A guest post by Mayor of the Techno Ghetto Terbo Ted TerboLizard, the founder of doof at Burning Man. Ever wonder why there are thousands of massively popular raves in the world, and yet the Cacophony Society didn’t really grow beyond a few groups of a couple of hundred weirdos? In 2017 They are still promoting the idea that we should glorify the Cock’o’phonies while demonizing the ravers, which shows how out of touch the Burning Man Organization has become from the community that creates the $40 million cash cow/ party arts festival for them for free every year. It’s tax-free for them, but Burners still pay a 9% tax on their tickets. And bring the food, the bars, the music, the DJs, the art cars, and so on.
How many people at Burning Man like the music coming from the art cars and big camps? Half? More than half? Personally I would say 95%+, YMMV. If you didn’t like that sort of music, Burning Man would be an oddly uncomfortable place to spend a week’s vacation time.
Count the crowds, and look where they are. A lot of crowds, all over the Playa, almost always around music, they always make sure to use the best speakers, you can get more Info about them on soundmoz.com. It is clear that electronic music is what made Burning Man so popular, and if the Ten Principles mean anything at all, it means we should welcome people who come to enjoy that aspect of Burner culture at least as much as we welcome anyone else. Not try to shun and shame those who made Burning Man what it is, out of some weird ideal of “what a Burner should be” – presumably some sort of submissive, compliant, social justice virtue signalling volunteer freak. Burning Man was HUGE before the Ten Principles were thought up.
Before I get into any more details, I am going to both embarrass myself and brag a little bit… here is a picture of me, as a young man in my early twenties, out on the playa in 1992, right after I played THE first DJ set EVER at Burning Man.
That’s what I wore for my set. Note the visual similarities in how myself and the four young men are dressed; literally, I could stand next to these fellas being portrayed as ‘bad guys’ 25 years into the future and fit right in.
But let’s look at the history of Burningman. When the collectives I associated with brought rave culture out there- electronic dance music- whatever you want to call it, many of the early burners treated us like pariahs. ‘Ravers’ were blamed for just about anything that went wrong in early 90s burns, and some of it was deserved, and some of it wasn’t. But there were three key BM organizers in the early years on the playa who were the glue that made Burningman stick. Larry Harvey, Michael Mikel (aka Danger Ranger) and John Law were all very supportive of our efforts to bring a new facet of culture into the Burningman experience. Those three understood the concept of radical inclusion well before that was even a stated principle of the event. The written ten principles came to the playa much later than the DJ sound systems. Today there are all kinds of arguments going back and forth regarding the virtues or failures of the music culture at Burningman, that’s another discussion for another time.
Let’s look at the attire everyone is so scared of. When I was in my early 20s I was living on something like $500 a month or less in San Francisco. That is impossible now but it wasn’t really possible then either. I had no money for fancy clothes. The neon hat I had was a free giveaway from the liquor store, it had a cigarette brand sponsor. I used to smoke cigarettes back then. I used to go over to Larry’s house for coffee and talk about plans for the upcoming MAN year-round. At times I would take two packs of cigarettes (buy-one-get-one free quality you understand) and give one of the packs to Larry, who also was living on next to nothing as far as money goes. The shirt I had on in this picture was something you’d get out of a free pile somewhere outside of a thrift store, or for a dollar at a garage sale (they used to have those in the Mission, believe it or not). That was how we lived. If you had told me back then that people would be expected to wear elaborately hand made outfits that cost thousands of dollars to the burn I would not have believed you, now people wear all kind of stuff and buy their outfits in stores as sheepskintown.com. If I had any costume at all for Burningman back then, it was because I got it for free somehow.
Let’s apply that to the ‘party goons’ in this picture. I was able to easily find those garments they’re wearing online. The neon green RAGE hats are $10, you can buy them online here. The shirts with garish slogans are also in the $10-$20 range. The point I’m getting to is that young people don’t have lots of excess money, and you’re going to see these sorts of fun and low-cost things being worn. The young kids don’t have $800 for a handmade steampunk top hat with hand distressed goggles sewn in, and the entire outfit that goes with it, do you understand?
And let’s decode the messaging in their attire:
RAGE. Hey, it’s kinda close to BURN. Party on.
ALL I DO IS FUCK & PARTY. I think many people at least fantasize that’s what their burn is going to be about, if not in fact acting it out for real. I know that I do those things out there (when not busy MOOPing of course). I’m hoping you get to do those things out there as well, if you choose to.
