“Paris Hilton Tag Teaming the Avici Dwarfs” – OT Returns

syd_grisOpulent Temple has been one of the most popular sound camps for a decade. They have brought some of the biggest names in electronic music out to the playa, and have showcased artists of many different styles. They took a break from Burning Man last year, which was hailed by some as a sign of the End of Days, but actually made room for a couple of new sound camps to come on the scene. This year they’re returning, refreshed and better than ever. Thanks to OT Leader Dr. Syd Gris for this interview…

B.M: You decided to take a break for a year. Something I’ve considered myself for this year. But, you still attended the Cargo Cult burn and DJ’d at quite a few gigs…how many? Call that a break…what gives? How many burns have you been to by 2014, and have you ever *really* had a year off?
SG: Thanks for chatting with me Zos / Burners.me. Lots to share here…. So after Opulent Temple’s 10 year camp in 2012 we had indeed decided to take a well deserved break, and I had zero interest or intention to attend Burning Man in 2013. (I first attended in 2001 and have gone every year straight since then). Upon hearing OT wasn’t going to be at BM in 2013, we got connected through Paul Oakenfold, who was friends with 2 inspired, fairly new to the event Burners of considerable means. They wanted to start their own sound camp and asked us for help in putting it together. They’d cover all costs so we wouldn’t have to fundraise (an annual huge endeavor for OT), and they’d rent some production assets from OT and thus help us do some unintended fundraising on our ‘year off’. Paul Oakenfold did the line up so I had nothing to do with that, something I normally am lead on for OT. That camp was White Ocean. They offered me to help put it together for them again this year but we were more interested in bringing OT back so a different set of guys are leading it this year and we wish most of them luck and smooth sailing.
So, no, I and most of our core OT team didn’t have a year off. I actually worked harder last year than almost any year I’d been to BM. Far from being free of the burden of organizing a camp, I ended up organizing 2 camps, White Ocean and the personal camp of the founders which was separate. It was a very tough year. The first time I was able to leave camp for my own free time that wasn’t an errand or a DJ gig was Friday afternoon at 5:30pm when I went to Distrikt to say hi to friends and have a cocktail. Saturday I was saw some art and the Temple and Sunday was time to clean up.
B.M: What did you think of the new stages last year, White Ocean, Digital Apex, others (Mayan Warrior art car, Control Tower)? Any surprises?
SG: I was really pleased with how the production looked and felt at White Ocean. For a first year camp it was pretty cool, obviously made possible by OT’s help and crew to make it happen. The line up was a little trancey for my tastes but that wasn’t my purview and when you have Paul Oakenfold making the line up that shouldn’t be a surprise. I was impressed with the efforts of Digital Apex for a first year camp as well, but I think they tried a little too hard to be epic on a first time out. This is admirable and I respect Kurt’s gumption on the project, but aesthetically it seemed it was too big, and the DJ booth was too high to feel like an intimate dance space for people to connect in. I hear they have a different design this year which should help a lot, and I wish them lots of success. The Mayan Art Car was stunning of course, and the Control Tower was impressive and we were stoked to do our one OT party out at BM last year on Wednesday night where we still celebrated our annual Sacred Dance ‘white party’ at the Control Tower with great help from the Dancetronauts.
B.M: What can we expect for this year? We all love the sound you bring to LIB, Public Works, Decompression and other places…are there any twists? Same DJ booth, VJ effects? What about the flame setup? In 2012 you had a high-tower of fire linked to the DJ booth, is that coming back?
SG: There’s been a lot of recent changes lately, and because of them, the OT crew is really optimistic and excited for this year. Like any long time group of people working on a common goal, we’ve gone through some needed and welcome personnel changes recently that leave us with our most positive and productive core members ready to make more magic in 2014.  We have  A LOT in store but we’re not ready to let the cat out of that dusty bag yet so people will need to check back with us for news on all kinds of new art projects, a forming of a 501c non-profit for OT, and always fun line up riddles.
