Aesthetics vs. Community: The Trouble With Parties

Source: worst party ever.

By Terry Gotham

Over the last couple of months, complaints about parties from various “scenes” around the country have grown louder. The combination of ever escalating rents, the resurgence of Brolectro, and a layer of malaise & fear associated with 45’s administration has left a lot of people frustrated, demanding & generally pissed the fuck off. The days of wine, roses & $10 bar events featuring quality music on Thurs/Fri/Sat night are over, at least in major markets that attract high-value talent. On the East Coast there will always be exceptions to this rule (See: Vitamin B in NYC, PEX in Philly, some dope people in Baltimore & DC holding it down), but those places are few & far between. In NYC, the primo underground venues end up being farther and farther away from the urban core, lasting sometimes less than a year before they’re shut down by Co-Op boards, annoyed gentrifiers and world-weary poseurs. In 2003, we partied on the Lower East Side & the first stop on the L train. When you hear people joking about partying at Canarsie (last stop on the L), Cross Bay Boulevard and JFK, you know it’s getting tense in Brooklyn. So, as a public service to producers cutting checks out there, I’d like to describe why certain parties don’t succeed, burner or otherwise. But first, some terms.

For this article, I’ll be using the term “party cell” to describe the unit or photon of partying, as it were. A party cell is group of 1-10 attendees that make up the bread & butter of parties. They pre-game together, they arrive together they buy drinks together, they leave together, and head to after parties or home together. These groups have a history, collective memory & sometimes strong opinions about certain events. They also vote with their dollars. We all know that group that just disappeared from a scene after a member was slighted, or have even been part of a group that had serious infighting about attending a big party after a night where some of the group had a bad time. People are fickle, and only tolerate so much in cities where there are 4 dozen parties from Thursday to Sunday.

Community, can best be seen as an ecosystem of these cells. Lots of party cells come together, some as hosts, some as friends of hosts, and others as guests. While some party cells only attend events where they know everyone, others seek out specific acts or certain parties that cater to their sense of style, preferred dance floor density, or even make them think they’ll get laid. When it comes down to it, people go to parties for two reasons, the community or the aesthetics.

Aesthetics can be thought of as the various aspects a party is judged on outwardly. Lighting, sound, deco, talent, costuming, bartending/drink choice, even promo, congestion management & security can all be folded into “aesthetics.” The choice producers/promoters make in these areas largely determine whether retail/non-community based events succeed. Have you ever gone to a party and felt like the sound design, lighting, deco, and community seemed out of sync? That would be a great example of mismatched aesthetics. This kind of jarring dysfunction between deco and DJs, lighting and costumes, or sound design and bar placement can kill a party. Just think back to the last time you went to an event where the speakers were positioned directly at the bar. Didn’t go back did you? Oh, and don’t forget, intoxicant choice is also rolled into aesthetics. Who you do drugs with can be seen as community, what drugs you do, and whether they jive with the party is most definitely aesthetics. If you want to feel this dissonance viscerally, take mushrooms and go to a doom metal show, or smoke crystal meth before going to a psy-chill after hours. One of my favorite pastimes is watching hilariously drunk people argue with people tripping face. As a producer, remember that while you can welcome both ends of that scale, you can only cater to one, and your attendees will know pretty quickly what drugs go best with what you’re serving up.

A party that has a strong community will always outlive a party that has a strong & coherent aesthetic sense. The combination of a strong sense of ownership by dozens, if not hundreds, ensures proper attendance (through promotion & brand evangelism), enthusiastic bar sales (as they’re celebrations/reunions for good friends), specific, if unspoken social mores to follow (not a whole lot of disagreement on whether it’s a pants or no pants party), and security (safety for exploited minorities, sexual/cultural/ethnic).  If an attendee knows 10-50 people that will be at every party, their need for aesthetic purity or excellence in customer service drops significantly. Private loft parties prove this emphatically. The very presence of friends creates a buffer between the individual and the sub-optimal aspects of the event. By sub-optimal, I don’t mean to imply that having home speakers and the capacity for 15 people tops is in any way bad or inferior to Red Rocks Amphitheater, it’s just that private events are just that, private. Smaller events can’t compete on speaker wattage, paid performing talent or a full bar (most of the time) but because you’re in a safe place that doesn’t have bouncers or sticky floors, you don’t mind.

Being part of the in-group also gives you access to specific benefits that people who simply buy a ticket do not have. Knowing a couple of dozen people spread out between the dance floor(s) and chill spaces/smoking areas, helps you pass the time waiting out a DJ set you’re not feeling or until members of your party cell arrive. Without these people, especially if you’re not feeling the music or down to spend $100+ at the bar just to kill time, staying at parties all night gets tough.

If an event can’t develop & maintain a community, catering to their needs & enhancing their experiences, then the production must ensure that their aesthetics are high quality enough to attract new revelers continuously, while retaining regular independent customers & party cells. This is how what I call “big box” parties succeed. I call venues like Output, Webster Hall, Palladium (in LA), Space (in Miami), Ministry of Sound (in London), Amnesia (in Ibiza) “big box” because you’re partying in one huge room, that feels kind of like a hollowed out Best Buy or Target. These venues are by no means mediocre, and the parties that have been thrown at them over the years are the stuff of legend. But I don’t go see Eric Prydz at Terminal 5 because of the community. I go because of the speaker system, the acoustics, and most importantly, the talent. Most people don’t just go to Output or Schmanski or any regular venue in NYC “to see what’s happening.” They go to specific spaces because those spaces are hosting specific acts. Which is the reason why people demand line-ups at aesthetics driven events, but not community driven ones. The main dance floor at mega clubs can be very taxing, from a sweat/standing/cost perspective. So when promoters & DJs continue to say “show up for the whole time, why would you be disrespectful and only show up for a set or two?” they fail to realize how different the experience they’re having than people not in their party cells. If you only experience events on VIP lists, I can’t hear you tell me to absorb the orgy of moist violence that big room dance floors have become.

Additionally, the “what are you doing after 4 AM” question is integral to understanding why community-focused events are better than aesthetic-focused ones. A lot of the popular non-cannabis/alcohol drugs like MDMA, its analogs & many psychedelics, have duration ranging from 6-12 hours. Negotiating those hours safely is the absolute greatest determinant of having a “good night.” What’s the easiest way to ensure you do that? Go to an outlaw or private event that doesn’t close when the bars in your city close. My absolute favorite venue ever, Wonderland (Queens, NYC), stayed open all morning. I’m serious. I left the venue at noon once and people were still raging. In crafting this piece, I spoke to dozens of people who say the same. These days, getting from your 10-4 to your 4-10 has been ameliorated by Uber, Lyft & other ride sharing utilities, so it’s possible to still be fucked up as all hell and make it to your afterparty at Unter in Brooklyn. But, the best afterparties are known only to the community, or to those party cells with the resources to create their own.

This is why the obliteration of underground, outlaw and second/third tier spaces is terrible for Burners & party people alike. Without the spaces to throw community-driven events, people will be forced into commerce-driven/aesthetically focused events. Underground producers, long able to skirt costs by throwing outlaws while keeping events community-focused, have been forced to go legit, and develop big box sized crowds to pay legit bills. There are plenty of events that generate their income from aesthetics (their main draw being the space & talent), but try to wander out into the realm of community building, which is why some of that marketing from parties & venues seems weird as hell.

