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.

Thesite.org 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.

18 comments on “Ranting and Raving

  1. Pingback: The Techno Ghetto – the History of Dance Music at Burning Man | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. When i was first time coming to Bruning Man in 1996 the reason was the there was a rumour that KodeIV would play live there. We heard that BM is a big goa trance party in the desert. We never got there and KodeIV never played there. KodeIV member Goa Gill did play set there and it was later released as cd: Goa Gill @ Burning Man.

    I have still not got myself to visit BRC (main reason being i live another side of the planet), but if i get tickets 2015 i will be there. I will be there for the raves 😀

    • Thanks Graham, great essay and a fascinating, in-depth look at EDM history at BRC. A few observations:

      1. Larry Harvey is SO out of touch. What a dick to never even go to OT.

      2. Great point (I’m inferring) that art pieces like Oubororos might be fascinating to Burners for all of 5 minutes; they will spend an hour trekking to Deep Playa to join a rave, and spend multiple hours per day at sound stages like OT. Which art is more important? Even the Temple: other than when it burns, I doubt there are many Burners who spend an hour or more there.

      3. Hakim Bey is a pedophile, fuck that guy.

      4. I went to a Mutoid Waste party in the Outback in 2000, I think it was for the winter Solstice. They had planned to have it at Uluru and changed the location at the last minute to outside of Alice Springs. When we climbed the hill to watch the sunrise, we realized we were right next to the Pine Gap spy facility. Great party, the common thread that everyone had travelled so far to the middle of nowhere to be together was a wonderful social bond that reminded me of my first burns. These days when BM is a mainstream bucket list destination and there are 1000+ plane flights and bus services direct from the city, a lot of this vibe has been lost.

      5. I like your point that Burner culture spreads to more people off-Playa through the music that anything else their Project has got going. A single Ghost Ship brings in more people than a lifetime of Panel Discussions.

      • Ah cool, you were there too! Earthdream2000 @ Alice Springs. I wrote some reports on that experience back in the day, for example: http://www.edgecentral.net/edstate.htm (other stuff: http://www.edgecentral.net/ed2k.htm).

        You make an interesting comparison between early burns and earthdream, although efforts to continue earthdream were hampered by a hot of factors not least of all the distances involved. There was also an anti-uranium industry stance at its core, the kind of singular motivation not evident in Burning Man. Earthdream was a protestival movement.

        • the crowd was sort of like if the whole Burning Man was just DPW! I went to BM the first time in 98 and the second in 2001, so at Earthdream 2000 I’d only been once. Had been to probably half a dozen Earthcores by then, I’m very impressed that Spiro is still going strong – 21 years now.

        • “Salvador Dali meets Apocalypse Now”…love it! I’ll never forget the witches on the hillside with their massive spider web. You might have noticed our Oka 4WD bus. We wanted to see the “Plane Henge” on the way up from Melbourne but missed it. Do you know if it’s still there?
          Mutoid Waste Plane Henge, Australian Outback

          • That bus lies somewhere in the twisted labyrinth of my memory.

            AFAIK Plane Henge still stands, 14 years on, and is joined by several other works at Mutonia built over subsequent years.

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  4. Ironically I was looking for info on Global Underground – looking to see how or if Narnia was still going on, and something of a TRUE RAVE which I attended 90-94, before moving to SF…. And of course hitting Burning Man 95-02… However I have news for you in the context of BM and raves… And not the stuff you can copy out of wiki..

    Burning mans ‘community’ was, and IS rather anti-raver… They are just not openly hostile any longer – yes you heard me – hostile!

    Let me explain the experience this stems from. I first heard of BM in San Diego in 94, with some irony at Narnia a much different ‘music based’ event. Much of my set, after finding that I was headed to SF decided to hit ‘The Man’, and we did. As I had an inordinate amount of time off that day and age, I volunteered and went early. (As I did following as well for a number of years.)

    Anyway, a little correction of view and history is in order. And I’ll provide that for you here. In ’95 and years prior, were just tagging along, to the “Art Festival” that is BM, 95 being a clear demarcation of that. With two clear and distinct camps seperate and litteraly 2 miles away from each other. I’ll explain, upon arrival in 95 I got early and full access as a volunteer, as well as insight in the controversy of the time. The ‘Art crowd – Organizers’ were sick of the noise, and relagated “Rave Camp” to be at a distance, with a connecting road, and was seperately organized to boot.

    This distance proved FATAL, as a couple were run down in their tent along the ‘road’ I planted flags to demark. These were deaths #2&3 of 3 that year. (The other being vehicular suicide of sorts.) In response, driving, apart from art cars was banned the year following in 96. Also of interest in this context.

    96, came no cars, and with it, NO RAVE CAMP! And a full blown discouragement of the rave community to attend by the BM authorities that be to this day. Find a ticket and map for that year, and you’ll find the typical desert death disclaimer on the back and with the hand outs, and also an interesting RULE, the first of many. “No sound systems over 100 watts allowed” yes you heard me! Where did 100 watts come from? – it was the biggest boom box you could find… Generators were also not encouraged, and a “centralized power system” would be provided for the limited center camps. (I have a unique perspective here as well…)

    In 95 through 97, I volunteered with the guy running the generators in the BM base camp, which was very similar to what I did in the Marine Corps. (Yes, I was a Raver Marine – put your finger on that – try…) Anyway, on arrival in 96, the animosity was high, most of the art community was pleased with no rave camp & sound policies, thinking they could finally get some sleep…. I kid you not! HOWEVER – there were a lot of familiar faces from Rave Camp from the year previous and I got to know them much better this year as they were trying to fit into the new BM mold. And here’s why. I was the guy going camp to camp to find out your ‘power needs’ and drag the cables to many of them. “Hey how many amps you need?” And this is when the REVOLUTION began! And likely the only reason BM survived and grew! 95 was TOO BIG TOO LOUD TOO DANGEROUS! 96 was to be smaller quieter – but more people showed up…. To include a lot if ravers upset about what they helped build – shunning them. 1/2 if the base camps requested 50A to 100A. And of those, almost all had HIDDEN DJ BOOTHS AND SPEAKERS IN GIANT PAPER MACHE ART! 10-20 THOUSAND watt systems. Right in the middle of the main camp.

    In the few days prior to the first official night, the running joke was ‘don’t call the cops, my boom box is over 100w’. The first official night – THE SOUND CAME ON! AND IT WAS AWESOME!

    You don’t have ME to thank for still referring to Burning Man as a “Rave” I was just a cog in a wider revolt that I did not even know was happening until I was trusted to help in the effort in an exchange of winks and nudges. An enabler…

    But it was then, that the “Art Festival” known as Burning Man, embraced the chaos and the Rave community that helped make the event what it was at the time. (IMO it’s not what it used to be, and maybe that’s good too – different topic)

    Mark Heller

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