(For the first 2016 edition of Why We Burn, I had the privilege of speaking to two emerging talents in the NYC Burner community. They are part of the leadership of DiscoFist camp, which provides carbonation to water, or Disco Fizz, to weary travelers in need of some bubbles. They also run a tight, forward looking label called Talon&Claw and a cool party series on the Lower East Side, the next happening on the 15th, and for you LA people, they’ll be in your neck of the woods on the 22nd. They’ve been involved with retail venues, burner communities and more exclusive invite-only stuff only the island of Manhattan can offer, so I think you’ll enjoy their perspective. ~Terry Gotham)
1. How the heck was your 2015? Heard there was a little West Coast travel for you, how’d they treat you two out there?
Jaguar: 2015 was great! There were amazing, positive changes for both of us. We decided to drive across the country to BM this year and once we got to the West Coast, we decided we needed to stick around for awhile, so we extended the trip by about 5 weeks. We loved it out there so much that we’re heading back to California this week, and we’re looking forward to playing a number of dates there in 2016.
Pink: Our West Coast burner family is pretty tight and it was amazing to return from the desert to their dusty apartments to feel just as welcomed by them in San Francisco and LA as we felt on playa. Our West Coast friends didn’t want us to go and we didn’t want to leave, but we had stops on our tour in other states. We were treated very kindly everywhere we went, and had the most incredible reception of our DJ sets in Austin and in DC. Crowds there really come out to move their bodies! A refreshing change from the all-too-common stand-and-snapchat dancefloors of clubs in NYC.
2. Do you feel there are any big differences between how the two coasts experience and create burner culture?
Pink: Hearing our friend talk about his long drive from Reno to his house was kind of funny. So simple. We had a long drive from Reno to our home as well, it was just across the entire United States. It’s easier for West Coast burners. It’s easier to get the art to the playa and back. It’s easier to get yourself to the playa and back. I think this makes for a different energy around burner culture on the two coasts. Afterburn on the West Coast felt so celebratory. Driving around San Francisco we saw a dusty art car parked at Land’s End with a band on the roof jamming out at 10am. Burning Man culture felt ingrained in the city of San Francisco, with burner art featured in multiple public spaces. After burn on the East Coast feels a little sad, as if we can feel the distance between our bodies and the burn in our hearts. I think this fuels East Coast burners to create more regional burns and more local burner experiences. There’s a lot of energy put towards regional burner culture on the East Coast just to increase accessibility to those who can’t make the cross-country pilgrimage. It’s really a beautiful thing, a great gift burners give to each other on the East Coast.
Jaguar: This year our camp, DiscoFist, was a pod within Sk8Kamp and the Saturday before the burn, someone posted in the Facebook group for the camp saying they’d decided to go. That’s not possible from the East Coast at all. You have to plan much further in advance. We weren’t certain that we were going to be able to make it this year and one of the reasons we decided to drive was that by the time we decided we were going to be able to go, we’d missed the deadline for getting space on one of the containers being shipped to BRC. There’s so much time and expense that goes into the logistics of getting from the east coast to BM that it makes what camps and art cars like Kostume Kult, Disorient, Trifucta, and Icarus really, really impressive. I think you can really feel that in the East Coast burner communities.
3. Are you able to fund your Burning Man experience through creative/artistic pursuits or are you forced to maintain a default world job for the moment?
Jaguar: For the past several years, I’ve held a default world desk job to fund my experience. Apart from making music & art, DJing, and producing events, I recently finished the arduous process of becoming a licensed Architect and I’m really excited to start working on my first projects with one of my closest friends, Aaron Boucher. We’ve been talking about doing our own projects together since we were in grad school and now it’s happening! So, piecing all of those things together 2016 will be funded entirely through my own creative and artistic pursuits.
Pink: I’m very lucky that my last default world job was in the same world as my creative/artistic pursuits, so there was a lot of overlap there. I’m not sure what this year will hold. Right now I’m 100% focused on Talon&Claw, whiteowljaguar, and Dollparts and am taking the time to make art, produce events, and learn music production. My nightlife experience and formal education paired with so much event experience I got from being on production teams of fundraisers for Burning Man art initiatives has given me a skill set I’m extremely confident in. I look forward funding my Burning Man experience solely through creative endeavors. Maybe this year’s the year!
4. As a music group and as two DJs that perform on your own, how do you balance self promotion with the decommodification principle we all try and live by?