SHOW ME YOUR TITS. This is absolutely perfect male attire on Thursday afternoon for Critical Tits Bike Ride. I am going to order one for myself this year. Easy to find online in multiple colors and fonts and at low cost!
PARTY WITH SLUTS & ME GUSTA WHORES Burningman does take place in Nevada. Not Berkeley. Prostitution is legal in Nevada.
LET’S GET FUCKING WEIRD. Heck, this could be an official theme for one of the coming Burns for all I care. I approve.
After twenty-five years of watching Burningman grow from less than 1000 people to selling out tens of thousands of tickets in half an hour, I’ve seen it go through many growing pains and phases, some of which were gut wrenchingly awful, some of which were transformative in a beautiful way.
When we were first going out there, I remember Larry explaining to me that when you put yourself into that void out there on the playa, whatever it is that is you- your inner self- is going to emerge because there’s nothing else there as a reference point. Everything you do out there is your inner self projecting itself into the world. The experience there is real. Something like that. The concept of Radical Self Expression undoubtably rose out of these beliefs.
Today, I can’t help but cringe at all of the Burner fashion conformity that happens. You can find websites in China selling ‘Burner’ style goggles now. And you know the look I’m talking about, the ‘Mad Max Muppet Pirate Clown on Acid’ get-up or whatever it is you see tens of thousands of times out there. We didn’t have a dress code at early Burningmans (although that’s not true, there were cocktail parties and theme parties with dress codes out there as early as I can remember). It’s great that the culture has developed some sort of visual ontology- maybe- but that we’ve seen that culture start to move toward exclusion of chosen costumes is a step in the wrong direction, a step away from inclusion, away from expression, it’s a push toward conformity and rule following. Early Burningmans were populated and created by pranksters, they pushed the boundaries of what was socially acceptable, comfortable, or- in many instances- lawful. They weren’t conforming to anything. Unlike today’s Burner culture. Shame on you people.
After the burn.life article was getting heavily forwarded around social media I had started making light hearted and favorable comments about the photo with the party bros on the Facebook group called ‘Official Unofficial Burning Man Page’ or whatever it is. I posted links where you could buy RAGE hats or some of the shirts in the comment threads, jokingly (and not for profit or anything like that, not as a commodity) as a commentary. And one of the admins banned me from the Facebook group. Shame on you people.
And let’s pretend those four party bros are out there this year in their chosen attire everyone wants to make fun of. Neon RAGE party hats and all. Having them time of their lives. Maybe they’ll even have some Whip-Its™ to share at sunrise, and you could do some with them and teach them about MOOP in the process. Remember, virgins are very welcome at Burningman. And once virgins get exposed to the culture, they can’t be unexposed to it. Who knows what great new and heretofore unthunk inspirations from the playa might transform those young bros’ lives. Hopefully they wouldn’t instead get forced down a path of derisive hierarchical conformity from the experience of going out there. The default world does that well enough, thank you.
About the storyteller:
Terbo Ted first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City, with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.” His playa self and default world self can be remarkably similar these days.
If we were to get rid of the paid MCs and ubiquitous BORING music, those who stopped coming would be ravers, not Burners. Then maybe we could get out home back from the invading hordes of uncreative, non-participating dance zombies. I’m happy if some aspiring MC wants to gift a set to the community. Good for them, but if the ravers go maybe we won’t sell out and every burner who wants to be on playa will be able to again.
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I fail to understand is the people in favor of turning Burning Man into just another rave, when there are countless other events you can get that from. I like dancing to EDM on the playa, but I HATE the fact that’s it more omnipresent every year I’ve been. It’s BORING. Do you get that? It’s become BORING. That’s really the main crime, here. Turbo Ted, I think what you did back in ’94 or whenever was great, because it was unique on the playa. But can you understand how the ubiquitousness of it now has made it, again, BORING. I applaud the BMORG for attempting to put the brakes on EDM (although honestly, it’s hard to tell), in order to encourage a little diversity and keep Burning Man as something other than just another rave.
