When superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold announced the 2014 lineup at White Ocean, I was over the moon – even though I’m not at Burning Man this year. We declared it “victory for ravers”. It seems Burnier-Than-Thous didn’t see it the same way, and White Ocean got slammed. Why? Because they made a flyer with the acts listed, and it looked a little too commercial. Never mind that most of the other sound camps also made flyers, and have been doing that for years. White Ocean had to issue an apology.
From the SF Bay Guardian:
“As you know, a few weeks ago the entire White Ocean line up went public, in a relatively big way. To add insult to injury, it also listed ‘Presenting’ parties in the most un-Burner like fashion! We know that this greatly upset each and everyone of you, and for good reason! We agree this is a huge failure, on our part! There’s no excuse!!!”
The post went on to say the camp had hired a mainstream promoter, who “proceeded to create and implement a full promotions campaign, as if he was working for some music festival in Europe. That was his perception of Burning Man, an elaborately modified festival in the desert that doesn’t sell beer.”
I mean, really – they bring Dave Seaman AND Juno Reactor to the Playa – FOR FREE – and they have to APOLOGIZE?
This shit is getting ridiculous.
burners were forced to confront the question, “Are we actually becoming just a music festival in the desert that doesn’t sell beer?” As a nightlife writer, I’ve been getting emails for years touting different pre-BM fundraisers, innovative theme camp designs, and dance performances. But it’s only been in the past couple that I’ve been getting press releases from record labels announcing artists “appearing one night only!” at Burning Man. DJs routinely brag about multiple BM experiences. (One PR person even accidentally offered me press tickets!)
“It’s true that the current generation does see Burning Man mostly through the prism of music,” Syd Gris of the music-powerhouse Opulent Temple camp told me over the phone. “Most of the draw now may be not for the original communal experience, but the mind-blowing spectacle of seeing so many of the world’s biggest DJs playing on giant fire sculptures.
“Ever since the music festival circuit became such a huge thing in the past decade, there’s been the possibility that Burning Man may end up just another stop on it.”
Even Maid Marian seems to realize it. She goes to festivals all around the world, she knows what’s going on. Her words in the BRC Weekly look like back-pedalling to me.
They’re “blaming” White Ocean for interest in the OMG sale? That doesn’t even make sense.
Rockstar Librarian’s music guide this year runs to 34 pages. Music is a huge reason why people come to Burning Man. Is Larry really going to “un-welcome” all of those camps? The event is not sold out because of TED talks and the Souk.
Is this why Robot Heart published their yoga schedule, but not their music one?
Why is this allowed, but the DJ lineup isn’t? What fucking “harm” comes from a DJ lineup? Surely “40% Virgins” and a $40 tax is more harmful than knowing where and when the world’s best DJs are playing.
Meanwhile we have this “rich people are ruining Burning Man” meme. Where the fuck did this come from? Rich people have always been going to Burning Man. How do you think major camps can hand out free drinks to thousands of people? People spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on Art Cars that only get used for one week out of the year. These aren’t poor people. You know all those flames you see? Every time one goes off, that’s costing someone money. What about the really big flames, shooting high into the sky? They’re costing more money.
Where does this money come from? It’s certainly not from BMOrg, I hope by now we’ve demonstrated that clearly to our readers. Burners fund Burning Man, not BMOrg. Sure, there are Kickstarters for camps and art projects, and people contribute to them. What kind of people give money to a Burning Man Kickstarter art project? People so rich that they can afford to just give their money away, for art and entertainment. They never get thanks or credit for this, and they’re not seeking it. Most of the world does not have enough money to piss away on a party – so how rich is rich?
More than half of Black Rock City’s citizens make more than US$50,000 per year. That’s enough to put them in the top 0.3% of wealth in the entire world. By definition, Burners are rich – rich enough to affored a ticket, provisions for a week in the desert, shelter and transportation costs, plus drugs. The main thing being burned at this event is money.
What’s really ruining Burning Man is the “Me” generation, and these Burnier-Than-Thou rule enforcers. Larry Harvey is quick to dismiss the anarchists and punks. He and his partner Jerry James brought their kids to the very first Burning Man. The kids radically participated by building an effigy of a dog, which they also burned. It’s clear that Larry is more interested in creating a family-friendly event than throwing the world’s best rave.
Which is a shame, because he’s throwing the world’s best rave.
Can Burning Man continue on its current trajectory? Absolutely. CBS News anchors want to come, now that they’ve heard about the gourmet chefs and sherpas. It’s very succcessful, it’s world famous, and there’s no end in sight. Ticket prices can keep increasing. Now vehicle pass prices can keep increasing too. The secondary market will continue to thrive, and all of the OMGSTEP tomfoolery just fuels it.
Will it continue to be awesome? Probably. There are some fundamental elements to this spectacle that will always make it entertaining. There are also some fundamental elements that mean it will always be a pain in the ass, as the poor souls who took 29 hours to get in from Gerlach can attest.
Will Black Rock City continue to be populated by the Burners who built it? Unlikely. The population is ageing, and maybe being deliberately disinvited. This year it’s not just me taking a break, many veteran Burners I know are sitting it out. Sure, most of us will return, repeatedly. But some of the spark has gone. The urge to create a cool camp and share it with everyone, is tempered by the Broners and the Takers and the MOOPers and the Haters. The more rules you add, the more creativity you stifle.