Jaguar: Honestly, it’s pretty tough and something that we grapple with often. We do our best to act with integrity when it comes to DJing, nightlife, and promotion. There were several instances in 2015 where we could have compromised our principles and taken an easier road, but we didn’t. And while things may have been harder, we’re happy with the way life has unfolded. One of the strategies we take is to separate our pursuits between Talon&Claw, our label and events, and DiscoFist, which is entirely decommodified, from fundraisers for BM to the actual making of the fists. The Fistress, Jen ‘Juicy’ Glenn, was approached by a well known nightlife promoter about producing and selling a DiscoFist for a party in Ibiza and passed on the opportunity. We do, however, teach people how to make their own DiscoFists so they can spread the awesome experience themselves! It’s cool to see others taking their Fists out on the dancefloor and spread the love!
Pink: There’s definitely a dance to be done between sharing your music and expression and making sure you promote enough to pay your rent, but I think that the mentality behind promo paired with consciousness of language is most important. Even though the degree to which the burn has inspired me is so vast and immeasurable, I’m super careful and Talon&Claw is very careful not to bring burner language into promotional materials at all. I want to make my living as an artist and musician, not as someone capitalizing on the growing popularity of Burning Man. This is the primary way we honor the burner principle of decommodification. By doing this and approaching promotion with the desire to share the music we play and the environments we create, I find promo-ing in the default world no different than grabbing a megaphone on playa and trying to get burners to come to this thing or that thing; both instances operate on the desire to share. I play music and make art to make other people happy and send positive ripples out into the world. This is true on or off playa.
5. As I talked about with Rocket, some people believe Burners are more welcoming of non-traditional relationships. Do you believe this is the case?
Pink: I think burners are more welcoming of non-traditional EVERYTHING. They’ve experienced how transformational non-traditional experiences can be at Burning Man or at a regional burn, or even at a local burner fundraiser for a camp or art project. Whether consiously or sub-consiously I think the idea that living life in non-traditional ways can widen perspective and benefit you as a human is engrained in burners, which makes it easier for them to be open to non-traditional ways of living life.
Jaguar: I think there are a large number of burners who question the way we live our lives and are very open to non-traditional relationships, but before I got involved in the burner community, I was a part of, and still am a part of, communities filled with people in non-traditional relationships who aren’t burners.
6. How were your sets at Burning man received? Were you ever sent to the DMZ or are people not as mad about electronic music as the reports claim?
Pink: I didn’t experience one negative thing surrounding any of our 12 sets on playa besides the fact that a handful of them never happened due to this technical difficulty or that camp’s stage shut down for one reason or another. We were not sent to DMZ, but one of the camps we were extremely excited about playing had been shut down due to an ‘unsafe stage.’ The leaders of this camp couldn’t help but laugh saying that this was the most sturdy stage they’d ever built on playa, and when the camp received regular ‘noise complaints’ (yes, that happens now at Burning Man… what is going on!?) I couldn’t help but wonder whether the stage was the issue or the fact that they’re a daytime sound camp. It was quieter on the playa this year. I didn’t like that. I love the chaos and the beats fading into and out of each other as art cars sail by one another. I understand that people need to sleep, but that’s what earplugs are for. Radical self reliance, people!
Jaguar: Our sound as DJs has evolved over the past year and a half from what we’ve played on Playa previously towards a crisper, punchier sound with thumping kicks, rolling snares, and grooving bass, so we weren’t sure how it would be received on playa. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised since burners are generally open to new things, so our sets went really well. No matter what style of music you’re playing, it’s about connecting with the crowd. Once you do that, things open up and you really get the opportunity to share new music that you love. I know there were a few sound camps and art cars that weren’t allowed on playa this year, but it opened things up for some new camps that are really doing some amazing things. One of my favorite nights was when we went B2B all night with our homies Milk and Cooper James on the amazing system at Sleezy Beaches.
7. As performers in safe play spaces, do you have any thoughts about navigating issues of consent on and off Playa?
Jaguar: Everyone was given a flyer that spoke about consent as they arrived on Playa this year. Perhaps that has happened in the past, but I don’t recall receiving one in previous years. I think it’s a good step, but there’s always more that can be done and I think the most effective way to communicate about consent in Burner centric spaces is at the local and regional level.