One caveat to all of this is that impenetrable communities are the worst. If the random kid who is fresh off the bus from Idaho doesn’t feel like he can get into the community, even if he likes the party, he’s not going to stick around. There are a number of community-driven events that don’t cater to newbies or muggles, with some Burner camps falling into this category. Of course, some communities pride themselves on their opacity, so this might not be a thing your favorite party even gives a shit about. However, communities tend to have groups of attendees that age out of hardcore partying, which signals a slow, painful death to any party that doesn’t regularly replenish its graduates with fresh pledges. And before people start yammering about how newbies just need to “make themselves a part of the community,” paths to doing so usually involve newbies providing free labor or ingratiating themselves into a group that gives no fucks about them. I’ve seen more than one person realize after putting in weeks of labor, they don’t share demographics with an in-group (such as race, economic class, religion,  geographic location or music taste) and conclude that it’s kind of futile it is to try to earn a place among that particular flavor of  Party Gods.

If you throw parties, be honest about what and who you’re catering to. Sometimes I want to see sweet lasers and feel bass in my sternum. Sometimes I want to go where everybody knows my name, and they’re always glad I came. Produce accordingly, my peaceful warriors. This is Terry Gotham, see you on the dance floor.

A Permanent Utopia?

Fly Ranch Geyser, Washoe County

In NYMag, Nellie Bowles reports that BMOrg have their sights set on a permanent community, and once again will be bussing investors from First Camp out to the nearby Fly Ranch property.

Burning Man’s leadership, nicknamed “the Borg,” has been quietly pushing the entity toward a new phase.

Quietly? As quiet as you can be with half a dozen people in your media team, a Minister of Propaganda, and staff flying all around the world for panel discussions.

As the six founders who built the festival and still guide it start to age, a new generation of leaders is being tapped, including the charismatic and ambitious Bear Kittay, now “Burning Man’s social alchemist and global ambassador.” The Borg is cagey about plans, secretive about money, distrustful of the press (whose Wi-Fi they’ve shut down this year). But co-founder Marianne Goodell has hinted at another major change…developing a private tract of land as a permanent Burning Man community. 

 

Time for a change? Bear Kittay, Marian Goodell and Danger Ranger. // Photo by Christoper Michel

Is this Burning Man’s future? Bear Kittay, Marian Goodell and Michael Mikel. // Photo by Christoper Michel

Last year, the Borg renewed efforts to purchase and develop a nearby property, the geyser-filled Fly Ranch, which they’d been eyeing for years. As Goodell recently said on a podcast called Positive Head. “For the long-term survival of the culture, we are going to need a physical space…We will, as time goes by, find it hard to only be in the Black Rock Desert. We may need to find a place that would allow for infrastructure. I’m certain that’s in our future.

fly geyser mapFly Ranch is, by all accounts, spectacular: it’s about 4000 acres (880 of which are wetlands) with 23 hot and cold springs and around 40,000 feral horses. There’s one 104 degree lake that’s a couple hundred feet wide. Rod Garrett, one of the original architects of Burning Man, had drawn up plans for a Burning Man Fly Ranch city, a mix of homes and communal spaces built to blend into the desert.

“Employees and affiliates may build on a ‘Homestead’ basis, or rent or buy into the Village community at the project’s north end,” he wrote, in his lengthy proposal.

According to one plan, Fly Ranch buildings would be made with unpainted, rammed earth and sod. No fences would be allowed, and all members of the community, who could either build homesteads or buy into a communal village, would live by Burning Man’s “Ten Principles”...Organic vegetable farming and a Burning Man-like conference business would serve as the economic base of the community.

Growing organic crops in the Alkaline desert, hundreds of miles from the nearest small town. A conference center in the middle of nowhere, in a place with notoriously harsh physical conditions and world famous bug infestations. Sounds like a lot of smart business planning has gone into this idea over the decade+ they’ve been developing it.

FlyGeyserFestival co-founder Will Roger writes of this new Burning Man city in utopian terms: “I fondly hope that this concept can develop rapidly, and become not only a destination for learning and wonder, but a model to the world of a community, although remote, that is ideal and sustainable. It is for the Burning Man Project to create this wilderness paradise.” 

Development of this scale would require a lot of money, and last year, the organization began giving tours of Fly Ranch to potential investors. People around the playa whispered that well known burners like Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, and hotelier Chip Conley were among those shown the property (though none have confirmed that they actually were). 

Burning Man first tried to buy it in 2005. They tried again a few years ago, but the asking price was around $11-12 million, and they only raised about a half a million dollars, he said. But last year, the landowner Sam Jasick passed away, leaving his son Todd in charge, and Todd said he’d welcome another offer. Roger, who lives in the nearby town of Gerlach, decided this time he would get it right.

During last year’s festival, he said they were leading two tours a day. They had set up a little camp there for prospective investors to lounge and get a sense of the area’s energy.

Because nothing says “Decommodification” like 2 busloads a day of investors going to the real estate sales lounge. And nothing says “sustainability” like building a 70,000 person city for the purposes of entertainment, creating art just to burn it down, and in a week producing the amount of CO2 emissions of a small country

From Roger’s perspective, buying land means Burning Man can serve more people — the demand for tickets already far exceeds the supply. “This year, 60,000 people didn’t get tickets to this,” he said. “By owning our own property, it means putting in our own infrastructure. It could be a retreat center or an art park.” He said the plan would be to build that retreat center and a museum, hold smaller events, and create a city to test out what it would be like to live on Mars (guess which tech billionaire could be thinking of that?). “What interests me is the experiment in a permanent community,” he said, adding that the tech titans felt the same way. “They’re interested in that too, yes.”

So far, not interested in it enough to fund a Series A for this 30-year old start-up. But maybe this is the year.

Part of the appeal of the site is recent moves Will Roger has made on the board of a local Advisory council to get the BLM to re-designate land so that it can be sold.

burning_man suitsAdjacent to the Fly Ranch property is, Roger said, “a playa, public land.” He had joined a political group: the Sierra Front-Northwestern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council. In this position, he helped to declare that land disposable, defined by the Bureau of Land Management as “land that can be sold.” He added, “Getting it on the disposable land list was crucial because we could have our own playa then, something smaller for five to 10 thousand people.” The property is “A-rated solar, A-rated wind,” and Roger said the income from that power generation would become the foundation for a community. “If you look at a 100-year plan, it could be remarkable as a planet changing culture,” he said.

If someone can figure out a way that you can put solar panels miles away from industry or population, and that itself makes so much income that it could sustain a growing community, then that could indeed be planet-changing. Usually, local generation offsets costs rather than creating revenue – and industrial-scale facilities are built near the main power transmission grid.

As Burning Man emerges as an emotional and intellectual center for the tech world, Roger thinks the chances of a deal going through are higher than ever. His employees were leading tours while he hung out at First Camp — “I don’t swim in that world, but my staff swims in that world,” he said. He said he was just thrilled the vision to create a town has finally come closer to fruition. “I’ve had my dream in this and my heart broken so many times,” he said. “Now I’m 66 years old, I’m almost retiring, and it might happen.”

Emerges? Isn’t that how the whole shebang has been marketed, since DARPA first unleashed their Web weapon on the general public in the 90’s?

