Why We Burn: Dj $mall ¢hange, 17 Year Burner

(This week, I decided to bring in the big guns. DJ Small Change is one of the few remaining funky institutions in NYC. An unparalleled DJ, spinning everything from your sister’s wedding and art museum openings to loft & underground events across Brooklyn. He decided to share some amazing stories about the early playa and the slow change he’s observed in his time at Black Rock City. This guy was going when a lot of us hadn’t even heard of it yet, so give it up. Pour yourself a cup or a drink and dig in. A lot of really interesting stuff here! ~Terry Gotham)

1. How was Burning Man 2015? Anything unexpectedly dope happen?

Actually got a lot of sleep this year, which I know isn’t the usual thing for that town. My gf Kate was sick the 1/2 half of the week, I would crash with her, thinking I’d get up in the middle of the night to roam around, but end up waking up well past dawn. I guess I needed to rest myself. But I got out, went dancing, DJed, saw some old/new friends, some nice art pieces. Bubbles & Bass and the Sunday night party at the Pickle Joint (shouts 2 Ezra / Darkat) are always a sureshot.

Probably the craziest shit I saw was the Regurgitator out by the trash fence. They had a pulse jet engine hooked up to a fulcrum on one end with a motorcycle seat and a wheel turned sideways on the other. Basically it was a machine designed to spin in circles extremely extremely fast, the ultimate nightmare spin around and get sick carny ride. I hate carny rides oh man, this is not my cup of tea at all, nope, not fucking getting on that thing. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a human being move that fast in real life. Shit was truly insane. To start it the guy used a leaf blower in one hand and a flame thrower in the other. Safety 3rd? More like 5th. Felt like some old school shit. Very DPW-ish.

2. Urban legend has it that DJ Small Change has seen 17 Burns, is that true?

Yup been going straight since 1999. Ppl always say ‘it must’ve been so different!’ Well kinda sorta. Though I wasn’t attending then, I feel the real transition years were mid 90s, with things really changing after ’96, when dude drove into that tent, and they had curb back certain rules about driving on the playa etc. So with 1999 you have a city that is similar to what it is today, in terms of layout. The population was less then now but still significant, about 25K. And not as big, they’ve added a more few streets. Things were a little more out in the open, police was definitely less of a factor back then. Pershing County wasn’t ticketing so much back then. Its now akin to NYC parking tickets, tax these hippies for smoking/pissing/fucking/etc.

It was also FREEZING in 1999. Literally. Low 30s. Maybe lower. So brick. It being my first year, going to the desert, I didn’t think to bring gloves or a real jacket, its going to be hot, right? I was wearing two pairs of socks for gloves. Also (I think) it was the last year they allowed bonfires on the playa, before the burn platforms. You couldn’t make it across one side of the playa to the other without stopping at one to get warm, it was that brick. I don’t think its been that cold since. In more recent years I think people have been spoiled slightly with the weather. In 2000 there was an insane rainstorm, I remember Tranquility Base (which became Disorient the next year) having one of the biggest domes on the playa that year and being totally destroyed by this storm. Of course I was supposed to DJ there the next day. That town. Slightly unpredictable.

In ’99 I kept bumping into this dude from Canada who had an accordion and was playing these ridiculous covers, Nirvana, Fatboy Slim, and Chemical Brother’s ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’. Accordion techno, hilarious shit. I remember my first night on the playa, leaving center camp and within minutes seeing this guy on top of this truck with a Tesla Coil, in a weird metal suit with a birdcage on his head, being constantly electrocuted like it was no big deal, holding up a 2×4 and having the lightning from the Tesla Coil catching it on fire. Dr. Megavolt. My mind was blown. The person next to me was saying ‘Is that fake’? I’m like shit is on fire, I don’t think its fake! And their barker from the truck shouting over his megaphone, ‘Bow down to the almighty Megavolt, give us drugs, give us booze, give us cigarettes! Bow down!!’ Absolutely ridiculous. I was hooked immediately. Gave the barker some mushrooms which he promptly ate on the spot and continued barking…’Bow down! Give us cigarettes!’

There was no temple in ‘99 either. It was before the first temple was built, which happened in 2001. I remember that year when the Temple of Tears happened, people would be there, losing their shit, but in a healthy way. It brought a different and deeper dynamic to the playa, and since the temple is such an institution now I think it would be hard for people to think about it not being there. The coffin at the Temple of Tears was the shit, was metal, made out of welded guns, knives, etc. On some HR Giger tip, properly evil looking. They had a ceremony and took the coffin in, then burned the temple, in the end the coffin was red hot sitting on the ashes.

3. What makes you keep coming back?

Like I said, its a good town. Probably my favorite. Would hesitate to drift into new age spirituality lingo (the deepest spiritual experience of your life!!). But it is a ridiculous good, crazy and unique party. There is a freedom there that I really appreciate. Having a place where you can be yourself, and explore what that is, without judgment. People are really friendly and take care of each other. Its very important to not plan out your whole week…leave yourself chaos time. That’s one of the big lessons I’ve learned from Burning Man…you can’t plan out your whole life, because then you miss out on all the things you didn’t even think of, didn’t think of doing, things you didn’t know you liked, people you didn’t know you needed to meet.

