Burning Man and Me

It’s time to take a slightly different tack here at Burners.Me. Before the new voyage gets fully underway, I want to share with you some of my own journey so far. There are only 3 people who I know were here with me from the very beginning. One of them I met at Burning Man, and two of them I brought to Burning Man as virgins. I want to start today’s tale by telling you about how I lost my own Burginity, and how things developed from there.

The first I ever heard about Burning Man was on a mailing list. WIRED magazine had launched an online sub-brand, HotWIRED. This was back in the days when the entire advertising world was geared around print, TV or radio. Could a magazine exist in cyberspace and in the virtual world at once? Most people on the digital side of the Brave New World would tell you yes; in those days, most of the people from the “dinosaur media” Mad Men side would laugh in your face and then head down to the Gold Club for a 5-martini lunch with a Fortune 500 client and a juicy expense account…but I digress.


hotwired 1995


Sounds fun, right? It’s interesting that this “buck nekkid” from 1995 was still thriving almost 20 years later in this infamous 2014 Conan Shirt-Cocking incident:

Leslie Bibb would’ve been 20 at Burning Man 1995.

The next I heard of Burning Man was when uber-hip tech writer Bruce Sterling called it “The New American Holiday” on the cover of WIRED in 1996.

wired 1996

The links beyond WIRED and Burning Man went beyond skin deep. BM Founder Danger Ranger hooked up the network in WIRED’s first office. WIRED sort of spun out of Mondo 2000, and early burner John Perry Barlow was on the masthead of both.

In those days in San Francisco there was a social scene in the city around tech, but it was more like what you would see in New York or London. Well dressed people, black turtlenecks rather than hoodies, drinks but not too many, canapes and a house DJ, maybe a brief speech from the CEO. There was an intersection between the Web, advertising agencies, and big clients who had the budget to try something cutting edge.

My friend the Wolf had moved from Melbourne to San Francisco, and had a pretty good job at a place called LinkExchange. They put on a monthly event called DrinkExchange, which was a great way to network with other dot-com entrepreneurs. He had taken me to my first festival in Australia, 10,000 hippies camping in tents next to a river called ConFest. There was one generator at the entire event, a guy selling t-shirts with a single vinyl turntable going. He was causing much hippie hate for his sin of playing electronic music, but I was grateful for it.

We both read the WIRED article and talked about Burning Man. I couldn’t make it to San Francisco in September 97, I was working hundred hour weeks in my business in Melbourne. But he lived in San Francisco, so he and his wife packed up their tent in their SUV and headed in with their Aussie flag flying.

I spoke to him after, eager to know how it was. “Amazing!”, he said. “You have to go. You would love it”. That was enough for me, I was sold.

The next I heard of Burning Man was in the most unlikely of places. I had flown up to Sydney at the request of the Government, to talk about what Australia could do to remain competitive in the Internet age. The guest speaker at the workshop was a guy called Dr John Gage, the Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to meet him, a lovely guy, true gent from the old school. I had met him several times before in various places around the world.

Sun stands for Stanford University Network. Like Google and HP, it spun out of Stanford University to become a multi-billion dollar company, staffed with former students and using technology developed in the labs there. In early 1998, they had a revolutionary technology called Java, which is still widely used today. Java meant developers could write their code for one type of computer, and it could run on any. Today it’s just “Internet”, or even “cloud”, it’s apps in your phone or you go to a web site. But back then, software for a PC didn’t run on a Mac. There were all kinds of competing operating systems and browsers. Sun had a vision to unify the Internet, and we were completely on board. The Wolf had been the President and Founder of the Australian Java Users Group, and my company Sausage Software sold the first Java applet on the Internet. We were monetizing Java before even Sun was, and because of that, we were well known to them and had a good working relationship. So John greeted me cordially. “How’s Adrian? Have you seen him?”, he asked, employing the Wolf’s non-Playa name which he preferred to use for business.

“I just spoke to him, he’s doing great!”, I replied.

“Oh! Were you at Burning Man?”, Dr John Gage asked.

I was stunned, but I tried not to show it. This is a grey-haired, bearded old dude, that flies around the world – probably in a private jet – meeting with Presidents and Prime Ministers and celebrities and thought leaders. And he knew about Burning Man?

“Oh, do you go?”, I asked, trying to be nonchalant.

He laughed. “No, but my son goes,” he replied. “Religiously. You should go. I think you’d like it”



In 1998, I showed up for my first Burn, not really knowing what to expect. It wasn’t like today “oh there’s art cars, people wear costumes, there’s gifting and when you get hungry just go to one of the food camps”. There was very little of that. Food camps? Maybe the neighbors were having a barbecue and would offer you a spare sausage, in exchange for a cold beer. There wasn’t any of this Ten Principles guff. It was Self Reliance – aka Survival – and Leave No Trace. There were a few people in costumes – dressed up freaks. But nothing you wouldn’t see walking down the street in SF. Money was frowned upon, but if a Ranger came around with a bag of mushrooms you probably wanted to have some cash at the ready. Everyone was friendly – we were all in this together. You could walk up to anyone in any camp, and they would gladly start talking to you. It was an amazing feeling of neighborhood, camaraderie, shared adventure and suffering. In terms of entertainment, it was a little light. Only a small handful of rave camps. However, these were spectacular, with gigantic art and aerialists and pyrotechnics. There were people from all walks of life and all corners of the globe.

Now don’t get me wrong – all this is still present at Burning Man today. And much, much more, and many more people. But back then, what I’ve just described was pretty much it. The Man stood on a bunch of hay bales. When it burned, people ran up to the fire and threw their own stuff into it. Trinkets to sacrifice, photos and papers, sometimes even buildings. All got thrown to the fire, we were all burning everything together. Shedding the stuff we didn’t need from the past, burning it in the fire, ready to move on.

I went with a buddy of mine from Australia, an aspiring amateur DJ. We both loved electronic music, and found enough of it there that we liked. We rented a car, the best one we could get from Hertz. A Cadillac. Burning Man only went for the weekend back then, there was no Temple burn. My memory is hazy but I think even the Man may have burned on Sunday. We slept in shifts, 3-4 hours at a time, in the car with the engine running and the A/C on. We didn’t need a lot of sleep!

We managed to catch a total of 1 gig from the limited program information we had. It was the founder of Burning Man, a guy in a cowboy hat named Larry Harvey, who shared a vision at Center Camp of what this thing meant. It sounded pretty good, and fit the vibe we were feeling, the cats we were grooving with, and whatever it was that someone somewhere along the lines of free shots may have spiked our tea with.

We both had the time of our lives, and vowed to return again. I made a new buddy, Johnny. We were sitting down and passing a joint around towards the end, talking about when we came back. The thought that we would make a huge art car or a complicated theme camp didn’t cross our minds – although there were a few examples of those things there, that wasn’t really The Thing. Burning Man was about getting away from society to a place of freedom, rather than exhibiting our art work and ingenuity to impress our neighbors.

Instead, we thought about comfort. Fuck sleeping in a car. We needed RVs. I wanted one with those mechanical pop-outs – we’ve never seen that type of technology in Australia or New Zealand.

“Next time we come here, we’re gonna have showers and beds and bathrooms”. We cemented our vision with a fist bump.

Since I first heard of Burning Man – before I even attended – I have only ever missed it for work reasons. And a lot of things happened for me between 1998 and the next time I could return to Burning Man, in 2001. When I finally could return, I had retired from the company I founded and sold about half of my shares before the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. I was bumming around the world, driving through Europe in sports cars, chartering jets, staying in Presidential suites, renting villas in Ibiza, getting bottle service at nightclubs, mingling with minor celebrities. The usual playboy stuff. Needless to say, I was having the time of my life.

I rented an RV. It had 3 slide outs. Johnny returned. The last time we had seen each other was three years ago, at Burning Man, dreaming over a joint about what our next Burning Man experience would be. I was pretty happy with my RV; how had he done? It turns out Johnny had one-upped me. He had bought a full rockstar bus, with matching trailer, on eBay. It had leather seats and crystal glasses…maybe even a chandelier. He and his wife and their cat Maverick had spent the last year driving around the US in it.

We high fived each other. Both of our dreams came true! The things we thought of at Burning Man, had manifested by the next Burning Man.

What could be next? If we came back for a third time, where would we go from here? Another joint was passed around. Dreaming. Then, it hit me…forget the entire side of the vehicle popping out to make it bigger. What if the roof slid out vertically, and created a second story? I shared my dream with my new friend.

“WHOA, DUDE!”, Johnny said, as he most definitely inhaled. “THAT’S LIKE TOTALLY RAD!”

I could tell he didn’t see my vision the same way. Constraints of practicality were clouding his judgement. I was determined to make it happen.


The next time I showed up at Burning Man was 2004 – coincidentally, the year the Nine Ten Principles were announced. We were big in SF that year, or at least we thought we were! We launched Majitek at Java One at the Moscone Center that June. We threw a hipster party upstairs at the newly opened W Hotel – next door to the Museum of Modern Art and the not-even-dreamed-of-then St Regis, where I later spent 2.5 amazing years of my life. This time we rented the Presidential Suite at the W, decked out in resplendent purple. I hope it’s still the same today, haven’t been there in a while. These days, if I’m in that part of town you’ll most likely find me at Fang.