Although Roger says he doesn’t swim in that world, 4 years ago when they bussed me out to the site on one of these investor tours he was the man in charge. Swimming in the world of hot springs was part of the sales pitch – everyone was encouraged to get naked, of course. The details about how investors would get a return on the most expensive desert land on earth were sketchy…“we’re going to run a business based on the Ten Principles“. Ummm, which ones? Gifting and Decommodification? Leave No Trace? So how does that work again? Everyone volunteers for free, pays to stay in a conference center where you bring your own bedding and catering and take out your own trash, the Founders get the ticket revenue (which of course “isn’t enough due to all our costs”), and investors donate the money?

A year has passed since we sat together in the playa, and it hasn’t quite happened yet. When I asked a Burning Man representative about their plans, the website they had up saying that they’d begun to develop the land came down. But on the Wayback Machine you can still see their statement: “The Burning Man Project is pleased to announce the initiation of the preliminary stages of the development of the Fly Geyser property.”

A quote on the site from Will Roger reads: “The Fly Ranch Project is a key component of a broader plan for economic and community development in the Northern Nevada area.”

Read the full story at NYMag.

Permanent infrastructure for Burners is a great idea. Destruction and pollution is so 1980’s. Leave It Better trumps Leave No Trace. A Center for Philosophy, to spread the culture around the world? I could see that happening. Putting these things together, a couple of dozen miles further out into the wilderness from Gerlach? That leaves me scratching my head. I always thought the key to real estate investment was location, location, location.

If you build it, they will come…maybe they should build it in Colorado and sell weed to tourists to pay for the thing.

 

drug-war-cartoon2

Humboldt General Reveals Details of Medical Split

burning-man-ambulance_11219452

Say good night to the ambulance. That’s the last time you’re ever gonna see a ambulance like this again.

Humboldt General Hospital was recently dumped by BMOrg as the provider of medical care on the Playa. A shame, since they have a hospital and ambulances nearby, and from what Burners are saying they have done an excellent job for the past 4 years.

Now we know a little more about what drove this change, thanks to HGH director Pat Songer. It seems there were several factors:

– Humboldt wanted contingency plans for a Mass Casualty Incident (MCI), and to “shine a spotlight on safety issues”

– Humboldt gave 180 days notice to terminate and re-negotiate the contract, expecting to negotiate in good faith with a partner they’d provided exemplary service to

– BMOrg took that as a “fuck you” and responded with “fuck you too”, ditching HGH for CrowdRX

Other, admittedly more speculative, factors may be the departure of BMOrg’s Emergency Services Chief Jospeh Pred and the new team being assembled around Operations Chief Charlie Dolman; and the rumor media report of a West Nile virus outbreak in Gerlach last year.

Presumably CrowdRX already have these Mass Casualty Incident contingency plans in place, given that they do much bigger events like Coachella. Of course, the main issue is “take a lot of people to the nearest hospital”, and there are plenty of buses in Palm Springs. The danger here to Burners is that –  by their own admission – the only experience CrowdRX have ever had in dealing with remote locations was a Phish concert in New England 20 years ago. Pretty sure Phish tickets don’t make you take responsibility for serious injury or even death on the way in…

CrowdRX recently had a disastrous show on their hands in Chicago. They needed a lot of ambulances to transfer 16 people to hospital, out of a crowd of 10,000 ravers at a Skrillex concert. They provided services for Electric Zoo in New York, where 2 people died of “an overdose of MDMA and hypothermia”.

This situation reminds me a bit of the Google employee who is creating Burning Man – The Musical, despite never having actually been to Burning Man. Here we have “Burning Man – the Medical”, brought to you by the team who once hired a guy who went to a Phish concert, but that was twenty years ago. Hey, it’s Coachella in the desert, how hard could it be, right?

From the Journal of Emergency Medical Services:

Humboldt General Hospital began providing medical care at Burning Man in 2011. Each year, Songer said his agency tweaked their contractual relationship with their host to compensate for increased numbers of participants and the associated risks of hosting one of the country’s largest mass gatherings in one of the world’s most remote and austere locations.

This year didn’t seem different except Songer said some safety concerns identified by his staff in 2014 needed clarification, so in February, the agency exercised their 180-day right to cancel their contract.

That happened in a meeting with Burning Man officials and the entire group agreed to move forward, intent on renegotiating a new contract that, among other things, would allow for at least one more EMS agency to provide backup in case festival numbers surged again, like they did in 2012.

“We just wanted to continue that same level of preparedness,” said Songer. “After all, this is a large-scale event with the potential for an MCI in the middle of nowhere. I think some people forget the potential for disaster there.”

Still, the two parties tended to disagree on Humboldt General Hospital’s role: was the agency simply an event contractor or were they a public safety agency with all the associated risks and responsibilities?

Last week, when Burning Man officials announced they were negotiating a contract with CrowdRX, a large-scale event contractor, Songer said he got his answer.

“I think that was really the crux of our concerns,” he said. “When we came to this event, we saw it as an extension of our hospital. We were going to provide hospital-level care, even if it was in the middle of one of the world’s most remote locations.”

He continued, “We weren’t there as an event contractor, we were there as a medical provider in the Black Rock Desert—a fully operational, gold star-staffed medical facility.”

Songer added, “I think as the event evolved and our expectations for safety continued to escalate, philosophically and operationally, we found ourselves on opposite sides of the coin.”

The agency was certainly planning to complete its initial five-year commitment, said Songer, and hoped to see that relationship continue beyond.

Apparently, so did many others, including officials from local, state and federal governments, hospitals and even law enforcement.

“There is safety concern out there,” Songer explained. “When Nevada is investing so much to hold an event of this magnitude here, you want there to be some long-term good that comes from that collaboration.”

“Sure, you can issue that temporary license,” said Songer, “but what we’re hearing is worry about the long-term. When your hospital or your Nevada ambulance company provides those services, there is an investment there, an investment of time, experience, equipment, manpower and you come out more prepared—way more equipped for Nevada—than you went in.”

…With HGH out of the medical mix, and REMSA before that, Nevada’s medical network has definitely lost a one-of-a-kind training ground. That being said, Songer said he is proud of what HGH EMS Rescue brought to the festival’s table during his medical tenure including, according to Burning Man officials during early April, his agency’s ability to “shine a spotlight on safety.” Other successes came with the agency’s partner relations, which Songer said were critical to his agency’s success at the event and in the future through the many mutual aid agreements forged during the festival.

“Burning Man did not define who we are; we defined the systems that made Burning Man’s medical an incredible model across the world,” he said. Now, said Songer, HGH EMS Rescue will take that model and continue to adapt it to the other special events it oversees each year, including the increasingly popular music festival “Night in the Country” as well as the up-and-coming “Further Future” festival, 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas

The full press release from HGH is at the bottom of this article.


robot heart distriktHGH will be providing medical services for Burning Man off-shoot Further Future, happening this weekend. Further Future is put on by the Robot Heart crew, who have thrown many large parties on the West and East coasts.

YourEDM says “Further Future Takes The Festival Experience To The Next Level”:

For many of us, the weeklong desert exodus of Burning Man is simply too much to stomach. From the inevitable lungfuls of dust to the complete isolation, some festival goers would rather have comfortable amenities and leisure than try and test their physical endurance and stamina. Robot Heart, host to some of the most elaborate events held during Burning Man, understands this mentality and has announced the conception of an entirely new experience to go down this May only 45 minutes from Las Vegas.