Is it perfect? No of course not. Has it changed? Sure. When folks come to me with that ‘isn’t it played out/jumped the shark line’, I say a good parallel is NYC, which I’ve lived in for 23 years (originally from southern California). NYC has gotten more douche-y over the years, there’s more money, but there still is a lot of real people and proper underground events that make it worthwhile. I feel like Burning Man still very much has an edge, though sometimes you have to look for it. But that’s like any city right? The setting is stupidly beautiful, especially at sunrise. I’ve had and continue to have many great memories there.

Also the crew I camp with, BMIR (Burning Man Information Radio, the main radio station). Great laidback crew (shouts 2 Bobzilla, Kanizzle, Winchester etc etc), beachfront property, people take care of biz. Basically I get to dance, hula hoop (been spinning for a min), wear funky outfits, netflix n chill (sans netflix), hang with friends, DJ, wander, pretty much the whole week. Kinda what life should be like 24/7, yes? Why not come if you can?

WMFU Radio: Playlist – March 26, 2015

4. How do the Burns of the 00’s differ from those of the 10’s?

There was less of a cop presence. There was less portapotties. In fact one year it was really really bad. Oh man. I forget, sometime in the mid 2000s. Shit was real. Logs on the seat real. But lets not get too disgusting here. And I give Borg credit they seem to have a set up a good and functioning city. And potties out by the man and deep playa is a good luck, especially if you’re writing tickets for pissing now.

Camps and sound have gotten a little more sophisticated, although there were some huge sound camps back then. Art Cars have gotten a bit more tricked out. People seem to dress up more, obviously there was a lot of people in costume back in the day, but I think its even more so now. A bit more flashy now. Playa wear is a thing now. There’s been some god awful fashion articles written recently from people who probably have never been to a burn. No offense to Robot Heart, but hey Vogue, please get a fucking clue.

I liked some of the simpler art themes, one of my favorites was ‘The Floating World’ from 2002. Water, simple. A lot of artists really flipped that concept beautifully. I don’t think any of the themes they come up with are bad though, wasn’t crazy about American Dream. I do think sometimes the themes get a little too heady / philosophical. We get it. Y’all are smart. Y’all are artists. Y’all have read books (just teasing!).

Its just different time periods, so you have different places/spaces. Like talking about CBGB’s or Max’s Kansas City in NYC, venues come and go. I used to play regularly at camps like Plug 4 and Antarctica, miss them a lot. Plug 4 had such great music, proper hip hop, heavy funk, reggae, afro-beat…was a good sound for the playa for folks who wanted a break from dance music. RIP DJ Solomon (one of their residents) who was killed a few years ago in a car crash, unbelievable skills, cutting up 2 copies of classics like Run DMC’s Peter Piper, he would absolutely destroy it…hippies were not ready. Antarctica (not to be confused with Arctica, the ice people) was a long refrigerated tractor trailer truck, with a DJ booth on one end, xmas lights, clear inflatable ‘ice’ furniture, frozen drinks, and a dancefloor that would go totally bonkers, the entire trailer would be bouncing. They ran game on daytime parties back in the day. A/C and frozen drinks nuff said. Also shouts also to Image Node who I camped with for a few years, they would host a Wolf + Lamb sunrise party that was crispy, and I threw a few sunrise things there. They weren’t afraid to play experimental shit which I liked.

The sound at Burning Man has changed. First few years I went there the dominant sound was trance and new school breaks, maybe a little jungle and house here and there. Its always been international, but there were fewer east coast people back then, it was more of a west coast, specifically SF thing in a lot of ways. Dubstep started coming in the early-mid 00s, and you also had people like PEX, Marcus Wyatt and King Britt coming with more house, also shouts to M3/Green Gorilla. And also folks Jon H from FK5 (RIP), Nickodemus, Hookahdome etc bringing more of a mix of eclectic, funky, global sounds. Not really a fan of jam bands and feel like live music at the burn has never been strong, though I should probably spend more time in the jazz spot near Center Camp. Occasionally you hear some proper rock, punk and metal at DPW type of spots, Thunder Dome, etc. Big ups Black Rock Roller Disco dude is OG af even if their sound system is not always the best.

I think the music on the playa is more eclectic now but sometimes you can still roam around for far too long before you can find what you want to hear. I’m a big fan of dance music and not trying to come off as a snob, but music can get a little typical at times. You do have some really big names who play at the burn, but the bookings can be a bit random. The bigger DJs that have been coming for many years seem to ‘get it.’ They obviously choose to be here over a ‘money’ gig. I went to Glastonbury for the first time this past year. Would be nice to see someone like Motorhead on the playa, but not holding my breath.