Our launch party managed to draw some talent, including Marc Benioff from Salesforce.com who was the kingpin of the town at the time…and still on the A++ list today; and Walt Mossberg, Wall Street Journal tech commentator and founder of Re/Code. Walt was pissed that in running from 10 hours of manning our booth at the show, to opening the doors for our free drinks after party, we kept him waiting 5 minutes. Fair enough, we could understand…Australians desire cocktails promptly also. He is probably used to companies built on other peoples’ money where the assistants have assistants, and the door bitches have door bitches. That’s still the preferred model today for most of these flash in the pan hotshot tech companies.

Java one was in early June. Burning Man was in late August. What happened in between, to inspire me to return to burn?

Well, I was at home in Australia one day. I used to live on the largest private landholding in Melbourne, almost 300 acres. Mostly environmentally protected wildlife habitat. Sacred forest, but with a lot of subwoofers. The kangaroos loved the doof mate. The louder I turned it up, the closer they’d come to the house. They usually moved in packs of about 7-12. One big male, 2 big females, maybe 1-2 younger males…and the joeys. Little babies jumping in the pouches, legs scrambling in the air and tails flailing as mommy had to help scoop them in. I saw this every day, multiple times. But when the music was on, it was like the tribes gathered. Kangaroos would surround my house in every direction, as many as a hundred. I realized after years of living there, after-parties and pre-parties and actual parties that went for days, that some of these kangaroos had grown up their whole lives with this music. And then their babies were born the same way. Feeling safe with the bass. Connecting with the human in the place where those noises came from.

I should mention that this is probably the smartest home in the world at the time. I had a team of engineers developing custom software for the control of building systems. I have never been to Bill Gates’ famous lakeside mansion, but I have talked to people who have, and techs who work on it. I have never seen the inside of Paul Allen’s yachts, but I have done business with a guy who sailed around the world with him for 2 years as an on-board tech. Mike Markkula, the Apple Founder and Chairman of Echelon, was gracious enough to invite me into his home in Woodside. The home left mine in the dust (he has a 12,000 square foot theater that seats hundreds, taking the “home theater” concept to an extreme)…but he still had light switches. I only had touchscreens – in 2004. iPods were new. A large Asian tech conglomerate sent a team of their best smart home people out to the house to see if they might want to license our technology. We never got a deal, but the next week our slides were up on their web site. Minus our branding, of course.

So there I was, in one of the smartest houses in the world, thinking about ways to capitalize on all the goodwill we created at our bad ass after party and successful Java show. How could I make a bigger splash in Silicon Valley than a hipster party at the W?

And then on the TV running in the background I see something that stops me in my tracks. The Discovery Channel, content from the US. Will Smith’s trailer. A semi-trailer, the sides of it fully pop-out, but then the roof extends to make a second level.




My Burning Man dream came true again! What I envisioned, manifested before me.

I had an amazing travel agent. This was before I had a Black Amex – maybe before there even WERE Black Amexes. It was before the Internet disintermediated what was really a highly skilled profession. My lady Joanne was the bomb. She could get me ANYTHING. So I called her up, and said “get me Will Smith’s trailer for Burning Man”. And she did.

Time to Burn some money…

Thanks very much for the use of your trailer Will and Jada, if you are reading this. Glad to hear that Will is now a Burner. Thanks also to my dear friends at Anderson Mobile Estates who can deliver a home away from home anywhere in the world. I like doing business with good people, that’s what puts a smile on my face; you don’t get better than the Anderson family.

Will Smith chose not to take one of his fleet of these to Burning Man this year

Will Smith chose not to take one of his fleet of these to Burning Man 

That year, the Who/What/Where guide listed Paris Hilton. This was before she was well known as a million dollar DJ, or a leading light of Freemasonry. Back then she was mostly known for her sex tape One Night in Paris, which highlighted American innovation in night vision technology, combined with skill and enthusiasm.

paris hilton freemasons quarterly

Anyway, people put two and two together and made 5. Paris had a sex tape, the Burning Man gig guide listed her, and this crazy double story trailer was there. Obviously, Paris must be in the trailer! And so we had literal paparazzi waiting outside for us to open the door. The minute we walked out – and I had 4 girls staying with me, who mostly wanted to be topless – the cameras would be snap snap snap. Fortunately they didn’t even care about me, they were looking for Paris. But still.

Interestingly, the girls I was with that year and some of their friends who I met subsequently, seem to perhaps fit the profile of an Intelligence honey trap. One had a sister in the NSA, and boasted about having blackmailed a Senator in Washington DC. One turned out to be working for the Department of Defense. One’s Dad was a famous (or more fittingly, infamous) CIA fixer, who helped John De Lorean and Michael Jackson, and was well known in the UFO community. Another one’s stepfather was a high level Freemason in Kentucky. And another associate of this girl gang claimed to be descended from a famous civil war general. She also claimed that she had been raped by her former long term boyfriend. Without giving too many details away that might expose the identities of other victims of this spooky crew, it turned out that her ex was on the other side of the country with witnesses on the date of her alleged assault, while photos of her out partying that night in a different city were on her Facebook wall. I’ll leave it there, I’ve probably said too much already.

Suffice to say I was caught in a honey trap by this ring, who were operating at Burning Man and within the SF tech social scene. I wasn’t the only one – so were 4 other successful businessmen I know. Very smart guys. These lithe young sparkle ponies used the power of lies and allegations, combined with “no win/no fee” ambulance chaser lawyers, to prey on people who had only shown them kindness and generosity.

“Oh well, it’s the way of the world”, some might say. “Serves you right for being rich, you must have stolen that money”, say others. By this theory, it’s fine to take someone else’s bike at Burning Man. It’s about gifting, but if someone is rich enough to leave their bike unlocked, they must not care about it, so they must be gifting it to whoever walks by and their RADICAL SELF EXPRESSION and RADICAL SELF RELIANCE in the moment of IMMEDIACY means “gift me that bike!”

Alinsky was working out of UC Berkeley when he wrote this, with a young Hillary Clinton as his intern. He dedicated his famous book to “Lucifer, the original radical”. 3 of Burning Man’s Ten Principles contain the word RADICAL.


2010 was my most epic ever Burning Man, although at the time it was all unfolding it had the usual mixture of extreme highs and lows. I called up Ron Anderson to see about renting Will’s trailer again.

“I was just talking about you!”, his smiling voice said over the phone.

Although we had become good friends, we weren’t in touch that often. So this was a bit of a surprise.

“Your ears must have been burning”, he said, then laughed as he realized his own pun. “I’m here with two lovely young ladies who want to rent one of my trailers for Burning Man! I was just telling them about you”.

That led to me meeting Brenda and KP (hi ladies!), some of the many wonderful Burners who I have become friends with after spending time together in the outside world. They were organizing the Burning Man experience of a lifetime for an ultra-VIP client, a likeable guy who you’ve probably never heard of. I rented Ron’s “rock star bus” which must have had a nuclear-powered air conditioner and nano-technology blackout blinds. That thing was a cocoon.


We camped with Overkill and Villains & Vixens. This was my first experience being at a camp with an Art Car, in this case the Fish Tank. Great vehicle, friendly crew, if you see it on the Playa go and say hi.

Fish Tank at JuPlaya

Fish Tank at JuPlaya

The camp also had a chef and a private masseuse. Artist Hans Haveron – now appearing on Skin Wars Season 3, and winner of the Red Bull challenge at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art – was there airbrushing nude models. There was a line of nude models stretching outside his dome waiting for their turn, pouting at not being able to use their looks to skip the line. Artists from the Lucent Dossier Experience were in our camp, and there were theatrical and musical performances every night at dinner.

The chef and his team were cooking for about 80 people. We got a string wristband, this indicated to the chef who had paid in to the meal plan. As it turned out, about 76 wristbands had gone out, but they were feeding 90-100 people at each meal. This caused some big headaches for the kitchen in provisioning and rationing. “Sure, we would love to gift food to your new girlfriend! But that means one of our camp members who paid must starve”. This is the practical reality of Radical Inclusion versus Gifting.

The masseuse was gorgeous, and friendly, but also very busy. I put my name down for a massage, but I was perhaps #30 in the list. The reality of sticking around at Burning Man waiting for hours for something like that to happen is pretty impractical, and probably every person in the camp wants at least one massage. Imagine how tired the poor girl would be after 80 massages – doesn’t sound like a fun Burn to me.

Plug-n-play sounds great in theory, but once everybody hits the Playa, well – it ain’t the Four Seasons no more. It’s the same lines at the same stinking desert porta-potties.

I brought quite a big contingent of Aussies to the camp. About a dozen of us. The Wolf was with me, still burning after all those years. He brought a virgin. I had 4, including 2 of my best friends who had been hearing about Burning Man from me for more than a decade. They both finally caved in and decided to come at the same time, and both were in their element from the get-go.

