Part I: Dancetronauts – Too Loud For Burning Man?
Part I of this post, about how the Dancetronauts were asked to take at least a year off from Burning Man by the DMV Council, has attracted a lot of attention within the community. On WordPress it has been read by 30,000+ people; more than 6,000 of those readers shared the story on Facebook.
On Facebook, it has reached 113,000+ people.
The story has also been picked up by the EDM alternative media , including Dancing Astronaut, culturemixmag, and EDM Industry. Fellow Burner blogger Dr Yes at Burn.Life has also posted his own version of the story, and Unaverz has shared their thoughts. Even Voices of Burning Man has chimed in, with a post saying very little of substance.
I can see some of the content from the Facebook on-page shares. This is a more accurate gauge of the community’s real sentiment than the predictable “shoot the messenger” troll attacks directed at Burners.me in the comments here and elsewhere. These have ranged from threats of violence to comparisons with Rupert Murdoch, complaints about being too long winded and complaints about not including enough details, and the usual accusations of half truths, lies, and poor grammar and spelling.
The Facebook share commentary I have seen so far is almost entirely on the side of Dancetronauts. Here’s a sample:
People are dismayed at yet another anti-Burner move from the organizers of the allegedly charitable Burning Man Project. If BMOrg thought they would placate a couple of dozen disgruntled complainers with their heavy-handed punishment, well now they have more than 6,000 disgruntled Burners upset with them.
The most egregious thing about this affair is it really seems that the main, true reason behind the Dancetronauts ban was the Decommodification principle.
To me, Directors of Burning Man running hotel camps with 50 paid sherpas and
hookers Mistresses of Merriment provided to their customers, only handing out drinks to their VIP guests who paid $16,000 to get a wristband, is a serious Decommodification issue.
Compared to that, A DJ all excited about the track he worked on all year for Burning Man, getting on a microphone a few times to offer it for free to all the people dancing in front of him, is really not that big a deal. OK, chastise them, force them to make a public mea culpa for their sins so that others get the lesson too, then let’s all go back to being friends and throwing awesome parties together.
Members of DMV Playing Freebird at the Temple burn, as a tribute to a fallen comrade? Snoop Dogg rolling up on the Temple playing gangsta rap? In the eyes of some, this is worse – but I’m not saying this was inappropriate for the circumstances, or that the perpetrators deserved any kind of punishment. It’s Burning Man, not the Public Library. It’s chaos. It’s loud, it’s wild, it’s funky, there’s stuff you can dance to everywhere, and if you don’t like one art car’s music, it’s incredibly easy to find another one.
The real tragedy last year was the death of a Burner, crushed by an Art Car towing a heavy trailer sound system – the same style of rig that Dancetronauts have, except the Dancetronauts have an unblemished safety record. There were also a number of terrible suicides in the community. It’s not just Burners dying: we saw the death of financial transparency that we had long been promised, with the opposite happening when the accounts were removed from the Afterburn reports. The Simpsons promoted Burning Man as a hallucinogenic drug fest. Exotic designer drugs are now being distributed there, causing medical research-worthy trauma events . Many camps have been devastated by the ticketing process, and are scrambling to get tickets for everyone. The information on sexual assaults is being kept a close secret for the first time.
All these are really quite serious issues that BMOrg should be addressing with the community. Instead, their energy goes into defending plug and plays, defending their Directors as long as they possibly can no matter how obscene their Ten Principles violations are…and punishing Dancetronauts.
THE PLOT THICKENS
Dancetronauts had no clue that they had any issue with BMOrg and the DMV until a month after Burning Man closed. They knew that they had been placed on probation in 2013, although the details of that were rather vague; but they packed up and left Burning Man without receiving a single complaint. As far as they knew, the probation was no longer an issue, and they had performed every night through the whole event without any problems.
Little did they know that even as the embers of the Man still smouldered on Sunday morning, the knives were coming out for them.
According to the DMV, Dancetronauts (not an art car, that is the Strip Ship and Bass Station trailer) received more complaints this year than any other vehicle in the history of the event.
Of course, the event is double the size it was 10 years ago, has 20,000 more people than it did 3 years ago, and has now been effectively “mainstreamed” and Bucket Listed by BMOrg’s mammoth PR campaigns in Default world media. Your mom’s hairdresser came to Burning Man to see cool shit, could we please turn the music down she needs to sleep at 11 every night.
More people at Burning Man + more mainstreaming = more spectators = more complaints. I think that can be expected in general. But leaving that aside, what of the complaints themselves? Were they all genuine? Or was there something else going on, behind the scenes?
It is my belief that the Dancetronauts were the victim of a vicious, nasty, and petty smear campaign, launched against them on multiple channels within burningman.com. This was designed not just to generate as many complaints as they possibly could, whether sincere or via “sock puppet” accounts; but also to hurt the Dancetronauts, to shame them, to negatively affect their chances of raising money to bring their Art Car to Burning Man in the future.