 
Robot Heart; photo by Peter Ruprecht

Robot Heart; photo by Peter Ruprecht

 

Further Future aims to be one of the first events to equally combine the aesthetic and vibe of a music festival with the guest list and esteem of a Silicon Valley tech conference. The desert party is only open to invited guests and those whose applications are approved. Among the supposed 3,000 attendees will be Soundcloud founders, Google X directors, and heads of other technology companies currently at the forefront of the movement. These guests will be hosting panels and tech talks amongst the artists performing, fostering an entirely unique and somewhat career-oriented approach to the festival scene. Professional networking is just as much a part of the experience as jamming out to the stacked roster of musicians. Unlike Burning Man, energy conservation is not of chief importance at Further Future, as they will be offering a staggering amount of high-end amenities to those willing to shell out dollars. In addition to the $275 tickets, luxurious pre-built group camping tents complete with A/C are being offered at $3,200 for the weekend. In the “Gypset” members-only area, there will be round-the-clock food and spa services provided.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 1.21.08 PM

And Forbes says Burning Man’s Cool Kids Break Off To Mix Music And Tech At New Festival:

For the past few years, Robot Heart has been known to host the most stylish gatherings during the week-long desert revelry that is Burning Man. Known online as a group of “doers, dreamers, artists and entrepreneurs,” the party-throwing collective could often be found on the desolate expanses of Black Rock City dancing until sunrise during the week before Labor Day, which sees many a Silicon Valley tech employee take off “to discover, exercise and rely on his or her own resources.

This year, however, Robot Heart is making sure that its followers won’t have to wait until the end of summer to lose themselves in a haze of dust, heat and extracurricular substances. At the beginning of May, the collective will host its first Further Future festival, a three-day get-together in the Nevada desert that’s a 45-minute drive east from Las Vegas.

While there are some similarities to Burning Man, which drew nearly 70,000 people last year, Further Future is deliberately more exclusive, an invite or application-only party that does not preach the same inclusive principles or self-reliance of its effigy-torching predecessor

There was a brief moment of last-minute panic when they couldn’t use the venue they wanted, after the BLM moved to shut them down. Fortunately, a local Indian tribe stepped in to save the day.

the invitation-only festival for as many as 5,000 people will be held May 1-3 on the Moapa River Indian Reservation along Interstate 15, about 40 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The site won’t look quite like the beautiful landscapes shown on Further Future’s slick website, but it will help avoid federal trespassing charges.

Early this month, both the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management denied the festival a commercial use permit for roads crossing public land to the privately owned Anniversary Mine, a 215-acre tract just outside the boundary of Lake Mead National Recreation Area 35 miles east of Las Vegas.

Then, just in case there was any lingering confusion, the BLM’s Las Vegas field manager, Gayle Marrs-Smith, sent a strongly worded letter to the mine’s owner and the festival’s attorney warning against using the site and treating the resulting fines and penalties as another “business cost” for Further Future. [Source: Las Vegas Review Journal]

Mixing music, tech, and networking sounds a lot like SXSW, which BMOrg’s merry band of travelling salesmen “represent” at.

Some Burnier-Than-Thous and Radical Haters would no doubt breathe a big sigh of relief if Robot Heart and other large EDM crews left the event, and took their rich and beautiful patrons with them. “The future is in the Regionals!”, they cry.  “You’re not a Burner if you have A/C!”

It would be naive to think that Burning Man could continue to reach its current 70,000/$34 million capacity purely with poor people (who somehow still manage to drop a couple of grand partying for a week), bike theft, home-made art, and unamplified music. The track record of Burning Man’s Regional Network as event producers is less than impressive. The last Robot Heart party I went to was On The Fucking Moon for Halloween in New York, the year Hurricane Sandy hit. They had no problems selling out what looked to me like a crowd of about 5000. Meanwhile regional events like Kiwi Burn pull less than a thousand people, even after more than 10 years. Maybe the future of Burner culture is more likely to lie in the hands of promoters, than bureaucrats and lawyers?

Despite Larry Harvey’s anti-EDM proclamations, I think the organizers of Burning Man Nevada are well aware that the surge in popularity of EDM and the simultaneous surge in popularity of their festival is no coincidence. Their Board member Chip Conley runs Fest300, which gives them intel on all the other festivals in the world. Size, attendance, popularity, ideas. With all the art cars, major sound camps, and smaller music setups throughout the city, there are more than 1000 music stages at Burning Man. Try finding that anywhere else – and who cares if some of them want to publish their line-ups? They are putting these DJs on for free, as a gift, why wouldn’t we all want to celebrate that?

Image: Snowbrains

Image: Snowbrains

The article I wrote last August What Dreams May Come is starting to look very prescient, now that Further Future has been announced. The poll there said 75% of Burners think there is room for more Burning Man-style events in the world without BMOrg, and only 4% thought they needed to be official Burning Man regionals.

So here we have a break-away EDM festival in the desert, profiled in business publication Forbes, featuring the most popular ever Burning Man art car – and, if you’re been to a Robot Heart party in Black Rock City lately, you will have noticed an armada of dozens of art cars that follow them around too. The “cool kids of Burning Man”, going off to do their own thing: exclusive, curated, professional. And HGH has partnered with them to bring a medical solution that is as good as Burning Man – the gold standard for events in the desert. All of a sudden, Larry & Co mysteriously ditch HGH in order for what looks like an inferior and woefully unprepared alternative. And then, also all of a sudden, the BLM at the last minute decides to fuck the festival organizers over on their permit and threaten them via lawyers.

Coincidence? Or conspiracy Nevada politics?


Humboldt seemed to deal with the local issues just fine. In 2011 they garnered industry praise for saving someone’s life with “miraculous” cardiac treatment.

In 2013 they were featured in an article “EMS In Charge At Burning Man” which began with the headline “If EMS Ran The Show”…possibly this was seen as some sort of challenge to the authority of Larry & Co.

Image: EMS World

Image: EMS World

This article is very informative. This was much more than just a week-long paid gig for HGH:

Burning Man itself may only last a week, but planning for the event is year round, says Louis Mendiola, BS, EMT-II, wellness coordinator for Humboldt General Hospital. He says one of the major challenges that go into that planning relates to recruiting, hiring and credentialing the nearly 400 Burning Man employees who will help oversee care.

“Establishing EMS for Burning Man is no easy task,” Mendiola explains. “The austere environment, remote location (no existing infrastructure) and the large population present a number of challenges. HGH relies heavily on the dedication of members of the Burning Man Leadership Team to ensure the operations rolls out seamlessly. HGH has organized a team of some of the nation’s best EMS leaders from a number of different backgrounds and areas of expertise. HGH strives to continually find ways to improve the operation by creating systems that improve patient care and system wide readiness. The willingness to incorporate EMS leaders from such diverse backgrounds has equated to an operation that is truly ‘high performance.’”

They have done more than just provide some medical staff on-site. They have created a fully functional emergency department, with ultrasound and x-ray machines. Their idea was to treat patients as much as they can on-site, where their medical expenses are paid for by Burning Man’s insurance, before sending them off to a Default world hospital where the patient’s own medical insurance presumably picks up the tab.

Instead of approaching Burning Man like any other mass event, we looked at the geographic distance to civilization and healthcare facilities, the environment, the attendee type, and decided to take a more global direction,” explains Bledsoe. “Instead of just placing ambulances and first aid stations everywhere we decided we would develop an integrated emergency healthcare system that ranged from first aiders to board-certified emergency physicians. We specifically wanted to use paramedics in an expanded role because they are already accustomed to the austere environment, independent thought, and the general mindset of the event medical and EMS leaders. As emergency physicians we saw the capability to safely expand their scope of practice to meet the needs of Burning Man.”

