Back to the Further Future

Image: Peter Ruprecht

Image: Peter Ruprecht

Kestrel returns with a year 2 review of Robot Heart’s tech and music conference.


Last year I took a chance on Robot Heart’s festival debut. Now, one year later, that heart remains a lightning rod for any number of gripes about the social experiment in Nevada, and what it has become. Last week it became a literal lightning rod, as FF was body-slammed by mother nature. Last year the BLM’s shady permit-denial moves and the travel problems created by the “Fight of the Century” threw festival-killer curveballs at the event. This year FF was inundated by a season’s worth of rain in one day – so before anything else is said let’s all bear in mind that this crew of friends-turned festival producers are averaging 3 crises every 12 months.

 

For a fairly long and detailed background on last year’s event, the Paiute, and the infrastructure of FF, refer to my article from last year. For now, here are the basics: Further Future is a 3-day music and tech conference held on private property belonging to the Paiute Indians of the Moapa Valley reservation about 45 minutes N.E. of Vegas. Tickets prices are tiered, but average about $300, and one needs to apply for an invite code by sending a simple, one-sentence message. The code can be used to buy multiple tickets and has nothing to do with what you look like or how much you make. Camping accommodations vary greatly from self-camping to luxury structures. Water and WiFi are free, and there is cashless RFID wristband-vending but almost no branding. Attendance is about 5000 people, spread over a few dozen acres of desert. The bill is comprised of over 100 speakers, studio monitors and musical acts.

 

Bookended by the Robot Heart bus facing dawn, and a more traditional main-stage framing the sunset were a variety of structures. A beautiful outdoor speaker series stage called Booba Cosmica, a Creator’s Lounge to showcase and demo tech, a tight-packed disco called the Void, a pop-up dining hall, a spa, a yoga sanctuary, a surround-sound setup called the Envelope Satellite and a variety of art installs, chill-out pods and customized containers peppered the grounds. There was a general store and a farmer’s market. The event eschewed West-Coast fest mainstays such as flying runs of stretch fabric, flower-of-life tapestries and the “LEDiarrhea look” for simplicity and function. Staging was celestially oriented, and celebrated the natural beauty of the Mojave desert. This year, the addition of hundreds of wooden pallets made for a retro/Western feel evocative of Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” video.

 

It’s eerily similar to the Black Rock desert, but the conditions are less extreme. (Usually.) No open fire. No LEOs besides Tribal Police. Do what you want, consume what you will, but keep your clothes on. Key times are dawn and sunset, the aesthetic is futuristic and silver, people seem to split their time between costumed photoshoots, TED-style talks and dancing. The population is noticeably more ethnically diverse than TTITD and skews both a little older and more European than the crowd at Larry’s party. It seems that news of last year’s success reached foreign shores, and the Cali. festy kids with little to risk who drove the 4 hours from L.A. were replaced to some extent by European couples in their 40’s and 50’s. People were friendly but not as aggressively outgoing as the crowd at The Awesome, and anyone who’s traveled in Europe will recognize the vibe.

 

There are two ways to talk about Further Future –  in and out of the context of TTITD. If no-one had ever heard of the other event, FF could simply exist as the finest small music festival in America and perhaps the world. Perfect sound at accessible stages featuring an expertly curated mix of diverse music with the addition of substantive talks delivered by actual visionaries in a gorgeous natural setting.

 

But the event doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It grew out of a TAZ which itself grew out of a specific historical setting. A very smart friend of mine sums up TTITD as a series of small cultural revolutions connected by a thread best labelled “The Search for White Identity.” Larry and his crew had the brilliant idea of bringing San Francisco-flavored Situationism to “The Middle of Nowhere.” (a White man’s conceit – Lake Lahontan has been an important meeting place for a long time.) The Robot Heart crew brought a very different East Coast and Far-East sensibility to the experiment a decade-and-a-half after guns and dogs had been replaced by techno.

This may have been the source of the rumor that the leader of Anonymous was there. Image: Ruprecht Studios

This may have been the source of the rumor that the leader of Anonymous was there. Image: Ruprecht Studios

I get the feeling that BMorg’s hyper-litigious corporate culture stems from decades of fighting off commercialization of their event, as well as downplaying the suicides, O.D.’s and sexual assaults that perennially threaten the very existence of the experiment. The most extreme example that comes to mind is their recent legal victory (documented on this very site) over a Canadian collective trying to incorporate a common synonym for “combust” into their domain name. I don’t use the word in my writing anymore, and similarly FF’s participants and speakers made little mention of the culture that birthed this new one, and the fear that Larry’s lawyers have instilled in us only pushes us further, faster.