After everyone arrived and got settled in, we were sitting around at the table. My friend Bree from Melbourne looked at me and said “so tell us about Burning Man Zos. We’re here. What’s so special about this place?”

I didn’t hesitate.

“Magic”, I said.

“Magic? What do you mean”.

“It’s simple”, I replied. “Wish for something, and then it manifests in front of you. This works in the real world too, if you have good karma, you can wish or pray for something and then you receive it. But there’s a latency of manifestation. The time between wishing and receiving could be quite high, although if you have good karma and are detached from the outcome, there seems to be less latency and things manifest much quicker”.

I paused. “Are you with me so far?”

Bree nodded, as did the rest of our group who were listening with keen interest. “Wish for something, and then you get it.”, Bree summed it up nicely.

“Exactly,” I agreed. “Well at Burning Man, that latency of manifestation disappears. Wish for something and it appears right in front of you”

Bree laughed in disbelief. “Well in that case, Zos…I want a pony!”. Everybody laughed. A pony! As if she would get a pony in the desert. Animals are banned at Burning Man, for starters. Let alone all the MOOP a pony could create. Ha ha ha, what a crazy concept.

Well blow me down if not *40 seconds* from when she said that, a huge black guy in a pink tutu bounced up. He was riding one of these:

“Oh my god!”, Bree screamed excitedly. “A pony!”
The gentleman had not said so much as a hello to us yet. We didn’t know if he even spoke English. But when he heard her excitement at the pony, he immediately grabbed the unicorn and gifted to her.
Bree’s first instinct was to refuse the gift. “Oh no! I couldn’t. It’s too much”. Good manners, that girl.
“It’s Burning Man”, said the unknown gifter. “Get used to it”. And with that he sauntered off, sans unicorn.
Well, Bree was kind of excited at this point. She wished for a pony, and now she had one. We set off for a walk to the Esplanade, to see the Man and the Inner Playa. Bree was walking/riding her unicorn, I was walking next to her. A guy bounced up, he had a unicorn too. “Hey!”, Bree said. She waggled the unicorn head at him in greeting. He waggled his back.
“It’s not right!”, he exclaimed. We both looked at him, puzzled. What was up with this dude?
He explained himself. “It’s not right that she has a pony and you don’t”. And he handed me his unicorn stick.
I checked my own reflexive urge to politely decline, and warmly accepted his gift with a big smile and a big hug. Now we were both at Burning Man, each with a pony. So far about 5 minutes had elapsed since Bree made her initial wish.
We walked a little bit further, and sure, we saw the Man. But we also saw a giant fucking horse!
Bree and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Ok Zos!”, she condeded. “I get it”.
Welcome to Burning Man.
rocking horse img_8273
horse art
Trojan Horse, 2010. Image: Sharona Gott/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Trojan Horse, 2010. Image: Sharona Gott/Flickr (Creative Commons)

photo: Peter Wardlaw

photo: Peter Wardlaw

I bought my RV on eBay for $19,000. And we still take dumps in the portapotties.

This has been my home for the last 3 Burning Mans. $19,000 on eBay. Whatever you take to Burning Man is going to get trashed, so why buy a fancy one?

When I had the vertical slide-out in 2004, I got to experience Burning Man from a whole different angle – literally. Get up above the rooftops of the RVs, and you can see a lot of what’s going on in the city. I recommend including this in your camp plans, you don’t have to spend big bucks.Even just take a camping chair on top of your friend’s RV.  You can see so much happening once you get a bit of height.

The last time I was at the Nevada Burn, 2013 Cargo Cult I watched the burn from way up high. This was also the first time I ever convinced one of my family members to come to Burning Man. My sister flew all the way from Bali, direct to the Playa. And we watched the UFO burn from on top of the Balanceville Art Car. My sister shoved fellow first-time Burner Susan Sarandon out of the way so she could take this photo with me:

Image: Peter Ruprecht

Image: Peter Ruprecht




Burning Man is amazing and inspiring to me. It has inspired me to gift this blog to the community, thousands of hours of effort. Like most gifts at Burning Man, it’s not universally welcomed. Not everybody wants this gift. Fair enough; to each their own. I have not used this platform to promote myself or my businesses, simply to share my opinions and my research. I have invited anyone to come on and contribute, and many have. Thanks to all those Burners who have taken time to write guest posts, including Nomad Traveler, A Balanced Perspective, Toburn, Pantless Santa, Sandstorm, ShiftyFox, Halcyon, Rabbitt, AleXander, Buena Chica, Shift Pods, Jex, Damian, Jillian, Nick Heyming, Nicole Sparklecorn, Kestrel, Shaggy Dog, Jal Lee Mon, Ayahuasca, Joycebird, Dark Arps, Simon Yugler, Jill Marlene, Alex Mak, Beth Lillie. Sorry for anybody I left out! And thanks especially to Terry Gotham and Whatsblem the Pro who both have contributed so many great posts. I count 28 names there, plus my own – so it’s a little unfair to say that we only ever present one side of things. Anyone is welcome to write a guest post or comment.

Thank you to all the BURNILEAKS whistleblowers who have come forward to share information about what is truly going on. Our whole community owes you a great debt. Although we have not won the transparency battle, and in fact are probably losing it…it could have been so much worse. It still could. Burning Man for the Burners is something worth believing in. We do have the power.

Thanks to those amazing photographers who let Burners share their work with other Burners without kicking up a stink about it, particularly those who have personally helped me like Peter Ruprecht, Josh Reiss, Duncan Rawlinson, Eleanor Preger, Gilles Bonugli-Kali…and anyone who has ever shared a photo here or elsewhere on the Interwebz. Love your work, keep helping to share Burner art with the world.

I would like to give a massive thanks to YOU for reading this. Please don’t be shy about participating in the conversation here, we’re all in this together. Burning Man at its best is a shining beacon of hope in a technotronic age – that the basic goodness of the human soul is the natural way for us to be, and that The System of The Man in the Default world is not the apex of our civilization. The best is yet to come, and we have an opportunity and an obligation to create the best future we can possibly imagine for our ancestors to inherit.

Thank you for your participation.

Art, Burning Man, and the Maker Movement

Shipwreck by Georgia Rose Collard-Watson

Shipwreck by Georgia Rose Collard-Watson

There’s a new story over at Boing Boing from NK Guy, Burning Man: The Art of Maker Culture .

nk guy art of burning manNK recently published “The Art of Burning Man”, (adding to the library of books such as The Tribes of Burning Man, the Jewelry of Burning Man, and of course This Is Burning Man).

This year’s Turning Man theme, Da Vinci’s Workshop, seems perfectly geared to tap into this rising new Silicon Valley meme/industry. It’s a movement? So are we! Oh, you make shit! So do we! Please donate now.

NK says:

Burning Man’s chief cultural legacy may be inadvertently helping to stoke the fires of the modern “maker” movement. A loose and freewheeling reaction to the corporate universe of sealed iPhones and locked-down operating systems, makers are keen on wresting mass-market technology out of the grasp of large companies, and building homegrown micro-utopias of 3D printing, cheap CPUs and open source code. Countless fascinating projects have had their origins in a Burning Man-hosted idea. The event has become a place for social networking, for beta testing new projects in a very unforgiving environment, for technofetishists to bond while partying in the desert. Just as importantly, the “how did they do that?” sentiment changes quickly to an inspired “I can do that too!”

But just as the rise of tech firms, and the increased flow of highly selective rivers of cash, have split and divided the Bay Area, so funding of Burning Man projects is a key area of contention. Playa projects have ballooned in scale and ambition, and so have the costs. A single big project such as a Temple can easily costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. These costs aren’t easily covered by a casual passing of the hat, or even a Kickstarter or Indiegogo begathon.

Burning Man itself will contribute partial budgets to certain projects each year, following a grant process, but will almost never cover the entirety of a work: the organization has expenditures to cover elsewhere. Accordingly, though Burning Man prohibits the overt display of corporate logos, many projects have been quietly funded by wealthy benefactors; individual and corporate. While the results are undeniably awesome, they do also represent a step away from the proudly amateur and naive roots of the event, just as personal computers of today barely resemble their garage-built ancestors. And these controversies also have hit the builders of the stage upon which the artists perform – the Burning Man org itself.

Read the whole story here. There are some great examples of the Maker Movement intersecting with Burner art.

Dance Dance Immolation by Interpretive Arson

Dance Dance Immolation by Interpretive Arson

henry chang MisterFusion

Mister Fusion by Henry Chang

CS Tere by Captain Andy

Clock Ship Tere by Captain Andy


Not all of the wealthy benefactor corporate sponsorship is so quiet – or, perhaps, YMMV on the definition of “quiet”…

Doodle, by ABC.XYZ

Doodle, by ABC.XYZ

tesla prototype 2007

Roadster, by Tesla

Magic Foam Experience, by Dr Bronner’s

petit ermitage

Pop-up Hotel, by Petit Ermitage

SiMan, by Intel

SiMan, by Intel


Bank of (un)America, by (Burn) Wall Street

chip fest 300 hqdefault (1)

Festival site, by Burning Man Project Director


Best-selling book, by Burning Man Project Director

spark movie background_47371

Movie and iTunes soundtrack, by Burning Man Project Director

Merry Christmas, Burners! Have a wonderful holiday and perhaps we will see you at New Years

Too Loud For Burning Man Part 2: Dictators in a Dysfunctional Dystopia

Part I: Dancetronauts – Too Loud For Burning Man?


