Why We Burn: Dj $mall ¢hange, 17 Year Burner

(This week, I decided to bring in the big guns. DJ Small Change is one of the few remaining funky institutions in NYC. An unparalleled DJ, spinning everything from your sister’s wedding and art museum openings to loft & underground events across Brooklyn. He decided to share some amazing stories about the early playa and the slow change he’s observed in his time at Black Rock City. This guy was going when a lot of us hadn’t even heard of it yet, so give it up. Pour yourself a cup or a drink and dig in. A lot of really interesting stuff here! ~Terry Gotham)

1. How was Burning Man 2015? Anything unexpectedly dope happen?

Actually got a lot of sleep this year, which I know isn’t the usual thing for that town. My gf Kate was sick the 1/2 half of the week, I would crash with her, thinking I’d get up in the middle of the night to roam around, but end up waking up well past dawn. I guess I needed to rest myself. But I got out, went dancing, DJed, saw some old/new friends, some nice art pieces. Bubbles & Bass and the Sunday night party at the Pickle Joint (shouts 2 Ezra / Darkat) are always a sureshot.

Probably the craziest shit I saw was the Regurgitator out by the trash fence. They had a pulse jet engine hooked up to a fulcrum on one end with a motorcycle seat and a wheel turned sideways on the other. Basically it was a machine designed to spin in circles extremely extremely fast, the ultimate nightmare spin around and get sick carny ride. I hate carny rides oh man, this is not my cup of tea at all, nope, not fucking getting on that thing. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a human being move that fast in real life. Shit was truly insane. To start it the guy used a leaf blower in one hand and a flame thrower in the other. Safety 3rd? More like 5th. Felt like some old school shit. Very DPW-ish.

2. Urban legend has it that DJ Small Change has seen 17 Burns, is that true?

Yup been going straight since 1999. Ppl always say ‘it must’ve been so different!’ Well kinda sorta. Though I wasn’t attending then, I feel the real transition years were mid 90s, with things really changing after ’96, when dude drove into that tent, and they had curb back certain rules about driving on the playa etc. So with 1999 you have a city that is similar to what it is today, in terms of layout. The population was less then now but still significant, about 25K. And not as big, they’ve added a more few streets. Things were a little more out in the open, police was definitely less of a factor back then. Pershing County wasn’t ticketing so much back then. Its now akin to NYC parking tickets, tax these hippies for smoking/pissing/fucking/etc. Continue reading

Midburn Damaged Ancient Site [Updates]

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

So much for Leave No Trace. Apparently Midburn damaged, perhaps even destroyed, a cultural site  150,000 years old. Ironically, they erected their Temple right above the site.

From Asssociated Press:

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli Antiquities Authority says revelers at a Burning Man festival famous for its pyrotechnic spectacles have accidentally torched some remnants of prehistoric man.

Archaeologist Yoram Haimi says organizers of Midburn, an Israeli affiliate of the Nevada carnival, burned a wooden temple Saturday on a hilltop scattered with flint tools from the Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.

The site was discovered 30 years ago by an Israeli archaeologist. The area is not marked with signs and it is hard to see the ancient remains. He says the extent of the damage is unclear.

Eyal Marcus, Midburn spokesman, said antiquities officials only approached organizers in the middle of the festival.

“We are sorry,” Marcus said. “One of our principles is ‘leave no trace.’ We are not for destroying.”

From Haaretz:

the burning of the Midburn “temple” Saturday night, which caused a huge blaze lasting several hours, damaged an archaeological site at the community Nahal Boker. The site contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.

The flat-topped hill on which the temple stood served as a workshop in ancient times. The site was discovered 30 years ago and the find scuttled plans to build a power station there.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the damage may be great, though it can only be fully assessed once the weather turns rainy and the dust is washed away.

“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Yoram Haimi, the authority’s archaeologist for the district. Haimi said he toured the area during the event, after the temple had been put up, and asked Midburn’s organizers to ensure that it would not be burned to the ground.

He also asked that the coals stoking the fire be removed manually, not with heavy equipment. On Monday, it was clear that neither request had been fulfilled.

Haimi plans to file a police complaint. “Maybe that will deter them next year,” he said.

Midburn’s organizers said they had received permits for the festival from all the necessary agencies, including the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

“The antiquities authority contacted us only in the middle of the event,” they said in a statement. “We tried very hard not to harm the area and collect all the waste, because that’s part of Midburn’s principles. We regret any misunderstanding.”

Midburn was also interrupted by bomb disposal squads, who removed 2 unexploded bombs found at the site, and the tragic death of an experienced Burner.

From the Times of Israel:

organizers had to call in a bomb-disposal unit during the festival to take care of two unexploded ordinances, likely left over from Israeli military training exercises. Part of the camp was evacuated for a few hours while the bomb-disposal unit worked, but no one was injured and the bombs were disposed of safely.