 

We opted for a Saturday entry ($100 off) and that late arrival saved us a couple hundred on flights. Although it meant missing Four Tet, Tennis and WhoMadeWho. Bummer, but we stayed dry in Vegas. As was my experience last year, the journey from the Strip THROUGH the gate took under an hour. So easy compared to DFALT (Discovering Friends And Losing Things.) We set up our little Jucy rental RV and went exploring. I guess now it’s a tradition, but I insisted we made a beeline to the bus. As we entered the grounds, people’s regalia and costumes were on full display.

 

There’s no central Esplanade; rather the fastest way around is actually a curved road on the periphery of the event, with a stunning backdrop of the Moapa valley extending for miles on one side, with and everything else on the inside. It feels like K street around 10 in BRC, right where the outer ring is closest to the edge of our Lake of Dreams, and you can sort of see the shrubs out by 447 and the road the cops use to come in on, so the RH crew are right at home here!

 

People generally respected the fact that the other side of the road was tribal land, but used it as a photo-shoot backdrop. You didn’t get the feeling here that cameras are an issue, and there was a sign at the gate warning that one’s image would most likely be captured. I never, ever carry a camera or take pictures in BRC (other than to document builds and camp stuff) but here I felt like a kid at the zoo, and was glad to have a DSLR. Right as we entered a woman dressed in Dom gear and giant moon-boots was standing on a modded container snapping a bullwhip at a camera drone. You saw a lot of the “rhinestoned generalissimo hat and round shades” style that’s kind of an RH fan mainstay and looks way more “Frank Miller combat-hooker” than the “Haight Goddess and her Silicon Valley Unicorns” look people NOT from the West Coast tolerate in silence at BRC.

 

It’s always hard to tell who made what, but the costumes were fun and varied, and there were fewer normcore types and sports logos than you’d expect. I talked to a super daywalker-type from Minnesota in a polo shirt who was impressed by how respectful everyone was. I explained how I felt that while it wasn’t exactly horrible, the few butts around would cause a riot at the Main Event, and he had a tough time understanding why. For a second time, I witnessed zero shitshow moments/fights/nonsense, with the one exception of a bro who somehow slipped thru the entry code process and drunkenly bear hugged a hanging Hybycozo lantern that came straight down around him like Building 7. The pieces were intact, and they fixed it later, but he ran away into the darkness, hopefully to be bitten by some rattlesnake who’d wandered in, following a 75,000 watt thumping trail to Lee Burridge.

Image: Peter Ruprecht

Image: Peter Ruprecht

I won’t go into great detail about the music, except to say that I have a whole new library of stuff to listen to. Got to see The Pharcyde in the desert. Discovered a new sound in the form of UK act Elderbrook, when we just had to go check out the guy playing solo Fender Jaguar into Ableton plus soul vox on the Boba Cosmica stage. The stages and screens are gorgeous, and the festival sounds like a millionaire stereophile dragged bespoke systems out into the desert (It’s a “funktion-none” situation, from what could tell. The only brand clearly visible on an audio element were the RH logos on the Bus’s mid-stacks.)

 

Last year’s headlining slot (sunset Sunday) went to Bob Moses. This year we were treated to the Easy Star All-Stars playing Dub Side of the Moon in its entirety with a high def “Oz” visual accompaniment (so fun!) followed by HVOB, who, like Bob Moses, bring live vocals and native instrument flavor to minimal electronica. HVOB’s visuals consisted of mostly black and white flowing graphics that I believe were the work of artist Clemens Wolf, punctuated by the band’s simple “checkmark” logo. Minimal, Austrian, disarmingly beautiful, and a perfect companion to Dub Side. When I say the music is expertly curated, I mean the music is. Expertly. Curated.

Image: Facebook

Schmidt claimed that they were concerned about attacks from laser weapons. He was recently appointed to run the Pentagon’s new Innovation Advisory Board, so this may not have been ironic

But what really sets FF apart is the quality of the talks. Everyone knows of a theme camp that organizes a speaker series to help with their placement and give the illusion that the camp is bringing enrichment…but in execution the talks are a joke and everyone makes sure they’re not so loud as to wake up the DJ’s. Further Future’s speaker series had Eric Schmidt answering tough questions. The CEO of Google, ten feet away. As we arrived he was saying that “We are in a time where we know more but feel worse”…cogently acknowledging the existence of a new form of dysfunction that arose from the all encompassing knowledge-sphere his own company had helped to create.