Perhaps the question is: after your Birgin year, what are you bringing to the table as a participant and not spectator the next. Are the sound camps which hit the ground running at 2.5m dollar budgets, approachable and cultivating a communal effort in building said camp? Are people leaving thinking g “I am so inspired to go and build a new tribute to the beat.” Or, are they treating their experience as a typical music festival of coming to hear big names, see Ibiza-level productions and leaving with cool video for YouTube but not inspired to build, teach, and pass on the batons. Are the camps themselves building that experience of teaching, training, and creating a culture of volunteerism that BMan was always known for. Personally I come from this very group of people but I’m overwhelmed by the gigantic competing sound systems shaking my organs instead of offering sharp, crisp balanced sound. Where are the camps which start as a boom box and a cooler, learning each year to be bigger and better and give more and more by pulling in that community to all aspects of their production from designs to fundraisers to acculturation programs at the theme camp level. I could care less if your outfit cost a ton. What I do care about is creating an experience like no other with my playa family hammering along side me, always evolving and always being heard. As they leave your camp, are they starting their own thing? Some of these sound camps are frankly out of range to produce for the average person. Raising $150k is very different that having pros set up your professionally designed stage where big names artist are flown out to perform. Are these same artists helping pack your trucks? Are the camp founders building and striking their own camps? There seems to be a growing presence of “spectator” vs participant. To me, this is the key challenge facing the ever expanding massive scale production camps which to the author’s point, deserve inclusivity and to give their gift shame and judgement-free: to teach our growing popular new skills, how to cultivate community and neighborly love, requiring they dig in and get sweaty and DIY from build to strike instead of just coming and watching year after year in greater and greater numbers. We wouldn’t exist without the Rave culture, but in the past few years that culture is fast becoming your average iPhone holding EDM festival spectator who really has no intention of accepting the incredible music gifts given by giving back with sweat equity and joy in the years to follow. In some ways, made harder when you look at the scale and budgets of the sound camps. They’re are sky scraper sized out of the gate perhaps leaving their audience a bit daunted on approachability and accessibility. Not everything has to start small. But we certainly owe the playa we love so well, a well thought out communal effort strategy which inspires joining these teams, bringing in new ideas and skills and having that moment when you’re on that other side of the curtain with tears welling up thinking, “I had something to do in the making of these smiles.” There is nothing more fulfilling.
Wow. And just how did those who came to your “camp” participate in a personal or unique way? One or 1,000, how did they contribute? Sounds like they are as anonymous and irrelevant as anyone in the audience at a play, or in a seat in a United flight.
“I had something to do in the making of these smiles.” If your goal is only to convey smiles, you have missed the whole idea. Burners are amazing people to experience personally. They are the resource, not a mass to be entertained.
In many ways the principle of Radical Inclusion lead to cultural demise of Burning Man. People from everywhere who were ostracized from their communities for very good reason found a home within Burner communities, citing Radical Inclusion.
Their personality quirks are tolerated in the beginning. (Oh, she’s just a little crazy, but she’s fun too.). All they have to do is smile and laugh while they’re wedging themselves into your life and the lives of your friends. But they can’t keep the mask up for more that 6 months to a year. Then the drama begins.
Based on this principle, if you have a camp of more than 10 people, you have one of these parasites attached to you. They usually don’t like to talk about their past and if they do it’s vague or fantastical. What happened to their friends from where ever they say they come from? Do they contradict themselves (needless white lies)?
ain’t you got some Jews to bash, loser? Get out of here, you schmuck. No radical inclusion for anti-semitic d-bags, sucka.
I got rid of one of my leaches when she sincerely and pointedly promised to pay for the ticket I bought for her (back when you bought tickets without invitations). She never paid me. Never had to invite her again. Last I heard she was in a women’s cult.
One more dissenter chiming in….electronic music is definitely NOT my favorite thing at BM, but it’s so freaking loud and omnipresent that you have little choice. If you want to enjoy your week, it’s best to adopt an “If you can’t beat ’em…. join ’em” attitude…which is what I do, but not really by choice — by necessity.
With all due respect to the genre, and having only been a burner for a few years, I wouldn’t say that 95% of people at the burn like EDM/Electronica. I would put the figure at much less (in my informal poll I would say closer to 50-60%)…and of those, they probably don’t like it at 7 AM from all points on the clock. It’s like listening to only one channel on Satellite Radio, at some point you have to switch to Bluegrass from Liquid Metal.
I happen to like electronica in all its manifestations…was ‘entranced’ by early Techno at the Limelight in NYC in the early 90’s, but I would put the cacophony at the Burn at oh, say #37 of my many reasons for returning. From any vantage point, I have a hard time picking up any one camp’s musical tastes as there is no partition to the noise. If I came just for the music I would go to Electric Forest.
At 50-60%, I am missing nothing. Too bad the really good camps, where you actually participate and define the experienice, cannot use acoustic power to claim real estate like the EDM camps. Much better Burn options: https://burners.me/burner-burns/