It was important to me to separate this post from the last one, because any speculation here is from me, not the Dancetronauts. I am not part of the Dancetronauts. I feel they have been unfairly victimized, that BMOrg need to make peace with them and allow them back this year, perhaps with a few provisos.
For those who felt Part I was one-sided and not long-winded enough because I did not include all the correspondence from BMOrg, you will be pleased to see in Part II that I am including many, many messages from BMOrg and their various agents, some paid, some unpaid, all communicated to the world via the Internet in a multitude of forums and formats. It would have been inappropriate for me to just share a few DMV emails, without providing this broader context of what was actually going on – which was a co-ordinated attack across multiple fronts.
What process was followed here, in deciding that Dancetronauts had to take a year off? The feedback process, FLIP, was meant to collect all the feedback by October 15. After that BMOrg needed time to digest it all and talk about it and see what could be done to make the event better in future. That is why they did not really address the community’s Commodification Camp concerns until December 2014 – if anyone remembers that time, which seems so long ago now, there was a real feeling that they were stalling while they scrambled to come up with a PR strategy to get the egg of their faces. But what they told us was “these things take time because we have to listen to everyone’s feedback and discuss it and investigate it to get to the truth of the matter”.
Dancetronauts went through the same feedback process, right? All the feedback collected by October 15, then thought about and discussed, then decisions made and reported?
What about the Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy? Did they go through that process?
So what process was it?
It seems that Dancetronauts were victim to the “real way Burning Man works”, which is different from the official way that BMOrg indignantly insist on. This highlights Selective Rule Enforcement, and the Two Burning Mans – the fairies and rainbows facade you get from Voices of Burning Man; and the real one, how things actually work. A dysfunctional dystopia, where volunteer dictators gleefully punish thousands based on the capricious whims of a few.
Saturday, Aug 30, 2014: the Man burns. Dancetronauts get there early, positioning themselves at 6 o’clock, the same spot they’ve been in the last 5 years.
Fire Conclave starts, and runs for 15 minutes. Some performers found it hard to hear the beat over the bass coming from Dancetronauts and other art cars. Others reported no problems.
It is the longest Man burn in history, taking about 2 hours to finally collapse. Many Burners and art cars left before the end. Dancetronauts were still playing music at The Man, hours after he burned to the ground – entertaining thousands. They had no idea they had caused any problems, since they received no Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy complaints. Not on Burn night, and not at any other time during the event, despite the fact they threw many loud and large parties, including at art burns like Embrace.
Sunday, Aug 31, 2014: John Curley writes a post from the Playa at blog.burningman.com:
…we admit that we were waiting for the Man to fall last night so we could escape the sound. Yes, yes, we know the saying, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,” and maybe that’s true. But honestly, we always thought that one of the corollaries of radical self expression was that your actions not impinge on another’s experience, and let’s just say there was lots of impinging going on last night. We do not expect to hear a DJ exhorting a crowd in a way that might work at spring break in Daytona Beach, but doesn’t work on the playa. At all.
Plus, we’d like to be able to HEAR the burn. Not just the exploding shells and fireworks, but also the crackle and pop of the flames, the whoosh of embers falling, and, last night, even the climactic crash of the Man’s big legs.
But no. Last night that was not possible. And yes, we might be the slightest bit cranky about it. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be sound and celebration, because this is the big finish, the Bacchanalian moment. But there’s got to be a way that the sound cars don’t take over the experience. It’s not your show, comma, dude.
Expecting silence from art cars while the man burns for 2 hours because you want to hear the sound of the embers cracking is kind of foolish. Isn’t that what the temple burn is for?
Although Mr Curley (I’m a fan BTW) complains about the DJ on the mic making it sound like spring break, and the loud music making it hard for him to listen to the crackle of the flames, when he talks about the Fire Conclave there is no indication that there was even the slightest problem. He appears to have been in the 6 o’clock position, with BM founder Crimson Rose – is this the “we” he is talking about?
Tuesday, Sep 2, 2014:
Burning Man officially ends at noon. Before the sun sets on that day, burningman.com is already coming out against the Dancetronauts:
Sep 2, 2014: 5:32pm the ePlaya thread appears, “DJ Art Cars and their effect on art” by 1derphul. The Dancetronauts bashing begins immediately.
The Groupthink hate has begun.
Wednesday, Sep 3 2014 – the burningman.com hate campaign is now in full swing.
At 9:37am, the first mention of Dancetronauts appears in the comments on John Curley’s post at blog.burningman.com:
Meanwhile, on ePlaya:
Stabby? This is not the first time this bully has threatened violence, including to myself. It’s amazing to see how this community based on Radical Inclusion and Self-Reliance, has elements who think the lynch mob/witch hunt mentality is the only way we can solve problems. Shouldn’t we be banning the violent people, not ones who peacefully put on shows to entertain the masses?
15 minutes later, another call to action:
And DMV are on the case already. They want us to know that this goes all the way to the top.
The thread is not even a day old, it’s barely a day after Burning Man ended, and already the bosses in the DMV Council are “following it”. Is this part of the process? DMV decisions are made based on what gets said on ePlaya and Reddit?
