The Man Behind The Music

Image: IRDeep via Spin

Image: IRDeep via Spin

Spin magazine has an interview with Opulent Temple founder Syd Gris. Some highlights:

The organizers behind Burning Man deny any affiliations of being a “music festival,” but, for all intents and purposes, this is the wildest music festival in the world.

The denial of their identity as a music festival lets Burning Man rely heavily on crowdsourcing the 24-hour, over-the-top productions, visuals, DJ booths, sound equipment, and world-class music performances to ticket holders…

Attendees being responsible for their own entertainment is exactly what separates Burning Man from any other music festival. You bought the ticket, and have to do all the work. 

Gris is the co-founder, lineup curator, and overall production director for more than 13 years with the sound camp known as Opulent Temple. 

CREDIT: Photo by IRDeep

Opulent’s major objective is twofold: to provide a platform for spiritual dance expression and for DJs to explore the more artistic (and perhaps unacknowledged at other commercial festivals) side of their craft…

 This year, Opulent Temple took a step away from their typical stage build for their popular Wednesday night “White Party.” Instead, they provided attendees a truly magical alternative that captured the true essence of Burning Man by forming a commutative stage consisting of multiple art cars from other camps. The Opulent team set up their DJ stand on top of an art car, outfitted with large speakers, to drive deeper into the open center area of Burning Man. Various cars from other camps outfitted with large speakers met them at a specific location and linked up wirelessly through RF technology to form a makeshift half circle dance floor. While each car was synced directly to the Opulent DJ performance, additional art cars unaffiliated with the camp would drive in and the Opulent workers would link them up to join the party as well.

What was the sound camp scene like when you arrived at your very first Burning Man?
Back in 2001, there were certainly less of them and most every scale of production was downsized compared to current standards of Burning Man sound camps, especially the scale of sound systems. I say that mostly because camps such as “Lush” in 2004 and “Sol System” that same year (fondly known as Sol Henge) were even by today’s sound camp’s standards massive productions, but those were definitely outliers and seemingly burned both crews out because neither ever came back after that year.

Is it true that you fought for the rights of sound camps at Burning Man?
Yes, I organized a bunch of camps in 2008 including representatives from camps like El Circo, the Deep End, Green Gorilla, and others to approach the Burning Man organizers to request some changes and support. The premise was basically that collectively we’ve felt like we give a lot to the event. Which, of course, is fine; it’s why we started creating such camps in the first place. But we hoped we might get more support and resources from the organizers to do what we do since it is our perception the role of the Large Scale Sound & Art Camps had evolved to be an integral part of a large number of attendees experience and reason for coming. What we asked for and what we got for our efforts were different. Spoiler alert: not much!

Did artists like Tiesto find it unique having to purchase their own ticket?
Yes. We are a volunteer and fundraising camp. All the equipment, food, shelter, and electricity comes out of our own pockets, while we all have day jobs outside of Burning Man. He provided a donation to our camp debt after he played for us in 2005, he said, “It’s the only time I’ve paid someone to play for them.”

What did Opulent Temple do to set the standard for today’s music scene at Burning Man?
What we did to raise the bar was really just building on the precedence of the great camps that came before us but taking it to a higher level. We make our own art and the production pieces that make up our camp, and we build new stuff every year to add to our recognizable look. We were the first to have a DJ-operated flame-throwing booth, and the first to consistently bring out an eclectic range of so-called ‘big-name’ DJs, and we did it all year round through volunteers building the camp and making the art.

CREDIT: Photo by IRDeep

What’s the future of the music community of Burning Man? Will the music be too much and eventually take away from the art as it slowly becomes the main attraction?
I think people’s association and experience of Burning Man — unless something drastically changes — is always one of art and music. For now, it is by far primarily dance music. Though it sounds ironic to say, in one light you could say the organization has gone to great lengths to do nothing to support music at Burning Man beyond allowing it to exist. They do a lot to nurture the art scene, so I don’t see it becoming too much.

[Source: Spin]

Read the full interview at Spin Magazine.

Here’s a Syd Gris set from last year’s Halloween.

31 comments on “The Man Behind The Music

  1. The most over the top sound camp I’ve ever seen was 2010’s Root Society. That humongous LED light cube. Why. At first I thought it was satire. Why is it that sound camps insist on appealing to people 3 miles away? SO HUGE. SO AWESOME. Why? And then they feel they should be compensated because they do so much for the festival. Lol. Their shit don’t stink? In 2012 there was a live music camp that put on amazing live band shows. Expertly produced. It was so well produced I felt like I wasn’t at Burning Man. It was weird. The true beauty of Burning Man is that WE (the audience) are entertaining ourselves. Once you put VIP bracelets on people it defeats the awesomeness.

