Recent announcements from the Org make it seem like Burning Man is trying to deal with Electronic Dance Music like it’s a new problem. In fact, this is not the case. Burning Man has been taking place in the desert since 1990 and ravers started playing there in 1992, the third party. Since then, rave has grown from a few DJs to more than 5,000 different sets listed in Rockstar Librarian last year.
Not only was it fine to post the names of DJs on flyers from the very beginning, it was also personally endorsed by Larry Harvey.
Burning Man Flyer Advertising DJs, 1992
DJ Niles recalls:
I was DJ Niles and organized the first rave at Burning Man. I met with Larry Harvey in his kitchen to pitch him on the idea and he thought amplified music would be awesome at BM though warned me that any of the old timers wouldn’t like it and made us set up a mile from center camp with our speakers facing away from camp. We had about 20 people that came specifically for the party and about 50 people that came from BM camp. We had The Fly hotsprings to ourselves.
From Edgecentral (writing by Graham St John):
What was then known as “rave” music was first amplified at Burning Man in 1992 when a small “rave camp” appeared a mile from the main encampment, “glomming parasitically…onto the Porta-Johns.” The camp was organized by Craig Ellenwood of the early Oakland acid party crew Mr Floppy’s Flophouse. The headline act was Goa Gil, who played from Aphex Twin’s “Digeridoo” on digital audio tape to no more than 25 people. Also playing to hardly anybody were Brad Tumbleweed, Dave Synthesis (aka “Dsyn”), Craig and Terbo Ted. Terbo Ted has the mantle of being the first person to DJ at Burning Man. Ted informed me that in 1992 he “played on Friday afternoon to literally no one, with only ten miles of dust in front of me. It was awesome”. While he can’t recall it with precision, the first track played was some “spacey stuff” from a Jean Michel Jarre 12 inch from Craig Ellenwood’s record pile, “a record he was willing to sacrifice to the elements … it was literally a sound check” (ibid). Here is a link to a short excerpt from Terbo Ted’s live acid techno set in 1995, which was the first electronic music recorded at Burning Man to be released on CD (“Turbine time” on Shag).
The period was primitive to say the least. As Charles A. Gadeken reported in 1993: “I remember going out to the rave camp, it was five guys, a van, a couple of big speakers, a card board box covered in tin foil, colored lights and a strobe light. It was all cool.” But the reception was generally less than enthusiastic. Ted recalls that the punk (add your own prefix: anarcho, cyber, steam, shotgun, etc.) sensibility predominating at Burning Man held DJ culture complicit with “consumer society and a stain on an otherwise anarchistic, art-oriented event.”
Even in the early days, this was an issue for the hippies – one they were ready to get all “stabby” for…
On one morning near sunrise in 1993, a hippy dude came up to me while I was playing music on the sound system and he holds up a knife towards me and yells “are you crazy?” And I say “no, you’re the one with a knife”. And then he says he’s going to cut me or the speakers. So I turn it down, ditched the decks and circled far and wide off into the desert. He tried to cut the speaker cones with his knife but they had metal grills on the fronts, he looked like a fool and gave up and wandered off. I put on a cassette of Squeeze’s Black Coffee in Bed as he was walking away.
As early as 1994, there was an “official rave” listed in the Burning Man brochure.
Burning Man forced the techno reservationists to maintain their isolation a mile from Main Camp between 1992 and 1998, during which time the camp evolved into a kind of outlaw satellite of Black Rock City. Over the following two years, San Francisco’s DiY music and culture collective SPaZ (itself co-founded by Ted and D syn, along with Aaron, No.E Sunflowrfish and various others) orchestrated the sounds exclusively. It was extreme, eclectic and haphazard…Listed as the official “rave” in the Burning Man brochure for 1994, SPaZ would effect a great influence on sound system culture at the festival.
It was the ravers who encouraged Burning Man to let anyone bring their sound, big or small. A number of music collectives then converged on the Techno Ghetto. This was the first expansion of Burning Man’s crowd beyond its San Francisco Cacophony Society roots that kept numbers steadily in the low hundreds for the first 7 years. After the rave camp was established, Burning Man’s population started doubling every year.
