Thought Police: Don’t Call It A Festival

thought-police-framed-poster_24x36_wall_mockup_grande

thought policeYet another preachy Burnier-Than-Thou post at the BJ telling Burners they’re doing it wrong.

For all the things that Burning Man certainly is, one that mindful Burners will vigilantly note that Burning Man is not, is a festival.

The word “festival” encompasses a lot of ideas (film festivals, music festivals, taco festivals etc.) but usually it expresses a period of celebration. Burning Man contains some of the same ingredients, but it’s a totally different recipe. At Burning Man an effigy is raised and eventually burned, but the experience is accompanied as much by tears as by laughter.

Do we celebrate at Burning Man? Absolutely. Ask any Burner why they’re involved, though, and their response will often sound much more purposeful, like you might expect from a teenager running away to join the circus or a monk on a pilgrimage in a foreign land.

[Source]

Barf. Hate to break it to you, BMorg, but not everybody goes to Burning Man because they want to be a monk on a pilgrimage. Some go to have a great time, that is: entertainment. That is the product that is being offered here.

Hey, if the culture is suffering, it couldn’t be because of Caravansicle or VIP tickets or all the cool celebrities and 100+ licensed vendors on the Playa, or the luxury chopper flights for the Sheriff’s family to 18 course dinners, or BMorg starting their own private airline. These are all important parts of a circus for teenage runaways radical self-reliance and civic responsibility.

Cultural challenges can’t be because of the founders starting to celebrate their 70th birthdays. And there’s no way that a year-round organization of more than 100 full time staff dedicated to spreading the culture could be doing a bad job, because they all got together at Esalen and the GLC and told each other how great they are in a group hug. So that only leaves one group left to blame. We, The Burners. And if we could all just stop calling it a festival, then we wouldn’t have to radically include so many of those gosh darned ravers!

black rock helicopter da vinci

burner air express helicopter

Friends don’t let friends call Burning Man a festival? If that is true, then it proves that BMorg is no friend to Burning Man. Here’s their web site:

Screenshot 2017-04-12 09.59.27.png

“Burning Man isn’t your usual festival”. Makes is sound like it’s a festival, albeit an unusual one.

Here’s the trademark, part of the actual ownership of Burning Man which the founders did not transfer into the non-profit structure, instead creating a new company which earns revenues from licensing Burning Man’s intellectual property that they ironically named Decommodification, LLC.

Screenshot 2017-04-12 10.02.21

[Source]

That sure makes it sound like an art festival (with live entertainment). Seems pretty clear.

Burning Man’s press kit in 1995 described it thus:

an arts festival, a ritual sacrifice, a spiritual quest, and a post-modern carnival of the absurd” [Source: Burning Man archives, Bancroft Library]

This is also how it was seen by the Black Rock Arts Foundation, the charity non-profit pre-cursor to the Burning Man Project of today:

Screenshot 2017-04-12 15.37.41

Here’s Burning Man founder/owner Danger Ranger calling it a festival on their board of directors page at burningman.org:

Screenshot 2017-04-12 14.16.09.png

[Source]

And while we’re talking about the Board, we also have Burning Man Project Director Chip Conley and his site Fest300, which tracks the top 300 festivals in the world. Not only is Burning Man a permanent feature in this list, but so are several of its regional subsidiaries. If you look at the mix of the content on the site, Burning Man certainly gets far more coverage at this festival site run by a Burning Man director than any of the other 299 festivals.

In the original August 15, 1994 partnership agreement between Larry Harvey, John Law and Michael Mikel to form Paperman LLC and operate a business under the name Burning Man with its principal place of business in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, it is specifically called a festival:

[Source: Case 3:07-cv-00134-WHA Document 15-1 ]

In 1994, they had no problem making net profit from the sale of the Burning Man Festival videos:

Here’s some bragging from BM founder Harley Dubois that she knows a thing or two about how festivals run. Presumably completely irrelevant experience to Burning Man, since it’s not a festival. So why bother even mentioning it in the BJ?

As founder of Burning Man’s Community Services Department, she knows a thing or two about how festivals run…

“What a treat to be invited to Boom to sit on a panel with founders from other festivals.” [Source]

That sure sounds to me like someone who sees themselves as a founder of a festival.

A search for “festival” on Burning Man’s web site turns up 1130 articles. Sure, there are a few saying “we’re not a festival”, but that seems to be a more recent development.

Screenshot 2017-04-12 14.19.16.png

You can also read about the Burning Man festival in their academics and books about Burning Man sections.

For many years they have had no issues with Burning Man being described as a festival in TIME, Dezeen, Wikipedia, Bloomberg, NPR, Stubhub, ABC News, The Atlantic, Hollywood ReporterWall Street Journal , Washington Post, the New York Times…it would be easy to find more, but I think I’ve made my point.

Conclusion

It’s either

a) all these sources, including respected media publications, the founders and legal documents like the trademark registration, are in error and it’s not a festival. In which case Chip Conley needs to do the right thing and remove all references to Burning Man from his Fest300 site. Burning Man themselves need to say “it’s not a festival” on their web site, instead of “it’s not your usual festival”, and submit a new trademark application.