There was also a death for the first time at a Midburn event: An older participant suffered a heart attack just 15 meters from an ambulance stationed at the event.

The man, in his 50s and a veteran of many Burning Man events around the world, collapsed from an apparent heart attack, likely unconnected to the festival or to substance abuse. Paramedics instantly began life-saving measures and stabilized the man before he was taken to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where he later died.

Other than that, it seems like a good time was had by all. More coverage, including photos, at:

The Guardian

The Globe and Mail

 [Update 5/28/15 8:06am PST]

Page 11 of the Midburn transparency report said that they were required to get an inspection by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. It seems this may have happened this year after the Temple had been constructed.

Midburn have released this official statement on Facebook:

Dear Midburners,

Today we read in the press that there is a concern we may have caused damage to an archeological site while burning the Temple. If this is true, we consider it a very serious matter. We’ve of course received all the necessary permits from all authorities (Nature and Parks Authority, the Regional Council, the Police, Israel Land Authority etc’) to hold the event in a lawful manner, including permits for the specific locations of the art installations and the city’s perimeter. Throughout the permitting process, we worked in full transparency and coordination with all the relevant authorities.

Nevertheless, Civic Responsibility is our guiding principle and that requires us to act as responsibly as possible and take measures that extend far beyond the minimum requirements of the law.

We will therefore examine the claims by Israel Antiquities Authority and continue to be a community that is involved and is aware of the environment in which it exists. We promise to investigate the matter thoroughly and to keep you updated.

Image: Midburn/Facebook

Image: Midburn/Facebook

[Update 5/29/15 4:04pm PST]

Say anything critical of something in Israel, and it won’t be long until someone throws Anti-Semitism into the social media trollfest. Like, there are all these special rules, that wouldn’t apply to discussing Kiwiburn or Burning Seed or Flipside or Element11.

That’s not right. Burners are burners, dude. Wherever they are, whatever they do for a living, whatever god they worship (or not). There are not “some special Burners” and then “the rest of the Burners”. Whoever is thinking like that needs to experience some Radical Exclusion and Civic Rejection.

I’m not even criticizing Midburn – kudos to them for more than tripling in size since last year, getting the support of a Nobel Prize winner and Royal Society Fellow, getting judges to back them, and overcoming all obstacles in their path. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if there is some political backlash against them, and maybe that’s why the media is piling on.

Type “burning man” into Google and then in the Search Tools put “past week” or “past 24 hours”. That is what Burners.Me is here for: to share my opinions about what is being said on the Internet about Burning Man and the intergalactic (and inner-galactic psychonautic) realms of this Burner culture that is spreading around the world.

If you did what I just suggested, you’d see a lot of talk about Midburn. It’s not just me making things up, all of this really happened. And many people are taking the allegation of disrespecting a culturally sensitive site quite seriously. If I could speak in the vernacular of the Voices of Burning Man propaganda channel for a moment, I would say it thus:


Some say “the principles are just guidelines”, a vague and self-contradictory ethos.

Many Burners say “this is not just a festival, it’s not just a party in the desert, sex and drugs and sects and EDM”…this is a movement. Something substantial, and long-lasting, and growing and improving all the time. To many Burners, having Principles behind the movement means something in their lives.

All Burners around the world are now being smeared with this slur of trace-leaving. Did Midburn leave a trace? Or not? There is not enough evidence available yet to decide either way. But here is just a sampling of what is being said on the Internet over the last day or two.







Some original content re-blogged here from Tablet Magazine:


Ancient Archaeological Site Torched at Israel’s Midburn Festival

Flint tools from Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods are history

Last week, the second annual Midburn festival—a radical five-day event of art and expression and self-reliance and sundry communal tomfoolery—took place in a “temporary city” in the Negev Desert. An estimated 6,000 attended, who, by virtue of being present, adhere to “The Ten Principles” as established by Larry Harvey, the founder of the U.S.-based Burning Man festival after which Midburn is modeled. But it appears that two principles, namely “Civic Responsibility” and “Leaving No Trace,” were violated.

On May 24, a Saturday night, festivalgoers watched a wooden temple burn on a hilltop. I imagine many danced, or gazed agape as they contemplated the meaning of it all, as the flames screamed upward into the night sky. Below the fire, however, and atop the hill, were prehistoric artifacts. Reports Haaretz:

…a huge blaze lasting several hours, damaged an archaeological site at the community Nahal Boker. The site contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.

The flat-topped hill on which the temple stood served as a workshop in ancient times. The site was discovered 30 years ago and the find scuttled plans to build a power station there.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the damage may be great, though it can only be fully assessed once the weather turns rainy and the dust is washed away.