I went primarily for the music and the talks about music, and I’m not an excellent judge on the caliber of conversations about the future of high technology. But a friend of mine who is far more knowledgeable than me about such things was also there, and he was impressed by the high level of most of the talks and felt that one could summarize the attitude of most of the speakers down to the idea “that you could harness technology (applied creatively), collaboration, and an orientation towards action and positivity rather than fear and apathy inducing cynicism – to transform the world.  That the future of technology might not be so much killer robots ala terminator but the opening of new frontiers for mankind.” He’s dubbed this view “techno-positivism” and he says that nowhere has he seen a better case for it than at FF.

 

There were as many speakers as DJ’s. The talks were fun, and there were many more questions than time to answer them. I witnessed an humanoid robot engage in an open-domain exchange about gardening. I experienced the Playa in 360 degree immersion through VR goggles (my first exposure to VR). I listened to a Princeton neuro-scientist talk about what happens to you put transcendental meditation masters into an MRI machine. When I suddenly realized I wanted an apple, I could buy one at the farmer’s market. The next day I got to hear the farmer who brought them talk about how we could get insurance companies to incentivize the consumption of locally-grown food. Last year the Soundcloud guys spoke; this year it was a Spotify team member’s turn. The giant, gorgeous display on the mainstage was used to host a mini film fest between acts, and Darren Aronofsky was in attendance.

 

When I talk about music publishing in a VR realm to people, I usually get blank stares in return. Here VR music distribution was a defacto topic of conversation across forums. The off-repeated fear that Oculus will make us all hermits was met with data on how VR can help treat autism. We were told about a project to create a VR sexual assault experience from the viewpoint of both the attacker and the victim so legislators could “walk a mile” in both shoes. The notion that this technology could actually create empathy and bring people together permeated both the Creator’s Lounge and Booba Cosmica. If it got too heady, you were a three minute trot from face-melting beats and just as far from a massage. Festival veterans enjoyed the cerebral moments, and the academics and inventors enjoyed the novelty of speaking in a tent in the desert. It felt both authentic and accidental, but more than anything it felt timely.

 

There were a few misses. Tycho was a no-show at his panel. For some reason, there were bare mattresses everywhere, and I actually preferred the staging and layout last year, where camping was basically inside the festival grounds. This year featured an actual manned gate, and security would either not scan you at all and just wave you by, or alternatively not let you in with a camera, seemingly depending on the individual guard. We paid for an RV pass for our Jucy, but since the van has no hookups, and we were just living in the lot anyway, it seemed like a waste of money, and at $250 split three ways, it’s not just pocket change. Last year felt more like a spontaneous gathering, but then it occurs to me that this might be nostalgia speaking. Am I doing the “It was better next year” thing? Already?

 

My first year I went alone – this year I brought two friends and next year we plan to bring a whole crew. We stayed ’til Monday morning, at which point RH’s friends were doing the “I’m MOOPing, are you?” judge-nudge that lets the strangers know it’s time to leave. (At this point Monday Beatport’s pre-written hit piece was already online. Contrary to popular misconceptions, mangoes are not $7 at FF. A freshly prepared fruit cup is. There was no pizza. Delicious, desert-appropriate portions of ceviche were $6. A McDonald’s-quality salad poolside at the Bellagio is $20. Who’s the 1% meow?)

 

Further Future can be done for less dough than most big festivals, and as more people realize how great this event is, the complaints about it being “BM for the 1%” will fade. The organizers are careful to use language that suggests they are willing to open source their event. They describe what “a” Further Future event is, not what “the” event is. Presumably this kind of “mindful optimism” is portable. It has to be.

 

One last thing worth mentioning is that this event takes place on Paiute land actually owned by Paiute, so some (presumably large) part of the ticket price goes to them. There is no temple, and the RH crew reminds participants not to strip down naked or wear anything Native-American inspired. For the second year, I didn’t see anyone break this rule. The main event, on the other hand, features white people building a temple on former Indian land that turns a profit for other white people.

 

Let that sink in next time you’re feeling sacred out there in the CNC’d shadows at the corner of Twelve o’clock and missing friends. The Paiute are missing a few as well….