Around the same time this day, Chris Knight, aka Ghostwheel, creates a thread on Reddit: Was your Man or Temple Burn harshed by noisy art cars?
His comments on the thread suggest he has already been communicating with DMV about it, and they have already decided what the crime is and what punishment they will dole out:
He joins in the “torches and pitchforks” call for vandalism. No need for any feedback process, since this is a hate fueled lynch mob:
Thursday Sep 4, 2014:
It’s been a day, time to rally the troops again!
The hate campaign now spreads to social media, with a co-ordinated attack on Dancetronauts Facebook page – again, suggesting that the punishment had already been decided by someone, somewhere:
The spite is palpable.
Friday Sep 5, 2014:
Mere days after the end of Caravansary , Dancetronauts are already accepting responsibility and apologizing, saying they feel terrible about interfering with some of the Fire Conclave performers.
Meanwhile, the ePlaya team are still out in force across the Interwebz, spreading their message of hate and anger to as wide an audience as possible.
Sep 8, 2014:
Stop chatting among yourselves, people. Let’s FOCUS on hating the Dancetronauts.
Sep 10, 2014
The official moderator is forced to intervene, to tone down some of the threats of violence and vandalism:
Sep 11, 2014 – Simon pulls back from his earlier stabbing with pitchforks pitch, and turns to emotional hate instead.
“Shame is how we punish…that is all we need really to change things”.
Really? You couldn’t have changed things by just saying to Dancetronauts “people were pissed off about the DJ, can you please have no music on Burn night, take the mics away, and watch it around art installation burns”? To me, that seems like it would have worked just fine, ended all problems, and the Dancetronauts sounded very amenable to that – in fact, they were even suggesting it themselves. Of course, compromise and resolution like that doesn’t feed anybody’s NPD power trip.
Sep 13, 2014:
Eric The moderator’s caution has toned down the hate a bit, so it’s time to amp it back up with some helpful suggestions of ways to get Dancetronauts:
Interesting idea to try to channel the Plug-n-Play outrage towards this art car scapegoat.
Sep 26, 2014:
Chef Juke from the DMV Council gives Dancetronauts the first official notification of any kind about complaints against them.
On Fri, Sep 26, 2014 at 4:41 PM, DMV Hotties <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Mutant Vehicle: Strip Ship & Bass Station
Registration #: M14-0543
Owner: Philip Plastina
Phillip, We are writing to you regarding numerous reports of incidents involving your vehicle at this year’s Burning Man. The DMV received multiple complaints regarding the Strip Ship & Bass Station this year, falling into several categories.
This email primarily notes two of them: Sound levels and promotional activity.
1) Sound levels On a number of occasions, the sound levels of the vehicle, especially while in close proximity to art installations/events was perceived to significantly exceed the levels outlined in the Mutant Vehicle Sound policy: (http://www.burningman.com/on_the_playa/playa_vehicles/sound_policy.html) Specifically, we received a number of complaints regarding your vehicle’s sound volume at the Alien Siege Machine Burn event, the Temple, and most notably at the Man Burn. It is also important to note that your vehicle was CONDITIONALLY invited for 2014 due to sound level complaints in 2013. This means this is the second year in a row that participants have had issues with the sound levels of your vehicle.
2) Promotional activity On a number of occasions, again most notably at the Man Burn, we recieved reports of DJs on your vehicle promoting their upcoming albums. This directly conflicts with the Decommodification principle of Burning Man.
In addition to the two areas of concern above, prior to the event there was an additional issue raised with your offering Early Admission passes as premiums on your indiegogo fundraising campaign The DMV takes all complaints regarding vehicle operation at the event seriously and we work to follow up on every complaint, big or small. That being said we want to clearly indicate to you the significance of the level concern that has been raised with your vehicle this year, both with the DMV directly and with other areas of the Burning Man organization. In the month since the event ended, the DMV has received more complaints regarding Strip Ship than we’ve ever received regarding any other vehicle, by a far margin. We are asking that you please reply via email with any information you can provide related to the above incidents and concerns.
Sincerely, -Chef Juke for the DMV Council
Note that Dancetronauts was not even at the Temple burn, nor did they sell any Early Access passes to anyone. False accusations get made in the complaints, but never retracted.
Since Chef Juke brought up the Principles, let’s take a look at the two most relevant Principles here, Gifting and Decommodification:
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Where is the “direct conflict”? Commercial sponsorships? No. Transactions? No. “Get the track I made specially for you for free, come and see me and I’ll give you a CD?” Sounds like Gifting to me, not Advertising.
Oct 1, 2014:
“The system works”…what system is that? Clearly, it is not the official feedback system, because that is still open for another 2 weeks at this point. No, he is talking about their system of using burningman.com as a platform for shaming, ostracisim, derision, threats, and other forms of social punishment.