I miss the Larry’s Duck Casino, and the Dice the next year way back in the early 2000s. Those dudes were more then kinda pretentious (you’ve give them an entire bottle of booze and get like 5 chips to play with) but was a dope concept. Also remember the full size Mouse Trap game that (of course) was out of order the entire week of the burn. Can we see the cage come down at least once?? Gotta love this town. Again, ‘its all playa…’

5. Do you have a day job that helps you fund your annual pilgrimage?

Very good question, given the cost to go out there, which has risen since I started going. Coming from the east coast its a real expense. Big ups the Container Crew in the east coast, they’ve made it a lot easier for folks to do this, and to have bigger camps / art projects. I know PEX used to drive out with 3 trucks from Philly every year, pretty nuts. A lot of the bigger east coast camps have year round storage in Reno. Its a commitment, for sure.

I’m a professional full time DJ, do a lot of events/weddings, some club and hotel gigs. Loft parties and freeform radio (WFMU) are my favorite gigs but they don’t pay the bills. I also bartended for a decade in NYC in the 90s/00s. My thing with the burn is as long as I can afford to go, I’ll go. I don’t think its a great idea to go out there if you’re totally broke or your life is in upheaval, because after the fantasyland of Burning Man the real world will come calling all too soon afterwards. But so far so good, and I will be there next year. So yeah, if you want to hire me for your wedding DJ, don’t get married on Labor Day weekend, cos I’ll be off the grid, of course you probably wouldn’t be if you’re reading this, you’d probably also be on the playa, perhaps getting married there…

6. As a veteran, do you believe Burning Man is becoming commodified or beholden to the 1%?

Well there’s always been a ‘money’ element at burning man, but I’d say in the last few years we’re seeing it more and more. One of things Burning Man is truly great for, taking things in the real world and flipping it on its lid. It can be hilarious, like the art car thats a moving corporate boardroom. Or the Airstream camp. Forget what year this was, mid-late 00s. I passed by them, they had 40 trailers at least, neon pink flamingos in the front. I went up to them and congratulated them…’This is something I’ve been waiting years for, and you’ve done it…you’re the first gated community at burning man!’ We had a laugh and a beer at 5am, they were actually super cool. Had croquet every day at 130pm, of course. Proper sophistication.

The problem with these modern turn key camps is, are they that stylized? That open? I’ve heard that Larry Harvey and various Borg folks do drop in on these camps, and make sure they actually are inclusive, which is good. Of course you’re going to have private camp areas etc, but Burning Man shouldn’t be about the backstage, and how to get there. It shouldn’t be an Us vs Them thing. It should just be US. All of us, enjoying this town together.

Rich people have always funded some of the bigger and/or fancier camps, the bigger sound camps etc. Who’s paying for that top shelf booze at Ashram Galatica? Who cares, as long as they’re not dicks. I feel those dudes do it proper, valet park your bikes et al. Adrian from Piss Clear (the great alternative newspaper at Burning Man, now called BRC Weekly) had a hilarious rant about rich mofos back in the day, kinda sums it up for me:

“I’m personally grateful that there are so many egomaniacs in Black Rock City with no lives and plenty of disposable income, each one trying to out-do the other with bigger and better theme camps. Goodness knows I sure as hell couldn’t afford it, but I’ll be damned if I won’t come out here and reap the benefits of someone else’s IPO! All one has to do is walk along the Esplanade to see all that money being put to use.”

For the ‘Burning Man has sold out’ camp…this was written in 2000. Y’all are a scratched record full of playa dust with this line. Please retire. Anyways 1%ers, I suggest you heed this wise advice! Do your best to keep up with your fellow Joneses! Bring out bigger and better custom soundsystems and booze etc. I’ll be on your dancefloors enjoying, checks in the mail 😉

Btw, this is exactly why libertarian mofos like Grover Norquist love burning man. Lets do away with taxes, drown the government inna bathtub, let the rich people provide charities and services etc all will work itself out! Personally this works better on the playa then the real world, but you can probably guess my politics at this point…

You want to fly in, have a sherpa, meals, RV etc? Its all good. I rent an RV mice elf. Nothing like eating cupcakes and drinking single malt in a white out, watching your campmates tents blow away.

Just don’t be a fucking stuck up d-bag. Really isn’t that complicated. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

7. Any tips for DJs just getting their start now, perhaps in the Burning Man or even club/bar scene?

It’s a very different world now from when I started DJing in the early 90s. Like the grandpa in the Simpsons…’well back in my day’, ‘uphill both ways’, ‘crates of records’ etc. Its actually much much easier to be a DJ now, because there was a lot of cost involved with the equipment and keeping up with records. Now you have DJ programs that will even beat match for you. People, people, people, lets not get TOO lazy, ok?! Some old school DJs will say that its too easy, but my attitude is if someone is rocking it (aka doing more then ‘pressing play’) then there it is. Who cares about the format? When you’re dancing at 4am in the dust, do you care if the DJ is playing the original label 12″ of the track? And yes, we did bring vinyl to the playa way back then, and yes it was insane as it sounds. Hot and dusty…not a great place for records. I have a scratched Boards of Canada EP that proves this.