Or,

b) of course it’s a fucking festival. It’s a huge fuck-off party in the desert, with tons of stereo equipment and lasers and glowy shit. In which case this latest bullshit about “friends don’t let friends call it a festival” is simply more “social engineering” from BMorg, a minority group in Black Rock City who think they’re important and leading the way when in fact they are creating the problem. They are trying to keep the ravers out to clean up the city for their VIP spectators, and pointing fingers everywhere but the right direction. This battle was lost a long time ago. The ravers are part of the DNA of this “event”. Look elsewhere for the causes of your cultural decline.

As one commenter so aptly put it in the epic Burn.Life discussion,  the fish rots from the head down. Arguing semantics about such matters as if it’s a festival (after 30 years) or if hundreds of choreographed fire dancers and a multi-hour pyrotechnic show are live entertainment seems like pointless navel-gazing to me. What’s the deal with all these plug-n-plays and on-Playa vendors? What’s the vision for Fly Ranch? These are much more pressing issues that the Burner community would like to see addressed. Who cares if people want to Instagram their burn, so long as they pick up MOOP and be kind to one another. It’s 2017, most of the people at the festival never knew a time without Internet and cellphones. Let them call it anything they want, as long as they participate.

 

 

50 Years of Flower Power

This  Saturday, January 14 2017 at High Noon 12:00 PST, tune in to a unique live event.

50 Years of Flower Power: The MKULTRA Be-In

Steve Outtrim (burners.me, Shadow History), Jan Irvin (gnosticmedia.com, The Secret History of Magic Mushrooms), Joe Atwill (postflaviana.org, Caesar’s Messiah, Shakespeare’s Secret Messiah), and Hans Utter (hansutter.com, Laying The Dead To Rest, Music, Mind Control and Psychobiology) are teaming up to bring you a very special show. On the 50th Anniversary of the Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, we will take an in-depth look at this historic event which kicked off the Summer of Love and the ensuing five decades of festival culture.

The Internet has never seen anything like this before.

human-be-in-official-powwow

The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin…famous names today, but not big enough to even get a listing on the poster back in 1967.

Tune in..to 50 Years of Flower Power. Turn on…to the truth. Drop Out…of your trance.

hman-be-in-poster

human-be-in

 

 

Is This The New New Thing?

Larry's expression when Kucinich asks "what about your humanity?"

Larry’s expression when Kucinich asks “what about your humanity?”

 

I have just stumbled across youtube.com/burningman. Sure, there have always been plenty of YouTube videos about Burning Man – earning revenue for Google whenever they play. This seems to be something more co-ordinated, though. Many of the videos have an intro that says “From the Burning Man Archives”. This is accompanied by old fashioned World War 2 propaganda film music, a thematic resonance with Caveat Magister’s “not official” Burning Man Minute series…

24 videos have been added in the past week, showcasing Regionals as well as ancient history. Another 6 were added a month ago from the 2015 Global Leadership Conference.

Some of the videos on the channel are showing ads. We may never know whether this revenue is being donated to the Burning Man Project, or channelled into Decommodification, LLC. Whoever gets it, someone is Commodifying Burning Man here:

Screenshot 2015-07-18 16.57.19

Is this return to the old being simultaneously accompanied by an attack on the new?

And is the “really really BIG RAD thing” we were promised was “coming soon” last November? A bunch of video content released from the archives, and a bunch more created from the Founders’ philosophical discussions?

They seem to be kicking off with Larry Harvey interviewing Denis Kucinich at this year’s Global Leadership Conference.

Here’s the full interview from YTBM, if time is limited skip down to the next clip which is the main highlight I want to discuss.

DK: “What I saw at Burning Man is, there’s a new matrix being built“…

DK: “What Burning Man does is to create a space, that no other organization has created in quite this way, to creatively explore the human potential for an evolutionary response to the challenges of our times. The world today is beset by so much conflict, people are yearning for an opportunity to get past it and find a way to come together”

Larry: “Meaningful political dialogue is in many ways increasingly inhibited by both money and aspects of the media. I’m not anti media, books are media , media implies communication and that’s a good thing

DK: “The politics that you describe…Burning Man creates a platform for a whole new discussion about everything, for a whole new relationship we have with each other, with our government, and that’s what I think is so valuable. When I see a space for a new discussion, I’m exhilirated. I think wow! We can actually have a real discussion about what the implications are without anybody worried about “well, what’s the party going to think about this” or “what are my supporters going to think about it”. Burning Man is in a position to go very deep in the implications of the current system and to have a discussion which has the potential to produce solutions that otherwise couldn’t be brought forward because existing structures are so hidebound, in tradition and in political practice, that there’s a limitation in the dialogue that occurs and they can’t really get to any kind of a synthesis outside the box that they’re in. Burning Man begins outside…Burning Man is not in a box, and that’s the beauty of it”.

So Larry’s a talk show host now?

While the politicians are being inspired by the creativity of Burning Man, BMOrg themselves seem to keep coming up with rules, bans, and punishments – all things notorious for stifling creativity.

Although only 45 seconds long, the clip above may give us some insight into the collective Borg mindset these days. It is interesting that they chose to create this as a highlight of the entire interview.

“We don’t prescribe content, we design context”.

Perhaps this philosophy explains some of the recent EDM war battles like Dancetronauts, Opulent Temple, and now Mayan Warrior.

Mayan Warrior, a popular art car with more than 22,000 Likes, said “we’re bringing these DJs”:

mayanwarrior2015

…then got publicly slammed (and threatened) in the wee hours of Friday morning by the Burning Man CEO.

Screenshot 2015-07-18 10.53.17

Why did they get slammed? Because of the content they published. Of course, Burning man doesn’t prescribe content.