Oct 7, 2014. Dancetronauts are notified that they’re banned from SF Decompression
From: Jan Turner Date: Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 11:11 PM Subject: Re: Strip Ship To: Trav Nasty <email@example.com> Cc: DMV Hotties <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hi Travis, We won’t be placing your group this year at Decompression because participating groups must be in good standing. Unfortunately, there were numerous complaints against Dancetronauts on playa. Until that is resolved, we are unable to place your group. You can seek further information from DMV, as they received the bulk of complaints from participants.
Sincerely, Jan, aka Blondie
DMV have received the bulk of complaints, Dancetronauts have been banned before they can even respond…and yet for every other type of complaint, BMOrg still needs time to collect all the feedback to incorporate submissions in this review process, and make decisions as part of their annual staff debrief process.
October 10, 2014:
The 2014 Afterburn has now been published…there is no Q & A section. Another empty promise. Note the acknowledgement that the Will Call line and Commodification Camps were the main source of complaints.
See that: “we respond thoughtfully (read: slowly) because we have to look into all of the allegations and offenses. There is no smoke screen. We’re trying to get to the truth…[we] are not out to take advantage of Burner communities. On the contrary, we are out to help them grow and replicate”
Except that by then they had already decided Dancetronauts fate, feedback process be damned. The most active members of burningman.com were deliberately targeting them to shame them, hurt them, shrink their fan base, and otherwise negatively impact their ability to operate. About as far to the opposite of “grow and replicate” as you can get.
Even though BMOrg couldn’t respond to anyone while the feedback process was still open, Dancetronauts were expected to respond to them in just 2 weeks:
On Fri, Oct 10, 2014 at 11:11 AM, DMV Hotties <email@example.com> wrote:
Phil,We still need to hear back from you regarding this. The DMV follows up on all complaints regarding Mutant Vehicle operation and we want to hear from you regarding the incidents lists.Also please note that your vehicle’s future licensing may be affected based on the complaints and/or if you do not respond.
Sincerely,-Chef Juke for the DMV Hotties and Council
On Fri, Oct 10, 2014 at 5:54 PM, DMV Hotties <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Some clarifications may be in order.
We originally sent our email to Phil directly as he was listed as the applicant for the Strip Ship and Bass Station. We added you as you were included in the message regarding Decompression. In regards to Decompression, the event team checks with the DMV regarding Mutant Vehicles invited to ensure they are in good standing with the DMV, given the number of complaints we received this year, this was not the case. There are any number of vehicles that are not invited to decompression each year, yours was just one.
Next, we only are considering the complaints that were made directly to the DMV through email or through Burning Man’s FLIP online feedback system. We did not consider complaints posted to forums, etc. or complaints that were duplicated in forums/email
In regards to the temple, the complaint was that your vehicle played loud music near the temple, not at the temple burn specifically.
Finally, we certainly will forward you text of the specific complaints. We wanted to get a general response from the Dancetronauts prior to going into the details of the complaint.
To be clear, our main focus is trying to get a clear understanding of what happened, the validity of the complaints we’ve received, to make sure you and your team understand the scope of the complaints and work to find a resolution to the issues raised.
I also should note that while there certainly was a small group of interconnected folks who lodged complaints right after the event, the complaints were not by any means isolated to any one group or duplicated. We received complaints from a large number of Burners who were not connected including some from within the Burning Man organization as well.
-Chef Juke for the DMV Hotties & Council
On Mon, Oct 27, 2014 at 8:10 PM, DMV Hotties <email@example.com> wrote:
To clarify, we asked you for a response to the fact that the DMV had received a number of complaints about your vehicle sound and Promotion activities and we didn’t receive a response until we included Trav. Trav indicated that his comments were not the formal response and implied that one would be forthcoming.
As far as the DMV is concerned the concern and the issue has not been resolved and we certainly need more discussion regarding both what happened on playa and what, if anything, needs to be done to resolve any concerns.
Please do follow up with us when you are available.
-Chef Juke for the DMV Hotties
Oct 30, 2014:
On Oct 30, 2014, at 1:24 PM, DMV Hotties <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Thanks for your email. As I noted to Trav, we’ve compiled the specific complaints about the Strip Ship and Bass Station that the DMV received via email and the online feedback form; these are in the attached file. The DMV reads ALL of the feedback sent to us and we would suggest that you do the same.
Please review these specific concerns from your fellow burners regarding your vehicle and let us know if you have any further thoughts on the feedback.
-Chef Juke for the DMV Hotties & Council
The next Dancetronauts heard from BMOrg was 6 months later. Wally Bomgaars has departed (is this Chef Juke? If not, who is he and why does he get mentioned?) Terry Schoop has taken his place. Suddenly, there is no possibility of compromise. There is only the ban.
What happened between October and April? Did the smear campaign turn into a less traceable whisper campaign, and go offline?
April 9, 2015:
On Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 9:58 AM, DMV Hotties <email@example.com> wrote: Hello Philip & Trav –
I apologize for the delay in getting back with you as I’ve just recently taken responsibility for DMV following the departure of Wally Bomgaars.
Our continuing concern is that your responses don’t address the core issues raised by DMV and by participants.