 

…And if you are one of those for whom that land by the temple is sacred, and you’re feeling the crunch of ticket scarcity, whatever you do, don’t look West to the music nerds climbing their bus project. They don’t have any extra tickets from Bmorg. Nope, if you’re feelin’ that The Man has altered his contracts with you and made it harder for you to access your sacred land – you should write to him. The Paiute can tell you how that goes…

 

Image: Peter Ruprecht

Image: Peter Ruprecht

TTITD’ers are not all the same. We’re not all fire spinners, or DJ’s, and some of us even play guitar. There can be a kind of Etsy-conformity to our culture, and although I’m decidedly not wealthy, at times I felt like I “fit in” more at FF than BM. If you’re into the whole desert TAZ thang, but you’re not a fire-jock, this is the fest for you. If you’ve ever had a festy friend with their heart in the right place tell you to “add some color to your wardrobe” this is the fest for you. If you like your conversations about energy flow to happen with a guy who’s put lab instruments on Tibetan monks…then I’ll see you in the Further Future.

 

The other thing moves your heart. Further Future fills your brain. This is a transformational festival where people with the resources and skills to transform the planet interact with people who have already transformed their personal lives. To that extent, where the Impossible City in the Desert saves individual people, Further Future has started a conversation about how to save the world.

 

I’ll close with my tech developer friend’s words about FF:

 

“I find the internet hate directed at the so called “Burning Man for the 1%” to be almost embarrassingly unproductive.  These are not the 1%’ers we should be fighting.  These are the ones we should be talking to, working with, cross-pollinating with. Lumping them in with the Martin Shkreli’s of the world based solely on their net worth is just not the smart move here.”

 

There was a neon art piece out by the bus that read “This Is Just the Beginning.”

 

I hope so.

 

-Kestrel.


burnersxxx:

Thanks Kestrel for another fine guest post. And thanks to photo artist Peter Ruprecht for these images, he says:

The future is not something that happens to you but rather the fabric with which you shape your destiny. It is part raw material, part pre-built. It is up to us to learn to navigate the challenges, successes and shortcomings in a manner that makes the journey worth the result and the result worth the journey. It is that perfect dance of embracing your future, accepting your past and loving your present. Thanks all for your gifts out there…thanks Further Future and Robot Heart!

I took some cellphone video of Eric Schmidt’s talk. Like always at these things, you look around and see lots of professional photographers and fancy camera setups, filming away. Where does all this footage go? Seemingly, not on YouTube. Anyway, it’s shaky, it’s shitty, but it’s better than nothing…

 

Follow the Money [Updates]

If you thought this year’s theme of “Da Vinci’s Workshop” and the corresponding shift of Propaganda Minister Will Chase over to the Maker Movement meant that 2016 was going to be all about 3d printing, laser cutting, computer-controlled manufacturing, nanomaterials, and all of the exciting things going on in Silicon Valley with the built environment…think again.

So far, it seems, it’s all about money.

We’re not quite 10 weeks into the year, and already we’ve had:

Art, Money and the Renaissance: Re-imagining the Relationship

What Powered the Renaissance? (Could it Have Happened Without Cash?)

The Renaissance’s $ecret Weapon for Arts Funding

How Burners are Re-Inventing the Artists Workshop (answer: “fronted by a master and funded by a relatively small group of wealthy clients”)

And now, Larry Harvey’s latest post “Following the Money: the Florentine Renaissance and Black Rock City”

Is it just me, or is there a bit of a “theme within a theme” starting to emerge here?

In the new post, Larry likens BMOrg spending $1.2 million in art grants to Lorenzo de Medici taking notice of the young man Michelangelo and moving him into his palace to get intimate, or Peggy Guggenheim sponsoring Jackson Pollack.

When Lorenzo de’ Medici adopted the young Michelangelo into his family, he did much more than hire on a hand to serve his needs. Private patronage is personal; it is immediate and intimate, and what is true of Florence and our temporary city is also true of every celebrated art scene ever known. One example is the relationship of a famous heiress, Peggy Guggenheim, and Jackson Pollack, a struggling painter. Peggy paid the painter’s daily bills, bought his work when no one else would, and organized his first art show. At a soirée held in her home, she even let him pee in her fireplace (though not on the carpet)…

…Money sluiced through the streets and piazzas of Renaissance Florence, and yet the sheer hydraulic force of capital did not determine every outcome. Money was a means, but not an end. What mattered most was social interaction in the context of a networked culture driven by ideals, and Burning Man may be regarded in a similar light. One way to fathom this phenomenon is to follow the money. In 2016, Black Rock City will distribute 1.2 million dollars to artists in the form of honoraria.

It is around 3% of revenues – almost exactly half this year’s $2,349,000 Vehicle Pass take.

Artists have been asking for a fair and equitable contract. Here at Burners.Me, we have been suggesting more should be spent on art than on lawyers. It doesn’t sound like Larry & Co are listening to either of these groups, so we wonder where the feedback he’s getting is coming from – and if his information diet is being distorted and propagandized as it moves up the food chain.