Actually think it’s good that its easier to DJ, because potentially everyone is a DJ. If you’ve made an iTunes playlist (or a mixtape for someone you liked) you are a DJ in a sense, you’re selecting tracks to be played in a certain order. Just like everyone has a camera now via their phones and Instagram account, and that probably helps you to become a better photographer down the line, even if you aren’t ‘pro’. It’s a good skill to have, like driving or bartending. We all need to go places, make drinks, take pictures…why not be better at selecting music?

To be a professional or even be out there takes some work, though I would argue less work than learning an instrument. Get a cheap controller and practice at home. Befriend DJs and have them show you things, or take a class, there’s quite a few schools now. Set up parties and play out with friends, even if its just a house party. Take an opening slot when no one has arrived yet, just to get out there. Remember to have fun. This is important. Listen to music. Lots of music. This is your job. Know the history of music, especially dance music, if you’re going to playing said music. Music is way more vast than what’s ‘hot’ this week. Be about the music more than drugs or getting laid. If you’re more about the latter your music selections will reflect that. DJs dig. That is what we do. Trying to find tracks that will set you apart, find your own voice and sound.

Listen to other DJs. Also very important. Not just famous ones.

Then shazam all their tracks, steal their gigs. Step on people and stab them in the back whenever possible. Rely on marketing and promotion over actual talent. (Sadly, this does work for some people.) All kidding aside promoting yourself is actually pretty important, since everyone is a DJ now. Woodshed, and when you’re ready to be out there, put out mixes, play out, get yourself out there however you can. It does take a lot more work then people think. Like most things in life, the experts always make it easier then it seams.

And try not to be intimidated by other DJs. Folks can be guilty of making others feel insecure, because they themselves are insecure. Arrogance is simply a way to hide insecurity right? Like all scenes you will deal with high school bullshit, people with the whole, ‘I’m more famous then you’, ‘I play bigger rooms then you’, ‘I know more about music then you’, ‘you suck’, etc etc etc. Fuck these people. Just do your thing and hang with likeminded souls. Have fun. That’s what it’s all about.

8. You’re one of the more overtly political DJs in the NYC Burner community. Do you ever fear that your consistent discussion of the Middle East, Animal Rights or other issues hurts your career?

Yeah. Slight can of worms right? Where to start. Well first, I think if I was strictly an animal rights activist, I don’t think it would be something that might hurt my career. And although I do talk about Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc, I really focus more about what’s going on in Israel then the Middle East as a whole. So to put it more directly, does calling out Israel as being an apartheid state, and calling for justice for Palestine possibly hurt my career as a DJ? Probably doesn’t help. But that’s the nature of being an activist. You lose friends, work, because you are willing to take a stand. Its not easy sometimes.

To be real…we are privileged compared to many other people on the planet, we have resources and time, and so if you have the means, personally I think you should take time to fight injustice. Push back against the bigotry and ignorance. Have the courage to stand up against this 1984 culture going on. I’m not against selfies (to a point…c’mon ppl) but shit is really dark right now. Ignoring obvious problems is not going to help. We need to push to see the world we want to live in…is this not what Burning Man is about to a certain degree? What’s troubling is seeing how people respond in this community. People who probably think they’re ‘liberal’ telling me I should ‘go away’. Keep in mind I pre-date some of these folks saying this in this scene for well over a decade. Its a joke. Pee Wee Herman shit. Should I say, ‘No, why don’t YOU go away! I’ve been here longer!’ C’mon. Or folks calling for me to be ‘blacklisted’ from parties on some J Edgar Hoover type bs. One of our NY Regional reps ominously told me (on a dance floor at a festival at 2am no less) there would be ‘consequences’ for my posts about Midburn (the Israeli regional burn) on the NY Burning Man list-serve. Hippie fascism at its best. I would never advocate for anyone in our community to be blacklisted, even if your politics are fucked. (And yes, since you asked, some of y’alls politics are way fucked up.)

Your original question is really the answer here. These ‘consequences’ are exactly why many folks don’t speak up. There is a lot of intimidation when posting critically about Israel, to keep people believing the Emperor is wearing clothes. And not just me in this specific scene, across the board, from journalists to professors (Steven Salaita) to politicians who speak up against Israel’s apartheid policies get targeted, threatened, harassed, even fired. There is a reason for this intimidation, and that’s because the truth is too obvious, Israel is no democracy, and supporters of Israel have no real counter argument. So they try to bully, to silence you, personal insults, over any real points. What is going on is straight up ethnic cleansing. And for what it’s worth I think its VERY important to talk about this, to push for change. Even if it potentially costs me a few gigs. We’re talking about overt racism and colonialism happening right in front of us, in 2015. Sorry that shit was outdated even in the 17-1800s. Its gotta stop, and in the end it isn’t governments that will do anything. The ‘peace process’ has proven to be a sick joke, a con. Its up to people to raise their voices and stay STOP. Enough is enough. How many more children need to be killed before folks see it?