The key responses you sent us are:
1. “People have a choice to move away from a loud vehicle…”
In terms of the Man Burn, this is not a reasonable answer. Participants who have selected a spot to watch the burn cannot be expected to change locations in the middle of a packed crowd when a loud mutant vehicle parks behind them. Nor is it reasonable to expect them to do so.
2. “Dancetronauts bring famous DJs to the Playa…”
This has no bearing on the issues of music volume or civic responsibility.
3. “We have a safety team…”
Again, this has no bearing on the issues of music volume of civic responsibility.
4. “Other vehicles are loud…”
That other vehicles may have issues does not excuse yours from having to follow the rules that all mutant vehicles are required to abide by. The DMV is having discussions with all other vehicles that we received complaints about.
It’s important for you to understand that the complaints about your sound levels on Burn night are serious and include complaints from two Burning Man founders, several members of the DMV Council, other Burning Man staff and the DMV Manager (Wally Bomgaars) personally. It did drown out music from other nearby mutant vehicles.
5. “Lots of people like us…”
Again, this has no bearing on the issues of music volume of civic responsibility.
6. “We followed all the rules…”
No, you didn’t, Your vehicle clearly violated the Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy. The concerns we need you to address relate to the Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy and to civic responsibility. As noted in the MV policy:
“Keep in mind that if we continue to have the level of complaints and issues that we have been having for the past few years, we may have to take greater steps to limit large sound on vehicles. Please consider your impact on the community and help us all keep sound on MVs a positive experience.” To recap:
The DancetronautS mutant vehicle was issued a conditional license for 2014 based on sound policy violations from 2013.
Following the 2014 event, as previously mentioned, we received more sound complaints about the Dancetronauts mutant vehicle than any other vehicle in the history of the event. Despite multiple requests, you have not provided a satisfactory response to these complaints nor provided a plan to address them for 2015.
Additionally, in 2014, we were notified Dancetronauts were offering among other things, Early Entry passes and access to their mutant vehicles as a perks as part of your Indiegogo fundraiser. Early Entry passes were created specifically to allow artists, theme camp organizers and mutant vehicles owners early access to the event site to prepare for the event. It was a violation of the Early Entry pass policy to offer them as a perk.
This combination of infractions and your inability to provide a satisfactory response and resolution leave us no option but to deny a license to the Dancetronauts mutant vehicle for 2015. You are welcome to apply next year for 2016.
Terry Schoop and the DMV Council
“They’re welcome to apply” – some Burners might read this as “they are guaranteed to be let back in 2016″, but I don’t. At all. What more could Dancetronauts do to return to “good standing”, if they aren’t allowed at the events?
Terry here is speaking for himself and the Council. His reductionist responses come off as snide and dismissive. The whole tone of the email says the decision has been made, and the hate for Dancetronauts seeps through. “Inability to provide a satisfactory resolution”, what is he talking about? They have been trying for more than 6 months at this point to find a satisfactory resolution, apologizing to everyone, and suggesting things that definitely would avoid the problem this year. While BMOrg just ignored them, leaving them in limbo.
The key words here are
complaints from two Burning Man founders, several members of the DMV Council, other Burning Man staff and the DMV Manager (Wally Bomgaars) personally
Wally himself did not mention to Dancetronauts at any time that he was one of those affected by their burn night actions. But now that he has left, he is named as part of the hate/punish group.
I don’t want to clog up this post with Dancetronauts’ responses to this since I have already posted them, you can read them at the end of Part I. They were thoughtful and apologetic, and offered practical suggestions as a resolution.
April 29, 2015:
From: DMV Hotties<firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 5:23 PM Subject: Re: Mutant Vehicle incidents on playa (PLEASE RESPOND)
Philip & Travis –
Thank you for your thoughtful replies, which the DMV council has reviewed.
The decision of the council – that Dancetronauts needs to take a year off – stands. You are welcome to apply again in 2016.
– The DMV Council
Key words here: The decision of the council that Dancetronauts needs to take a year off.
The DMV Council is supposed to be dealing with Art Cars. The art car here is the Strip Ship, and its Bass Station trailer. But it is the Dancetronauts who they want to punish, not just the Art Car: the entire crew. That’s who is being un-welcomed officially from an Invisible Council at burningman.com and 2 Burning Man founders – after months of silence and zero effort from BMOrg to accept any kind of resolution or compromise.