B.M: Tell us some of your highlights of Cargo Cult. Do you pay attention to a theme like “caravansasry”, or just do your own thing regardless of the theme?
SG: Themes honestly mean almost nothing to me personally. We do name every party every night of the week at OT and sometimes we’ll incorporate the theme into those names but they have litle practical significance. That said, for the second time in our history, we are involved in an at grant application to BM. Though theme camps still aren’t allowed to apply for art grants for original art they make (still a vexing point to many of us), we did this per BM’s rules you can apply if the art piece is located on the open playa. Because we set up our dance floor on the open playa, we can technically apply.   We incorporated the theme into that application and we’re waiting to hear the answer from BM on what happened w our grant application.
B.M: What do you think of the San Francisco “EDM” scene? You are a long-term veteran of it, is it progressing? Can it compete with other places in the world? Where will it go next?
SG: I guess I’d say the SF scene is alive and well but influenced by the same trends effecting dance music underground scenes across the US. EDM has gone main stream, and it shrinks the pool of DJ’s local promoters can book. Bassnectar doesn’t play BM camp benefits anymore, he plays the Bill Graham Civic now (as one extreme example). The big players such as Live Nation, Golden Voice, and Another Planet are all competing for EDM artists. Besides organizing OT, a Burning Man camp with a non-profit model, as many people know I also have my own production company to throw for profit parties as Opel Productions. Opel has been around longer than OT actually, and besides the fact I help organize both, they’re not connected other than considering ourselves sort of ‘sister’ communities because of some of the cross over of people involved. So trying to stay relevant and book new talent well enough known to draw, but not so well known they are too expensive to work financially, is trickier and trickier. Certainly weekend to weekend, as far as quality options, SF has one of the best dance music scene’s anywhere, especially when you throw in the influence of the quality BM crews on the party scene.
B.M: You have a day job as well as music. What do you think about Burning Man’s efforts to spread their culture into the real world? Is there something here worth spreading? And are BMOrg the ones to do it? Have you been to any regionals, eg Aftrica, have you played in Europe or Asia?
SG: I think it’s great. Despite my seasoned (jaded?) perspectives on how Burning Man does things, of course I love the event and have tremendous respect for what it’s become in the world. It’s a phenomena, and if I didn’t believe in the core ethos I wouldn’t still be working so hard to participate in it. There’s something there worth spreading but like the ‘main event’, it’s the general participants itself that do that, and the BORG, from my perspective, are just the stewards of that effort. I have not been to the regionals outside the US yet but certainly Afrika Burns is on my short list as my wife is from Cape Town, South Africa so we’ll have to go at some point.
B.M: There seems to be a bit of a rift between dubstep/glitch (Bass Nectar), progressive/techno (Carl Cox), and trance (Cosmic Gate)- which is now an old skool sound. Last year we saw a bit of a resurgence of trance at some stages eg Asterix and Simon Patterson at White Ocean. What do you think about “today’s sound” and where the music is going? Is there an “Opel/Opulent Temple” sound that is your signature or trademark? What’s your position on the pre-eminence of dubstep at Burning Man?
SG: The trance resurgence you saw last year is really limited to Paul Oakenfold being the music curator for White Ocean, and I assume there will be more of that influence this year as well. Though I know the progressive trance end of that spectrum is not associated with a ‘Burner sound’ necessarily, I welcome anyone bringing their vision to bear at the event. It’s a crazy amount of work and money to do a proper camp at BM and if you’re going to go through that effort, do what makes you happy. If people like it they will be there dancing, if not, well the dance floor rarely lies. If some camps want to do all bass music, go for it. If someone wants to have Paris Hilton tag teaming with Avici look alike dwarfs go for it. I know everyone likes to have their musical opinion on what camps do at BM but there’s so many options, if you don’t like it move on or build your own.