No matter that the policy hasn’t even been created yet. Nobody has been told the rules, all we have is a story in BRC Weekly from last year, publicly shaming White Ocean:

sound camp lineup ban

They’re doing it for the Burners. So we can all have more chance to win tickets in the OMG sale. Right. 80,000 Burners missed out on the general sale. The majority of Burners who tried to get tickets, didn’t. There don’t seem to be many STEP successes. So we already have 79,000 Burners who are going to miss out on the remaining 1,000 tickets. There is already a 99% chance you’re not going to get a ticket in the OMG. So what if more people hear about Burning Man and want to go? And on that point, what about Grover, Denis, Diddy, and all the other celebs who have been commodifying Burning Man by talking about it to non-Burner audiences? Is their crowd OK, but Mayan Warrior’s isn’t? Whatever happened to radical inclusion?

For the sin of publishing unprescribed content, Mayan Warrior couldn’t just get a personal message alerting them that they’d broken an unwritten rule, asking kindly if they could please make it right. No, they had to get a public statement against them, a shaming. Then, even when they fixed the problem and apologized, the statement remains. And, 2 days later, there is still no policy or description of what rules were broken.

Prescribing content is just fine in this post from BMOrg telling us which art projects they selected to receive our money this year. Decommodification is no problem when it comes to soliciting money for a select few of those (I wonder if BMOrg get a percentage?).

“Music is not art, and people dancing to a DJ are not interacting with the music” seems to be the new party line.

The vision behind the Mayan Warrior is amazing. A crew from Mexico, passionate about music, wanted to make an art car and bring it to Burning Man with local DJs playing. They could showcase the modern day sounds of Mexico to Burners from all around the world! They could share their culture with us as a gift.

mayan warriorThe Mayan Warrior art car has just released some of the first names who will play at Black Rock City this year. The Mayan Warrior was originally created to showcase the music of Mexican electronic artists at Burning Man. Pablo Gonzalez Vargas, the executive producer of the interactive mobile and sound system since 2011, explained that the car was inspired by the playa’s limitless creativity, and the Mayan visual concept comes from ancient Mayan culture, crop circles, and principles of sacred geometry.

[Source: Dancing Astronaut]

Of course, if the Mayan Warrior didn’t tell us that their vision was to bring Mexican DJs, we would not get a fundamental point of the gift. The first time I saw the art car, I didn’t even realize that its face was Mayan. Sometimes, to get the context of art, you need some sort of description of the content. I would much rather they let us know which DJs will be playing in a flyer, than by getting on the mic every 10 minutes to say “this is DJ So and So, how you feeling BURRRRNNNNNINNNNNGGGG MANNNNNNNNN!!!!”

This year's Man design. Image: Burning Man

This year’s Man design. Image: Burning Man

Meanwhile, the geniuses at Burning Man HQ spend decades in the lab “designing context” – that is to say:

  • “CARgo Cult”, “CARavansary”, and “CARnival of Mirrors”
  • A UFO with the Man on top, a plain Man but giant on top of a market, a plain Man but giant on top of a circus.
  • Words from A-L that are supposed to be connected with the theme (like “geek” and “carnival”).

What Larry’s saying is that’s what made Burning Man great and brought the population up to 70,000: those 3 designs (which did what the 17 themes before them couldn’t) and the street names. Not the content: the music, the dancing, the art, the Burners, the beautiful people and the sex and drugs: no, the themes. The “context” for “our” self-expression. Because of the inspiration designed into these themes, we now have Google, Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City.

(Side note: in 1998, when Google famously launched themselves with Burning Man’s logo on their home page, the theme was Nebulous Entity. Given the revelations that have since come out of Google’s relationship with spy agencies, hey, perhaps this theme did actually inspire them!)

Or am I missing something: does BMOrg “design context” and socially engineer us in other ways?

Personally, I think Larry has it all wrong. Burning Man takes place in the desert in Nevada, not an ivory tower in the Mission. Burners supply the creativity and inspiration. Burners have the ideas. Most Burner art and activities have nothing to do with the themes – many Burners don’t even know (or care) what the theme is. We give money to artists to create the art. We give money to Burning Man’s charity – they take most of it for their own expenses, and pass a small percentage of it on to the artists to create the art. All the art projects they choose to redistribute our money to still need further support from the community to make it out to the temporary city and back. We give money to BMOrg to buy our tickets. They use it to rent portapotties and pay the cops and buy ice creams for the Federales.

I am not convinced by this “Burning Man TV” 2.0 philosophy. Burners can change the world, and the first step to do this is banning things and making more rules. Err, what?

I’m still on the side of the Burners. Burning Man is awesome because of everything all of us contribute to it, not the theme or the First Camp guest list.

BMOrg are Commodifying the culture we create for each other, when they use it to promote the politicians they want to curry favor with, the commercial tour package vendors that are their mates, the artists they choose to receive the funds we’ve given them, and the vendors that they choose to give monopolies to. We’re supposed to just accept that all of that is fine, but if your camp wants to bring musicians, and tell people who you’re bringing? You must be punished. We’re gonna ban your art car and shame you to the community. Because, Decommodification – the alleged Principle, not the ironically named LLC.

They are trying to create a gravitas around themselves. “We mingle with politicians! The Google guys and Elon Musk go and get technology ideas there! VCs network and do deals!” They want to re-shape the event in their own image, to support their importance in cultural history.