SPaZ, members of which later initiated the Autonomous Mutant Festival, were effectively encouraging Burning Man to be “more like the UK festival vibe where anybody could bring their sound, big or small”. So, in 1995, while SPaZ set up their small system at four points amplifying everything from minimal techno and drum-n-bass to psytrance under a four story three-cornered scaffolding with lights and “variously garish and random streamers, banners and tarps, from punk to dayglo-indian-balinese-cybertrance-batiks to outright monstrosities” visible from Main Camp, Wicked (the famed UK derived outfit who held full moon and other parties on beaches and in parks around the Bay area between 1991-1996) arrived with their turbo rig and scaffolding supporting their black and white banner. SPaZ hosted artists including Minor Minor (Gateway), Theta Blip, Chizaru and Subtropic. Featuring himself, among with DJs Markie and Bay area guest’s Spun, Felix the Dog, Rob Doten and Alvaro, Wicked co-founder (and now running Grayhound Records) Garth stated to me that they “played for 4 days and nights through hail, wind, rain and electrical storms”. North America’s first free party tekno sound system, Pirate Audio, also made an appearance that year. On the windblown frontiers of techno, in this nascent vibrant ghetto accommodating the eclectic, experimental and inclusive sounds of SPaZ, the house sounds of Wicked, and other sounds besides, Burning Man had begun to attract a variety of socio-sonic aesthetics, paving the way for the mega-vibe it would later become
Poop was being MOOPed at dance camps even then: by BMOrg, who were dropping it on rave camps from the sky:
In this period, besides differences between the habitués and proponents of varying dance aesthetics (from the inclusive to the more proprietary) there was considerable conflict between those who regarded themselves true Burners and those they held as little more than raving interlopers. As Ted remembers, “ravers were always pariahs at Burning Man …. it’s like we were the poor people on the wrong side of the tracks and the wrong side of the man”. At one event, a bag of human excrement was dropped on the dance camp from a low flying aircraft. According to Garth, Burning Man had the porta-potties removed from the rave camp before the festival ended. “When people started crapping on the desert for lack of options, someone carried over a bag to main camp …. Burning Man was so enraged by this they flew over and apparently dropped it on one camp.“
From the beginning, Rave Camp was a mile away from The Man, but back then it was still possible to drive your car around the Playa. That all changed when tragedy struck in 1996: a stoned driver ran over a tent, sending one person into a coma for months.
In 1996, the year of Helco, they tried to re-integrate the rave camp with the rest of the city – creating the Techno Ghetto as an outer suburb. The plan failed:
But, things didn’t go according to plan in the ghetto. According to Garth, “the honeymoon ended that year. The theme was “Hellco” and that was what they conjured up… by this point there were too many [sound systems], all bleeding into each other…. it felt more like a super club on the playa”. As Terbo Ted recalls, the “ghetto” was an “abysmal failure … DiY gone mad… Music snobbery and cliquishness and DiY anarchist tendencies prevented an orderly camp from forming and the resulting spread-too-thin sprawl proved to be dangerous in an era when cars were still driving at every vector on the playa at high speeds in dust storm white outs”. Both Garth and Ted are in part referring to a tragic incident in 1996 when three people were seriously injured sleeping in their tent near the Gateway sound system, one in a coma for months, after being collected by a stoned driver.
It looks like ravers got the blame for the incident. An “unofficial anti-rave policy” was formed, to appease the complainers:
Together with an apparent perception that the “rave” was giving Burning Man a bad name within official circles, and the likelihood that techno was perceived as disturbing electronic chatter for many participants…this incident generated an unofficial “anti-rave policy”, which was effectively countered through the compromise entailed in Gosney’s innocuously named “Community Dance” in 1997.
We have an unsung Burner hero to thank for rave surviving at Burning Man in the face of this early anti-EDM sentiment from the old-timers. BMOrg, predictably, tried to ban doof – saying that only 100W systems were allowed. Luckily Mark Heller, Raver Marine, saved the day – and Burning Man was able to grow from 4,000 in 1995 to 70,000+ in 2015.
Ironically I was looking for info on Global Underground – looking to see how or if Narnia was still going on, and something of a TRUE RAVE which I attended 90-94, before moving to SF…. And of course hitting Burning Man 95-02… However I have news for you in the context of BM and raves… And not the stuff you can copy out of wiki..
Burning mans ‘community’ was, and IS rather anti-raver… They are just not openly hostile any longer – yes you heard me – hostile!
Let me explain the experience this stems from. I first heard of BM in San Diego in 94, with some irony at Narnia a much different ‘music based’ event. Much of my set, after finding that I was headed to SF decided to hit ‘The Man’, and we did. As I had an inordinate amount of time off that day and age, I volunteered and went early. (As I did following as well for a number of years.)