    • Root Society had live dancers inside that incredible multi-storey, rectangular video wall. Still one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen at Burning Man.

      The reality is the music at Burning Man is a drawcard for many. Want proof? See where the crowds are. As much as BMOrg would like to think everyone comes for the blowjob workshops and TED talks, those things are not why they’re able to increase ticket prices regularly.

      • Yes, and there would be more demand if they held a professional sports game or a performance by the Rolling Stones. So this an excellent reason to not have all this stuff at the NV burn. The burners are there to entertain themselves. Instead, this is a classic one-way live performance where the audience is as fungible as pork bellies.

        Fungibility is the basis of commercialization, is the ultimate commodification, and the enemy of being creative.

        • Well said. “Give the people what they want” is pretty much anathema to the spirit of Burning Man. But you know, the wisdom of crowds or the market or whatever the fuck…

          • Just about any ethnic parade in NYC, and many nights in Dumbo. So that’s why you go to the NV burn?

            Better`are the Silent Disco bus at Night Market, the traveling marching jazz band at FigmentNYC, the dancing to trigger the synthesizer in the desanctified church on Governor’s Island, or having a light and sound show respond to your handling of an orb….

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            And this one-of-a-kind performance…

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            I guess that sort of thing is what I used to find at Burning Man. Now all I have to do is go to the Puerto Rico Day parade if I want the NV burn experience.

          • Including Burning Man, the biggest of them all. The War on EDM and the establishment of a DMZ this year did nothing to stop BM being the world’s biggest rave.

          • Yeah, and how did things go with moop and bike theft? How many of the ravers participated by doing more than moving to the music. What did they contribute? To paraphrase Figment, “What did they bring?” And how was that unique and special to the BRC experience? How could you tell that they, as individuals, were (or were not) there?

          • Oh, when will The War on EDM™ ever end!? Ha.

            I love dance music on the playa. I HATE the EDC-ification of Burning Man. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, nor connote any kind of war on EDM. The sheer size of dance culture at Burning Man is fundamentally changing the event towards a more spectator-type event, you can’t deny that. Many, many people attend Burning Man solely to dance at sounds camps. And dancing, while not as passive as, say, standing, I suppose, is not exactly interactive.

            With this in mind, you can either accept it (or encourage it), which appears to be your position. Or, you can encourage rules (yes, more rules) to mitigate the effect so as not to completely overwhelm the event to the point that it’s mostly a dance festival.

          • I suppose you will just have to wait until next year for that rave, experience. …No, I believe you might find it in the SF area if you looked. Have you tried?

            I want to heckle the SiFi movies at the MST3000 camp, hang with people at the Abstininthe camp, or have people participate in our theme camp. Funny, but your NV burn rave ticket demand is part of the reason I can only do my camp, elsewhere.

          • I know you have, it’s your characterization of even the slightest concern about the proliferation of dance culture at Burning Man as a War On EDM that I’m critical of. I and others have offered many well reasoned and valid arguments to the contrary, of which you seem to dismiss.

          • If there’s no War on EDM, why did they call it the DMZ? I have offered extremely detailed histories of this war, which you and others seem to dismiss.

          • Some go for the blowjob workshops, some go to ride on art cars, some go to dance at art cars. All are legitimate reasons to Burn, one is not “better” than another.

          • Nope. Those are all spectator “participation.” You bring nothing to the experience. …Well, maybe the BJ workshop, as long as it’s hands-on, or something like that.

            The more the participant brings of themself to the event, the more that others know they were there and not someone else, the better. Watch the Figment video.

      • Why not a crowd that s a bit more interesting….

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        • Don’t know that I would exactly go with that. Better playa jobs are honey dipper, RV pumper, and generator fuel delivery. Might go so far as including watering truck driver, but they should really do that for free.

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          • Free water , free pump and dump, free recycling, free shit coffee , free soup kitchen. I’m good with that – we could preserve our values without commodification. The current “highest bidder/most Borg points is the winner” system only feeds the NPD of the Ruling Group, it doesn’t make life better for the Burners. Some Burners are NOT better than others.

          • “Although, some burners ARE scumbags. There needs to be s mechanism to kick the takers out” > How would that ever happen? The Borg and the BMP BoD fully enfranchise the takers in their decisions. Why would they ever change? If they were a car company, they could rig their diesel NOx emissions tests with no consequences. It’s corporate group-think, where they can do no wrong.

          • “Some Burners are NOT better than others.” > How do you figure that? Any evidence?

            “Free water , free pump and dump, free recycling, free shit coffee , free soup kitchen. I’m good with that – we could Preserve our values without commodification.” > Does not sound like you. What are you “experimenting” with tonight?

          • “Some Burners are NOT better than others.” > The better burners get DS tix and get Borg’s discretion camp placement.

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