That the Burning Man organization actually sponsors Midburn as an official regional burn is a serious problem. How can you have a ‘Radically Inclusive’ event in a country that practices apartheid? Radically Inclusive Apartheid amirite? It completely goes against their own principles, its complete hypocrisy. Burning Man sponsoring Midburn will be a shitstain on the history of Burning Man.

It will be akin to folks like the Beach Boys or Queen performing at the Sun Town resort in South Africa in the 80s despite calls for boycott. In fact the Beach Boys just played a IDF benefit concert…looks like they’re still a band of ‘principle’. Or should I say principal…gotta get that chedda! Who the fuck cares how many 13 year olds got shot last week? I mean I’m not the hugest Beach Boys fan but I respect their influence and their music. However its really disappointing that they will go and whitewash the actions of an apartheid government. This is exactly what Burning Man is doing with Midburn. Anyways I know many folks feel this is complicated issue. News flash. It really isn’t. Evidence is overwhelming. You can follow me on twitter to see daily links. Or better, follow the people I retweet, since I’m more of a stoner DJ then an actual journalist. But believe me It’s all there, clear as day. (@djsmallchange) Boycotting aka the #BDS movement is really the answer. It’s also the answer Palestinians call for themselves. How often do privileged people think they know better then the folks that are actually being oppressed?

9. Favorite non-Burning Man party? Least favorite party?

Well keep in mind, most parties are non-Burning Man parties. But I understand the question. Burners can be sheepish in where they go, i.e. strictly to Burning Man type events. Yes, the real world can be way square, especially outfit wise (although Burning Man outfits can get predictable too, to be sure). And yes its nice to have that ‘Cheers’ feeling, where people know your name etc etc. The vibe at clubs, especially mainstream clubs in NYC can be quite wack. I run in a few different music scenes in NYC. One any given Monday I could end up at Francois K’s legendary Deep Space night for proper techno, house, dub, etc; Mobile Mondaze for true school boom bap; Konkrete Jungle occasionally; Eso at Bembe for modern and vintage global sounds w/ my people Dirtyfinger and Reaganomics, 2 of the best in the game, and they always have great guests. And this is just Monday! Why I still like NYC, just why I still like Burning Man…always plenty of options.

Speaking of Dirtyfinger, I just played Bike Kill, which is one of the best annual parties in NYC hands down.  I’m a longtime resident at Rubulad which are not burner per se but have had that feel since I started playing for them in the mid 90s. Looking forward to the House of Yes reopening, threw and attended many great events their old space (and the one before that). Have hit the Bunker parties a number of times over the years in NYC, including their classic ‘No Way Back’ party during Movement in Detroit. Goes way way late. Speaking of the D another classic party is Moodymann’s Soul Skate party, thrown every other year, world class DJs spinning in a gigantic old school roller rink, folks getting down, BBQ served at 2am. Don’t sleep! In LA the Do-Over parties always go off, and enjoy playing gritty soul 45s at the Funky Sole party with Miles and Clifton, always super deep selections.

One of my favorite parties is called No Parking on the Dance Floor, a long running loft thing I throw periodically that attracts people in the ‘flow arts’, hooping, poi, etc. I’ve been hooping for about 7 years and really enjoy it. Also I just opened up a restaurant/small club called El Cortez in Bushwick, with some of the folks who are behind The Commodore, and booking DJs there. I’ve been enjoying sets from faves like Eli Escobar, Twilight Tone, DJ Eleven, Edan, Ursula 1000, Chairman Mao, Monk One, Greg Caz, etc. Funktion One system and the guac is made to order…and now, back to the interview, with no more commercial interruptions…

10. Favorite moment of your 17 years on playa?

One of them for sure was when I played at Disorient way way back in the day, sometime in the early 00s, was a Tuesday night. I played from 1am to 5 or 6am, really eclectic set of dance music, post-punk, disco, house, hip-hop, jungle, all kinds of stuff. At one point a guy dressed up in a pretty full-on Pope outfit walked in. I realized I had the exact record for this moment, Beenie Man’s ‘Gospel Time,’ this gospel dancehall record which starts off with an a cappella vocal part that goes ‘praise him, praise him, praise him.’ I put it on and the Pope gestured to me like we planned this (never seen him before of course) and everyone is bowing down to the him. Then the song kicks in and everyone starts dancing around the him, hands in the air…one of those classic playa moments. Like Cindy Adams would say in an alternative universe, only at Burning Man folks, only at Burning Man…