Part I of this post, about how the Dancetronauts were asked to take at least a year off from Burning Man by the DMV Council, has attracted a lot of attention within the community. On WordPress it has been read by 30,000+ people; more than 6,000 of those readers shared the story on Facebook.

Screenshot 2015-06-17 16.17.11

On Facebook, it has reached 113,000+ people.

Screenshot 2015-06-17 16.18.27

The story has also been picked up by the EDM alternative media , including Dancing Astronaut, culturemixmag, and EDM Industry. Fellow Burner blogger Dr Yes at Burn.Life has also posted his own version of the story, and Unaverz has shared their thoughts. Even Voices of Burning Man has chimed in, with a post saying very little of substance.

I can see some of the content from the Facebook on-page shares. This is a more accurate gauge of the community’s real sentiment than the predictable “shoot the messenger” troll attacks directed at Burners.me in the comments here and elsewhere. These have ranged from threats of violence to comparisons with Rupert Murdoch, complaints about being too long winded and complaints about not including enough details, and the usual accusations of half truths, lies, and poor grammar and spelling.

The Facebook share commentary I have seen so far is almost entirely on the side of Dancetronauts. Here’s a sample:

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***Screenshot 2015-06-17 15.18.03

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***Screenshot 2015-06-17 15.17.24


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People are dismayed at yet another anti-Burner move from the organizers of the allegedly charitable Burning Man Project. If BMOrg thought they would placate a couple of dozen disgruntled complainers with their heavy-handed punishment, well now they have more than 6,000 disgruntled Burners upset with them.

The most egregious thing about this affair is it really seems that the main, true reason behind the Dancetronauts ban was the Decommodification principle.
To me, Directors of Burning Man running hotel camps with 50 paid sherpas and hookers Mistresses of Merriment provided to their customers, only handing out drinks to their VIP guests who paid $16,000 to get a wristband, is a serious Decommodification issue.
Compared to that, A DJ all excited about the track he worked on all year for Burning Man, getting on a microphone a few times to offer it for free to all the people dancing in front of him, is really not that big a deal. OK, chastise them, force them to make a public mea culpa for their sins so that others get the lesson too, then let’s all go back to being friends and throwing awesome parties together.

Members of DMV Playing Freebird at the Temple burn, as a tribute to a fallen comrade? Snoop Dogg rolling up on the Temple playing gangsta rap?  In the eyes of some, this is worse – but I’m not saying this was inappropriate for the circumstances, or that the perpetrators deserved any kind of punishment. It’s Burning Man, not the Public Library. It’s chaos. It’s loud, it’s wild, it’s funky, there’s stuff you can dance to everywhere, and if you don’t like one art car’s music, it’s incredibly easy to find another one.

The real tragedy last year was the death of a Burner, crushed by an Art Car towing a heavy trailer sound system – the same style of rig that Dancetronauts have, except the Dancetronauts have an unblemished safety record. There were also a number of terrible suicides in the community. It’s not just Burners dying: we saw the death of financial transparency that we had long been promised, with the opposite happening when the accounts were removed from the Afterburn reports. The Simpsons promoted Burning Man as a hallucinogenic drug fest. Exotic designer drugs are now being distributed there, causing medical research-worthy trauma events . Many camps have been devastated by the ticketing process, and are scrambling to get tickets for everyone. The information on sexual assaults is being kept a close secret for the first time.

All these are really quite serious issues that BMOrg should be addressing with the community. Instead, their energy goes into defending plug and plays, defending their Directors as long as they possibly can no matter how obscene their Ten Principles violations are…and punishing Dancetronauts.


Dancetronauts had no clue that they had any issue with BMOrg and the DMV until a month after Burning Man closed. They knew that they had been placed on probation in 2013, although the details of that were rather vague; but they packed up and left Burning Man without receiving a single complaint. As far as they knew, the probation was no longer an issue, and they had performed every night through the whole event without any problems.

Little did they know that even as the embers of the Man still smouldered on Sunday morning, the knives were coming out for them.

According to the DMV, Dancetronauts (not an art car, that is the Strip Ship and Bass Station trailer) received more complaints this year than any other vehicle in the history of the event.

Of course, the event is double the size it was 10 years ago, has 20,000 more people than it did 3 years ago, and has now been effectively “mainstreamed” and Bucket Listed by BMOrg’s mammoth PR campaigns in Default world media. Your mom’s hairdresser came to Burning Man to see cool shit, could we please turn the music down she needs to sleep at 11 every night.

More people at Burning Man + more mainstreaming = more spectators = more complaints. I think that can be expected in general. But leaving that aside, what of the complaints themselves? Were they all genuine? Or was there something else going on, behind the scenes?

It is my belief that the Dancetronauts were the victim of a vicious, nasty, and petty smear campaign, launched against them on multiple channels within burningman.com. This was designed not just to generate as many complaints as they possibly could, whether sincere or via “sock puppet” accounts; but also to hurt the Dancetronauts, to shame them, to negatively affect their chances of raising money to bring their Art Car to Burning Man in the future.

It was important to me to separate this post from the last one, because any speculation here is from me, not the Dancetronauts. I am not part of the Dancetronauts. I feel they have been unfairly victimized, that BMOrg need to make peace with them and allow them back this year, perhaps with a few provisos.

For those who felt Part I was one-sided and not long-winded enough because I did not include all the correspondence from BMOrg, you will be pleased to see in Part II that I am including many, many messages from BMOrg and their various agents, some paid, some unpaid, all communicated to the world via the Internet in a multitude of forums and formats. It would have been inappropriate for me to just share a few DMV emails, without providing this broader context of what was actually going on – which was a co-ordinated attack across multiple fronts.


What process was followed here, in deciding that Dancetronauts had to take a year off? The feedback process, FLIP, was meant to collect all the feedback by October 15. After that BMOrg needed time to digest it all and talk about it and see what could be done to make the event better in future. That is why they did not really address the community’s Commodification Camp concerns until December 2014 – if anyone remembers that time, which seems so long ago now, there was a real feeling that they were stalling while they scrambled to come up with a PR strategy to get the egg of their faces. But what they told us was “these things take time because we have to listen to everyone’s feedback and discuss it and investigate it to get to the truth of the matter”.

Dancetronauts went through the same feedback process, right? All the feedback collected by October 15, then thought about and discussed, then decisions made and reported?


What about the Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy? Did they go through that process?


So what process was it?

It seems that Dancetronauts were victim to the “real way Burning Man works”, which is different from the official way that BMOrg  indignantly insist on. This highlights Selective Rule Enforcement, and the Two Burning Mans – the fairies and rainbows facade you get from Voices of Burning Man; and the real one, how things actually work. A dysfunctional dystopia, where volunteer dictators gleefully punish thousands based on the capricious whims of a few.


Saturday, Aug 30, 2014: the Man burns. Dancetronauts get there early, positioning themselves at 6 o’clock, the same spot they’ve been in the last 5 years.

Fire Conclave starts, and runs for 15 minutes. Some performers found it hard to hear the beat over the bass coming from Dancetronauts and other art cars. Others reported no problems.

It is the longest Man burn in history, taking about 2 hours to finally collapse. Many Burners and art cars left before the end. Dancetronauts were still playing music at The Man, hours after he burned to the ground – entertaining thousands. They had no idea they had caused any problems, since they received no Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy complaints. Not on Burn night, and not at any other time during the event, despite the fact they threw many loud and large parties, including at art burns like Embrace.

Sunday, Aug 31, 2014: John Curley writes a post from the Playa at blog.burningman.com:

…we admit that we were waiting for the Man to fall last night so we could escape the sound. Yes, yes, we know the saying, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,” and maybe that’s true. But honestly, we always thought that one of the corollaries of radical self expression was that your actions not impinge on another’s experience, and let’s just say there was lots of impinging going on last night. We do not expect to hear a DJ exhorting a crowd in a way that might work at spring break in Daytona Beach, but doesn’t work on the playa. At all.

Plus, we’d like to be able to HEAR the burn. Not just the exploding shells and fireworks, but also the crackle and pop of the flames, the whoosh of embers falling, and, last night, even the climactic crash of the Man’s big legs.