Meanwhile, many Burners love music, and appreciate it as art just as much – maybe even more – than taint washes and polyamory workshops. These Burners want to lose it on the dancefloor to their favorite DJs. They want to hear amazing new music that draws them in from a distance and keeps them for hours, in a crowd who are all sharing a special moment together, united by the beats. They want to discover new artists to become fans of. Camps who are gifting those DJs are getting excited about it, and want to share the good news so Burners can get excited too.

They must be banned. All that fun is getting in the way of a pie-in-the-sky vision for “what Burning Man could become”, that politicians who went once and went to bed early are now espousing. Crack down on doof. Implement more rules, more policies, more restrictions on Burners’ freedom. Jack ticket prices sky high, to price out the dirty hippie freaks. Bring in more cops so you can try to promote it as family friendly. Favor rich new tourists over hard-working veterans. Promote it in the mainstream media, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Inc, The Simpsons. Bring politicians who will recruit more politicians, maybe they can get this apathetic disillusioned bloc of Burners escaping from the Default World to get off their disgruntled asses and vote – for them, natch.

How will human potential evolve, by banning more and more cool stuff that Burners gift? If communication is a good thing, why can’t BMOrg communicate what the rules are to everyone at the same time? Why can’t camps communicate what art they’re bringing? Because, scalpers? Because, EDM fans are bad but politicians are desirable?

art car sharkIs this the new new thing? Is this what we jumped over the shark for?

 

There’s some fierce debate on the Interwebz already about this issue, with some who are not EDM fans saying “good riddance” and wishing for a return to the past. You can’t go backwards, people. I don’t like seeing so many people on smart phones on the Playa, but the answer isn’t “ban smartphones”.

Last year a camp (White Ocean) and this year an art car (Mayan Warrior) were publicly scolded by Burning Man, despite not breaking any actual rules. They committed pre-crime, like in Minority Report. The policy is still, as I write this, unwritten and “coming soon”. How hard can it be to write a paragraph? Is this some holocracy thing we’re waiting on, establishing consensus within BMHQ?

The BMOrg supporters echo Maid Marian’s argument that publishing your events in advance might lead to people wanting to come to Burning Man who we don’t want there. These people might think that the whole thing is a festival, because there are certain events on at pre-set times.

Well, take a look at this, Burners. Here are some of the 2015 Burning Man events that have already been published. Apparently every single one of these is fine, including those that feature named stars, because this is at burningman.org. It is just EDM events they have a problem with. #radicalinclusion #gratitude

Note: these are just the events on Monday August 31.

From burningman.org:

Scheduled Events

See also:

PulseRadio.Net: Burning Man vs EDM – Is The Hammer Starting To Drop?

 

Burning Man Kicks Off Outside Lands Hackathon

outside_hacks_logo_2015_hackathon

Last weekend as part of the build up to the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, they threw a Hackathon at Weebly’s playful office in the Financial District. The idea was to make something that would enhance the experience of artists and fans at Outside Lands. I love this idea – a festival that can improve, based on ideas and input from its patrons. Call it Radical Community Reliance.

From Fest300:

This past weekend at the third annual Outside Hacks Hackathon, over 200 developers, designers, and technologists of all kinds gathered at the San Francisco headquarters web hosting company Weebly for the mission of “building something that enhances the experience for artists and/or fans at Outside Lands .”

For the uninitiated, a hackathon is an intense competition where teams of coders attempt to build an app, feature, or program in a limited amount of time (usually between 24 and 48 hours). Outside Hacks allotted its participants a total of 24 hours. One of the organizers of the hackathon Travis Laurendine says “Hackathons are like dance marathons, it’s like a sleepover party, except no one is sleeping.”

At the end of the long and hyper-intense 24 hours – which left many of the coders exhausted – the judges chose the app Dave Sent Me as the Grand Prize Winner. That includes a $5,000 cash prize, an Outside Lands VIP experience, and perhaps most importantly the integration of their app technology into the Outside Lands app.

Dave Sent Me is described as a “personalized Outside Lands schedule recommender.”

travis laurendine

Outside Hacks Organizer and “Entre-pee-neur” Travis Laurendine

New Orleans Burner Travis Laurendine is one of the geniuses behind AirPnP.

According to Fest300, Burning Man was involved in Outside Hacks too, kicking off the event with an address by social alchemist Bear Kittay.

…the symbiotic relationship between technology was a running theme for the weekend and its presence was as noticeable as the sound of hundreds of fingers hitting keyboards and the smell of pizza fueling the coders.

In the opening remarks, artist and social alchemist for Burning Man Bear Kittay addressed the hackers by saying, “We’ve got to remember that the intersection here between entertainment and technology is a really relevant space. It’s been separated for a really long time, but it’s not often we get together with all these brilliant engineering minds to solve some big problems right at the precipice of music and technology. Think about what a really disruptive tool you could create can be, that could really help to transform the way music and technology worlds come together.”

Travis Laurendine from the InMotion Hosting review site, has witnessed the hackathon significantly grow since its inception in 2013, points out that, “Art is often enabled by technology. A lot of art is dependent on technology. Technology has led us to new art forms. A lot of these people who have the mind for art also have minds for tech, and vice versa. That’s why so many incredible developers are also musicians, because they have the mind for it.”