I couldn’t say what ‘today’s sound’ is, all depends on who you ask. I personally think there’s more deep tech / deep house, and less dubstep than previous years, but I don’t get to spend much time checking out what every small and large music camp is doing to rightfully say.
As far as what is OT’s sound that’s sort of a split answer. For our headliners, we’ve done a little bit of everything, and very intentionally so. Over 10 years of lines ups we’ve had Bassnectar, Freq Nasty and Sevon Lions. We’ve had Tiesto, Armin Van Burren and Paul Oakenfold. We’ve had Carl Cox, Sharam, Scumfrog, M.A.N.D.Y., DJ Dan. We’ve had Infected Mushroom play live, Christopher Lawrence, and other local psy trance artists. We’ve had Stanton Warriors, Crystal Method, Elite Force, Meat Katie, Lee Coombs, Adam Freeland, Dylan Rhymes, etc.   Aphrodite on the drum n bass tip. You get the idea. We like having world class artists of different genres bring their music to the unique setting OT affords and we won’t be pigeon holed into one thing. As we’ve said before and will say again – it’s OK, you don’t have to like it all. So all that said, for our OT residents it is mostly breaks, electro and techno, but certainly some of them play bass music at times, glitch, or progressive house, etc.
B.M: As you and your Burner crew get older, do you see Burning Man and its extended culture changing? Getting better, worse, or stagnating?
SG: It’s certainly gotten bigger, and inevitably, and not suggesting intentionally, more main stream. Of course that brings positive and negative side effects. I don’t get all nostalgic for some mysterious ‘good ole days’ when the event was better. To me BM is somehow simultaneously very similar and different every year. I know as I get older and have more responsibilities I don’t have the luxury of giving it so much time for free, especially with so little support from the org, so I’m looking at manifesting other opportunties that remedy that. I have no doubt other younger and hungry crews wil step in to fill the voids created by other crews aging out. Happens all the time. I do see an emerging pattern that I suppose reflects today’s world and that’s more and more art cars and camps funded by millionaires for their own fun side projects, or in some cases, vanity projects. It seems there’s less and less camps like OT and Distrikt that still put on a pretty big production out there but stil purely on a community created model. There’s more examples of say Roots Society, Robot Heart and now White Ocean funded my millionaires who want to bring something cool to the event as well. And I don’t want that to sound like a judgment, I respect anyone bringing something creative and giving to the event for people to enjoy, but it is a different dynamic. They can offer artists much more than we ever could to cover all their BM expenses to come play BM, and ask for a level of exclusivity not seen very often previously.
It’s also clear there is more willingness for some local SF crews to blur the lines between what is a BM party, which used to always just be a benefit for a camp or project, and what is a commercial party benefiting a small number of people, or person, shall we say. OT and Distrikt have adhered closely to that ‘old way’ of doing BM associated events as pure benefits, and as said I have Opel when I want to try and make money on a party, but other crews have changed the precedence, seemingly without the greater SF community either knowing or caring, I’m not sure which.
Oveall I’d say the game always changes a bit and you adapt as you can. We certainly are doing it now for some different reasons than when we started, so we’re less and less concerned with what other camps are doing and just focus on doing well what we’re doing.
B.M: Where can fans catch Opel/Opulent Temple outside of Burning Man? Do you have any fundraisers planned for this year?
SG: So yes, on the OT front, not being funded by millionaires – we need to have lots of fund raisers!   OT will do fundraisers March 21st where we join with Distrikt and the Space Cowboys to support the Flaming Lotus Girls at Public Works, then April 11th is our annual sell out white party event at the Bently Reserve, May 16th we’re at Public Works for a straight OT fundraiser, and we hope to do something big in July but it depends on talent.  We could realy use the community’s support on these events.  More info always at www.opulenttemple.org
As for Opel, that’s a different party calendar than OT and can be found here for the curious: http://wwwopelproductions.com

2 comments on ““Paris Hilton Tag Teaming the Avici Dwarfs” – OT Returns

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