What Dreams May Come – Part I

Mutant Vehicle at Afrika Burn

Mutant Vehicle at Afrika Burn

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:

white-ocean-burning-man-2014-lineup“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.

Hot-Chicks-at-Burning-Man-18burners 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.

sound camp lineup ban

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?

2014robot heart

2014 robot heart

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.

Billionaire Burner (and BMP Director) Chris Bently spent more than $25,000 just on the door to his Nautilus

Billionaire Burner (and BMP Director) Chris Bently spent more than $25,000 just on the door to his Nautilus art car. Did he ruin Burning Man?

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?

diddy robot heart insideMore 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.

robot heart speakersWill 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?

Big Art at Afrika Burn

Big Art at Afrika Burn

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.

burning_man suitsSure, 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?

Next…part ii – the Introduction 

28 comments on “What Dreams May Come – Part I

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  6. I f’ing love this blog. Probably the best place to get the real story besides the complete collection of “Piss Clear” back-issues and Black Rock Weekly. Can’t get enough of the insight and REALLY can’t get enough of the *snark* :)’

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Your quote below is the worst of the worst. Your assumptions are just wrong. You want to know who funds those flame throwers? Who funds camps like the Thunderdome or Opulent Temple or the VAST MAJORITY of theme camps? Who funds the majority of art projects out there? It’s working people. Who fundraise. I’ve donated to many art projects and I’m not rich. I scrape by in the Bay Area. But I still give.

    Your comments are ignorant and disrespectful to the thousands of people who have poured their hearts into labors of love without the support of wealthy benefactors.

    Way to go, Fox News of Burning Man. You’ve missed the head of the nail once again with your bumbling storytelling.

    “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?”

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      • Interesting that you cut off my “bumbling storytelling” for your quote right before I said the bit which completely explains my point:
        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.

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      • Right. So, have you considered that a lot of folks who contribute to crowd-sourced fundraising campaigns have jobs? That they work for their income and then donate, even it’s a small amount? Is that what you mean by “funds the fundraisers?”

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        • Of course I have considered that. Having a job doesn’t automatically make someone poor, that’s nonsensical. If they have so much money that they can just give some of it away for art, that makes them rich. Whether it’s $10 or $10 million is irrelevant to me, there is a threshhold of poverty where you desperately cling to every dollar, and there is a threshhold of wealth where you can give your money away without any direct personal benefit. To me, if you’re in the latter group, you’re not “poor”.

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  13. I personally know some of the people that run some of those bars that serve booze all week (Eggchair Steve from Black Rock Biergarten and subsequently themed bars for instance). I can say with absolute certainty that there has never been some reach person behind that camp funding their bar. It’s always a bunch of people joining the camp, contributing some smaller amount of dues, and then a bunch of fund raising parties thrown throughout the year to make it happen. The bar partially is reliant on the booze they’ve brought and partially reliant on the generosity of the good denizens of Black Rock City bringing their own booze to the bar to contribute. Most of the bars I’ve been to, I’ve observed this behavior and have contributed my own booze to more than a few. It never occurred to me that some big-wig was funding these places, I’ve always thought it was community based. Clearly it’s not always, but I don’t think it’s as common as the writer has made it sound.
    Same goes for art-cars. The Mobile Groove Bomb which operated out there twice as an art car, was created through the hard work of a community of about 100 burners in Portland who contributed countless hours to building it out and multiple fund-raising events to ensure we had it properly skinned, enough gas to run it, a generator to keep the sound system powered and such. The sound system was donated by a local DJ/promoter that rents sounds systems (not a rich guy). The closest you could come to a moneyed person being involved was the guy that donated his parts bus to us in the first place. It really was a big community effort and I know plenty of other art cars that came into existence under the same sort of community circumstance.
    Regarding EDM being the core of Burning Man. I’ve seen the crowds at Opulent Temple or the Deep End, and maybe there’s up to 6-8k people there at a given time dancing. As a percentage of the totally population of the city, while high, versus the default world, it is not like any major percentage of the city is out dancing up down the sound stage zones (and many of the sound systems have limited turn outs depending on what’s happening). There are lots of people out dancing, sure, but there are plenty of other parts of the city without EDM music that are also going off for other reasons. It’s certainly a big part of the draw, but I think it falls lower on the totem pole than massive art and general craziness for a huge part of the populace. Anyway, after 18 years in attendance, that’s those are my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • it’s not just OT – there are a dozens of other EDM stages with crowds in the thousands. If you only ever wander around the city before 11pm, this might be less obvious. Burning Man is happening everywhere all the time, sure…but it’s mostly happening at 2-3am. If there’s a peak time, I think that’s it.
      Thanks for your comment, and I agree that there are parts of the city contributed by Burners who individually don’t have to give large amounts, to create something worthy of sharing. And that should be highly valued in our culture. I’m not saying “Burning Man is only made by rich people”, but I am saying that Burners are rich, relatively speaking to the rest of the world.