“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Yoram Haimi, the authority’s archaeologist for the district. Haimi said he toured the area during the event, after the temple had been put up, and asked Midburn’s organizers to ensure that it would not be burned to the ground.

Haimi told Haaretz that he will file a police complaint. Apparently, Midburn authorities covered its tracks, obtaining all the necessary permits.

“The antiquities authority contacted us only in the middle of the event,” they said in a statement. “We tried very hard not to harm the area and collect all the waste, because that’s part of Midburn’s principles. We regret any misunderstanding.”


Related: Israel’s First Burning Man, One Mile From Ben Gurion’s Grave

There is very little being said at Midburn’s English-language Facebook group. Where is the community of thousands of people who were at the event, rallying around to defend them?

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.16.34

That’s not a selection, at the time of writing – that’s it.

Over at their much bigger Israeli group, there seems to be very little concern about this.

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.12

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.31.34 Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.51 Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.31

The above was taken out of about 14 comments. Blame Bill Gates if anything was lost in translation. Perhaps anyone fluent in Hebrew or with inside knowledge could comment here and update us if this is being taken more seriously in the homeland, in a discussion group we’re not yet privy to. I’m just gathering whatever I can find from the Internet and sharing what I think is the most relevant with you guys, the more detail the better. Anyone reading this can do the same, so please share with the group if you find something.

This story from US News says that Eyal Marcus has an official antiquities authority map of the site that shows no archaeological sites there – curiouser and curiouser. There can’t be “no sites” and “some sites”, so somebody either has their facts wrong or is deliberately spreading misinformation.

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.38.50

It would definitely be great if Midburn shared a copy of that map, in the spirit of transparency.

Why are we not hearing about any drug arrests? Perhaps because they didn’t happen? This seemed like the main police fear, and it seems like Midburn did very well on that. However that is purely speculation on my part, I have absolutely no evidence to back it up. Perhaps those with more information, might care to share the more positive aspects of this story like that. Greenpeace isn’t all bad just because they graffiti’d the Nazca lines. And I’m sure no-one in Midburn would intentionally disturb a sacred archaeological site. But if a Burn was held on my nice rug in my living room, shouldn’t “Leave No Trace” mean my rug is still fine the next day? Let alone things that were buried in the ground beneath it for tens of thousands of years…

“All of Israel is an archaelogical site, all of Israel is a bomb site”…these arguments don’t wash with me.

“It’s totally fine if we trashed the site because we got permits”…this attitude is atrocious, and reminds me of THIS.

“Political haters are trying to screw with Midburn”…that sounds plausible, though not convincing. If Midburn can produce some documentation supporting their side, or if the Israeli Antiquities Authority fails to produce any evidence of damage, this argument will look stronger.

The remains of the remains, remains to be seen. We must wait for the rainy season, so it seems.

2015 midburn_620

[Update 6/4/15 4:13am PST]

Much more detail about this story here. The concern was not the fire, but heavy machinery used in construction. It sounds like Midburn made an effort to co-operate with the IAA last year, and is doing so now.

Midburn: Beyond Sold Out

Last weekend, Israeli Burners threw a party billed as “the first Burning Man Regional Event in the Middle East”. Prior to the event, it seemed to be sold out at 2000 tickets, but there wasn’t enough money to get all the art there. Well, it looks like the event was a big success, with 3000 tickets sold. We hope that some of the extra 1000 ticket windfall for the promoters was used to help the artists who were facing a loss on the event (their Indiegogo is still running, having raised $695 of their $18,000 goal).

It looks like it was a great party, with plenty of cool art. Seems like there is a lot of room for future growth too.

San Francisco-based Burner Shawn Saleme’s story at Visual News is the best round-up of the event. Full story and photos here.

The Art and Spirit from Midburn: the New Regional Burning Man Gathering in Israel

TUESDAY 06.10.2014 , POSTED BY 


From June 3-7, 2014 the first official Israeli Burning Man event called “Midburn” took place in the heart of the Negev desertWhile many Israelis participating at the gathering were familiar with the Burning Man event in Nevada, many had not been able to personally attend the Nevada Burn. Half a world away, this was the ripe opening for those who desired to join the unique Burning Man community.

In 2011, a core and committed group of Israeli burners decided to bring the spirit of the event to their own backyard in a greater way. Through meet-ups, dinners and beach burns, the community grew and thrived. This past week, the Midburn brought over 3,000 people to the desert. Around the temporary city, there were 40 theme camps and 25 art installations. For a first time burn, the environment vibrated with the spirit of Burning Man.

