(After seeing the success of our first Why We Burn segment, I’m delighted to have spoken to Aaron & Honeybee. One a department head at a tech company here in NYC, the other a heart surgeon, they’re two people I look up to. Consumate professionals who work hard & play hard, I was able to get their thoughts on what it takes to venture out from the East Coast and why they keep coming back.) By Terry Gotham
1. How many years have you gone to Burning Man & how did you get into the scene?
Honeybee: 9 years in a row. In 2007 I realized I was really bored with my social life, I wanted to be thrilled by it. So I jumped on the computer, searching through Google, throwing in random terms committed to finding a group of people, a community that inspired me. That scared the living shit out of me. After hours of searching, I came across a photo of a guy sitting on a red velvet couch in the middle of the open desert and the floor was scorched black. In an instant the photo brought so much curiosity, I began searching for “Man Burning with Couch” ,”Man Burning Desert”, finally I came across Burning Man. My search was over, I found the community that I so desperately wanted. I immediately signed up to every list I could find, read every bit of information I could read and purchased my tickets a month later. I ended up going by myself and have been going back ever since. I was a main contributor to the art from 2008 – 2013, building large interactive art installations for Burning Man with an arts collective I started with two others, called the Animus Arts Collective.
Aaron: Although not as seasoned as Honeybee, I have been fortunate enough to make it out to the Playa the last two years. We all know that Burning Man is so much more than music but what actually got me into the scene was the music in the first place. Well, that and Honeybee herself. I was always really into the warehouse music/party scene in NYC and had been frequenting many over most of my 20s. I didn’t even really know that the crowd was so full of Burners and how heavily the culture influenced the scene.
Then, Honeybee and I met and started dating in early 2014 and she brought in the Burner culture and sense of community that I had mostly lacked. She was so surprised how much I knew about the music and I was surprised how little I did know about the community at large. Within a few months of us dating, she said to me that we were going to go to Burning Man that year and I immediately said ‘Let’s do it’. This is actually quite funny in hindsight because I remember saying in my early 20s that I would never go to Burning Man. Honeybee opened up a whole new world to me. We had so much fun planning and getting ready for the 2014 Burn and our love for each other blossomed as a result.
2. Do you have default world jobs? How do you earn the funds to make it to the playa?
Honeybee: Absolutely, I am the Head of Developer Relations for an amazing tech company which allows me to afford the trek to the playa from the East Coast.
Aaron: I’m a doctor finishing up my last couple years of training to be a heart surgeon. As a fellow, especially in NYC, the pay/work hour ratio is ridiculously low. But thats okay because I got myself a sugar momma (I just nudged her on the couch). So funding going to BM each year involves planning well ahead and saving accordingly.
3. Aaron, your day job seems totally antithetical to a Burner lifestyle, how do you balance playing and working as hard as you do?
Aaron: I like it when people at work don’t believe I ever leave work to have a social life. I also like it when my friends don’t believe I do heart surgery for a living. Balancing both takes a lot of work and more often than not work wins. But I’m ok with that. I was six years old the first time I said I wanted to do heart surgery and I’m lucky enough to say I wake up every day and do just that. No amount of playing will ever get in the way of that whether be it in the Burner scene or other social circles. That being said, what the Burner world brings to my life is balance and an ability to break away from the rigors and stress of the day to day hospital life. It also allows me to express myself in ways that the conservative world of heart surgery doesn’t typically allow. No such thing as radical self-expression in my world of medicine.
4. Annie, do you have any thoughts on the increasing use of Burner culture by brands and digital/marketing agencies?
Honeybee: Burning Man is a social experiment that we carry into our lives, it’s been interesting to see such a rise in its visibility in popular culture. I think it’s pretty awesome to see the Simpsons and films shoot scenes from burning man.
Brands that have used Burning Man for their profit by shooting scenes on the playa during the festival just don’t get it, and are always discovered by the Borg.
5. Any complaints about the Burn this year? Anything you think went even better than anticipated?
Honeybee: Having gone since 2007, I know you can not go in with expectations, if you are, you are doing it wrong. Burning Man is the living representation of 70,000 individuals, it looks the way it looks, feels the way it feels because of each and every person that comes onto the playa. If you want to see a certain piece of art… make it. If you want to hear a certain type of sound… bring it.
Aaron: 2014 was pretty tame as far as the stories people tell of the climate extremes that can occur on the playa. I was actually thrilled about the dust storms and alternating heat and cold in 2015. This year, we went early to help build our camp and we were about 100 yards from the gate when a white out struck and traffic stood still for 5 hours. I went up on top of the RV and just sat there. It was my first real white out and I loved every single moment of it. I came back in the RV and knew I was home. I was also really happy with having had the ability to participate more in the creation and building of our theme camp, Kostume Kult. Seeing all the people who would come in to the Kostume dome and leave with big smiles on their faces and new costumes on their backs really made me feel proud of contributing the small part I did. But then again we all play our small part to make Burning Man as special as it is.