Pink: So many thoughts and feelings about this. I’ve become a huge proponent of affirmative consent (getting an express, enthusiastic “yes”). There are so many people who argue that affirmative consent takes some magic or sexiness out of a scene or sexual encounter and I call bullshit. There are so many tactics one can use to keep the magic or spontaneity in sexy time such as negotiating before an encounter (though making sure your negotiations are still the same is a must as well) and no matter what, talking and communicating is always better than hurting or violating someone. Honestly, if you can’t ask about others’ boundaries or communicate your own, then play spaces aren’t the place for you. There is a level of maturity one must have to exist in these spaces. The 11th principle? FOR IT. I wish more collectives and camps were outspoken about these issues as well. I wish more camps had safety plans for their parties and women and transpeople in leadership positions helping make sure their spaces were safe. Truly radical self expression is difficult when one doesn’t feel safe. Respecting personal boundaries creates a space for the other 10 principles to really thrive.
8. As label executives, do you value the EDM explosion the West is currently almost done experiencing? Or could you have done without Pasquale Rotella, Steve Aoki and Carnage tripling attendee levels?
Jaguar: I think there’s still a pretty big dividing line between commercial electronic music and underground house and techno. I found electronic music in the early 2000s while studying in Montreal and going out dancing at Stereo. From there, I started exploring deeper and deeper. Of the names you asked about, I’m only familiar with Steve Aoki, but I couldn’t tell you which artists are in the Top 40 right now either, so that probably says something. Some labels and parties have chosen to tap into those markets and you can see their crowds have changed or are changing. Everyone starts somewhere, and I think a lot of people have found their way to house and techno from more commercial forms of electronic music. I like to think that everyone is welcome in the house and techno communities as long as they have a real passion for the music and can treat the person dancing next to them with respect.
Pink: My intro to electronic music was through electro and mainstream EDM, so if the US hadn’t experienced this explosion I’m not sure I’d be doing what I do today… I’m not sure Talon&Claw, whiteowljaguar, or Dollparts would exist. When Tyler and I drove to WMC in 2012, I took him to a Steve Aoki party at Mansion and he took me to a Circoloco party at the Surfcomber. The difference in the crowd, energy, even the attitude of the staff was so obvious and I instantly fell deeper in love with house music. This was my path. Would I have loved Circoloco as much if I hadn’t experienced the contrast of our night at Mansion with $10 bottles of water and bros rubbing their armpits in my face? Maybe, but probably not. I really felt as though I’d found my home in the crowd at the Surfcomber that day and I’m not sure I would’ve felt this way if I hadn’t felt the desire to seek a new home after our night at Mansion.
9. Do you think music at retail festivals and Burning man is growing together or apart?
Pink: I think the existence and growing popularity of retail festivals may be bringing more and more professional DJs out to the playa, but I don’t think music at retail festivals affects what is being played on the playa, at least not by international big-name artists. I’ve heard such awesome, weird, and different music played by very well known DJs on playa. However, I do think that some lesser known DJs are more strongly influenced by what they hear at retail festivals and end up bringing those sounds out to the playa. There is a certain “sunrise set” sound that has come from Burning Man that some retail festivals push very, very hard, so I definitely think that Burning Man influences the music played at some retail festivals. I suppose my answer is: both. The sounds grow separately and they influence each other.
Jaguar: In one bike ride around playa, you can hear folk, metal, jungle, dubstep, house, trance, techno, jazz, or classical music. It’s really amazing, and I don’t think there’s another event that even comes close to offering that kind of diversity in music. I think the BMORG is aware that some people have started coming to BM with a retail festival mentality to see big, commercial acts perform and they’ve taken steps to curtail the amount of people who do, like asking sound camps to not publish lineups.
10. Favorite moment of BM 2015?
Jaguar: DJing on Christina The Queen of BRC while the man burned. The boat was rocking and we had a blast! Shoutout to K-Dust keeping the tradition alive!
Pink: There is absolutely no way I can pick one moment, so here are my top ones: Yes, our Christina Queen of BRC burn night tradition is always a highlight. We had an amazing rest of burn night and then sunrise with our friend Gwendolyn which catapulted our friendship to a new dimension. I’ve been dancing at Bubbles and Bass for my 5 years on the playa and whiteowljaguar finally got to play a set at the camp in a crazy dust storm. It was really, really special to me… I’d been waiting 5 years to do that. The moment that feels the most powerful to me looking back was a tear-filled hug between me and my co-DiscoFister, MommyDolly, and dear friend Jac. It was a moment that reminded me of the kind of bond we have, one that doesn’t even need to be fed or nurtured to remain so strong though we feed it anyway. I’m so grateful to have known her for 7 years and so happy she started burning 4 years ago. She introduced me and Tyler. The smiles on both their faces as we ride our bikes on playa together reminds me of why I burn.
If you want more from Talon&Claw, hit up Louie & Chan in NYC on January 15th and Proper Channels in LA on January 22nd at Proper Channels, because bi-costal Burning is a thing.