The incredibly diverse and youthful participants in the hackathon were all united by their passion for music and their drive to make music a better experience for listeners and artists alike. Greg Cerveny, a founder of music startup Groove and one-man team, created his app Dance Commander to facilitate dance parties at the festival by people holding up their phones open on his app displaying a dancing stick figure, thus inviting other festival goers to join in on the dance party. Cerveny says his goal was to give “someone a more awesome time or a really awesome experience because they engaged in a dance social circle.”

[Source: Fest300]

Burning Man has been involved with a hackathon before, a “Burner Hack” conference being held at [freespace] in 2013. It’s not clear if anything was produced from this to help Burners. The event was linked with hacking again this year, with news that at least 200 people pushed to the front of the ticket queue by “routing around” the Ticketfly/Burning Man custom system. In a recent Medium story “Burners Don’t Hack Uber, People Do”, they described a smartphone app called “Burner” that is being used to hack Uber to get free credits.

The intersection of music and technology is a really relevant space. So is Burning Man in that space? Are we really at the precipice – what does that even mean?

Outside Lands is coming up in a couple of weeks. The lineup includes Elton John and Billy Idol.

outside lands 2015-date

Don’t Hate the Plug-n-Player, Hate the Game

further future flyer

A guest post from our reader Kestrel about last weekend’s Further Future Festival.


 

ROBOT HEART’S SPIN-OFF DUST-UP: A Report From the Further Future -aka- “Don’t hate the plug n’ player…hate the game”

…My first year on Esplanade our camp was woefully undermanned, and the couple who organized it didn’t really even have an hour off to get in some of The Awesome until Saturday night, at which point they left me in charge and went off to find “The Bus.” This was back in 2010, before Robot Heart had acquired their giant sign, and you actually had to go out looking -and listening- for the THWAP. I still remember their words as they biked out into the Tron- “That bus,  man…it doesn’t look like much, but it’s what’s UP.”

I’m a bit of a camp rat, and in the years since then, Robot Heart was my reward to myself whenever I felt like it was time to get out. There’s just something about the look of that thing, with its ratty graffiti, minimal lights and drivers cantilevered ridiculously out to the sides. It’s been known to sound pretty great too. I also appreciate the fact that the Robot Heart crew documents and publishes the entire week of music, so that later in the year you have a kind of auditory postcard to reference. When they announced that they were doing their own festival in the desert outside Vegas I was curious. There was more than a little hatred directed at FF at the Burning Man GLC last month; when the topic came up at a breakout session, I didn’t feel comfortable admitting that I was planning to attend.

A few years back, one of the Playa news outlets ran a hit piece on Purple Palace and Robot Heart, accusing them of being art cars that only let pretty girls aboard. I thought there was a logical fallacy in the article: RH isn’t an art car. Its a delicate stage, and I have just as much a right to demand to touch their steel as I do to touch Dr. Kilovolt’s. Robot Heart took the high road and instituted a yoga and speaker series the next year. But I digress…

How I Got my Invite Code:

I sent the Further Future Facebook page a simple message explaining that I’d had a blast in the past dancing to their music and offering to bring my Playa install. I got a response within hours with 2 codes and a message telling me “thanks for the offer,” but that all I should bring with was an “open mind and good energy.”

The Location:

The festival was originally supposed to take place on public land near Fire Valley State Park. This is a very beautiful setting, with red, striated rocks. Having never camped in a Moab-like desert, I was sold. Apparently the BLM permit for the road to get there fell through, and the Robot Heart team had to go with plan B – rent a couple hundred acres of land from the Paiute Indian tribe, who control the Moapa Valley reservation. Among other things, the Paiute produced Sarah Winnemucca, probably the most well-known female Indian writer, and also handed some miners their asses to them at the start of the Pyramid Lake War (Hey, isn’t that on the way to a rave somewhere?)

This reservation was at one point down to a thousand square miles, but during the Carter administration the tribe was granted 70,000 more, and they have spent much of the time since then fighting efforts to place the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository on their land. This fact added a certain irony to the Further Future website, which depicted waify looking models emerging from smoldering pods in the desert. To quote Gary Farmer in more than one Jim Jarmusch film: “Stupid fucking white man.” (FF sent out a media bundle with a ton of free music from the fest, and it came with a reminder not to bring anything remotely resembling an Indian head-dress.)

I flew into Vegas Thursday night, having found a cheap rate at the Silverton Hotel and Casino, which has a free airport shuttle and contains the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop, where you can pick up pretty much any last minute camping supplies you need. Further Future offered free transportation to and from the airport, but I caught a ride in with a couple New Yorkers who had rented an RV. The drive was really quick- about 45 minutes from the strip. The gate was two big LED F’s on either side of the turn off and the greeters station was four dusty Chromebooks. Gate swag consisted of a slick, brushed aluminum FF water bottle (hydrate nudge) and a schedule. No map. Registration was a snap, and all told it took just under an hour for me to get from hotel to campsite.

This is where it gets a little weird, and I could understand if some people won’t read past this paragraph. The festival grounds looked uncannily similar to Playa: dark mountains surrounding a long valley filled with brush under that amazing Nevada desert sky. The ground underfoot was uniformly sandy/dusty, and at first I thought they had trucked in sand. Turns out the festival had simply bulldozed several hundred acres of brushland, tilling the desert into a smooth surface. Here and there some scrubs had been left to provide a little shade for a sound board or vendor. On paper, the idea of some rich guys from Buffalo bulldozing Indian land to stage a rave seems (insert Gary Farmer quote about S.F.W.M. here.) But of course it’s up to the tribe to decide how to use its land, and who to rent it to. (Lord knows they need the money to fight Uncle Sam’s efforts to fill their land with spent fuel rods.) The result of the landscaping was an environment eerily similar to the Big Burn, complete with winds powerful enough to send a ten-by-ten tumbling, brief whiteout conditions, nice wide hurricane-shaped dust devils and water trucks spraying down the streets. I brought my goggles and I used them.