May 24, 2015: Trilobyte said to Dancetronauts:
Thanks for reaching out, and I appreciate the apology. Speaking for my own personal experience, the only complaint that I raised was the voiceover advertising of an album at the event on Friday, the alien siege machine burn. Yeah the music was loud and no it wasn’t my personal taste, but it’s Burning Man and part of being out at a big burn is it’s going to be loud and you’re going to hear a whole lot of different music. The advertising bugged me a lot, which is why I remembered it and followed up after the event. I volunteer with Burning Man year-round to help run the ePlaya community, and as part of that I see and hear a lot of participant feedback. While I’m not involved with the DMV or any part of their decision making process, I have to say that I was shocked at the kind and number of complaints that people were voicing. I think the ship is a fine piece of work, but have never followed Dancetronauts closely enough to know DJ schedules so I couldn’t really say whether it was just one person doing it, but it sounded like advertising was happening all week. It probably also doesn’t help that you guys operate as a commercial production company. Hooray for being successful, but when you turn the camp name into a commercial brand that makes things particularly tricky. I don’t have any advice there, you might want to reach out to Opulent Temple or Space Cowboys to see how they walk that line (from what I’ve seen, OT uses the Opel Productions name for their commercial operations). Though I didn’t experience it myself, it seemed like there were a number of complaints about the velvet rope/VIP area. The person getting into it with me on twitter defended the practice as a fire safety move, but that sounds like a pretty flimsy defense. It’s Burning Man, anybody who’s been through a burn or two probably knows the difference between fire safety line and only letting friends and ‘hotties’ through. Good luck in finding tickets, and good luck in weathering the bashing. It will probably continue for a while. Based on the feedback I’d seen it sounds like there are people out there with an axe to grind. PS – if it helps, what we used to do when I was at Space Island was keep the mic and cable with the driver in the cab of the truck. That way we had it in case we had to make an announcement, but it wasn’t something that someone on the decks could abuse easily.
See the issues being conflated here? Dancetronauts running a professional production company was not expressed as one of the issues by the DMV at all. Neither was this “velvet rope” stuff. “Selling Early Access passes” was a minor mistake that was immediately corrected and removed from the web in less than 24 hours, no such transaction ever took place. But somehow Terry managed to throw that on the pile of justifications despite all evidence to the contrary.
June 14, 2015
We publish Part I of this story. ePlaya flares up again.
It’s not clear if Trilobyte and the rest of the volunteer ePlayans get any form of compensation – either cash, free tickets, or a chance to purchase tickets in the Directed Group Sale. Or do they just volunteer their time on these forums for psychological gratification?
Where are these rules? What rules were broken? Surely it should be easy to point that out, given the severity of this ban. I can’t find them in the Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy, so where are they?
Other Mutant Vehicle owners want to know too:
So what was the end result of this unprecedented social media campaign of drumming up as many complaints as could possibly be gathered?
Eventually, the DMV provided the entire list of complaints to Dancetronauts, which you can read here. Could this file have been tampered with? I guess, but I trust my source, and see no reason why it would be.
BMOrg insisted that these complaints were collected only from emails to DMV@burningman.com and their official post-event feedback process. However some seem to be word-for-word identical to complaints at burningman.com, on the ePlaya discussion forums and the Voices of Burning Man blog. It is hard to match them up since the complaints file provided is Anonymous; this also made it hard for Dancetronauts to apologize to the 32 people affected.
There were an unprecedented number of complaints last year in general: more than 400. More tourists (replacing Veteran Burners) = more complaints.
We may never know how many of the Dancetronauts complaints were direct emails to DMV and how many were through the feedback process, called FLIP. In the same way we will probably never know how many “more than 400” really is. Let’s assume it’s a 50/50 split and there were 420 complaints about everything.
Dancetronauts got 33 complaints in total. One of these was a duplicate – same complaint twice. So really it was 32 – apply our assumption from the feedback form, 16 out of the 420: 3.8%. Who got punished or asked to take a year off for the 96.2% of complaints BMOrg received last year that weren’t about Dancetronauts?
I have tagged each complaint based on what it was about. There were many complaints that mentioned more than one issue:
25 DJ plugging himself on the mic (Decommodification violation)
12 Total noise complaints (Sound policy violation):
11 Noise on Burn night
3 Noise at Alien Seige machine
1 Noise at the Temple
6 Don’t mention Dancetronauts at all
6 Specifically mention other art cars also causing problems
8 Refer to the online smear campaign as the reason they felt compelled to “chime in” with their complaints.
Here are some examples from the complaints, that show how ePlaya and other online commentary inspired them to write:
I came across a thread on eplaya about the art cars with large sound systems specifically the dancetranauts during the burn and just figured I’d chime in as someone who attended burning man for he first time this year.
XXX from XXX here. we’re well know to the BOrg and absolutely love you guys. i’m gonna chime in on this one
My first burn and bummed at Danctronaut DJ plugging himself during the Man Burn It was suggested we email, so just want to chime in
I found the ePlaya thread about blaring, self-promotional art cars and I 100% agree.
This address was given by a DMVer on ePlaya I know there is some of discussion about the Dancetronauts art car and the way they promoted themselves at the Man Burn. I was too far from the art car to comment on that…They should be allowed at the Burn, for sure
A friend of mine mentioned that the Department of Mutant Vehicles had been receiving a number of complaints about the Art Car music situation at this years Man Burn, and was looking for comments.
***I suspect I am not the first, nor the last, to send an email regarding this problem, but I wanted to make sure my voice was also heard in this
All the comments you heard about Dancetronauts are true…Just throwing in my two cents
I’m sure you’ve heard from others, but I’d like to add my voice condemning the behaviour of the dancestronauts
The similarity in language amongst some of these complaints is suspicious. And these are just the complaints that explicitly mention being encouraged to write in – we can assume that still others were encouraged even if they don’t mention it.