Because the providers on-site at Burning Man are quite literally the only care for miles, patient care needs to be robust and all-encompassing. The care provided ranges from minor to major and during the entire event there is at least one physician level provided and one medical director on call (usually via radio), says Mendiola.

“As with a typical ER, most patients are first seen by a triage nurse or tech, who decides which of the four pods the patient is best suited for,” Mendiola states. The actual structure is comprised of four inflatable disaster-type hospitals and a large wooden triage structure that serves as the entry way. More impervious mod spaces are used for x-ray, a suturing suite and command offices.

“We operate a fully functional emergency department, with facilities for minor care, emergency care and extended care,” adds Bledsoe. “We have x-ray, ultrasound and lab capabilities. While we rely heavily on emergency medicine residents and fellows, a Nevada-licensed medical director is within the hospital or nearby at all times (with a radio). We reduce fractures and dislocations, repair lacerations, manage drug overdoses (including mechanical ventilation), use deep and moderate sedation, and treat multiple common medical conditions. On the last Saturday of the event, the day they burn the man, we become one of the busiest, if not the busiest, emergency department in the United States. We will exceed the volume of patients we see daily at UMC in Las Vegas (a big, busy public hospital) by over 40% (more than 600 patients on the last Saturday). We have a large formulary/pharmacy of prescription and non-prescription drugs to treat the attendees at the event. And all medical care is provided without costs to the attendees, keeping with the prevailing spirit of the Burning Man event.

Notes Mendiola, eight ALS ambulances are staffed and deployed with at least one ALS level provider. One EMS operations chief oversees ambulance observation and one incident commander is available 24/7. An airway team/critical intervention team is also available to assist with advanced procedures.

The patients the EMS providers and medical staff see during Burning Man are quite diverse, encompassing all ages (though relatively few are children) and all walks of society.

“The population is generally healthy and chronic conditions are less common,” Mendiola says. “Unlike a regular healthcare system there are typically fewer patients with secondary gain issues, like drug seeking, doc shopping, or who are indigent.”

But the perception of risk is highly distorted on playa (the desert). “The culture equates to risky behavior, which subsequently means more injuries,” explains Mendiola.

“We see a lot of lacerations and fractures, eye problems, skin problems, female urinary tract infections, dehydration and similar conditions,” says Bledsoe. “Although many people think Burning Man is a drug fest that’s far from the truth. In 2011, only 2.5% of the patients we saw were drug or alcohol-related. The Burning Man systems actually take care of most substance abuse problems in a separate facility, referred to as the sanctuary. We help them with medical issues, if present, and have sent some of our psychiatry residents over to the sanctuary to help.

“We treat all comers,” Bledsoe continues. “Sometimes all they want is a medical opinion, a band-aid or an over-the-counter medication. All patients who present are assessed and triaged to the appropriate level of provider (e.g., EMT, community paramedic, nurse, physician). There are certain things we don’t get into unless absolutely necessary. We don’t do sexual assault exams and female pelvic exams. We did treat some pregnancy-related issues but had ultrasound available. High-risk issues and problems are immediately handled by the most senior personnel. For example, we had a patient go into labor at 36 weeks. I personally assumed her care, did a quick OB ultrasound, checked her cervix to ensure she could safely make the trip to Reno, contacted her OB/GYN and the labor and delivery department in Reno, and safely sent her to the hospital by ground ambulance.

“The difference between Burning Man and other big events,” adds Bledsoe, “is that we can’t simply say, ‘That’s all we can do here. We’re going to send you to the hospital.’ The closest hospitals are 150 miles away and sending an ambulance to the hospital can take 6–7 hours to go and return as the event enters the weekend. We try and do as much as we can on site. If a patent needs more detailed care, imaging (e.g., CT, MRI), or hospital admission we send them to Reno or Sacramento. Some can go by private vehicle. We pride ourselves on minimizing transports off the desert. People plan for this event all year, spend a great deal of money to attend, and want to stay through the final ‘burn.’ The people are quite nice and thankful. Pat (Songer) always receives nice letters from patients who compliment the medical care at Burning Man and even go on to say that they feel that medical care at Burning Man is a model for healthcare in general.”

Here is the full press release from HGH (emphasis ours):


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Nicole Maher, Director
Community Education and Development
Humboldt General Hospital
(775) 761-2624
Email: nicole@hghospital.org

HGH EMS RESCUE SAYS BURNING MAN ‘LESSONS’ WILL BE INVALUABLE MOVING FORWARD

WINNEMUCCA, Nev.—“We wouldn’t trade our experience with Burning Man for anything.”

That was HGH EMS Rescue Chief Pat Songer’s statement last week after his agency was notified that their four-year contract providing medical care at the annual counter-culture festival has been terminated.

Songer said it’s those “lessons learned” that will stay with the agency long after memories of the dust, dehydration—and even death—fade away.

The art festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert gathers 70,000 people each Labor Day weekend, making the make-shift city Nevada’s fourth largest for one week.
“It was a challenge providing medical to over 450 community members each day,” said Songer, “but it was an exhilarating challenge and one that we are immensely grateful for.”

Humboldt General Hospital began providing medical care at Burning Man in 2011. Each year, Songer said his agency tweaked their contractual relationship with their host to compensate for increased numbers of participants and the associated risks of hosting one of the country’s largest mass gatherings in one of the world’s most remote and austere locations.

This year didn’t seem different except Songer said some safety concerns identified by his staff in 2014 needed clarification, so in February, the agency exercised their 180-day right to cancel their contract.

That happened in a meeting with Burning Man officials and the entire group agreed to move forward, intent on renegotiating a new contract that, among other things, would allow for at least one more EMS agency to provide backup in case festival numbers surged again, like they did in 2012. “We just wanted to continue that same level of preparedness,” said Songer. “After all, this is a large-scale event with the potential for an MCI in the middle of nowhere. I think some people forget the potential for disaster there.”

Still, the two parties tended to disagree on Humboldt General Hospital’s role: was the agency simply an event contractor or were they a public safety agency with all the associated risks and responsibilities?

Last week, when Burning Man officials announced they were negotiating a contract with CrowdRX, a large-scale event contractor, Songer said he got his answer.
“I think that was really the crux of our concerns,” he said. “When we came to this event, we saw it as an extension of our hospital. We were going to provide hospital-level care, even if it was in the middle of one of the world’s most remote locations.”

He continued, “We weren’t there as an event contractor, we were there as a medical provider in the Black Rock Desert—a fully operational, gold star-staffed medical facility.” Songer added, “I think as the event evolved and our expectations for safety continued to escalate, philosophically and operationally, we found ourselves on opposite sides of the coin.”

The agency was certainly planning to complete its initial five-year commitment, said Songer, and hoped to see that relationship continue beyond. Apparently, so did many others, including officials from local, state and federal governments, hospitals and even law enforcement. “There is safety concern out there,” Songer explained. “When Nevada is investing so much to hold an event of this magnitude here, you want there to be some long-term good that comes from that collaboration.” In other words, explained Songer, “you don’t want an out-of-state event contractor to simply take the money and run.”