But no. Last night that was not possible. And yes, we might be the slightest bit cranky about it. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be sound and celebration, because this is the big finish, the Bacchanalian moment.  But there’s got to be a way that the sound cars don’t take over the experience. It’s not your show, comma, dude.

crimson signals burn john curley

Image: John Curley

Expecting silence from art cars while the man burns for 2 hours because you want to hear the sound of the embers cracking is kind of foolish. Isn’t that what the temple burn is for?
Although Mr Curley (I’m a fan BTW)  complains about the DJ on the mic making it sound like spring break, and the loud music making it hard for him to listen to the crackle of the flames, when he talks about the Fire Conclave there is no indication that there was even the slightest problem. He appears to have been in the 6 o’clock position, with BM founder Crimson Rose – is this the “we” he is talking about?

Tuesday, Sep 2, 2014:

Burning Man officially ends at noon. Before the sun sets on that day, burningman.com is already coming out against the Dancetronauts:

Sep 2, 2014: 5:32pm the ePlaya thread appears, “DJ Art Cars and their effect on art” by 1derphul. The Dancetronauts bashing begins immediately.

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The Groupthink hate has begun.

Wednesday, Sep 3 2014 – the burningman.com hate campaign is now in full swing.

At 9:37am, the first mention of Dancetronauts appears in the comments on John Curley’s post at blog.burningman.com:

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Meanwhile, on ePlaya:

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Stabby? This is not the first time this bully has threatened violence, including to myself. It’s amazing to see how this community based on Radical Inclusion and Self-Reliance, has elements who think the lynch mob/witch hunt mentality is the only way we can solve problems. Shouldn’t we be banning the violent people, not ones who peacefully put on shows to entertain the masses?

15 minutes later, another call to action:

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And DMV are on the case already. They want us to know that this goes all the way to the top.

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The thread is not even a day old, it’s barely a day after Burning Man ended, and already the bosses in the DMV Council are “following it”. Is this part of the process? DMV decisions are made based on what gets said on ePlaya and Reddit?

Around the same time this day, Chris Knight, aka Ghostwheel, creates a thread on Reddit: Was your Man or Temple Burn harshed by noisy art cars?

His comments on the thread suggest he has already been communicating with DMV about it, and they have already decided what the crime is and what punishment they will dole out:

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He joins in the “torches and pitchforks” call for vandalism. No need for any feedback process, since this is a hate fueled lynch mob:

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Thursday Sep 4, 2014:

It’s been a day, time to rally the troops again!

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The hate campaign now spreads to social media, with a co-ordinated attack on Dancetronauts Facebook page – again, suggesting that the punishment had already been decided by someone, somewhere:
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The spite is palpable.

Friday Sep 5, 2014:

Mere days after the end of Caravansary , Dancetronauts are already accepting responsibility and apologizing, saying they feel terrible about interfering with some of the Fire Conclave performers.

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Meanwhile, the ePlaya team are still out in force across the Interwebz, spreading their message of hate and anger to as wide an audience as possible.


Sep 8, 2014:

Stop chatting among yourselves, people. Let’s FOCUS on hating the Dancetronauts.

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Sep 10, 2014

The official moderator is forced to intervene, to tone down some of the threats of violence and vandalism:

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Sep 11, 2014 – Simon pulls back from his earlier stabbing with pitchforks pitch, and turns to emotional hate instead.

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“Shame is how we punish…that is all we need really to change things”.

Really? You couldn’t have changed things by just saying to Dancetronauts “people were pissed off about the DJ, can you please have no music on Burn night, take the mics away, and watch it around art installation burns”? To me, that seems like it would have worked just fine, ended all problems, and the Dancetronauts sounded very amenable to that – in fact, they were even suggesting it themselves. Of course, compromise and resolution like that doesn’t feed anybody’s NPD power trip.

Sep 13, 2014:

Eric The moderator’s caution has toned down the hate a bit, so it’s time to amp it back up with some helpful suggestions of ways to get Dancetronauts:

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Interesting idea to try to channel the Plug-n-Play outrage towards this art car scapegoat.

Sep 26, 2014:

Chef Juke from the DMV Council gives Dancetronauts the first official notification of any kind about complaints against them.

On Fri, Sep 26, 2014 at 4:41 PM, DMV Hotties <dmv@burningman.com> wrote:

Mutant Vehicle: Strip Ship & Bass Station

Registration #: M14-0543

Owner: Philip Plastina

Phillip, We are writing to you regarding numerous reports of incidents involving your vehicle at this year’s Burning Man. The DMV received multiple complaints regarding the Strip Ship & Bass Station this year, falling into several categories.

This email primarily notes two of them: Sound levels and promotional activity.

1) Sound levels On a number of occasions, the sound levels of the vehicle, especially while in close proximity to art installations/events was perceived to significantly exceed the levels outlined in the Mutant Vehicle Sound policy: (http://www.burningman.com/on_the_playa/playa_vehicles/sound_policy.html) Specifically, we received a number of complaints regarding your vehicle’s sound volume at the Alien Siege Machine Burn event, the Temple, and most notably at the Man Burn. It is also important to note that your vehicle was CONDITIONALLY invited for 2014 due to sound level complaints in 2013. This means this is the second year in a row that participants have had issues with the sound levels of your vehicle.

2) Promotional activity On a number of occasions, again most notably at the Man Burn, we recieved reports of DJs on your vehicle promoting their upcoming albums.  This directly conflicts with the Decommodification principle of Burning Man.

In addition to the two areas of concern above, prior to the event there was an additional issue raised with your offering Early Admission passes as premiums on your indiegogo fundraising campaign The DMV takes all complaints regarding vehicle operation at the event seriously and we work to follow up on every complaint, big or small.  That being said we want to clearly indicate to you the significance of the level concern that has been raised with your vehicle this year, both with the DMV directly and with other areas of the Burning Man organization. In the month since the event ended, the DMV has received more complaints regarding Strip Ship than we’ve ever received regarding any other vehicle, by a far margin.  We are asking that you please reply via email with any information you can provide related to the above incidents and concerns.

Sincerely, -Chef Juke for the DMV Council

Note that Dancetronauts was not even at the Temple burn, nor did they sell any Early Access passes to anyone. False accusations get made in the complaints, but never retracted.

Since Chef Juke brought up the Principles, let’s take a look at the two most relevant Principles here, Gifting and Decommodification:

2. Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

3. Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

Where is the “direct conflict”? Commercial sponsorships? No. Transactions? No. “Get the track I made specially for you for free, come and see me and I’ll give you a CD?” Sounds like Gifting to me, not Advertising.

Oct 1, 2014:

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“The system works”…what system is that? Clearly, it is not the official feedback system, because that is still open for another 2 weeks at this point. No, he is talking about their system of using burningman.com as a platform for shaming, ostracisim, derision, threats, and other forms of social punishment.

Oct 7, 2014. Dancetronauts are notified that they’re banned from SF Decompression

From: Jan Turner Date: Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 11:11 PM Subject: Re: Strip Ship To: Trav Nasty <dancetronauts@gmail.com> Cc: DMV Hotties <dmv@burningman.com>

Hi Travis, We won’t be placing your group this year at Decompression because participating groups must be in good standing.  Unfortunately, there were numerous complaints against Dancetronauts on playa.  Until that is resolved, we are unable to place your group.  You can seek further information from DMV, as they received the bulk of complaints from participants.

Sincerely, Jan, aka Blondie

DMV have received the bulk of complaints, Dancetronauts have been banned before they can even respond…and yet for every other type of complaint, BMOrg still needs time to collect all the feedback to incorporate submissions in this review process, and make decisions as part of their annual staff debrief process.

October 10, 2014:

JackRabbit Speaks, v19#4, Oct 10 2015

JackRabbit Speaks, v19#4, Oct 10 2015

The 2014 Afterburn has now been published…there is no Q & A section. Another empty promise. Note the acknowledgement that the Will Call line and Commodification Camps were the main source of complaints.

Burning Man Theme Camp Organizers, Facebook Oct 10 2014

Burning Man Theme Camp Organizers, Facebook Oct 10 2014

See that: “we respond thoughtfully (read: slowly) because we have to look into all of the allegations and offenses. There is no smoke screen. We’re trying to get to the truth…[we] are not out to take advantage of Burner communities. On the contrary, we are out to help them grow and replicate”

Except that by then they had already decided Dancetronauts fate, feedback process be damned. The most active members of burningman.com were deliberately targeting them to shame them, hurt them, shrink their fan base, and otherwise negatively impact their ability to operate. About as far to the opposite of “grow and replicate” as you can get.

Even though BMOrg couldn’t respond to anyone while the feedback process was still open, Dancetronauts were expected to respond to them in just 2 weeks:

On Fri, Oct 10, 2014 at 11:11 AM, DMV Hotties <dmv@burningman.com> wrote:

Phil,We still need to hear back from you regarding this.  The DMV follows up on all complaints regarding Mutant Vehicle operation and we want to hear from you regarding the incidents lists.Also please note that your vehicle’s future licensing may be affected based on the complaints and/or if you do not respond.