I wager a guess that the vast majority of the 400+ overall complaints BMOrg received last year were also for Decommodification violations, but of a different kind. What the community was most upset about was the exclusive wrist-band only VIP Commodification Camps, at least one of which we know was run by a member of the Burning Man Project Board of Directors.
It appears that, despite an unprecedented number of complaints, those involved in the Commodification Camps all got off scot-free, no punishment at all.
The Burning Man Project articles of incorporation were changed from standard legal speak to be uniquely based around the 10 Principles and the partial clock-face layout of Burning Man. The Directors are all specifically bound to uphold the 10 Principles, even though there is technical loophole for them because they are just directors of the “Project” and although the NV burn is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Project, apparently the directors can do whatever they want at Burning Man and don’t have to uphold the Ten Principles there. Bizarre, right? But a legal loophole nonetheless. When you spend $10 million on lawyers, you can’t argue that such loop holes are there by accident.
Michael Franti wrote a track about Burning Man called Let It Go, and was nominated for
a Grammy an Oscar for it. Are they going to ban Franti now? Or what about Missy Higgins, and her for-profit Burning Man song, We Ride? These tracks are not gifted for free, to get them you have to spend $20 to buy the soundtrack album for Spark: A Burning Man story off iTunes. BMOrg was involved in the production of this movie and took an ownership stake which brings them royalties; as far as we can piece together, the rights to all royalty streams and intellectual property were transferred to Decommodification LLC before the Founders gifted the remainder of Burning Man to their tax-exempt foundation. So every time a copy of this soundtrack and DVD gets sold, Decommodification LLC – and by extension, the 6 founders who are its partners – gets paid. Is this not a worse Decommodification violation than a DJ handing out free CDs? These artists are specifically profiting from Burning Man, they’re not gifting anything.
David Best gets paid to make Temples all around the world. Photographers put their professional watermarks on Burning Man photos, and earn money by taking them. Should we ban them?
Green Tortoise sells safari tourist packages, and gets a free advertising post from BMOrg talking about how great they are. This isn’t Commodification? But gifting a CD is?
How do Burners have a better experience of Burning Man, when we see awesome Burners like Dancetronauts getting unjustly punished by unseen Special Interests, for doing things others blatantly get away with? We’re told the Ten Principles are “just guidelines” now. We see rules being enforced Selectively, rather than one set of rules being applied equally to everyone. Decisions are made on the whims of any number of dozens of “chiefs” or secret “Councils” who think they are important to the event. These chiefs often disagree with each other, sometimes to the point of lawsuits. Complainers get attention, just like in an HOA. Burners get ignored as much as possible. Then propaganda, “spin”, and smear campaigns are employed to manipulate the masses.
The trick to navigating this dictatorship is sucking up. If you suck up to BMOrg – at least to the right people there – or even better, if you are someone they want to suck up to – then you can do whatever you want. Like, Google can use the Burning Man logo to make their search engine seem cool, and monetize Burning Man footage through YouTube. Facebook can make a shit-ton of money advertising on the side while we’re on their Burning Man pages. Denis Kucinich and Grover Norquist can use BM to promote their political careers to new voter blocs. Fest300 can plaster their branding all over their Burning Man promo videos – but DJ Sander van Doorn gets punished for doing the same thing. 210 people with registered drones have to obey safety rules, but Fest300 can blatantly flaunt them because their boss is on the BMP Board.
In this world, Burning Man: The Musical is just fine, because a Google employee is behind it. No matter that he’s never even been! On the other hand, Johan the Dome Guy who has busted his ass helping fellow Burners on the Playa for 20 years, went to the effort of creating Burning Man: The Board Game as a camp fundraiser, only to have it callously banned by BMOrg “in the name of protecting our brand”. It totally conformed to their rules for camp fundraisers, but a few insiders decided “this must be stopped” and so it was – accompanied with another smear campaign running in the community about Johan’s motivation and character. The Pee Funnel camp got banned for the accusation that they thought about selling tickets on the side, even though BMOrg themselves ultimately confessed they had actually been doing exactly the same thing for 2 years, more than 1500 times. Not to trap scalpers, like Pee Funnel had claimed: the Burning Man Project were selling tickets to the sold out event direct to VIPs specifically to make money from the difference between face value and the sale price, ie actual scalping. Who got punished when we exposed that?
This punish mentality is just horrible – we saw this same thinking with the Paul Addis affair, where BMOrg were absolutely determined to talk up the damage as much as possible to get it treated as felony arson, which led to Addis doing time in jail, ended his legal career, and ultimately contributed to his tragic suicide.
Can you have rules without punishment? Of course. That’s how the city works already. Most Burners follow the rules and self-enforce. Whatever you’re into, everyone is there to have a good time. Punishment should be the last resort, not the first thing we leap to before we’ve even heard all the facts.
