(After talking to two dope couples, I wanted to broaden my horizons. I met Tree at a wedding in a castle in Austria. After he helped me DJ the afterparty, we became fast friends. He agreed to speak to me and talk about Burning Man & burner culture from the perspective of someone a little farther away than the East Coast.) By Terry Gotham
1. How was the journey to Burning Man from Amsterdam?
Great, but BM was part of a larger road trip for us, so we only did Vegas – BRC – Vegas especially for this. It was quite the hassle though, with having to arrange a car and buy everything we had to have. It was also our first burn, so the shopping was a bit more extensive because of that I guess.
2. Are you a burner/party person by trade? Or do you have a default world day job to pay for your travels?
Who the hell is able to get paid for partying?! Anyway, no. I’m pretty picky about my festivals, and wouldn’t want to do it all the time because there’s so much more to life. So yes, I have a default world job. Fortunately I’m self-employed, so I am able to try to incorporate as much of the burn-philosophy into it as possible.
3. Are there any equivalents to the Burner community where you’ve lived?
Not really. There is a burner community in The Netherlands, and they have some overlap with similar communities that have existed I guess, but I really have no idea about them exactly, since I’m not involved in them.
4. Are there aspects of the Burner community that you think the European dance music & festival culture should steal?
The gifting economy and the radical inclusion ideas of Burning Man are among my favorites, and these should (and are) be(ing) copied in Europe. However, it’s difficult, since we don’t have many remote areas like BRC, and that seems to be a condition for it to work – especially for the safe and judgment-free environment that burns want to be.
5. What made you decide to give Nowhere Festival a try?
I decided to go to Nowhere, because I was looking for a local Burn in Europe and had heard some stories (no idea from where at the moment). And because we wanted do go on a road trip anyway, we incorporated it in there. Also it was easier, because we could just bring everything from home and the tickets were much cheaper, so the low investment made it an easier decision.
But this is all logistics! I wanted to go because I was curious to see a burn without (many) Americans and one that was so much smaller. I was hoping for the Burn feel of the later 90’s – for as far as I can compare.
6. Is there anything you think the Burner or even party culture in general here gets wrong, that we perhaps should steal from Europe or somewhere else?
I’ve noticed that Americans in general are quite flashy and I don’t feel very comfortable with how that interferes with the ‘real-ness’ of the people. They tend to focus on money a lot, in two ways: 1. They judge the quality of some burners based on how much assets he or she shows off (f.i. the turn-key camps, so it’s a disproportionate relationship). But at the same time, they 2. Dress perfectly, get a very high level of luxury going, and seem fine with displaying that very behavior themselves. So spending lots of money on a festival seems ok, unless you spend WAY more than everybody else. In my mind burners would, I guess, take a look at themselves and what they need, and arrange that, leaving everybody else out of their equation, index, scope or what you want to call it.
Also, at a festival level, I think Burning Man should be a bit more environmentally conscious. This is becoming more prevalent in European festivals, and I think BM is a great place to experiment with that as well. But it would probably mean that they’d restrict burns, flame-throwers and cars…
7. You’ve been to Afrikaburn correct? What was that experience like? How did it compare to Burning Man in Nevada?
Afrikaburn was my least favorite of the three burns I’ve been to – Nowhere in Spain being tied with Burning Man for number one. I’ll explain it this way; Burning Man is so huge, so overwhelming, that it’s hard not to like it. It’s unique in that you’ll never have such a visually intense experience – really, who needs drugs there?! But because it’s so big, it’s quite hard to run into the same person twice. Therefore most human contact is incidental, and singular. In my opinion, this makes it more superficial. Just look at the crowds at the raves; they’re packed, while the raves are the most boring thing at BM! (It’s the only thing that’s exactly like in the default world.) I’m afraid that this superficiality attracts the sparkle ponies who don’t want anything deeper than that.
On the other hand you have Nowhere. 1500 people, no burns allowed (dry area with fire hazard). Of course the art is much less spectacular, and in that sense it’s less unique. But the people…man! You really build connections whether you like it or not, and because people are the main attraction there, you really get special folks and they do so many workshops and parties! It’s one of a kind as well, but in the long run I think I’ll keep finding Nowhere more interesting. So, Afrikaburn then. It has the worst of both worlds; the art is ok, but not fantastic like BM and it’s smaller, but still too big to create this village-feel. Also here you have the weekend-ravers, who come for the story, the facebook profile pic. You could see the change in the reaction at the gate (I was greeter). The first couple of days people were smiling, hugging because they were happy to be ‘home’. Nearer to the weekend it was people who refused to get out of their cars and who were visibly annoyed that they were stopped. They just seemed in a hurry to get their drugs going and rave…To each his own of course, but I’ve discovered that I experience and enjoy more of the principles when I’m with people. Weather-wise I think Burning Man wins it though; Afrikaburn was too cold at night, and Nowhere is scorching hot, while Burning Man generally seems quite pleasing – but I guess this depends on which year you went, haha!
8. Where do you go from here? Where is your next adventure to?
I’ll keep going to Nowhere, definitely. It’s a small gem, but a gem nonetheless. BM is too big and there is too much bad-mouthing about it. But a big reason for me is also that it’s much more expensive to go there. Who knows, when I’m rich someday…Afrikaburn is over for me though. I’ve heard good stories about other local burns, like the one in Australia, and I’ll keep looking for opportunities to visit those.
9. What is the weirdest thing about Americans?
That something so sincere in nature as Burning Man can only start in America, but it can also only be ruined by Americans.
10. Favorite moment spent in the company of Burners?
I have a few moments that stayed with me. The first night at Burning Man, walking at night on the playa, and seeing everything lit up, on fire, and half of it moving… that was overwhelming. So trippy without any drugs, beautiful. At Nowhere I met so many interesting people. One girl I recall wanted to be eaten by her friends when she died, because she thought it was only fair that because they made her into whom she was, she should make them a little bit too. Or this German guy who got his pilot license so he could found a flying school bus service back in his home country of Indonesia. But so many other nice folks too. The workshops at Nowhere were great too. The BM ones are more party oriented and more about activity, but at Nowhere it was more about talking and interacting, and learning. So not a real moment per se, but just all of these experiences combined.