Sincerely,-Chef Juke for the DMV Hotties and Council

Dancetronauts replied quickly, and promised to follow up more formally:
Couple things I’d like to interject before a formal response which will only adhere to the facts. Because the exaggerations are being a little blown out of proportion. For instance we were not even at or in attendance for Temple Burn. 
And I would like the opportunity to review the complaints to decipher which are even accurate or indeed from numerous people and not just the same handful who are re-creating them. As far as, what I can gather, see in posts, it’s a handful of the same disgruntle’s. Some who did not even attend the burn, yet still campaigning and gathering their friends to further continue to make complaints which are not even accurate. Something unknown to the public, is Dancetronauts has been being attacked by a group of ‘haters’ who have been harassing us and referring to as the ‘Douchetronauts’. This is something we have dealt with and I think every larger camp who might get more attention from others, naturally creates jealousy and sabotage. Now that we goofed up, here’s our chance and let’s get everyone who dislikes us (for any reason) to jump on the bandwagon… YA!! Let’s get em’ kicked off the playa! YA! Biggest [culprit] is ex-member of Roots Society Simon De Playa, who got burned for having sound complaints and music violations years ago, apparently he feels the need to call out and jump on anyone else now in the same fashion he was crucified to the cross on. The complaints, attention and gathering complaints from him and his forum posting and him repeatedly making it not even about the issue, just personal attacks on Dancetronauts. To, I believe it was yourself? Or someone from [ePlaya admins], whom even interjected with the notice, of violent, vandal and illegal threats should not be involved. Very burner like, I am glad these are the complaints and ‘burners’ whom you are taking seriously. But our 6 years as a theme camp and even longer, as art car owners, are the ones being punished.
A DJ/producer shared his music. Offered a free download of his album and talked about a track he worked on all year, especially for Burning Man, called ‘Coming Home’ that he then offered and handed out copies personally, however many of his (100) copies he brought out, as his playa gift. 
Rude, obnoxious, breaking the rules, shameless self promotion, is left to the interpretation and the complaints you received. We can cover all in our formal response once we get down to the facts of the multiple instances we are in fraction of. Because being threatened of not being able to bring our art, creation(s), theme camp and spend another $XX,XXX next year to bring it again… is a very personal and bitter feeling right now, so please excuse any passion that may dilute our sincere work and effort that we make and try to be flawless on. Honestly, we try really hard to make everyone happy, to obey the guidelines, to be be perfect. Truth is we’re not, we are regular people and humans who make mistakes and this year we made a few. We take great pride and responsibility with our privilege of having and art car, which is why we haven’t seriously screwed anything up. We have made some mistakes…. What those mistakes actually affected? Or how many people it actually impacted,in a negative, unforgiving way? Though when these things happen, we lose fans and the following, it sorts itself out. We become the black plague to them and they poison as many people around them as possible to feel the same. We take that heat, not BM, not DMV… we are not unsafe, we are not reckless, we have not harmed anyone, we are BURNERS! And to now not even be allowed to bring the ‘Strip Ship’ with no sound, no fire, no performers, etc to S.F. Decom and still be denied to participate with the other camps, okay, we will swallow it.

On Fri, Oct 10, 2014 at 5:54 PM, DMV Hotties <dmv@burningman.com> wrote:

Some clarifications may be in order.

We originally sent our email to Phil directly as he was listed as the applicant for the Strip Ship and Bass Station.  We added you as you were included in the message regarding Decompression.  In regards to Decompression, the event team checks with the DMV regarding Mutant Vehicles invited to ensure they are in good standing with the DMV, given the number of complaints we received this year, this was not the case.  There are any number of vehicles that are not invited to decompression each year, yours was just one.

Next, we only are considering the complaints that were made directly to the DMV through email or through Burning Man’s FLIP online feedback system.  We did not consider complaints posted to forums, etc. or complaints that were duplicated in forums/email

In regards to the temple, the complaint was that your vehicle played loud music near the temple, not at the temple burn specifically.

Finally, we certainly will forward you text of the specific complaints.  We wanted to get a general response from the Dancetronauts prior to going into the details of the complaint.

To be clear, our main focus is trying to get a clear understanding of what happened, the validity of the complaints we’ve received, to make sure you and your team understand the scope of the complaints and work to find a resolution to the issues raised.

I also should note that while there certainly was a small group of interconnected folks who lodged complaints right after the event, the complaints were not by any means isolated to any one group or duplicated.  We received complaints from a large number of Burners who were not connected including some from within the Burning Man organization as well.


-Chef Juke for the DMV Hotties & Council

Again, FLIP was still open and BMOrg were refusing to address the 97% of other complaints there.
How does Chef Juke know which Burners are interconnected, and which aren’t? He states he is “certain” that there was an interconnected group of Burners who came out swinging for the Dancetronauts, immediately after the event. You can hardly argue that this is all just a conspiracy theory being invented by Burners.Me, when BMOrg’s own team heads are openly acknowledging it themselves.
What was the nature of these connections? The idea that those “within the Burning Man organization” were “not connected” to any of it seems unlikely, and directly contradicts later information from the DMV Council.
Oct 27, 2014:

On Mon, Oct 27, 2014 at 8:10 PM, DMV Hotties <dmv@burningman.com> wrote:


To clarify, we asked you for a response to the fact that the DMV had received a number of complaints about your vehicle sound and Promotion activities and we didn’t receive a response until we included Trav.  Trav indicated that his comments were not the formal response and implied that one would be forthcoming.

As far as the DMV is concerned the concern and the issue has not been resolved and we certainly need more discussion regarding both what happened on playa and what, if anything, needs to be done to resolve any concerns.

Please do follow up with us when you are available.


-Chef Juke for the DMV Hotties

Oct 30, 2014:

On Oct 30, 2014, at 1:24 PM, DMV Hotties <dmv@burningman.com> wrote:


Thanks for your email.  As I noted to Trav, we’ve compiled the specific complaints about the Strip Ship and Bass Station that the DMV received via email and the online feedback form; these are in the attached file.  The DMV reads ALL of the feedback sent to us and we would suggest that you do the same.

Please review these specific concerns from your fellow burners regarding your vehicle and let us know if you have any further thoughts on the feedback.


-Chef Juke for the DMV Hotties & Council

At this point, Chef Juke seems to have been quite reasonable. It seems like this situation can be resolved, and that is what Dancetronauts are trying to achieve. Note that on Oct 27 he is speaking for the DMV Hotties, by Oct 30 he is speaking for the DMV Hotties AND the Council.

The next Dancetronauts heard from BMOrg was 6 months later. Wally Bomgaars has departed (is this Chef Juke? If not, who is he and why does he get mentioned?) Terry Schoop has taken his place. Suddenly, there is no possibility of compromise. There is only the ban.

What happened between October and April? Did the smear campaign turn into a less traceable whisper campaign, and go offline?

April 9, 2015:

On Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 9:58 AM, DMV Hotties <dmv@burningman.com> wrote: Hello Philip & Trav –

I apologize for the delay in getting back with you as I’ve just recently taken responsibility for DMV following the departure of Wally Bomgaars.

Our continuing concern is that your responses don’t address the core issues raised by DMV and by participants.

The key responses you sent us are:

1. “People have a choice to move away from a loud vehicle…”

In terms of the Man Burn, this is not a reasonable answer. Participants who have selected a spot to watch the burn cannot be expected to change locations in the middle of a packed crowd when a loud mutant vehicle parks behind them. Nor is it reasonable to expect them to do so.

2. “Dancetronauts bring famous DJs to the Playa…”

This has no bearing on the issues of music volume or civic responsibility.

3. “We have a safety team…”

Again, this has no bearing on the issues of music volume of civic responsibility.

4. “Other vehicles are loud…”

That other vehicles may have issues does not excuse yours from having to follow the rules that all mutant vehicles are required to abide by. The DMV is having discussions with all other vehicles that we received complaints about.

It’s important for you to understand that the complaints about your sound levels on Burn night are serious and include complaints from two Burning Man founders, several members of the DMV Council, other Burning Man staff and the DMV Manager (Wally Bomgaars) personally. It did drown out music from other nearby mutant vehicles.

5. “Lots of people like us…”

Again, this has no bearing on the issues of music volume of civic responsibility.

6. “We followed all the rules…”

No, you didn’t, Your vehicle clearly violated the Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy. The concerns we need you to address relate to the Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy and to civic responsibility. As noted in the MV policy:

“Keep in mind that if we continue to have the level of complaints and issues that we have been having for the past few years, we may have to take greater steps to limit large sound on vehicles. Please consider your impact on the community and help us all keep sound on MVs a positive experience.” To recap:

The DancetronautS mutant vehicle was issued a conditional license for 2014 based on sound policy violations from 2013.

Following the 2014 event, as previously mentioned, we received more sound complaints about the Dancetronauts mutant vehicle than any other vehicle in the history of the event. Despite multiple requests, you have not provided a satisfactory response to these complaints nor provided a plan to address them for 2015.

Additionally, in 2014, we were notified Dancetronauts were offering among other things, Early Entry passes and access to their mutant vehicles as a perks as part of your Indiegogo fundraiser. Early Entry passes were created specifically to allow artists, theme camp organizers and mutant vehicles owners early access to the event site to prepare for the event. It was a violation of the Early Entry pass policy to offer them as a perk.