Anyway, a little correction of view and history is in order. And I’ll provide that for you here. In ’95 and years prior, were just tagging along, to the “Art Festival” that is BM, 95 being a clear demarcation of that. With two clear and distinct camps seperate and litteraly 2 miles away from each other. I’ll explain, upon arrival in 95 I got early and full access as a volunteer, as well as insight in the controversy of the time. The ‘Art crowd – Organizers’ were sick of the noise, and relagated “Rave Camp” to be at a distance, with a connecting road, and was seperately organized and paid for by an asphalt paving company to boot.
This distance proved FATAL, as a couple were run down in their tent along the ‘road’ I planted flags to demark. These were deaths #2&3 of 3 that year. (The other being vehicular suicide of sorts.) In response, driving, apart from art cars was banned the year following in 96. Also of interest in this context. [Clarification: 3 people were critically injured, 1 person died from vehicle accidents before the gates opened in 1996]
96, came no cars, and with it, NO RAVE CAMP! And a full blown discouragement of the rave community to attend by the BM authorities that be to this day. Find a ticket and map for that year, and you’ll find the typical desert death disclaimer on the back and with the hand outs, and also an interesting RULE, the first of many. “No sound systems over 100 watts allowed” yes you heard me! Where did 100 watts come from? – it was the biggest boom box you could find… Generators were also not encouraged, and a “centralized power system” would be provided for the limited center camps. (I have a unique perspective here as well…)
In 95 through 97, I volunteered with the guy running the generators in the BM base camp, which was very similar to what I did in the Marine Corps. (Yes, I was a Raver Marine – put your finger on that – try…) Anyway, on arrival in 96, the animosity was high, most of the art community was pleased with no rave camp & sound policies, thinking they could finally get some sleep…. I kid you not! HOWEVER – there were a lot of familiar faces from Rave Camp from the year previous and I got to know them much better this year as they were trying to fit into the new BM mold. And here’s why. I was the guy going camp to camp to find out your ‘power needs’ and drag the cables to many of them. “Hey how many amps you need?” And this is when the REVOLUTION began! And likely the only reason BM survived and grew! 95 was TOO BIG TOO LOUD TOO DANGEROUS! 96 was to be smaller quieter – but more people showed up…. To include a lot of ravers upset about what they helped build shunning them. 1/2 of the base camps requested 50A to 100A. And of those, almost all had HIDDEN DJ BOOTHS AND SPEAKERS IN GIANT PAPER MACHE ART! 10-20 THOUSAND watt systems. Right in the middle of the main camp.
In the few days prior to the first official night, the running joke was ‘don’t call the cops, my boom box is over 100w’. The first official night – THE SOUND CAME ON! AND IT WAS AWESOME!
You don’t have ME to thank for still referring to Burning Man as a “Rave” I was just a cog in a wider revolt that I did not even know was happening until I was trusted to help in the effort in an exchange of winks and nudges. An enabler…
But it was then, that the “Art Festival” known as Burning Man, embraced the chaos and the Rave community that helped make the event what it was at the time. (IMO it’s not what it used to be, and maybe that’s good too – different topic)
Burning Man flyer advertising DJs, 1998
Burning Man flyer advertising DJs, 1999
In 1998 Burning Man was described as “the ultimate meta-rave”. This year saw the integration of EDM and big art burns, with 2000 people at the Temple of Rudra (yes, they had Temples there before David Best’s first one). BMOrg shut it down on the first night, pulling the plug from the generator:
In 1998, a community sound system featuring New York’s Blackkat collective, The Army of Love, SPaZ and Arcane was unpacked on the playa. Holding their own desert dance gatherings over the previous five years in the Mojave, Moontribe also set up that year, with artists performing for three consecutive nights next to The Temple of Rudra, with the final party drawing 2000 people following Pepe Ozan’s opera. Symptomatic of the ongoing tensions, as Ozan apparently neglected to inform the Burning Man organization about his deal with Moontribe (they were providing the soundcheck for his opera), the event’s unique peace keepers, the Black Rock Rangers, unplugged the generator at dawn on the first night. With the all-too-familiar experience of having “Rangers” shut them down, Moontribe’s Treavor successfully pushed for an agreement for an all-night party after the opera on the Friday night, which also happened to be a full moon. According to Treavor, with himself, Petey and Matthew Magic performing: “we kicked in with some full on Psy Trance/Techno madness and tons of people came over and stayed in front of our system until around noon when it was about 110 degrees and time to end”
The anti-raver sentiment went beyond just BMOrg and the Rangers.