Songer said that concern focuses on the differences between a Nevada medical provider that becomes a long-term asset to the state as it grows its present and future medical network, versus an out-of-state contractor that operates on a temporary medical license for seven days and then leaves. “Sure, you can issue that temporary license,” said Songer, “but what we’re hearing is worry about the long-term. When your hospital or your Nevada ambulance company provides those services, there is an investment there, an investment of time, experience, equipment, manpower and you come out more prepared—way more equipped for Nevada—than you went in.” When you bring in a temporary contractor, that goes away. You’re not empowering a medical network across the state, you’re simply funding an out-of-state business.” “I think that’s the worry,” Songer added.

With HGH out of the medical mix, and REMSA before that, Nevada’s medical network has definitely lost a one-of-a-kind training ground. That being said, Songer said he is proud of what HGH EMS Rescue brought to the festival’s table during his medical tenure including, according to Burning Man officials during early April, his agency’s ability to “shine a spotlight on safety.”

Other successes came with the agency’s partner relations, which Songer said were critical to his agency’s success at the event and in the future through the many mutual aid agreements forged during the festival. Songer also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn the complexities of mass casualty incidents—not only the ins and outs of staging such a massive medical operation, but also in learning to “trust other agencies that you only know for one week each year.” He praised the “once-in-a-lifetime chance” to assemble and work with a world-class medical team. “These weren’t contractors who go from event to event, these were medical practitioners at the top of their respective fields; they were there to practice medicine.”

Perhaps the agency’s greatest accomplishment on the Black Rock, however, was creating and adapting a system to the needs of the patients—fully in line with Humboldt General Hospital’s mission of “being helpful and caring for those in need.”
“These people wanted to stay on the playa,” he said of each year’s Burners. “They had invested a lot in terms of their time and money to get there and our job was to keep them there.” Songer added, “It’s no different than what we do at our community hospital. We have invested millions and millions of dollars to allow people to get their care right here at home. “When we went to the Black Rock, that model did not change, so we had to create a system that would allow patients to get the majority of their care “at home” on the playa.

Songer said there are those who will see the severed contract as a black mark for the rural EMS agency. “We don’t,” he said. “Burning Man did not define who we are; we defined the systems that made Burning Man’s medical an incredible model across the world,” he said.

Now, said Songer, HGH EMS Rescue will take that model and continue to adapt it to the other special events it oversees each year, including the increasingly popular music festival “Night in the Country” as well as the up-and-coming “Further Future” festival, 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas.

Of course, the model remains the core of HGH EMS Rescue’s delivery of pre-hospital care across 10,000 square miles, parts of two states and three counties.
“We had an excellent run with Burning Man,” said Songer, “and now all those resources, that knowledge and those experiences come home to our community.”

The Positivity In Popularity

A guest post from reader Shifty Fox.


1507464_f520Good ol’ Black Rock City. Home sweet home, am I right? I stand in awe at how much it has grown over the years. These days it’s rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of this magical and idyllic temporary city in the desert. A dusty Shangri-La of sorts, in which tens of thousands of people flock to each year and tens of thousands more attempt to but can’t as a result of a population limit which in effect creates a ticket supply and demand. The good word is out and it seems like everybody wants to see what this place is all about. Now, there have always been opinions of the event becoming too popular even well over a decade or two ago. But ever since 2011 when the event first sold out, these opinions seem much more prevalent. Could it be true? Has Burning Man become too popular an event, or a victim of its own success that is simply too big for its britches? We have all read the articles and heard the opinions about how it isn’t what it used to be, and how “it was better back in the day…” Though personally I generally find it hard to agree with these viewpoints because I feel they are somewhat narrow-minded opinions that only stem from the individuals perspicacity and lack of insight, in relation to the popularity of Burning Man.

557227_10201150757269734_1559314795_nAnd fair enough. If we look at the effect that popularity has on a lot of things, it doesn’t always lead to the most desirable end results. There are small intimate venues that gain popularity and over time become the next hot bar or club spot. Small bands and DJs that start out in a garage or a bedroom make it big and are often considered sellouts once they attain fame. And there are the music festivals that started out as fairly small events and go on to become annual massive music festivals with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, complete with corporate sponsorship and all. The state of popularity as it pertains to events such as Burning Man and other similar festivals is often shaded with negativity. There is this feeling that when so many people become privy to something great, it takes away from the unique and magical qualities that made it so special to begin with. Though a part of me can’t help but think that this feeling is somewhat selfish in its existence. After all, if something is so wonderful and positive, shouldn’t it be shared for all to enjoy? Not hoarded by a few?

Image: Trey Ratcliff/StuckInCustoms

Now what I mean when I say selfish is that I feel people often don’t look past their own disgruntled feelings of dissatisfaction over minor issues that really only directly affect the individual and their ability to have a good time. For example, the thought that because of the progressive popularity of the event, there are increasingly too many virgin Burners attending annually. Or the issue of ticket supply and demand, which is directly related to the events popularity. Often fueled by ego, an individual can become irritated because they didn’t get a ticket and someone who they feel is less deserving, actually did get one. Or the thought that with the events popularity comes what is believe to be the wrong kind of crowd. Those that are said to spectate and not participate; ‘the bro, the weekend warrior, the wealthy 1%er, or other types of people that some individuals believe should not be in attendance. But all of these things are selfishly only an issue to the individual because they believe it interferes with their standards of the burn experience as they see it fit for them. They are possibly not seeing the bigger picture and how popularity affects more than just them and their good time. And I believe these feelings and opinions do not accurately reflect the very real and positive effects that come from the popularity of the Burning Man event. Perhaps it is difficult for some to see past their own comforts and desires.

believeI am convinced there is a bigger picture to it all. I believe Burning Man to be an exception to the idea that popularity allows for negative results to culminate, and subsequently end an entity’s golden era. I believe there are direct and indirect ways that the popularity of Burning Man is positively changing individual’s hearts and minds, as well as affecting families and communities around the world for the better. I truly believe there is positivity in popularity.



Over the years Burning Man has given way to a number of great organizations that are doing wonderful things locally as well as worldwide. The seemingly endless streams of inspiration, creativity, and motivation that emanates from these wonderful organizations, cannot be denied as a positive force. Some of the more prominent organizations that are a direct consequence of the Burning Man event include:


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Black Rock Solar – The mission of BRS is stated as “promoting environmental stewardship, economic development and energy independence by providing not-for-profit entities, tribes and under-served communities with access to clean energy, education, and job training.” This is done often by donating hours of labor, solar products, and professional installation of solar products to these under-served communities.



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Burners Without Borders – The objectives of BWB are to “promote activities around the globe that support a community’s inherent capacity to thrive by encouraging innovative approaches to disaster relief and grassroots initiatives that make a positive impact.” The Philippines, Haiti, and the United States are few of the places they have offered disaster relief for various unfortunate catastrophes such as fires, hurricanes, and floods.



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Black Rock Arts Foundation – The folks at BRAF have made it their mission “to support and promote community, interactive art and civic participation.” This is done through a process of presenting grants to a number of artists and arts programs. BRAF works with various communities all over the globe to produce creative and often unusual works of public art that serve to conjure the inspiration in people, and create a sense of community.



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The Regional Network – This is the most prominent byproduct immediately stemming from the popularity of Burning Man. The event has inspired others to organize and create events with a similar ethos to the Burning Man event. Currently there are roughly 130 regional families spread across 6 continents in 31 countries around the world that are officially affiliated with the Burning Man Organization. There are also an untold number of non-affiliated groups and events as well.