In the case of Burning Man, such quasi-governmental patronage does not exhaust resources that are devoted to art. As with competitions sponsored by the Wool Guild, Black Rock City’s honoraria are awarded by a small committee, but this curatorship, as practiced by a few, is counter-balanced by a radically populist patronage. Each year many artist groups will subsidize their projects through community fundraising events and crowd-sourced campaigns on the Internet. Some critics say that Burning Man should shoulder all of these expenses, but we have found that self-initiated efforts create constituencies, loyal networks that support these artists on and off the playa.

This has produced a flow of art that’s issued out of Black Rock City in the form of privately commissioned work, civic installations, and exhibitions subsidized by festivals. Now this surge of money in support of art is going global.

[Source: Burningman Journal]

Radically populist patronage? Sounds like Sanders and Trump voters.

I would love to see a link to somewhere on the Internet where somebody said that BMOrg should pay all the costs of all the art at Burning Man. I think the general consensus here has been that they should pay more of the costs than a third of the pieces they promote the crap out of and claim credit for – and they should probably pay for The Temple, the same way they do for The Man.  Let us spend our artist funding budget supporting pieces that wouldn’t otherwise get there, rather than mega-works you can promote with Oprah and Dr Phil and sell tickets to for $1207+ for spectators to come and behold.

Here is a recent link to Larry Harvey repeating his oft-told tall tale that “no artist has ever signed their art at Burning Man”. This previously espoused philosophy seems to be the antithesis of his latest claim, that the art at Black Rock City funded by their annual Medici donation of $1.2 million (by year BM30) has enabled outside careers and markets for its artists. Personally, I believe the latter to be closer to the truth, and his earlier claim to be false. Nice to see you coming round, Larry.

Last year, in an interview with Ignite Channel, BMOrg were claiming to have created their own art market.

So instead of trying to cater to the traditional art market, Burning Man has created its own. The Burning Man Project not only funds art projects shown at the festival itself, but supports artists creating interactive projects in cities internationally. 

Many cultural festivals have since followed Burning Man’s example in putting art front and center. With pride, Harvey shares: “Many people come [to Burning Man] for the art and stay for the community. (…) We are making it more possible for artists to sell their art in such a way that they can live off their art.” By supporting artists who would otherwise struggle to gain recognition in the traditional art market, Burning Man and other festivals are giving birth to creative dreams while shining a light on unlikely art.

“Anybody who’s going to take art as a vocation has to endure enough. Artists deserve to make a living.” — Larry Harvey

I would be interested to hear the opinions of some Burner artists about this. Has BMOrg helped them to live off their art? Last we heard, BMOrg’s artist contract specifically forbade artists from paying themselves anything from the art grant. It also said BMOrg take a 10% cut if the art piece is sold off-Playa.

Are they going to claim credit, and a cut of the money, for this? If you ask me, the credit and the money should all go to Marco.

Bliss-Dance-Marco-Cochrane-web_t1000

Artist Marco Cochrane with Bliss Dance, now in front of the MGM at Park Las Vegas. Image: MGM Resorts

[Update 3/13/16 11:55pm]

A reader has let us know that the reason the art grants have “increased” from $850k to $1.2m in the last couple of years is that the costs of The Man are now being lumped together with Art Honoraria grants.


 

[Update 3/13/16 5:42pm]

Here’s what BMOrg said last week:

Burning Man Arts is funding BRC art to the tune of $1.2 million this year, including these Honoraria recipients, as well as the sculptures, the bell towers, and the 33 Guild Workshops in the Piazza around the Man.

The sculptures? Meaning, The Man and his rotating clock frame? Or other sculptures as well as the Man and the Temple?

The $ are also funding blacksmithing collective Iron Monkeys, linked to BMOrg Board member Kay Morrison, to provide a functioning blacksmith shop in the desert:

There will even be a functioning, participatory blacksmith shop — the Piazza de Ferro — built by the Iron Monkeys. Sparks will fly!

What further indications do we have that the $1.2 million BRC art budget is funding The Man, as well as everything else listed and fractional funding of 60 art projects?

In the most recent financial information we have for the Burning Man Project (2014) the Man and platform can be found at the bottom: $407,055 for Cargo Cult and $237,581 for Fertility 2.0. It’s hard to imagine that 2014’s 120 foot-high Man cost much less than this to construct.