This combination of infractions and your inability to provide a satisfactory response and resolution leave us no option but to deny a license to the Dancetronauts mutant vehicle for 2015. You are welcome to apply next year for 2016.


Terry Schoop and the DMV Council

“They’re welcome to apply” – some Burners might read this as “they are guaranteed to be let back in 2016″, but I don’t. At all. What more could Dancetronauts do to return to “good standing”, if they aren’t allowed at the events?

Terry here is speaking for himself and the Council. His reductionist responses come off as snide and dismissive. The whole tone of the email says the decision has been made, and the hate for Dancetronauts seeps through. “Inability to provide a satisfactory resolution”, what is he talking about? They have been trying for more than 6 months at this point to find a satisfactory resolution, apologizing to everyone, and suggesting things that definitely would avoid the problem this year. While BMOrg just ignored them, leaving them in limbo.

The key words here are

complaints from two Burning Man founders, several members of the DMV Council, other Burning Man staff and the DMV Manager (Wally Bomgaars) personally

Wally himself did not mention to Dancetronauts at any time that he was one of those affected by their burn night actions. But now that he has left, he is named as part of the hate/punish group.

I don’t want to clog up this post with Dancetronauts’ responses to this since I have already posted them, you can read them at the end of Part I. They were thoughtful and apologetic, and offered practical suggestions as a resolution.

April 29, 2015:

From: DMV Hotties<dmv@burningman.com> Date: Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 5:23 PM Subject: Re: Mutant Vehicle incidents on playa (PLEASE RESPOND)

Philip & Travis –

Thank you for your thoughtful replies, which the DMV council has reviewed.

The decision of the council – that Dancetronauts needs to take a year off – stands. You are welcome to apply again in 2016.

– The DMV Council

Key words here: The decision of the council that Dancetronauts needs to take a year off.

The DMV Council is supposed to be dealing with Art Cars. The art car here is the Strip Ship, and its Bass Station trailer. But it is the Dancetronauts who they want to punish, not just the Art Car: the entire crew. That’s who is being un-welcomed officially from an Invisible Council at burningman.com and 2 Burning Man founders – after months of silence and zero effort from BMOrg to accept any kind of resolution or compromise.

May 24, 2015: Trilobyte said to Dancetronauts:

Thanks for reaching out, and I appreciate the apology. Speaking for my own personal experience, the only complaint that I raised was the voiceover advertising of an album at the event on Friday, the alien siege machine burn. Yeah the music was loud and no it wasn’t my personal taste, but it’s Burning Man and part of being out at a big burn is it’s going to be loud and you’re going to hear a whole lot of different music. The advertising bugged me a lot, which is why I remembered it and followed up after the event. I volunteer with Burning Man year-round to help run the ePlaya community, and as part of that I see and hear a lot of participant feedback. While I’m not involved with the DMV or any part of their decision making process, I have to say that I was shocked at the kind and number of complaints that people were voicing. I think the ship is a fine piece of work, but have never followed Dancetronauts closely enough to know DJ schedules so I couldn’t really say whether it was just one person doing it, but it sounded like advertising was happening all week. It probably also doesn’t help that you guys operate as a commercial production company. Hooray for being successful, but when you turn the camp name into a commercial brand that makes things particularly tricky. I don’t have any advice there, you might want to reach out to Opulent Temple or Space Cowboys to see how they walk that line (from what I’ve seen, OT uses the Opel Productions name for their commercial operations). Though I didn’t experience it myself, it seemed like there were a number of complaints about the velvet rope/VIP area. The person getting into it with me on twitter defended the practice as a fire safety move, but that sounds like a pretty flimsy defense. It’s Burning Man, anybody who’s been through a burn or two probably knows the difference between fire safety line and only letting friends and ‘hotties’ through. Good luck in finding tickets, and good luck in weathering the bashing. It will probably continue for a while. Based on the feedback I’d seen it sounds like there are people out there with an axe to grind. PS – if it helps, what we used to do when I was at Space Island was keep the mic and cable with the driver in the cab of the truck. That way we had it in case we had to make an announcement, but it wasn’t something that someone on the decks could abuse easily.

See the issues being conflated here? Dancetronauts running a professional production company was not expressed as one of the issues by the DMV at all. Neither was this “velvet rope” stuff. “Selling Early Access passes” was a minor mistake that was immediately corrected and removed from the web in less than 24 hours, no such transaction ever took place. But somehow Terry managed to throw that on the pile of justifications despite all evidence to the contrary.

June 14, 2015

We publish Part I of this story. ePlaya flares up again.

It’s not clear if Trilobyte and the rest of the volunteer ePlayans get any form of compensation – either cash, free tickets, or a chance to purchase tickets in the Directed Group Sale. Or do they just volunteer their time on these forums for psychological gratification?

Screenshot 2015-06-16 05.06.25

Screenshot 2015-06-16 05.20.52

Where are these rules? What rules were broken? Surely it should be easy to point that out, given the severity of this ban. I can’t find them in the Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy, so where are they?

Other Mutant Vehicle owners want to know too:

Screenshot 2015-06-16 04.33.36


So what was the end result of this unprecedented social media campaign of drumming up as many complaints as could possibly be gathered?

Eventually, the DMV provided the entire list of complaints to Dancetronauts, which you can read here. Could this file have been tampered with? I guess, but I trust my source, and see no reason why it would be.

BMOrg insisted that these complaints were collected only from emails to DMV@burningman.com and their official post-event feedback process. However some seem to be word-for-word identical to complaints at burningman.com, on the ePlaya discussion forums and the Voices of Burning Man blog. It is hard to match them up since the complaints file provided is Anonymous; this also made it hard for Dancetronauts to apologize to the 32 people affected.

There were an unprecedented number of complaints last year in general: more than 400. More tourists (replacing Veteran Burners) = more complaints.

We may never know how many of the Dancetronauts complaints were direct emails to DMV and how many were through the feedback process, called FLIP. In the same way we will probably never know how many “more than 400” really is. Let’s assume it’s a 50/50 split and there were 420 complaints about everything.

Dancetronauts got 33 complaints in total. One of these was a duplicate – same complaint twice. So really it was 32 – apply our assumption from the feedback form, 16 out of the 420: 3.8%. Who got punished or asked to take a year off for the 96.2% of complaints BMOrg received last year that weren’t about Dancetronauts?

I have tagged each complaint based on what it was about. There were many complaints that mentioned more than one issue:

25 DJ plugging himself on the mic (Decommodification violation)

12 Total noise complaints (Sound policy violation):

11 Noise on Burn night

3 Noise at Alien Seige machine

1 Noise at the Temple

6 Don’t mention Dancetronauts at all

6 Specifically mention other art cars also causing problems

8 Refer to the online smear campaign as the reason they felt compelled to “chime in” with their complaints.

Here are some examples from the complaints, that show how ePlaya and other online commentary inspired them to write:

I came across a thread on eplaya about the art cars with large sound systems specifically the dancetranauts during the burn and just figured I’d chime in as someone who attended burning man for he first time this year.


XXX from XXX here. we’re well know to the BOrg and absolutely love you guys. i’m gonna chime in on this one


My first burn and bummed at Danctronaut DJ plugging himself during the Man Burn It was suggested we email, so just want to chime in


I found the ePlaya thread about blaring, self-promotional art cars and I 100% agree.


This address was given by a DMVer on ePlaya I know there is some of discussion about the Dancetronauts art car and the way they promoted themselves at the Man Burn. I was too far from the art car to comment on that…They should be allowed at the Burn, for sure


A friend of mine mentioned that the Department of Mutant Vehicles had been receiving a number of complaints about the Art Car music situation at this years Man Burn, and was looking for comments.


I suspect I am not the first, nor the last, to send an email regarding this problem, but I wanted to make sure my voice was also heard in this


All the comments you heard about Dancetronauts are true…Just throwing in my two cents


I’m sure you’ve heard from others, but I’d like to add my voice condemning the behaviour of the dancestronauts

The similarity in language amongst some of these complaints is suspicious. And these are just the complaints that explicitly mention being encouraged to write in – we can assume that still others were encouraged even if they don’t mention it.

I wager a guess that the vast majority of the 400+ overall complaints BMOrg received last year were also for Decommodification violations, but of a different kind. What the community was most upset about was the exclusive wrist-band only VIP Commodification Camps, at least one of which we know was run by a member of the Burning Man Project Board of Directors.

It appears that, despite an unprecedented number of complaints, those involved in the Commodification Camps all got off scot-free, no punishment at all.

The Burning Man Project articles of incorporation were changed from standard legal speak to be uniquely based around the 10 Principles and the partial clock-face layout of Burning Man. The Directors are all specifically bound to uphold the 10 Principles, even though there is technical loophole for them because they are just directors of the “Project” and although the NV burn is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Project, apparently the directors can do whatever they want at Burning Man and don’t have to uphold the Ten Principles there. Bizarre, right? But a legal loophole nonetheless. When you spend $10 million on lawyers, you can’t argue that such loop holes are there by accident.