There was also this time I was out all night dancing, also sometime in the 2000s. Headed to the trash fence for sunrise, slowly meandering my way back to my camp, although I wasn’t totally beat. Sun was now well over the mountains but still morning. You get that wonderful juxtaposition at that time, you have people jogging, getting coffee, starting out their day, and then you see folks who have obviously been out all night, and are still out, even though they maybe shouldn’t be (*cough* no comment). So as I was biking close to the Esplanade this dude who looked like Cooter from Dukes of Hazzard, greasy overalls with no shirt, and was on his megaphone shouting at all the morning ppl to come into their dome and drink their booze. What are you really trying to accomplish today anyway, come get drunk, etc etc. He was a skilled and hilarious barker (not everyone has the talent) and so I obliged. It was that time. Of course being a veteran burner I had no cup. The bartender handed me a can of root beer and told me to take a big gulp, and afterwards poured some vodka directly into the can. Classy folks. I took a seat and ended up talking to this permaculture dude form Hawaii who ran an organic farm. We were enjoying some extremely extremely kind things that he had grown there (shit was nice!) and having one of those playa conversations where you getting into some real life shit and don’t even know each other’s name yet. And also listening to ‘Cooter’ continue to bark at ppl, now these two women arrived. They had a can of spray paint and were spending the morning making ppl take off their pants and sticking their hands on each cheek, spraying the outline of their hands on ppl’s asses. Hey we all gotta do something. So of course Cooter obliges, and while they’re doing that, they end up wrestling for the megaphone, giving him shit. Its a big commotion, very entertaining. The heckler was now being heckled. Then it somehow evolved. It was now Cooter’s wedding. Maybe Cooter proposed at one point don’t remember. So now it was time for the wedding speeches. Proper improv, these people were so hilarious. Just making up the most fucked up inappropriate stories that you would never ever want to hear at a wedding. Beyond cringeworthy ‘best man’ speeches. People got the vibe instantly, and others stood up and had a go. Nobody seemed to know each other at all but told stories as if they knew ‘Cooter’ for years, ‘remember that time we…’ and then into the worst story imaginable. Was classic. Just one of those things you catch randomly.

There was also that spontaneous Erotic Yoga class at the Sapphire Portal that one morning. I’ve never heard more guttural animal sounds while someone was in downward dog in my entire life. Also something else. But I think I’ve rambled on enough…all that playa dust. Rattles your brain.

Just remember. It was better last year. Always.

39 comments on “Why We Burn: Dj $mall ¢hange, 17 Year Burner

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  2. As a Midburn burner from the start who gave aloot to this thing and Idea that We can change our f$#ked up country thru infecting locals by this wonderous illness we call Burner. I got sad reading this shit. This guy knows Nothing about us and what we do here. Midburn is NOT israel.
    And something from myself: F$#k you Mr.small change.

    • How many ppl from Gaza attended Midburn? lemme guess. ZERO.

      hint: you’re the clueless one. you don’t even know what’s going on in the country you’re defending.

      ‘I got sad reading this shit’

      but those children killed in Gaza…who cares right? fucking pathetic. and typical.

      ‘Midburn is NOT israel.’

      MIDBURN IS IN ISRAEL you stupid fuck. Israel is an apartheid state. You’re throwing a burn in a apartheid state. hence, Radically Free Apartheid™

      do the Bedouins get a discount ticket after their village has been demolished nearby?

      y’all are so dumb. getting a fuck you from y’all is definitely a compliment. means I’m getting the proper reaction. try reading articles and educate yourself. then you would see how stupid this all is.

      here is a perfect example of why Midburn will only whitewash the blatant racism there, not change it…

      ‘That same day, two Palestinian brothers, both in possession of tickets to Madonna’s “peace” concert, filmed their attempt to get to the show (“Anarchists Against the Wall and Sheikh Jarrah movement reject Madonna’s invitation to whitewash Israeli apartheid and occupation,” Live from Occupied Palestine, 31 May 2012).

      That attempt was thwarted by Israel’s wall in the West Bank. Madonna said nothing about them or the other innumerable Palestinians who were similarly unable to attend. For all her rhetoric about world peace, she said nothing of the very segregated crowd for whom she was performing.’


  3. In response to the angry pro-Israel posts in response to DJ Small Change’s views against Israel….
    I need to remind people about a young female burner who was murdered by Israel in the early 2000’s or thereabouts. She was protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes by Israel. An Israeli driver of one of those big Caterpillar construction equipment things (with giant shovel on the front) intentionally ran her over and crushed her to death. All on film.
    She was young and protesting there to protect Palestinian rights. Murdered.
    I can’t remember her name. I’ll look it up and will post it.

    • Rachel Corrie, killed in March 2003 at age 23 by armored bulldozer in Gaza strip, bulldozer driven by Israeli soldier. She was from Washington State. Her family sued Israel, which rejected the suit, despite support for the family from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Israel denied responsibility. However, it was caught on film, and there were many witnesses.
      Rachel was a college student, and burning man attendee.

          • Even back then I thought she was a great example of a burner who really worked to make a difference in the world.
            When it happened I really thought it would make an international incident, her being a young American college student. I hope she has really changed things. I didn’t know about her foundation until I looked it up today. RIP

        • Terry, how about an article about inspirational burners? She is one. I’ve been looking her up a lot today. Apparently the photo of her on Wikipedia is from burning man 2002. A very determined expression. I hope a lot of burners were and are inspired by her. Maybe not everyone will agree with her cause, but could be inspired to action, with bravery and/or in many ways.