These organizations are byproducts directly related to the popularity of the Burning Man event, which is a melting pot for like-minded people, that gives them the ability to network and become inspired to create these types of organizations, families, and events. These are only four listed examples but there is a plethora of other small groups and organizations that have come into existence all around the globe as a result of the growth of the Burning Man event, community, and culture. These are undoubtedly examples of positivity in popularity.



playa

Open Playa

Aside from all the positive effects emanating from organizations and regional groups, we also have the individuals themselves and the profound and life changing experiences that are often had while attending Burning Man. The capacity for positive energy that the individual radiates back out into the default world long after they have returned home is something that should never be allowed to reach a maximum limit. I refuse to think we need less people sharing in a culture that produces such untold amounts of utter positivity.

Image: Unknown/DustToAshes

Image: Dust To Ashes

There is an infinite list of constructive things to be gained by the individual while marinating in this playa pool of positivity; whether it is a sense of family and community, the feelings of impassioned closeness with others, emotional purging and sense of spirituality, the use of social skills in an unconventional world, the networking, the friends, the fun that never ends, the projects, the laughs, the cries… the self-discovery sunset and tequila sunrise. It is virtually an endless source of positive energy, ideas, and knowledge. And it is largely (if not completely) due to the growth and popularity of Burning Man, that all of these things have the ability to thrive there and continue to inspire others who visit our dusty home, to appreciate, motivate, create, and then take these values home with them, so that they can be injected into the veins of life, and the individual can and go on to inspire others to do the very same thing.

For most of us who have attended it is easy to understand the harmonious and magical way in which Burning Man touches many peoples lives, and how it continues to directly effect most of us on a daily basis. But it may be more difficult to imagine the even higher untold numbers, possibly in the millions, of people that are indirectly affected by the Burning Man community in roundabout ways, without ever having known it. I was once one of those people.

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

About 17 years ago I was a completely lost and irresponsible kid who really had very little direction and even less drive. Always feeling like a lone black sheep I carried around a lot of weight and stress with me from various things in my life. From family issues, to the deaths of loved ones, and throw in a handful of other destructive devices, they were very confusing times indeed. On top of that I was still trying to find out what my worth was to the world. Over time I had tried various things to alleviate this weight but as a young adult back then, I really had no idea what I was doing. Who really does anyhow? Things were pretty obscure and uncertain at the time. But it was by chance, (or fate?) that I would soon make friends with a few Burneresque types in a small town up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Through my friendships with these great people I would eventually go on to participate in the creation of small events and get-togethers that carried a similar Burning Man ethos and vibe. I had yet to attend Burning Man at the time, and wouldn’t for some years. The clueless kid that I was, I had no idea that at the time my life was already beginning to be affected by the Burning Man community in this second handed sort of way, years before I had ever attended the actual event.

 

Image: Dust To Ashes

Image: Dust To Ashes

cropped-La-Contessa-just-before-sunrise

La Contessa

I eventually moved to the land that originally gave life to the Burning Man event, the beautiful and unique city of San Francisco. I fully immersed myself in the Burner culture and community. I finally attended Burning Man, as well as other events and began volunteering for little projects here and there. I tried to educate myself as much as I could on the history of this fascinating experiment of a not so conventional community in the desert. I had been turned on to this seemingly endless world of ideas and creativity. I found a number of people whose life stories were similar to mine, people who had imagination and ingenuity, and radiated positivity. I fell in love with it all. And over the years as I continue to bask in these pools of positivity and meet new and interesting people, I can’t help but see all the wonderful things that have been created by Burners. It makes me curious about all the great things that have yet to come in to existence by the many potential Burners of the future.



 

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

Image: Hanna Mumper/Shifty The Fox

So now here I am, having done this dance in the dust year after year for over a third of my life. I have undoubtedly evolved mentally and grown as a human being, for the better. I feel eternally grateful for the things I have learned in that desert, and the experiences I have had. I have a stronger bond with my family and have forged close relationships with a number of great people that I may have never met otherwise. All of these people that I relate to have seen the changes and the effects the event has had on me, and in that, they have felt the effects themselves. In the desert I have learned to let go of the things that stop me from living my life and I have taken those lessons and reflected them back out to the rest of the world. I shudder to think of the road I may have traveled had this community not diverted the direction of my life and pushed me down a different path. I can honestly say that Burning Man has changed me as a person. It has transformed my interactions with people, and has forever broadened my horizons and the outlook that I have of this magnificent world on a daily basis.

Image: Ari Fararooy/Vimeo

Image: Ari Fararooy/Vimeo

In a way it can be said that Burning Man inadvertently affects every single person in the default world that we Burners come in contact with, without them ever even knowing it. The same way it did to me when I was younger. Before I had ever stepped foot on that desert floor. Now I pose the question, if Burning Man can have such a strong and profound effect on me, and I am just one person, how many others has it affected in this way? And even more importantly, how many others have the potential to be affected by it in the future? Only time will tell. As the event grows in popularity, so does the community. And subsequently the culture, the networks, the families, the art, the love, and most importantly the human individual all grow with it.

So now, every time I hear someone say that Burning Man is too popular or too big for its own good, I can’t help but laugh a little on the inside and think to myself, “if you only knew…”

-ShiftyFox

Image: Michael Holden

Image: Michael Holden

Gifting To Create a World of Plenty

mass mosaic mission

It’s nice to be able to write a positive story about goodness. Free goodness coming to this community and the world, thanks to the generosity and innovation of Burners.

One of the great things about Burning Man is if you need something, the community will often rally to provide. Not everyone can afford a Private Concierge to arrange their camp, designer costumes, or a $1000 scalper ticket. Some Burners are left to be radically self-reliant. Others are happy to help whoever they can.

The Wolf and Snorky, Burning Man 2010

The Wolf and Snorky, Burning Man 2010

When I first went to Burning Man in 1998, I rushed back to Australia and told my friend Snorky all about it. “Sounds great man”, he said. “Can’t wait to go one day”. That day finally came in 2010. Burner Snorky hit the ground running, he was ready for Burning Man before he was born! The only difference being a virgin made, compared to the next year, was more people wanting to give him stuff.

His Burning Man experience inspired him to use his other experience: his background of being an Internet guru from the “Dot Com days” to create Mass Mosaic: a free service where anyone with wants can connect with anyone who has something to share. Maybe you can trade, maybe you can gift, maybe you can barter or sell. They are trying to remove scarcity from the sharing economy, and replace it with abundance.

Burning Man has always been an experiment in civilization without economy. The so-called “Gift economy” combines giving people things they didn’t know they wanted, and generously helping out Burners in need.

Mass Mosaic have now created Burners Exchange (any type of exchange) and Burners Gifting (gifting only), special mosaics just for Burners. It’s totally free. It helps Burners who Have something to offer, connect with those who Want something. Transactions can be gifts, trades, or for money.

Snorky describes it like this:

snorky time capsuleBurning Man teaches us that everybody is abundant in something and when that is brought to the playa, we see that really anything is possible. Mass Mosaic brings that energy beyond the playa. When everybody lists what they want and have and how they are open to exchange it, then the abundance of what is often peoples hidden value is brought to the forefront. Mass Mosaic has created a special group for Burners to exchange within. Burners aren’t limited to exchanging within that group though, they can create their own groups and exchange with anybody on the site too.

