the scene first, we were dropping phat beats and cruising in electric art cars before anyone even invented ecstasy or acid. Before the environmental movement began. Since there’s been electricity, since there’s been electronic music and blinky lights, there’s been ravers, and ravers invented art cars. We didn’t take over Burning Man, Burning Man came out of an existing scene of raves that had been happening for some time. We were there first, and as soon as our rave scouts found a place for a good doof, we showed up with the boom box. And we’ve been showing up ever since. We live in the 21st century now, sorry old-timers. We’re well into it. Hippies are still welcome, you can still bring your sitars and drop acid, it’s cool. But it’s not the 60’s any more, or the 70’s,80’s, 90’s, or Naughties. We’re in the teenies, and raves ain’t going nowhere. Burning Man is the world’s biggest rave and there’s no point fighting against it – especially given that “radical inclusion” is one of the core principles of the party.

lego raversThe rave element is not only there, it is the greatest party in the world for lovers of that scene, many of whom bring extreme amounts of resources to the Playa which contributes to everyone’s enjoyment. There are more shiny happy people dressed up in sexy costumes there to dance, than are there for free booze, workshops and TED talks, or anything else. Those major lasers aren’t there for the kids! And neither are those giant, world class sound systems and video screens. This stuff doesn’t get provided by Burning Man, it gets brought by the ravers. It draws almost all of the crowd to the party, and everyone gets to enjoy for free. Without amplified music, it would not be a party, it would be people camping. A rainbow gathering, perhaps. Acoustic Burning Man. Some friends around a campfire at Baker Beach.

There’s only one rave like this we can go to. Most of us agree, there should be more. One of the major differences is the Art Cars. You can take your kids to the Houston Art Car parade, but we can’t throw a rave there.  The same with pretty much any park in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are plenty of places you can go with your kids or for silence.

rave girlsWe welcome you to come with us, join us at our party, there will be music and dancing, wine women and song! And we’ll give it all to you for free! All we ask is, please don’t complain when you get there. Don’t try to turn it off, or make us turn it down. That’s what we get everywhere else in the world. In San Francisco, if we throw a rave, the cops can seize the sound system and the DJ’s laptop. Burning Man is one of the rare places in the whole world where we can come to turn it up. That’s why we travel for so many hours in the desert to go to it: so we’re not disturbing anyone. I know we make a great spectacle, and it’s cool and you want your kids to see it. We’re not stopping you, so don’t try to stop us. Accept and celebrate us: loud music is part of Burning Man, just like flashing lights are. Just like generators are. Bring some ear plugs. Camp on the outer perimeter. If you don’t like it, don’t go – we don’t like haters anyway, so that’s perfect. If you want to have your own party, by all means do. Get as much as you can out of Burning Man, express yourself, do whatever feels good. Go into the Deep Playa and enjoy the silence and sense of isolation out there, then get yourself into the middle of a packed dance floor and feel the Funktion1 15 hz bass so loud and deep that it makes your skull ache. Appreciate that you can easily do both, for free, without criticizing another human being or asking them to adjust their sense of wellbeing to benefit your own. Enjoy your Burn and the freedom of “We Do What We Want“, what a privilege it is for all of us to be there. In this giant, 24/7,  thumping bass and blinky lights ultimate rave city.