The layout seemed like a rough circle but again, with no map it was hard to tell. We were allowed to venture out into the sagebrush, but were told that it contained both rattlesnakes and “bigger snakes that eat the rattlesnakes” so understandably very few Further Futurists wanted to fuck with that. Once my shade was up I went for a walkabout and took in my surroundings. In the middle of everything was the Mothership stage which was a run-of-the-mill silver truss rental stage, though they had started to build some pretty impressive organic panelized deco around it. This was the setting for Warpaint, Damian Lazarus and Bob Moses, and then guitars sounded right. At one point there was even a Hammond B3 and Leslie up there. I have never seen a Hammond on Playa! They never had time to finish decorating this stage, though a few guys worked until Sat pm and got it half done. Nearby was the Void, a kind of disco with Red Bull branding that I mostly avoided (thus missing Body Language’s set).  I should say, the Red Bull branding was very minimal, just on the draft pulls. Every other vendor had a hand-written chalkboard sign.

At the North end of things they had placed the speaker/lecture series stage, oddly named “Booba Cosmica”, whose backdrop was the Moapa valley extending for miles and miles. At the West end right next to camping was a little quad sound situation called the Gypset stage, with 4 speakers arranged in a 30 by 30 square. This stage had no lights or deco, and the backdrop behind the DJ was seven miles of Valley. This was also a moonset stage, and the desert moon behind the DJ was a more beautiful backdrop than any screen I could imagine. Nearby they had placed three super-neat laser cut polygonal steel sculptures lit from within. There were two areas of RV parking and two boutique AC camping zones of the Caravansicle variety, cut off from the rest of the festival and guarded by doormen. So. Weird. There was a main vending area, and apparently food was ten bucks. A few other pavilions, RFID top-up stations (cashless festival, unlike BM – your CC-linked wristband buys your ice) and a couple of art installs peppered the grounds. No signs, no info booth.

While there was no real central shade to speak of, RH had provided dozens and dozens of beautiful wicker and steel chill-out pods, each containing a circular mattress, and pillows, still shrink-wrapped. It took five or six people to move them and it became obvious that we were encouraged to just take them to camping. (A crew near me forgot their tent, and was saved by these pods.) These things were beautiful, and must have cost a fortune. It was the only real public infrastructure at the event that wasn’t a rental stage or pavilion, but they were really cool. You’ll no doubt see them out at 10 and K this year. There was also a yoga sanctuary, which was yet another rental stage outfitted with potted plants.

Last but not least was the bus itself, placed at the extreme Eastern edge of the area facing dawn (away from the fest) flanked by giant storage containers on each side. The thing is, the heart structure looks the same from the back, so while the star attraction faced away, it still was basically the Man here…the neon logo we all knew. I walked over to the bus and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have goosebumps. I fuckin’ love that object, and it triggers memories of some of my happiest moments. I shadowed a sound guy as he ran from sweet spot to sweet spot tweaking the mix. His baby is Basscouch, and he started explaining RH’s unique crossover to me and the search for a better onomatopoeia than “Thwap” to describe its super tight bass. I had a “there is no Santa” moment when he explained to me that there are actually TWO Robot Heart buses (one stays in Nevada). Soundcheck was Tycho’s Awake (foreshadowing?). Standing there, next to that bus, well…I felt happy to be there.

You could walk anywhere in five minutes, there were no bikes, trikes or streets, though they put out lawn lights the second night. There were no Thompson portals, no Flaming Lotus Girl builds, and no fire of any kind, at the Paiutes’ insistence. They simply cannot fight fire in this valley so we weren’t even allowed to bring camp stoves. If fire is a deal breaker this is not the fest for you. Other things conspicuously absent: cops, dreads, DPW, propane tanks, Rangers, dubstep, headlamps, projection mapping, theme camps, gifting and a temple…but then wait, slow down…this wasn’t a burn. Portos were clean, and water and showers were free. There were a lot of drones.

A Few Words About the Theme:

One of my very favorite writers is the Italian futurist/fabulist Italo Calvino. I brought with me his Complete Cosmicomics, which is a series of short stories inspired by scientific facts. Calvino’s main creative output was between 1965 and 1969, when the world was looking towards the moon. A cornerstone of Futurism is optimism based on human technology and ingenuity. This puts the theme directly at odds with the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” aesthetic of the big burn. Now that California is dying of thirst and we don’t even have the space shuttle program to look up to anymore, RH’s celestial vision seems pretty exotic, and also retro. But it’s also very Robot Heart: the bus is almost always placed facing the rising sun. Reference the epic 2012 sunrise “Time On the Fucking Moon” mixes and remixes, their “Halloween On the Moon” party in New York and FF’s spaceman logo. People wore a lot of silver, and the largely undecorated rental structures actually fit in.