Abundance for all – sounds good to me. Try it now.

Mass Mosaic’s co-founder Snorky says:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe all are constantly exchanging with the world. From breathing air to getting gas for our cars, exchange is needed to sustain. The natural world can help us understand the fundamentals of this exchange. In nature, exact right amount of resources are exchanged for survival without the friction of money or social structures. At Burning Man, not having many of our modern comforts (i.e. being in nature) allows us to live very closely to the natural principles of exchange, and move with their ebb and flow.  It unlocks an animalistic and tribal attunement in the process.

Burning Man reminds us, through the gift economy and the collective ethos, that exchange is about much more than making money. This unlocks a new dimension of potential that expresses itself as abundance, happiness, and cultural flourishing.

Part of the way that Burning Man helps us exchange is by removing the “zero-sum” dynamic, whereby the person with the resource charges the maximum possible and the person in need parts with as much money as they can bear. This essentially cancels out what otherwise could be a synergistic experience.

Mass Mosaic uses the same principles in nature and like Burning Man facilitates exchange with the environment in a more advantageous way for all parties. But Messed Mosaic goes further by allowing every type of exchange that’s possible in any tribe. The website allows gifting, borrowing, sharing, trading, renting, buying, selling, collaborating, reusing and open exchange. The holistic result is that everyone has far more opportunity to live abundantly.

Mass Mosaic models how exchange has happened with humanity since the beginning of time. There wasn’t always money! These means came to serve in need and have become overused in the process.

Burning Man teaches us about the village economy but in the context of a modern society. In the village, your relationships were the most important part of your survival – not your financial resources!

Another lesson from Mass Mosaic and Burning Man is that ownership is decreasing in importance. It’s the realization that all we are really after is the benefits of owning something, not the ownership itself! When you have the benefits without the maintenance, expenses, and other responsibilities that come with ownership, you are able to live more flexibly and economically.

Perhaps all we are seeking to learn is that we are complete. We are seeking to learn that the world loves us and supports us. We are seeking to learn that our communities well-being is inexplicably tied to our own. Perhaps we are seeking to learn that we are all one, expressing our individuality like an infinite mosaic of color that make up one big picture.

The structure of community is deeply connected to how easily that community sustains and thrives. It’s time we proactively design and define this structure so it is not dictated by the existing biased systems that rely dominantly on capitalism as a means to live healthy and happy lives. Both Burning Man and Mass Mosaic do this in a way that is proving relevant on larger and larger scales. 

To further this experiment, Mass Mosaic has created different groups and hubs for Burning Man on their website with the hopes that it helps the Burner Community live abundantly on and off the playa using its principles. Check it out at [link]

Co-founder Rob Jameson says the system is modelled on “tensegrity“, a word coined by Buckminster Fuller

Tensegrity is a complementary pair of forces. One is continuous pulling in and the other discontinuous, pushing.

This can be seen all around us in the physical world. From wheel rims to bridges, there are examples of tensegrity structures all around us, often as strongest structures and systems we build. Another example of tensegrity structure is a geodesic dome. The struts connect in a series of triangles so that the discontinuous pushing and continuous pulling makes the dome get stronger as more weight is added.

Wants and Haves projected on a building at the O+ Festival in Brooklyn

Wants and Haves projected on a building at the O+ Festival in Brooklyn

…It is a shame that the mainstream society believes that in order to be productive, the requirement is to work 40 hours per week. The entire point of technology is to leverage its capability so that we can thrive together more easily. This does not mean that machines should replace us, but rather that a job that used to take someone 1000 hours to do, now takes someone one hour to manage and the machine can do the rest automatically. This is the nature of progress, and our lives should have less restriction because of it. 

…We are beginning to see tensegrity models gain traction in society. Burning Man is a great example, which relies dominantly on the gift economy to exchange in a pop-up civilization. The gift economy is a simple type of tensegrity economy. It’s clear from the Burning Man events, which arise from nothing in the middle of the desert, that this model can produce tremendous cultural and social value.

Burning Man is the beginning of the shift, and eventually will be far surpassed by models that are more deeply connected to the principle of tensegrity, rather than a specific embodiment of it (like gifting economy).

New York-based Mass Mosaic recently won a place in Startfast, an East coast startup incubator and accelerator similar to San Francisco’s famous YCombinator. The idea behind their software is a world of plenty and abundance. Try out their Beta version and tell us what you think. I can see this idea being very useful to Burners.

Their CTO has some good words to say on workplace diversity and Radical Inclusion at SC:

0714-lw-alison-gianotto_628798I am not an expert on women in technology. I am an expert on technology. However I can say that for many of us, simply being female in technology often forces you to champion the cause. I have been asked to speak about women in technology at technical conferences (versus talking about technology at technical conferences) because the assumption is that being female, I would want to present on that issue.

When I evaluate potential jobs, I consider what impact that may have on the perception of women in technology, and when I get up to speak at conferences, I always have the nagging feeling that my performance on stage may directly impact people’s perception of all women in tech since they don’t see enough of us up there to have a broader view.

Whether I truly felt confident or not, I presented myself as very self-assured in almost every situation, which is different than many women, who are taught from an early age that being too confident, too self-assured, is unladylike. This self-assuredness leads to labels like “bossy,” and another one that starts with a “b” that SC Magazine won’t print. The same characteristics encouraged in young men are often considered problematic in young women. Maybe this played a part in my experiences. Maybe not. I know confident women that still had a much harder time than I did.

Technology is competitive, and I’ve seen this industry chew up and spit out men who lacked this perceived level of confidence, too. I don’t think that’s the whole story, but it may play a part, and it’s important to realize that being perceived as “tough” or “thick-skinned” often isn’t enough, nor should it be required. Would you rather have the most self-assured employee or the most talented? 

It’s time to realize that diversity in technology matters because the most arrogant person in the room isn’t always the most talented, and overlooking those people who don’t fit our arbitrary notions of what “real” techies look like severely limits our talent pool. When done right, technology is intensely creative, and diverse communities thrive because of, not in spite of, the variety of experiences we all bring and the passions that drive us. 

Limiting our choice of candidates is what truly weakens us. This isn’t about holding hands and singing campfire songs, and it’s not about filling quotas. This is about growing up and recognizing that when you want to hire people smarter than you, sometimes they’re not going to look or act like you

Read more at SC magazine.

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Amanda Palmer is one of the Dresden Dolls

Recently, Mass Mosaic teamed up with Amanda Fucking Palmer, who wanted to promote her book The Art of Asking. She was looking for an easy way that people who had read the book could pass it on to others who wanted to read it, but couldn’t afford it. Mass Mosaic fit this need so well, but also opened an unexpected new market: people who bought the book for complete strangers, just because they wanted it. Within a couple of hours, Amazon completely sold out of Amanda’s book, as people all started Gifting it all over the world.

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Mass Mosaic has described the explosion of Gifting The Art Of Asking in this heart-warming blog post.

I helped out and gave some Kindle editions of the book to people in different countries who wanted it. One of them blogged about it here.

It feels good to give. Mass Mosaic is an invention that promotes kindness and helping others – isn’t this what it’s all about?

Try Burners Exchange or Burners Gifting for yourself, or use Mass Mosaic to give someone a book or a Christmas miracle. To add to the mosaics, you have to sign up with Mass Mosaic, login and click the Join Mosaic button.

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