  4. Yeah, he’s a dj, and a slightly talented one at that. Nothing more. All I notice about his politics are that they are solely focused on how much Israel sucks. Not one thought or word about any other regime on this planet. Assad is such a nice boy, has only killed about 250,000 of his fellow countrymen and started an international refugee crisis. Jim Dyer, got any thoughts on that one? Of course not, the only people worthy of your scorn are Jews, amirite? China – silence. Boku Harem – silence. ISIS – silence. Serbs – silence. Jews/Israel – loud hateful words and lots of them, all the time, all over our burning man list-serve which is hardly the appropriate venue for your politics. Spare us your opinions on the list-serve and just keep playing your middling music at those sparsely attended parties you sometimes manage to rustle up, at least someone is still hiring you for $50 a night. With your meager dj skills, it’s hardly a surprise you can’t support yourself doing it. Maybe you should stop expending all your energy bashing others and learn some skills that can actually help you.

          • so I must be Palestinian right? Maybe you should tell that to my Jewish mother. so then I’m a ‘self-hating Jew’ amirite? yawn.

            Zionists are so typical. This is why the NYC list-serv gets to be over 300 posts, because of bullshit like this.

            First off…NOT ALL JEWS ARE ZIONISTS. This is something Zionists constantly try to conflate so that anyone criticizing Israel is labelled ‘anti-semitic’. its really cheap and really tired.

            then, because Zionists are incapable of looking at themselves, and what they defend (part of the reason Israel continues to commit such awful war crimes and they can’t seem to care) they then go into the whole what about x,y,z, why don’t you care??

            There’s a brilliant article that illustrates this all too typical argument…

            How to make the case for Israel and win

            To the benefit of the many not-very-bright zionist wannabe apologists who read this blog assiduously, I decided to offer a clear and simple method of arguing the case for Israel. This clear and simple method has been distilled from a life spent listening to and reading Zionist propaganda. It is easy to follow and results are guaranteed or your money back.

            So don’t hesitate! Take advantage NOW of this revolutionary rhetorical system that will make YOU a great apologist for Israel in less time than it takes to shoot a Palestinian toddler in the eye.

            Ready? 1..2..3..GO!

            You need to understand just one principle:

            The case for Israel is made of four propositions that should always be presented in the correct escalating order.

            We rock
            They suck
            You suck
            Everything sucks

            That’s it. Now you know everything that it took me a lifetime to learn. The rest is details; filling in the dotted lines.

            You begin by saying how great Israel is. Israel want peace; Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East; the desert blooms; kibutz; Israelis invented antibiotics, the wheel, the E minor scale; thanks to the occupation Palestinians no longer live in caves; Israel liberates Arab women; Israel has the most moral army in the world, etc.

            This will win over 50% of your listeners immediately. Don’t worry about the factual content. This is about brand identity, not writing a PhD. Do you really think BP is ‘beyond petroleum’?

            Then you go into the second point: They suck. Here you talk about the legal system of Saudi Arabia, gay rights in Iran, slave trade in the Sudan, Mohammad Atta, the burqa, Palestinians dancing after 9/11, Arafat’s facial hair, etc.

            There is only one additional principle you need to understand here. It will separate you from the amateurs. You need to know your audience. If you’ve got a crowd already disposed to racist logic, go for it with everything you have. But if you get a liberal crowd, you need to sugar coat the racism a bit. Focus on women rights, human rights, religious tolerance, “clash of civilizations”, terrorism, they teach their children to hate, etc. Deep down your audience WANTS to enjoy racism and feel superior. They just need the proper encouragement so they can keep their sophisticated self-image. Give them what they crave and they’ll adore you! But be careful not to ‘mix n match,’ because it will cost you credibility.

            When you’re done, there will always be dead-enders insisting that abuse of gays in Iran does not justify ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Take a deep breath, and pull the doomsday weapon: You suck!

            You’re a Jew-hater, Arab-lover, anti-Semite, you’re a pinko, a commie, a dreamer, a naive, a self-hater, you have issues, your mother worked for the Nazis, Prince Bandar buys you cookies, you forgot you were responsible for the holocaust, etc. The more the merrier. By the time you end this barrage, only a handful would be left standing. For mopping them up, you use the ultimate postmodern wisdom: Everything sucks.

            War, genocide, racism, oppression are everywhere. From the Roma in Italy to the Native-Americans in the U.S., the weak are victimized. Why pick on Israel? It’s the way of the world. Look! Right is only in question between equals in power; the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. Ethics, schmethics. Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Eat, drink! Carpe diem! The Palestinians would throw us into the sea if they could. Ha ha!

            Trust me, that’s as far as words can go. If you followed this method faithfully, you’ve done your work. You should leave the few who are still unconvinced to the forces of order.

            You are now ready to
            apologize for Israel like a pro.


            PS I do talk about a lot of bullshit. But here’s the real question…do you ever post about Israel’s atrocities? lemme guess…don’t talk about my activism if yours is fucking clueless

          • Very good plan. But do you think they are really that sharp to carry it out? Kinda falls into the category of them not joining any club that would have them as a member.

            I still think they are really Martians trying to make Jews look bad.