Celestially Oriented Placement of Stages:

This is where the RH crew really showed their cerebral approach to staging. At first, the stages seemed placed kind of randomly, and not optimally for sound bleed. But it’s all about the heavenly bodies, and I’m not talking about the girls climbing the heart (guys were allowed too this time, in fact anyone was allowed up on the bus). The fest took place under a worksight-bright full moon, which tends to detract from blinky stuff… But here it worked to their advantage. Robot Heart faced the sunrise, the Gypset stage had the moonset AND sunset as a background, the mainstage had the moonrise as a backdrop. The program had a section labelled “Key Times” and they were 6:07 AM and 7:13 PM…sunrise and sunset. My favorite art install was a piece inspired by the Voyager plate, placed by the Black Rock Observatory crew (Desert Wizards of Mars). Late Saturday night, looking at the bus from the East, you could see the beginnings of dawn, a blue-purple sky, three planets, and the full moon setting over the heart, with all the silver structures glowing in the moonlight behind the bus. It really was epic, and all the light was coming from outer space, not LEDS, fire or work lights. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how much this place resembled Black Rock. It looked more like Burning Man than a lot of Burning Man does, and with up to five stages bangin’ at once, you got that special moment where you walk away from one system and towards another and your feet are the fader.

The Crowd:

…Overwhelmingly consisted of impossibly attractive white hetero couples, gay guys and French people. Hard to tell how many were Burners. I saw a lot of money. Airstreams. Porsches. Airstreams hitched to Porsches. The whole place had the distinct flavor of wealth and civility. The open camping felt a little more down to earth, though very international. We were packed in tight, which was good for wind deflection and conversation. No grid, and mostly store bought tents and pop-ups. My neighbors on one side were a very cool couple who got a babysitter and flew in from Hong Kong for the weekend (!) and a crew of six French people were on the other. I speak a little French, so this was great for me. People were friendly but not outgoing like on Playa. I spoke to a Paiute tribal cop for a while and he couldn’t believe how little he had to do. He mostly drives around responding to domestic battery calls (“Indians like to drink” he said).

I didn’t see a single shitshow moment, argument, fight, injury, party shrapnel, O.D. or anything. Turns out a couple thousand white people will treat each other pretty well, left to their own devices. People mooped, but there was a clean up crew working so it felt like you were doing someone else’s job. I spoke to a few artists who had placed pieces and they all agreed that the organizers had been very helpful and on point. I can attest to this – when their third party ticket agent tried to mail me my will call ticket, I got a personal email from Benjamin Alexander (who rocked the bus Saturday night) fixing the problem. These guys are ultra-pros, and it ultra-shows.

Speaker Series:

Saturday afternoon featured a series of talks TEDx style. The Soundcloud guys talked about the future of listening and got my attention when they started talking about biotech enhancements increasing the range of human hearing to the point where we can start to hear light. Tony Hsieh talked about his downtown Las Vegas urban renewal project, and Carter Cleveland got everyone’s attention when he suggested that like Warhol, Kanye West be hated during his time but then later revered as a great pop artist. Other topics included space travel, consciousness hacking and why Elon Musk believes that we are already living in the singularity. The talks ended with cello looping by veteran Burner and one-woman orchestra Zoe Keating.

The Music:

…was outstanding. I got to see Warpaint from five feet away. Weird seeing America’s best current all-female band – called Warpaint – on a rezz. Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons was a really special moment, with four vocal mics going at once. Bob Moses basically headlined the mainstage, bringing one of the best performances I can remember, with the live vocals, guitar and samplers mixed perfectly. (If you know who Robert Moses was, the whole bulldozing thing takes on a deeper meaning). Twenty minutes into their set the full moon rose behind them. All in all, the sound quality at each stage was first-rate, and the depth and variety of music made other small festivals look like big festivals. Other highlights for me were Kiasmos, Little People, South African DJ Culoe De Song, and the topper was a surprise encore Sunday on the Robot Heart bus….a DJ set by Tycho.

I won’t really delve into describing the proceedings on the bus; if you’re reading this, you know what that consists of…though I will say, I kinda missed BOTH dawns. Saturday AM was their fault, as the bus ran out of diesel just before sun up, and by the time the sound guy I met earlier was done doing the fuel crew’s work it was daytime. (The scene: he’s balancing on a Kubota, heroically trying to fill up the worksite Genny hidden in the bus through its little feed tube, while models with glazed eyes watched from above.)

The second night culminated with an epic Thugfucker sunrise. As the magic moment approached, JLG lifts appeared out of nowhere and a three man film crew started taking an epic boom shot. There were so many cameras I would’ve felt really exposed without my Wasteland cowl. The whole thing started to feel a bit staged, like they were recreating the magic dawns from 2011-2013 on Playa but for the cameras.  To block the blazing sun they stretched a long run of aluminet between two JLG’s, creating the Giant Deep House Badminton Net of the Future, but I couldn’t tell if it was for us or the shot.

I got kinda down on it and walked away, so I missed the – wait for it – champagne and caviar toast at dawn.

Yeah.

It was as if the Robot Heart I knew had turned itself inside out…what used to be a secret party miles from Centercamp had become Times Square. I walked away, feeling pretty shitty about it all.

But my way back to my tent I found about eight people dancing at the quadsound stage and stayed there for hours. Kind of like a few years ago when I was feeling burned out and went for a walk in deep Playa and found this weird bus with the big speakers…so that’s a full circle right there (Orbit?). I don’t know who the DJ was, as the Gypset stage had a secret lineup – just as Robot Heart used to. By the time Bob Moses took the mainstage I was in better spirits and the Tycho surprise set sealed it.