Paul Oakenfold said that he first attended Burning Man in the 90’s, and he’s been looking for other Burning Mans ever since. Me too! As one of the world’s biggest DJs, a triple Grammy-nominated music producer who used to be the A & R guy for a major record label, Oakey has been so big on the scene for so long he has a solid claim for being the creator of it. If there are other Burning Mans in the world, he’s someone who would be in a position to know. Being one of the Founders of EDM is quite a bit higher up the totem pole than being one of the Founders of Burning Man, a 70,000 person week-long, three decades old American event. Facebook lists half a billion people who Like Electronic (Dance) Music.
“The Regionals!”, cry the Burnier-Than-Thous and the Kool Aid drinkers. “The future is in the Regionals, they are like Burning Man used to be!” And perhaps that might become true. The event has been going for almost 30 years. Regional burns have been going on for almost 20 years. What will be different about the next 10 years for Regionals, compared to the last 10?
It seems like Afrika Burn could be a contender for “another Burning Man”. They have been going for 8 years, and their population has yet to exceed 10,000. Africa is a long way to go for most of the world, all manner of shots are required, and many international visitors are going to be scared off by Ebola now. The Burning Man Australia facebook group is growing rapidly, since many Americans have always wanted to go to Australia, and this could be an excuse for their long dreamed of vacation. Australia already has some well established, awesome parties, that it will have to compete with, like Earthcore and Rainbow Serpent. The promoters who are successful in Australia have been so for a long time, and their talent is at a globally competitive level. It would take a lot for a new festival to usurp them on their home turf. There are logistical and economic challenges in getting art cars to Burning Seed, or to these much larger events, not to mention the extreme climate and deadly fauna. It is not a culture given to excessive volunteering. Australians would rather have a barbecue and go surfing than build a big man in their garage just to burn it. I’m generalizing, of course.
The main problem I see with “the future is in the Regionals” is BMOrg themselves. They are not the world’s most organized organization! Their efficiency, professionalism, and consistency are not up to the standards of, say, Google. The founders are finally getting the chance to cash in on their decades of work, hooray for them. They all seem to be ageing remarkably well, but none of them are dewy-eyed Millenials any more. How much fire and drive do they have left for this new, global start-up? It’s an order of magnitude increase in the complexity and stress of their Project. When their big payday finally comes, will they still be motivated to manage this venture? Maybe they’ll want to kick back and enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Sure, the corporate structure is transitioning, with some of their non-profits merging and new for-profit private companies being formed. New revenue streams like royalties, merchandise and gasoline are being developed. New talent is being brought in. Will the new suits be suit-ier than the old suits? And how does any of this help the Regionals – or, indeed, Burners?
Their web site lists only 20 or so official Regional events. One commenter here said this is an indication of how little most of the Regionals actually depend on BMOrg for.
To put Burning Man’s challenge for the next stage in Silicon Valley terms: can this business model scale?
From the core of this thing, emanates a desire to control. Control seems to trump personal financial gain, or Gifting, in BMOrg’s decision making. Can they grow from 70,000 people contained inside a pentagon in an American desert, to 700,000 people in more than 100 events? Maybe. Can they still maintain the control they’ve become accustomed to, with the organizational structure that got them to where we are today? Unlikely. Will volunteers continue to be motivated to work for free, as the Founders start to pile up the millions, and the media continues to harp on about all the wealth that’s there? That remains to be seen. Maybe there will be a new career path for low-income Burners, in becoming Sherpas to the rich.
Even if you upgrade the entire management team, you’re not guaranteed scaleability. What is it, exactly, that they’re trying to replicate? The Ten Principles were only ever meant as guidelines, and most Burners probably couldn’t list all 10. Their inherent contradictions are confusing even for people who speak English as their first language. If it’s Radical Inclusion, why can’t you wear logos if you want? Why all the hating on successful people and celebrities? If it’s Gifting and Decommodification, how come we keep getting asked to donate more money to them? Is there a point where they Gift something back to us? If it’s Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort, how come so many Broners contribute nothing and have more time to party?
So…what if there were something else? Is the world big enough for more than one Burning Man?
What if there was a party full of art cars, where people could build whatever camps they wanted, but it didn’t have the cult-like 10 Principles? What if “acculturation” and a 20-page survival guide were not required? What if there were trash cans and recycling? What if you could get water if you needed it? What if the layout was different?
I’m not saying that Black Rock City needs to have those things. It’s on its course, it’s changing as it grows, and the bigger it gets the more mainstream it’s going to get.
Next thing we know, Hillary Clinton will be there. Bieber will be live on the Esplanade, all tatted up and ready to rumble.
Burners create Black Rock City. Black Rock City is Burning Man, not BMOrg. If there was another city created by Burners, that had many of the core elements, but was also a bit different, would you want to check that out?
I’m talking something major, with lots of art cars that you can ride around on, not events like EDC or Ultra or Decompression where you might see a couple of art cars, but you can’t ride around on them until you see the sunrise over the mountains in some random location. Something environmentally sustainable, artistic, built on kindness and gratitude – and cool as fuck.
Burners are some of the smartest, raddest, sexiest, most creative, AND richest people on the planet. BMOrg might not be able to scale their organization and their business model to ten times its current size, but there is no doubt in my mind that Burners can. There are far more of us than there are BMOrg volunteers, or indoctrinated Burnier-Than-Thous.
The question is, do people want that? If they build it, will you come?