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.
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.
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.
Read the full interview at Spin Magazine.
Here’s a Syd Gris set from last year’s Halloween.