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      • That’s only one of the points you’re making, burnersxxx. And yes, I agree with you there. But your writing is so often fraught with ignorant, ill-informed, inflammatory statements. I get that you care about the event and the community, but so often your opinions make broad generalizations that are out of touch with reality.

        GlobalRuckus’ comment furthers the point I was trying to make. Much of the city is built by people who crowdsource the funding to be able to make their project. Yes, they are rich compared to the rest of the world, but is that what we’re talking about here? Yawn.

        I often wonder what the point of this blog is. Is it to be helpful and informative? Is it to further your own conspiracy theories and make you feel important? This blog has the potential to offer great reporting. But you miss the mark on that by your lack of adequate research and extreme biases.

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        • Can you give me some examples where research has been inadequate? Of course this blog is biased, I created it to share my opinions. If you don’t like my opinions, you’re welcome to disagree. Please provide facts with your disagreement, rather than just resorting to name calling.

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  17. The rich people meme is an interesting point.

    I agree – rich people have always been an integral part of BM.

    For full disclosure, I’ve experienced both sides of the coin (pun intended) – I’ve attended BM in the ‘super skint schlep my tent in hand luggage from the UK eating soup from a tin all week’ type camp, and ‘££££ swanky tech founder(s) loads of hammocks fine dining tits out sparkle pony’ camp.

    I think that most burners understand that if you go to a free bar and people hand out unlimited drinks, then someone else has picked up the tab. Ditto for fireworks, elaborate outdoor clubs, spectacular art and superstar DJs. That’s the basis of the participate / pay it forward idea…by chipping in and contributing as a community we get more than we could ever experience individually.

    It’s the self imposed ‘gated community’ attitude of SOME wealthy burners leads to feelings of resentment.

    One of the joys of BM is that you meet people without their default status trappings and you connect with them about what’s happening around you.

    When people cut themselves off from that, or make a point of retaining their default world status trappings they seem, or treat BM as a big networking opportunity (and that happens loads!), they seem to be imposing a negative judgment on others / engaging in dick swinging bullshit.

    Even worse – this isn’t much fun. Where’s the room for silliness when you are looking over someone’s shoulder to try and get a chat with Johnny Angel Investor?

    The knowledge that some silicon valley billionaires / celebrities don’t want to join in with the great unwashed, ties in with the attitude that all it takes to participate is to throw cash at flashy stuff.

    Don’t get me wrong – I love a bit of Carl Cox at Opulent Temple, but I also love that random tarot reading or the person who has worked out a way to make ice cream on the playa. The donation of time, creativity, intellect and ingenuity adds as much as the donation of money imo. It’s the combination that makes BM so special.

    Maybe these memes are the canary in the mine highlighting that this combination is out of balance for the average burner. Either that or we’re just a snarky bunch of bitchy whiners….erm…..

    Liked by 1 person

  18. So yeah, as someone who has watched the humanity ebb and flow on the daily from a Soundsystem, I can be the first to say the people who come from out of the country, on the worldwide path of partying, do not hold the ideals of what “leave no trace” truly means. That’s why we call a certain night “euro trash”night as a joke. Because no other group of individuals has trashed our dome quite like that. Whether or not burningman has been a “venue”for dj based electronic music has been a point of contention for many people. No one can deny that Soundsystem cultures have changed the situation at burningman in a large way.

    Liked by 2 people

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