That known DJs were being targeted by Burning Man organisers was a circumstance endured by Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky), who was apparently pursued on the playa by “Pipi Longstocking” in the mid 1990s. But the tension between ravers and Burners seems to have been appropriately dramatized in a performance which saw a standoff between Goa Gil and a giant peddle-powered flamethrowing drill and Margerita maker called the Veg-O-Matic of the Apocalypse—or, more to the point, anti-rave crusader Jim Mason who was peddling the beast. Mason’s Veg-O-Matic is described by Robert Gelman in his article Trial by Fire: “It’s straight out of hell, suggesting engineering from the industrial revolution transported to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Part vehicle, part flame-thrower, part earth drilling device, I envision this machine being used to battle creatures in a 1950s monster movie, or to torture souls of the damned in the realm of satan”. With a pressurized gas-charger spurting flames as far as seventy feet from its barrel, and a gathering mob inciting it to greater acts of destruction, the Veg-O-Matic was known to burn installations in its path following the demise of the Man. On its post-Burn rampage, when the Veg-O-Matic rolled into the first Community Dance camp in 1997, Mason found Goa Gil directly in his path:
The crew of the machine is tilting the flamethrower’s barrel up at the console. Gil is staring down the 12-foot barrel of this jet powered char-broiler. I had to remind myself that this is theatre, or is it? I’m still not sure. “Burn it!” the mob chants, “Burn THEM!” Like an opposing pacifist army, the ravers are standing their ground, some shouting in defiance of the threat, some in disbelief that this could really be happening. Chicken John, like the demented circus ringmaster that he is, issues his now-familiar warning over the bullhorn [“Stand Aside”]. We seem to have travelled back centuries in time. I don’t remember ever feeling farther from home than this.
Ravers have been far more effective at bringing Burning Man culture back into the Default world than any other group. What have the hippies done to spread our culture, other than a few panel discussions?
The spirit of Burning Man is raised throughout the year in San Francisco at events such as the pre-Burn Flambé Lounge, the annual Decompression Street Fair, the How Weird Street Faire, the Sea of Dreams New Year’s Eve events and numerous sound art camp fundraising events held between May and August every year. The Decompression events have become hugely popular multi-area dance parties, and attracting many who’ve never been to Burning Man. The San Francisco “Heat the Street Faire” Decompression party is a reprise of the Burn held on 8 city blocks two months after the event.
So EDM has been at Burning Man pretty much as long as there’s been a Burning Man. This is nothing new. It hasn’t turned into Coachella or Glastonbury in 23 years, so why are people suddenly afraid that it’s going to now?
Surely a bigger problem is the miraculously consistent quota of 40% Virgins – every year it just gets harder and harder for Veteran Burners to get tickets, and more safari tourists come. BMOrg is trying to blame EDM for this, but we had EDM 20 years ago. What we didn’t have back then was a Ruling Group determined to promote themselves in the mainstream media: The Simpsons, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Inc, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, Town and Country, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, PBS, the New Yorker, airline in-flight magazines – not to mention all the celebrities and politicians encouraged to name-drop Burning Man and give media interviews from the Playa. I think if anyone is to be blamed for ticket scarcity, it should be the promoters who did this massive PR push into Default society so they could sell more tickets at higher prices – not ravers, who have been gifting awesome experiences at Burning Man on their own dime over the past 3 decades.
If ravers were there 10 years ago, and not creating huge amounts of MOOP ; and they were there 20 years ago, and not creating huge amounts of MOOP – then it is false to blame ravers now for MOOP. What else has changed, over all those years that EDM has been at Burning Man? Perhaps the entitled attitude of the Millenial generation who think they’re making the world a better place just by being in it is more of a factor.
The philosophy that has been promoted by the official propaganda channels in the past week is that if someone sees Burning Man on The Simpsons on FOX and wants to visit once to have a drug experience like Marge, they are a good person and coming for the right reasons; but if someone sees that Lovefingers is going to be on the Mayan Warrior on the art car’s Facebook page and wants to go because they like that DJ, that is a bad person and we don’t want them at our festival. Which isn’t a festival.
You can’t have this AND Radical Inclusion.
See also: Ranting and Raving