As you can see, in 2014 the Man and Platform are no longer being listed as a separate line item (Donations to Schools and Regionals have also disappeared). Are they office expenses? Contractors has risen $2 million from 2013 to 2014, neatly mirroring a drop in (estimated) profit after all expenses from $4 million to $2 million. Perhaps it could be hidden away in there – but, why?

2014 bmp comparison financials 2013 2013 burnersdotme 2

Video

Life Cube Gonna Burn in Vegas

life-cube-vegas

2014 Life Cube in Vegas. Image: Aluminarium

Scott Cohen asked us to share this.


It’s official. The Life Cube Project will be coming back to Las Vegas. The metal and glass Life Cube will be coming from Reno if we can arrange transportation and then we will be creating a 24 foot Life Cube on Fremont Street between 8 & 9th. The Cube will be up and open to the public in mid-March and burn on April 2. The journey from Burning Man to the default world continues. We will be looking for artists, builders, people with positive energy to teach yoga, dance, spin fire, play music, DJ, and help assemble 200 satellite Cubes for schools throughout the Las Vegas valley. This is going to be epic. If interested in helping, please email lifecubedtlv@gmail.com and we will get you info. #lifecube #burningman — Please feel free to post your favorite Life Cube memories and photos. Documentary by H. Andrews Joven.

 

 

Vegas Halloween Parade Cancelled by Burning Man Attache

For the last 5 years, tens of thousands of residents of Las Vegas have enjoyed the annual Halloween Parade. This has featured Burner art cars like Dancetronauts Strip Ship, and has been linked to a Burner-fuelled gentrification revival of Downtown Las Vegas. It is organized by Cory Mervis, who three years ago was hired by the Burning Man Project as their cultural attache for Las Vegas.

Cory Mervis and Toni Wallace driven their school bus painted like an American Bald Eagle to Black Rock Desert as part of a 10,000-mile venture to spell the word "Vote" on a continent-wide scale.

Cory Mervis and Toni Wallace drove their school bus painted like an American Bald Eagle to Black Rock City as part of a 10,000-mile journey to spell the word “Vote” on a continent-wide scale.

From Fox5 Las Vegas:

Organizers of the Las Vegas Halloween Parade, which has marched for the past five years, decided to cancel the 2015 event, citing increased costs.

“We’d been negotiating for months with a potential partner who could help offset our expected increase in infrastructure and security costs,” said event founder Cory Mervis. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t agree on a plan that met everyone’s needs and time ran out.”

In 2014, the parade took place along East Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. Organizers said about 70,000 people attended the event, which took place on a Saturday. A turnout of 100,000 was expected.

The parade’s focus will be placed on the 2016 event, with organizers hoping to bring in additional sponsors and support.

Cory was appointed by BMOrg with great fanfare ago 3 years ago. The Burning Man Project had ambitions to transform an entire city by working with the real estate developer, Billionaire Burner Tony Hsieh (he sold Zappos to fellow Billionaire Burner Jeff Bezos, who names Amazon’s products “fire”, “kindle”, “burn”, etc). The Downtown Project bought Burning Man art like the Praying Mantis to be the front piece of their shipping container shopping mall, and transported the BMOrg-funded YES Spaceship art car to their office lobby.  Across his business empire, Hsieh embraced the same Hippy Operating System self management system called “holocracy” that empowers BMOrg’s force of 70 full-time staff to make themselves look busy year-round while achieving little in the way of measurable output.

Y.E.S. Spaceship in Zappos Lobby. Image: Glass Door

BMOrg CEO Marian Goodell came out to Las Vegas to give a speech (at Electric Dasiy Carnival’s attached business networking conference). She said:


“Las Vegas provides a rich landscape ripe with opportunities for civic participation and public gathering, and we look forward to engaging in this collaborative effort.”

She then described the partnership with Cory Mervis, the Downtown Project and the Burner-inspired company behind First Friday, noting that Art Cars were a key part of the vision:

The partnership will enhance First Friday in Las Vegas by providing more opportunities for participation and interaction, strengthening the event’s civic-minded emphasis, and developing ways to keep attendees connected. The partnership would also like to provide storage, or a museum space, for art cars in Las Vegas so that they can participate in the First Friday and other public art events. In order to facilitate this process, the Burning Man Project is hiring a liaison, or “cultural attaché” that will be based in Las Vegas to work closely with Downtown Project.

“Hiring” means BMOrg is paying for this – which means we, the community, are paying for this. To my knowledge, this is the first time Burning Man has hired a full-time cultural attache to represent them in another city.