Michael Franti wrote a track about Burning Man called Let It Go, and was nominated for a Grammy an Oscar for it. Are they going to ban Franti now? Or what about Missy Higgins, and her for-profit Burning Man song, We Ride? These tracks are not gifted for free, to get them you have to spend $20 to buy the soundtrack album for Spark: A Burning Man story off iTunes. BMOrg was involved in the production of this movie and took an ownership stake which brings them royalties; as far as we can piece together, the rights to all royalty streams and intellectual property were transferred to Decommodification LLC before the Founders gifted the remainder of Burning Man to their tax-exempt foundation. So every time a copy of this soundtrack and DVD gets sold, Decommodification LLC – and by extension, the 6 founders who are its partners – gets paid. Is this not a worse Decommodification violation than a DJ handing out free CDs? These artists are specifically profiting from Burning Man, they’re not gifting anything.

David Best gets paid to make Temples all around the world. Photographers put their professional watermarks on Burning Man photos, and earn money by taking them. Should we ban them?

Green Tortoise sells safari tourist packages, and gets a free advertising post from BMOrg talking about how great they are. This isn’t Commodification? But gifting a CD is?

How do Burners have a better experience of Burning Man, when we see awesome Burners like Dancetronauts getting unjustly punished by unseen Special Interests, for doing things others blatantly get away with? We’re told the Ten Principles are “just guidelines” now. We see rules being enforced Selectively, rather than one set of rules being applied equally to everyone. Decisions are made on the whims of any number of dozens of “chiefs” or secret “Councils” who think they are important to the event. These chiefs often disagree with each other, sometimes to the point of lawsuits. Complainers get attention, just like in an HOA. Burners get ignored as much as possible. Then propaganda, “spin”, and smear campaigns are employed to manipulate the masses.

The trick to navigating this dictatorship is sucking up. If you suck up to BMOrg – at least to the right people there – or even better, if you are someone they want to suck up to – then you can do whatever you want. Like, Google can use the Burning Man logo to make their search engine seem cool, and monetize Burning Man footage through YouTube. Facebook can make a shit-ton of money advertising on the side while we’re on their Burning Man pages. Denis Kucinich and Grover Norquist can use BM to promote their political careers to new voter blocs. Fest300 can plaster their branding all over their Burning Man promo videos – but DJ Sander van Doorn gets punished for doing the same thing. 210 people with registered drones have to obey safety rules, but Fest300 can blatantly flaunt them because their boss is on the BMP Board.

In this world, Burning Man: The Musical is just fine, because a Google employee is behind it. No matter that he’s never even been! On the other hand, Johan the Dome Guy who has busted his ass helping fellow Burners on the Playa for 20 years, went to the effort of creating Burning Man: The Board Game as a camp fundraiser, only to have it callously banned by BMOrg “in the name of protecting our brand”. It totally conformed to their rules for camp fundraisers, but a few insiders decided “this must be stopped” and so it was – accompanied with another smear campaign running in the community about Johan’s motivation and character. The Pee Funnel camp got banned for the accusation that they thought about selling tickets on the side, even though BMOrg themselves ultimately confessed they had actually been doing exactly the same thing for 2 years, more than 1500 times. Not to trap scalpers, like Pee Funnel had claimed: the Burning Man Project were selling tickets to the sold out event direct to VIPs specifically to make money from the difference between face value and the sale price, ie actual scalping. Who got punished when we exposed that?

This punish mentality is just horrible – we saw this same thinking with the Paul Addis affair, where BMOrg were absolutely determined to talk up the damage as much as possible to get it treated as felony arson, which led to Addis doing time in jail, ended his legal career, and ultimately contributed to his tragic suicide.

Can you have rules without punishment? Of course. That’s how the city works already. Most Burners follow the rules and self-enforce. Whatever you’re into, everyone is there to have a good time. Punishment should be the last resort, not the first thing we leap to before we’ve even heard all the facts.

This situation reminds me a bit of the Iraq War and the WMDs. They decided they wanted to go in, and made up the reasons to justify it afterwards. Gathered whatever evidence they could to support their case, no matter how spurious.

Even after all the dedicated hardcore campaign of hate, spanning months – all they could flush out were 32 complaints, 6 of which didn’t even mention Dancetronauts.

Let’s put this in perspective. 32 complaints, out of 65,992 people. We know many of the complaints were from BMOrg founders, staff, and volunteers – a group of 3000 or so who don’t get counted in the population. This is less than half of one percent of BlackRock City, and only 3% of the total complaints for the year. Is that really significant? Especially when they probably happily entertained 20%+ of the population over the course of the week (15,000 people)?

The #1 restaurant in the world is El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. Check out their TripAdvisor reviews:

Screenshot 2015-06-16 15.18.29

If they made all their decisions based on the 29 haters, the 1000 people who rated it Excellent or Very Good would never get a look in. You don’t get to be the best anything in the world by focusing on complaints, you get there by focusing on excellence.

Similarly, Apple has many people who dislike their products and prefer alternatives – but they’re still the most valuable company on this planet. A small number of people complaining, should not outweigh the very large number of people who love the Dancetronauts and think they should be invited back this year, next year, and every year.


The decision seems to have been made that Dancetronauts needed to take a year off before Burning Man ended, and the plan to ensure this happened was underway as soon as its perpetrators got back from the desert. The idea was to motivate as many people as possible to report problems to the DMV email or via the FLIP form; encourage everyone to share their complaints on burningman.com; and use Groupthink techniques to encourage the pile-on of hate. Shaming and childish naming, “Douchetronauts”. Spread lies about them. Put the word out in the community, these guys were terrible, these guys must be punished, these guys are ruining Burning Man. Find as many sheeple as you can who will go along with the rest of the flock.

turbulent priestWho was behind it? This was specifically answered by Terry from the DMV Council, when he felt the need to emphasize that the complaints were coming from 2 Burning Man founders, supported by BMOrg employees. It was also answered by Chef Juke from DMV, who acknowledged that there was an interconnected group of complainers who attacked Dancetronauts from the very beginning.

The attacks all originated out of various burningman.com platforms, and appear to have been co-ordinated. There is a similarity in days and timestamps, between things being said on ePlaya, on Reddit, Facebook, and on Voices of Burning Man. Many of the complainers appear to be connected to each other and the Org.

Some might feel this story is much ado about nothing. But it’s clear from many of the comments that this hate campaign is still going on, and some Burners feel the need to crucify Dancetronauts for things they didn’t even do (e.g. playing music at the Temple). Dancetronauts pled guilty and apologized for everything they did do. They are not questioning it. And yet, the hate is still there! Where is the forgiveness? Where is the inclusion?

The actions BMOrg took to punish them have created a sour taste in the mouths of many thousands of Burners, and have not made Dancetronauts feel welcome at the event – despite their repeated efforts to compromise and conform. So the solution to punish has not really created any resolution, since those outraged by the problems appear to still be outraged.

We’re all human. There’s always going to be a few people who want to complain, and a vast majority who remain silent. How do we work together to make things better? Not how do we hate and punish and shame each other, that is Default world bullshit that has no part in Burner culture.

Worst practice: banning an art car because a couple of senior BMOrg people don’t like them, then attacking them year-round on social media to smear their reputation.

Acceptable practice: following the sound policy and cautioning Art Cars that cause problems

Best practice: working with Art Cars that cause problems to make sure they’re educated, treating them like valuable customers and contributors who are welcome, taking an Inclusive rather than Exclusive approach. Making sure the rules are clearly stated and consistently applied. Providing an independent arbitration process for dispute resolution.

Of course, Burning Man is not a Democracy. Not even remotely close. It’s a $30 million corporation, housed within a tax-exempt charitable structure, and operated as a “do-ocracy”. This means Burners do the work, and the Ruling Group benefit. In this scenario, Larry is a benevolent Philosopher-King like Plato spoke about, a dictator who only cares about the good of his people. This model requires a dynasty of kings to provide continuity of rule to the people. The Egyptians did pretty well with it for thousands of years, but slavery was a big part of their culture. The pharaoh didn’t give a toss about justice or fairness amongst the slaves.

Show some mercy, BMOrg. I get that a couple of dozen people were pissed at Dancetronauts on burn night. And now many thousands more are pissed at BMOrg for banning Dancetronauts. So what has been achieved? Who won? How did Burning Man get better?

Let’s have objectivity, consistency, fairness, and transparency. Let’s also have compassion, empathy, leniency, and humanity. Dancetronauts have apologized, they’ve offered to make changes. This decision out of the blue to ban them, after 6 months of silence, and years of great contributions, is excessive and churlish. Please show some leadership and over-ride it, welcome Dancetronauts back this year and let’s see how well they behave. If they do the same stuff all over again, then I would be the first to say “they deserve a ban”. It is very hard to see how that could happen at this point, though. Seems to me they already learned their lesson, and further punishment will not bring further benefit. A show of leniency would go a long way to restoring faith in the Ruling Group from the Burner Community, and would be good for morale.