This situation reminds me a bit of the Iraq War and the WMDs. They decided they wanted to go in, and made up the reasons to justify it afterwards. Gathered whatever evidence they could to support their case, no matter how spurious.
Even after all the dedicated hardcore campaign of hate, spanning months – all they could flush out were 32 complaints, 6 of which didn’t even mention Dancetronauts.
Let’s put this in perspective. 32 complaints, out of 65,992 people. We know many of the complaints were from BMOrg founders, staff, and volunteers – a group of 3000 or so who don’t get counted in the population. This is less than half of one percent of BlackRock City, and only 3% of the total complaints for the year. Is that really significant? Especially when they probably happily entertained 20%+ of the population over the course of the week (15,000 people)?
The #1 restaurant in the world is El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. Check out their TripAdvisor reviews:
If they made all their decisions based on the 29 haters, the 1000 people who rated it Excellent or Very Good would never get a look in. You don’t get to be the best anything in the world by focusing on complaints, you get there by focusing on excellence.
Similarly, Apple has many people who dislike their products and prefer alternatives – but they’re still the most valuable company on this planet. A small number of people complaining, should not outweigh the very large number of people who love the Dancetronauts and think they should be invited back this year, next year, and every year.
The decision seems to have been made that Dancetronauts needed to take a year off before Burning Man ended, and the plan to ensure this happened was underway as soon as its perpetrators got back from the desert. The idea was to motivate as many people as possible to report problems to the DMV email or via the FLIP form; encourage everyone to share their complaints on burningman.com; and use Groupthink techniques to encourage the pile-on of hate. Shaming and childish naming, “Douchetronauts”. Spread lies about them. Put the word out in the community, these guys were terrible, these guys must be punished, these guys are ruining Burning Man. Find as many sheeple as you can who will go along with the rest of the flock.
Who was behind it? This was specifically answered by Terry from the DMV Council, when he felt the need to emphasize that the complaints were coming from 2 Burning Man founders, supported by BMOrg employees. It was also answered by Chef Juke from DMV, who acknowledged that there was an interconnected group of complainers who attacked Dancetronauts from the very beginning.
The attacks all originated out of various burningman.com platforms, and appear to have been co-ordinated. There is a similarity in days and timestamps, between things being said on ePlaya, on Reddit, Facebook, and on Voices of Burning Man. Many of the complainers appear to be connected to each other and the Org.
Some might feel this story is much ado about nothing. But it’s clear from many of the comments that this hate campaign is still going on, and some Burners feel the need to crucify Dancetronauts for things they didn’t even do (e.g. playing music at the Temple). Dancetronauts pled guilty and apologized for everything they did do. They are not questioning it. And yet, the hate is still there! Where is the forgiveness? Where is the inclusion?
The actions BMOrg took to punish them have created a sour taste in the mouths of many thousands of Burners, and have not made Dancetronauts feel welcome at the event – despite their repeated efforts to compromise and conform. So the solution to punish has not really created any resolution, since those outraged by the problems appear to still be outraged.
We’re all human. There’s always going to be a few people who want to complain, and a vast majority who remain silent. How do we work together to make things better? Not how do we hate and punish and shame each other, that is Default world bullshit that has no part in Burner culture.
Worst practice: banning an art car because a couple of senior BMOrg people don’t like them, then attacking them year-round on social media to smear their reputation.
Acceptable practice: following the sound policy and cautioning Art Cars that cause problems
Best practice: working with Art Cars that cause problems to make sure they’re educated, treating them like valuable customers and contributors who are welcome, taking an Inclusive rather than Exclusive approach. Making sure the rules are clearly stated and consistently applied. Providing an independent arbitration process for dispute resolution.
Of course, Burning Man is not a Democracy. Not even remotely close. It’s a $30 million corporation, housed within a tax-exempt charitable structure, and operated as a “do-ocracy”. This means Burners do the work, and the Ruling Group benefit. In this scenario, Larry is a benevolent Philosopher-King like Plato spoke about, a dictator who only cares about the good of his people. This model requires a dynasty of kings to provide continuity of rule to the people. The Egyptians did pretty well with it for thousands of years, but slavery was a big part of their culture. The pharaoh didn’t give a toss about justice or fairness amongst the slaves.
Show some mercy, BMOrg. I get that a couple of dozen people were pissed at Dancetronauts on burn night. And now many thousands more are pissed at BMOrg for banning Dancetronauts. So what has been achieved? Who won? How did Burning Man get better?
Let’s have objectivity, consistency, fairness, and transparency. Let’s also have compassion, empathy, leniency, and humanity. Dancetronauts have apologized, they’ve offered to make changes. This decision out of the blue to ban them, after 6 months of silence, and years of great contributions, is excessive and churlish. Please show some leadership and over-ride it, welcome Dancetronauts back this year and let’s see how well they behave. If they do the same stuff all over again, then I would be the first to say “they deserve a ban”. It is very hard to see how that could happen at this point, though. Seems to me they already learned their lesson, and further punishment will not bring further benefit. A show of leniency would go a long way to restoring faith in the Ruling Group from the Burner Community, and would be good for morale.