  5. Good and interesting article. It was nice to hear from someone who has seen so many years, old and new. Lots of great stories and perspective.
    I’ve seen fewer years, but I agree about 2002 having a great theme and really amazing art, possibly the best year?
    Did you use software to write out an audio interview? “Mice elf” for “myself”? I only notice this because I’m thinking of getting similar software.
    In any case, great article.

  6. My mother is a Jew, my father is a Jew and I am a Jew, but you sir are in my opinion simply an anti-Semite. Take your tired and wrong political beliefs elsewhere. I hear Syria is in need of a DJ. Or maybe Yemen. Just leave us alone with your tired rants on the listserves.

    • Hey “anon”:
      You want to share your opinion, yet you tell this person not to share their opinion and take it “elsewhere”? It must lonely in your tower, looking down at everyone who has it “wrong”. You ought to accept that some have a different opinion from you.
      BTW, he didn’t say anything about “Jews”. He was talking about the country of Israel and their laws and actions.

        • ‘BTW, he didn’t say anything about “Jews”. He was talking about the country of Israel and their laws and actions.’


          ‘Knee-jerk dogma is all some people have to work with. Asking them to think is going way too far.’

          double bingo

          ‘Take your tired and wrong political beliefs elsewhere.’

          without making one point whatsoever. again. Pee Wee Herman. Pee Wee and Francis. ‘No, why don’t you take your tired and wrong political beliefs elsewhere…infinity!’ Especially since they actually ARE wrong. How long have you been coming to the burn Anon? 18 years right? Whoever is going longest gets to tell everyone else to go away first…that’s how it works right? Remember, I would never say that. Come to burning man, have fun, even with your ignorant af position…

          • Great example with Pee Wee and Francis. I actually agree with the perspective that the government of Israel is operating like an opressive state and needs to stop. I was being diplomatic in my first post to anon. The idea being that one should at least recognize and accept that different views exist, instead of anon just telling people to shut up and go away. Then, some debate and exchange of thoughts can occur. In coming to “solutions” to problems, parties need to be aware of all sides. Maybe burning man might be a more beneficial service to society if these kinds of debates could occur there.

          • “Maybe burning man might be a more beneficial service to society if these kinds of debates could occur there.”

            >I am sure it could, if the Borg would get them and their NV burn agenda out of the way.

          • …For those who can’t or don’t want to see my point:

            As Gradschoolinsomniac pointed out, any progress on any confrontational issue requires honest discussion from both sides. This is the sort of things you can expect from many if not most burners. However, the Borg has chosen the BMP BoD to largely be a set of people where honest discussion from both sides of this issue would be a liability if associated with them. The promoting discussion of any controversial issue risks alienating part of their market.

            Have you noticed that the Borg have promoted discussion of any issue, even about themselves? No, they are like any big organization whose first priority is survival over meaning.

            (In an ABP alternate reality the BMP BoD is instead made up of burners who will take on and actively promote fair and honest dialog on any issue that might make that alternate reality better. Their dialog about Israel and Midburn is illuminating a better understanding of both sides beyond the dogma that is a block here.)

      • Actually, the non-existent nature of anon’s ad hominem argument (i.e., that anon is a Jew) shows how compelling $mall ¢hange’s arguments are. Or, that anon is really stupid, like I said before. Or maybe… that anon is a Palestinian trying to make Jews look bad?!

  7. 99 was my first year, also. He’s right about there not being much difference in the layout and overall scale that can be perceived from the individual perspective. But A LOT has changed – in fact, everything else has changed (aside from the name). It’s an entirely different demographic now, a new generation of ‘meh’. 99 was the beginning of BM 2.0. It took only about 5 years from then to enter 3.0.

      • I stopped going after they nailed Addis to the wall. I realized I was serving these beasts at considerable expense. My alternative is 5 semi-feral kittens, one of which is stalking me right now.

        • Fair enough – thought you were still going. That’s about when I found other burn venues.

          Was there for the Addis premature ignition and thought it was amusing but not the end of the world like the Borg did. I guess their humorless “life is out of control” reaction was an early indication of their NPD mindset. It was mostly a hidden undercurrent – they did not get the attention and airtime like they did once the they reached the sellout, that “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud, hatch out!”

          • well fwiw it could’ve been really dangerous, no one got hurt but someone could’ve easily, so I think they were coming from that perspective. but I can’t speak for them

          • They could have taken a really radical approach and be sure he never came again so he could never again pose that risk.

            But I guess the Borg approach to press civil and criminal charges, and drive him to suicide was far more restrained, and directly compensated for the dangerous situation he created, making the Borg whole. …Did I get that right?

  8. Still one of my all time favorite DJs.
    A true inspiration, got to see him on Marathon eve in NYC.
    An epic event………

  9. i’m shocked he was able to mention midburn & israel with so little profanity. got to tone it down, to appear sane “amirite”?

    “So they try to bully, to silence you, personal insults, over any real points. “
    lol, the irony.

    • ‘lol the irony’

      how does the thread start? and how does it end up? Only Trolls are allowed to insult right? And like all trolls, they never have any real points…

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