The Las Vegas Sun published a lengthy article in 2012 about all the links between Las Vegas and Burning Man, promoting it as an example of how the official Regional events can be used to accommodate the culture’s growth beyond available tickets to the Gerlach burn:

The main spark…came when Vanas, an event planner, was invited by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to invest in First Friday and handed a ticket to Burning Man. It was there that Vanas had his epiphany and chose to commit to First Friday LLC, a decision he says was based on the creativity and community experience he saw at Burning Man. Vanas and other locals in the Burning Man community want to see some of the event’s large-scale, interactive sculptures planted downtown.

This month’s First Friday festival, held on the “Burnal Equinox” (halfway between annual Burning Man events), might be the gateway to more Burning Man-inspired activities, motivated by the community-building principals of Black Rock City, which pops up in Northern Nevada for a week each year with theme camps, the burning of The Man and 50,000 attendees.

“It’s just the beginning,” says Bocskor, who, along with Mervis, runs the Society for Experimental Arts and Learning, a creative group inspired by Burning Man. “That’s why the name Flames of Change is so wonderful. What’s happening here in Vegas is setting new examples of what we can do. … With the first build of Lucky Lady Lucy, we had stagehands, accountants, bartenders, chefs, kids — all working together.

“It’s important for regional activities to go on that have the sense of Burning Man culture because the attendance is capped. There are more people who want to go than there are tickets.”

[Source: Las Vegas Sun]

The Washington Post (also bought by Bezos) wrote breathlessly about Larry Harvey’s genius for urban renewal:

These days, Harvey — now in his mid-60s, dressed in a gray cowboy hat, silver western shirt, and aviator sunglasses — is just as likely to reference Richard Florida as the beatniks he once met on Haight Street. Most recently, he’s been talking with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, who shares his vision of revitalizing Las Vegas, one of the cities hardest hit by the recent housing bust. “Urban renewal? We’re qualified. We’ve built up and torn down cities for 20 years,” says Harvey. “Cities everywhere are calling for artists, and it’s a blank slate there, blocks and blocks. … We want to extend the civil experiment — to see if business and art can coincide and not maim one another.”

Harvey points out that there’s been long-standing ties between Burning Man artists and to some of the private sector’s most successful executives. Its arts foundation, which distributes grants for festival projects, has received backing from everyone from real-estate magnate Christopher Bently to Mark Pincus, head of online gaming giant Zynga, as the Wall Street Journal points out. “There are a fair number of billionaires” who come to the festival every year, says Harvey, adding that some of the art is privately funded as well. In this way, Burning Man is a microcosm of San Francisco itself, stripping the bohemian artists and the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs of their usual tribal markers on the blank slate of the Nevada desert. At Burning Man, “when someone asks, ‘what do you do?’ — they meant, what did you just do” that day, he explains.

So what did BMOrg just do?

It’s been three and a half years now since this BMOrg-sponsored PR campaign kicked off. The Art Car parade grew, from 1,000 in 2010,  12,000 at the time BMOrg announced the partnership, to 70,000 last year, and an expected 100,000 this year.

BMOrg made an announcement that they’d picked a city to support, and it was Las Vegas. They got some press to write about it, and sent Marian for a panel discussion. They hired a cultural attache.

And this is what it has all come to. Parade cancelled, Burners pissed, 100,000 people disappointed.

With all the skills and talent and resources in this community, with all the Medici style HNWI patrons, with hundreds of art cars on tap and easily summoned to action…we couldn’t even get a parade together?

It’s bad enough that the parade couldn’t be organized by its self-appointed organizers and their financial behemoth partners. What makes it worse is that the cancellation came just 3 weeks before the event. People had already been spending months working on costumes and art cars in preparation.

Screenshot 2015-10-31 11.30.29

So, what went wrong?

The estimated budget was $150,000. There are people in Vegas dropping that nightly. Ex-Kardashian Lamar Odom just spent $75,000 for a weekend drug binge with two hookers he didn’t even touch.

Lebron James Bar Tab. Image: Brobible

Lebron James Bar Tab. Image: Brobible

Surely the cultural attache of Burning Man can organize a street party, when they’ve been doing it for years, and it has the mayor’s blessing, the people’s support, sponsors, cops ready to go, and all the permits required. Right?

From the Las Vegas Review Journal:

“It really sucks,” she says. “This was heartbreaking to have to call it off. We did everything in our power to make this happen. In the end, it was the smart thing to do.”

Mervis says it came down to not having the financial backing to do the things they wanted to do.

For the past few months, they have been able to acquire some sponsorships. But wanting to make the event bigger than before – Halloween is on a Saturday and Mervis thought there would be a larger crowd – she knew it would take more money.