That being said I don’t really have many complaints from this year. The Playa gave me the experience that I wanted which was authentic, unique, and way different than I could have ever imagined it going. And I hope the same thing happens next year and every year after that.
6. Do you think Burning Man has become too commodified? Similarly, do you have any thoughts on the increasing presence of the 1% on playa?
Honeybee: Burning Man is always evolving, when I arrived in 2007 there were two major sound camps, the art was incredible, the people were incredible. Today there is more music, more people, more of everything… you are responsible for your own experience. If the 1% want to come, awesome. If they want to lock themselves up in their desert pads, go for it. It doesn’t last. One thing that remains is the ethos we stand for, the art that we love, the music that we watch the sun rise to, and the incredible people we get to cross paths with.
Aaron: I know this is an alienating topic for many but I think some perspective is in order although I’m sure I just come across as preachy and annoying. The people who come to Burning Man no matter how they do it or how long they have been doing it are all fortunate enough to fly/drive/bus/hitchhike/etc out to this beautiful haven where they are able to enjoy the supplies of food/water/liquor/glow lights/fire sticks/sparkle pants they brought to last a week. Having the ability to break away from your life and venture out to the playa means that you are the 1%, actually dare I say way less than 1% of the population that is able to do this and do so without real world repercussions. If people choose to do it lavishly and without contributing to Burning Man as a whole, I don’t care. Do I want to be around those people? No! Or hang out at their camps and drink 1972 Bordeaux? I favor a warm scotch/bourbon that I can share with those around me in a dust storm, so again no thank you. But the presence of the 1% or lack thereof has no impact on my experience. Burning Man is a big place. Take that negativity and turn it into something positive on the other side of the playa.
7. Besides Burning Man, do you have any favorite regional burns or possibly more retail oriented art/music festivals?
Honeybee: Aaron and I recently went to Lightning In a Bottle. I had been interested in going ever since I saw Do Lab at Burning Man in 2007/2008. They inspire me with their infrastructures, burner-esque ethos and sound. We are checking out Further Future this year, and will return with a full report. We honestly have no judgements, I am just happy I get to experience these communities with the people I love.
Aaron: Now that I have been to Burning Man, I see how far the influences of Burners and their culture have infiltrated the art/music world at large. Whether it be an All Day I Dream party deep in Brooklyn or Lightning in a Bottle out in California or public art commissioned in any number of big cities around the globe, I feel lucky to now be a part of something bigger that influences the lives and culture of so many around the world. The regional burns/events I love have a lot to do with what I just said but also have just as much to do with the people I share them with. I was lucky to go to Lightning in a Bottle this past year, and yes its a great event in itself but what made it so special was getting to share it with friends and loved ones that I care about deeply.
8. If you could correct one mistaken notion that people have about Burning Man, what would that be?
Honeybee: That you can only have fun if you are on drugs. I’ve gone completely sober for several years, I won’t knock it but it isn’t about the drugs. Burning Man is information overload, it’s pretty amazing on it’s own.
Aaron: Any preconceived notion about what Burning Man is or isn’t is incorrect. No one experience is alike and you get out of it the more open minded you go into it. I have a hard time describing in words what its like to people who have been let alone those that haven’t.
9. Heading back for Burning Man 2016? If not, why not?
Honeybee: Absolutely, and looking forward to contributing in a larger way.
Aaron: Of course and I can’t wait to contribute and experience in a completely different way with new and old faces alike.
10. Favorite moment of Burning Man 2015?
Honeybee: One morning we were just dancing by the Mayan Warrior. It was such an amazing scene, for a moment I just stopped to observe. Looking around I saw some of my friends laughing and smiling. Others were deep in conversation with new burners they met. Some plotting a yoga adventure into deep playa. Aaron was smiling and looking so beautiful covered in his playa gear. The mountains were cast in yellows and orange. In that moment, I was overwhelmed with joy and blown away with how I love Aaron, our friends and Burning Man.
Aaron: Impossible to pick just one so I’ll give you three meaningful moments that are in no particular order
1. Biking home after sunrise one morning with Honeybee when we passed one guy by himself driving the Magic Carpet Art Car playing “A Whole New World” from the movie Aladdin over the loud speakers. You couldn’t make this up if you wanted to!
2. Sunrise at the Mayan Warrior one morning we randomly run into our friend Alex who had been dancing by himself all night with the iridescent plexi-glass cat head on. He was so lost in the moment that he barely recognized us but as soon as he did we all joined in this amazing hug that none of us wanted to let go.
3. I officiated my first wedding between my beautiful friends Olivia and Josh who ventured all the way from Perth, Australia. We walked to this chapel like art project a few hundred yards out from 7 and Esplanade. It was such a magical moment and we all had such an amazing time. They consummated their marriage right there on the playa. Kidding. Sort of.
4. Yes I know its four but I can’t leave it out. Any and every moment I got to spend with my girlfriend, Honeybee.
Check out their other favorite sets from Burning Man 2015 below!