The “man” effigy, which is burned towards the end of the event, was a 12 meter tall structure called “Man and Eve” built by Itamar Menczer and crew. It displayed a masculine and feminine figure both with outstretched arms to the sky. Looking at them from their sides, one could see the shape of the original burning man figure that goes up in flames in Nevada each year. The temple, called the Forest of Creation, was commissioned to Shlomi Mir and was designed in the shape of five large trees, all of which could be climbed up on and would light up in blues, green and soft pink colors.


Surrounded by the desert were fractal art installations, laser cubes, forest labyrinths and mirror ponds to interact and play with. One of the most loved art pieces was the “Grandfather” by Gal Bracha, Itamar Faluja and Lior. Standing seven meters high, Grandfather was a hunched over ancient man with his walking stick. His long beard and hair were made from dried palm branches and at night, one could see his red heart beat through his wooden frame. After the event was over, he was burned, floating gracefully to the sky.

With the first Midburn successfully finished, one can only imagine what will next take place in the special deserts and communities of Israel. Check out more information about the movement that is happening with Israeli Burners on their website or Facebook.

Images by Sharon AvrahamMaya Oren and Tzachi Dovrat











Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp called the whole thing bizarre (full story here, via Associated Press):

Midburn in Israel’s Negev desert was a bizarre first attempt at the popular US festival Burning Man

A puzzling sight. A woman wears a unicorn mask at the Midburn festival.

A puzzling sight. A woman wears a unicorn mask at the Midburn festival. Source: AP

FOR the Bedouin Arab shepherds tending their flocks in Israel’s Negev desert last week, it was almost as if aliens had landed from outer space.

Some 3000 people set up a colourful encampment in the dusty moonscape, swinging from hoops by day and burning giant wooden sculptures by night.

It was Midburn, Israel’s first Burning Man festival, modelled after the popular carnival held annually in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Midburn is a mix of “midbar,” Hebrew for desert, and the English word “burn.”

For five days, participants — mostly Israelis — created a temporary city dedicated to creativity, communal living and what the festival calls “radical self-expression.”

Some came costumed in cape or corset. Others, from babies to grandparents, went nude. Participants brought their own food and water, and shared with others. The only thing on sale was ice because of the scorching heat.


Riding around in a sailboat car is completely normal. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Riding around in a sailboat car is completely normal. Source: AP


There were workshops in sculpture, drawing, and touch therapy. There was music and theatre. At the “tent of heaven and hell,” participants were chosen at random for one of two fates: getting massages or doing chores.

During the day, Bedouin shepherds meandered to the fence surrounding the festival to observe the spectacle. When day turned to night, a larger-than-life wooden sculpture was set on fire.

The festival took place a few miles southwest of the desert gravesite of Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, who dreamed of making the Negev desert bloom — though he probably didn’t envision it blossoming with hula hoops and pyrotechnics.

At the end, participants were told to remove their own trash and leave the desert without a trace.


Party goers channelling their inner.

Party goers sprawled across the desert. Source: AP



Not your usual night in the desert.

Not your usual night in the desert. Source: AP



This could be a scene from the moon.

This could be a scene from the moon. Source: AP

Note that, despite the promoters paying for 2 official BMOrg personnel to be there for ranger training, it’s now a week since the event and so far there is nothing from BMOrg or the Burning Man Project about this event. Instead they’re talking up a Shabbat dinner on the Playa this year. According to the Jackedrabbit coverage is “coming soon” on the official blog.

Burning Man’s traveling troubadour and Social Alchemist Bear Kittay was there:

bear midburn 2014 2Year 1 of the Israeli מידברן )'( Midburn summed up. I would have liked to see more Palestinians and Arabs, but other than that, it was a pretty remarkable virgin burn. Incredible to see how acculturated a 2400 person event can be from scratch. I have some cool video content I’ll be editing up and sharing with more in-depth interviews and such. Let’s keep growing these contexts for creative collaboration shall we? I must say, after almost 2 months on the road in South Africa, Singapore, Japan, Israel and Palestine, I’m feeling fired up as ever about the role that these gatherings can have on cultivating ecosystems of cultural transformation. Its great and deeply impactful in first world countries and peaceful regions, and I must say, watching this hatch in fragmented cultures like South Africa and Israel is a whole different ballgame. If we can get this model right, and keep it spreading to the places on earth desperate for this context, we can really, really, foment change
Perhaps someone should inform Mr Kittay that not all Palestinians can travel freely between their country and the occupiers, and most Arabs are not permitted to travel to Israel. Many world leaders have tried to solve this problem – perhaps Burning Man’s “cultural transformation” can succeed where Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, the Pope, Bill Clinton and John Kerry all failed. We look forward to seeing his “cool video content” soon.
[Update 3/21/15 4:07pm] Nimrod Astrahan has asked us to update this story to give him credit for Grandfather, and as a member of the core team and lighting designer .
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