“We wanted more police officers, more barricades, more marketing and needed more insurance,” she says. “We were looking at about $150,000. I could have finagled the budget, but I really didn’t want to do things on the cheap.

Mervis says they do plan to return next year. She hopes to spend the next year acquiring more sponsors and up the ante on the parade.

“Ask me where I’m going for Halloween?” she says. “Disneyland. I want to get a few ideas. I want this to be like the Macy’s parade one day.”

It sounds like the money could have been raised, and perhaps even some fat in the budget could be trimmed (for example, save money on marketing, contact Burners.Me) but the standards of the organizers were too high. Couldn’t Burning Man’s full-time cultural attache go to the $34 million parent company and say “hey, we’re in danger of having no parade at all, please contribute”? What about starting a Kickstarter, and marketing that to BMOrg’s nearly 1 million strong Facebook audience? This sounds like exactly the kind of art in community situation that Burning Man Arts should be reaching out and supporting.

Here’s Cory Mervis giving a speech. Note the Beatles-style jacket, just like that usually worn by Burning Man’s Social Alchemist and Global Ambassador, Bear Kittay. Is this a uniform now?

She seems to have no problem riding the coat-tails of the Burning Man brand, network, and social movement. And BMOrg seem to have no problem endorsing her, employing her, and funding her. Indeed Zappos, the Downtown Project, and the City of Las Vegas seem to all have been enthusiastic partners of Burning Man. So a failure like this hurts the global spread of our culture.

Who takes responsibility? Who takes the blame? Who fixes the mess? Who looks at it to say “we fucked up, what can we do better next time?”. Nobody. For the sake of a few minutes launching a Kickstarter, or a couple of phone calls to Larry and Marian, everybody missed out.

Burners were not impressed with the surprise last-minute cancellation. Some had planned international travel to attend the Parade.

Screenshot 2015-10-31 11.33.35 Screenshot 2015-10-31 11.34.01 Screenshot 2015-10-31 11.34.38 Screenshot 2015-10-31 11.34.53 Screenshot 2015-10-31 11.35.03 Screenshot 2015-10-31 11.35.16 Screenshot 2015-10-31 11.35.27

Is there, as one of the commenters suggested, more to this story that they’re not telling us? There usually is. Earlier this year the BLM moved against Further Future at the last minute, forcing them to change venue. Those guys are total professionals, and had a Plan B lined up. The Burning Man Project team seems less experienced with event planning.

Nevada politics is a murky scene, but still, a parade doesn’t seem that hard to put together. $150,000? Really?

 

 

Daft Punk at the Trash Fence

A guest post from our reader Damian:


 

2015 daft punk trash fence 2

 

Over Memorial weekend at The Forgotten City, the Las Vegas official Burning Man regional over 800 participants witnessed what can only be described as the conclusion to the urban myth that is Daft Punk playing at the Trash Fence.

In the event guide released the week before an entry of “SURPRISE!” was listed at 9pmon Saturday night. Sound camps such as Rootist Lounge and Epyklandia had been contacted and told to go dark at that time and to avoid the urge to use social media. In production meetings, a small handful of leads were given the logistics of creating a minimum 27ft x 27ft stage on which a pyramid would be built and an additional 70kw of power to be supplied on top of the existing solar array powered Funktion-One sound system. The stage was to be wrapped in a trash fence. Additional security was hired to patrol the ridge line of the location to prevent the predicted horde of zombies that may appear. In fact regional Cameron Grant was so convinced that he personally contacted Burning Man HQ with his concerns.

With a five hour construction of the pyramid during the day the rumors and guessing of what the surprise was had begun, and by 9pm when Daft Punk’s Contact began playing from the pyramid and then two helmeted legends stood up, the crowd literally began to lose their shit. It was mayhem: half the crowd were numb and in total astonishment, the other half were pumped and in total disbelief repeating “no way, is it really them?” endlessly. The urban myth was in full force with 800 participants standing in front of a trash fence, blinded by an iconic LED pyramid wall and listening to Daft Punk played by a duo in suits and helmets.

2015 daft punk trash fence1

The aftermath on social media has been priceless with people demanding to know whether Daft Punk played, deniers doubting the budget of the event and booking price, the technical specification of the pyramid, the look of the EL wire in their suits and Burning Man HQ coming down on use of headliners at a regional event.

What can be said however is that everyone had a Daft Punk at the trash fence experience and everyone experienced some controversy including the event organizer who received this voicemail message: http://tinyurl.com/q52tbrq

 

2015 daft punk trash fence 3

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