The main reason I went to FF was out of curiosity, and the desire to be at something at its inception – my first burn was Larry’s twenty-fourth. This is a really interesting moment in the evolution of our culture; here we have a theme camp that isn’t even really a theme camp putting on a regional that most definitely isn’t a regional. What will be the next Robot Heart? It sure isn’t Mayan Warrior, though that’s pretty much a direct copy of what the bus is. And the bus itself is an homage to the T.A.Z. soundsystem movement in the UK back in the 1990s. I’m also curious what’s going to happen to the parking lot we made on Paiute land. It’s a great place to stage a festival and an excellent training ground for people who haven’t made it to Playa yet. It will be interesting if other legacy theme camps rent this land to have a faux burn. I can just imagine what some Greg Fleishman installs would look like here, or if it could be used to stage a “Building Man” type gathering a la the Jenkstars. Or maybe the land is cursed now and we’re all going to hell and the boys from Buffalo will lose their fortunes and join the rest of us looking for a cardboard box to contain our Aldi purchases.

The Bottom Line:

I shelled out $250 for a second tier ticket and another $75 for a camping pass. I ate out of a cooler and skipped vending and all the other amenities. The price is steep, but to put it in perspective, the hotel BM chose to host the GLC charged us $240 PER NIGHT for a motel-quality room with no bathroom fan. To camp in a gorgeous natural setting like that would cost you more per night than would the price per day at Lolla, Coachella etc. There was a $40 early arrival pass for sale, but shuttles started friday, and my RV ride was a surprise. You could stay until Monday AM, but I felt a need to get to the hotel and start writing this while it was fresh.

They must have lost a TON of money on this. Who’s to know is they even got deposits back on the original spot? The location went through; it was the access road that didn’t, from what I gather. Word on the street was that the population was at about 2.5k, but it seemed even lower. By Sunday night there were about 600 people left max. But the fact that they were able to pull it off at all, considering the venue change a mere days before gates is pretty astounding, and something I just don’t think a non-burner crew could have accomplished.

A final note on the money issue- Robot Heart dug deep into their pockets to finance a new Nevada desert festival in May. Unlike a private yacht, the rest of us get to enjoy this too. I can’t afford to live in Midtown Manhattan, but I’m not gonna boycott MoMA. I did boycott “The Fight” because honestly, I’d rather eat caviar with people who love music with every fiber of their being than eat McDonalds with people who think its worth $100 mil. to watch minorities beat each other.  FF speaker Tony Hsieh gave away three hundred million of his own dollars to revitalize a once-dead Downtown Vegas. It’s clear that our Congress is incapable of passing laws that would save the world, so what we need now more than ever is rich people who are also good people.

One thing that stuck out to me was the public water. Burning Man’s character building exercise of bringing your own water in has the unfortunate side effect that thousands and thousands of plastic bottles are purchased and then driven in separately, wasting carbon. BMorg should address this moving forward as BM’s population increases and California’s water disappears. Moreover, from ancient watering holes to water coolers, communal water is where animals and people have congregated to drink and mingle. How do we maintain the values of radical self-reliance and cut down on bottled water at the same time?

Its also really interesting doing the desert thing in Spring. The Baker beach burns were a Solstice affair, and while Labor Day is more convenient for more people, it’s a totally different vibe.

Sidenote: In the Further Future, the portos have a sign that says “close the toilet lid.” If you do this, the little shit-exhaust chimney creates a shit-Venturi or whatever and the shit-smell goes out the top, instead of cooking the Porto. Why people don’t do this at BM I simply do not understand. [Shit rant over.]

On a more personal note, this was the first festival I’ve attended alone, and if that’s something you’ve ever considered, or if you suspect yourself of being an ambivert, I say “Do it!” You’ll be on your own timetable, and you won’t disappoint anyone or get annoyed by anyone. I met some cool people and gauged their impressions of this boutique non-burn.

So what’s the Further Future? According to the Robot Heart crew, it’s got a lot of live PA and guitars in the mix, and an almost defiant sense that we’re free to pick up parts of the Burn culture and run with them and leave others behind. Its not quite radical exclusion – call it liberal editing of the principles. If their bulldozing virgin desert leaves a foul taste in your mouth, consider that the Burn takes place on Paiute land as well, except it is land Sam hasn’t given back yet. So by trekking to BRC every year, I’m sorta financially rewarding my government for its greatest crime. Who’s the S.F.W.M. meow?

The music was great; the celestial orientation of the stages leveled the music up cosmically. The Robot Heart crew have a reverence for the cycles of sun and moon that verges on a kind of neo-paganism. FF didn’t convince me I was gonna travel to Mars listening to Bedouin anytime soon, but they definitely had me looking towards the sky.

-Kestrel

****

Discussion question: When does awesome design become a logo? Or a brand? What defines a logo?

FINAL FURTHER FUTURE DISCLAIMER: I intentionally avoided the Robot Heart guys, although I basically know what they look like and where they camped. I wanted to bring back an objective report, so I talked to Indian cops, security, artists and festival goers but not the RH crew, and although I was tempted to go up on the bus, I didn’t want to sway my experience one way or the other. They’re Burners, after all, and they probably would’ve gifted me something awesome. Or maybe I would’ve caught them in a WTF moment after what must have been an insanely stressful week of location switch. Either way, we’d all do well to remember to try to give each other some breathing room as this fire spreads…we’re all just trying to get our camp up, after all.

Image: Stacie Hess/Fest300

Image: Stacie Hess/Fest300