Why We Burn: Kevin Bracken

(As the East Coast begins its preparation to head West for Burning Man, I’m deeply honored to bring you an interview with Kevin Bracken, one of the low-key legends of the Brooklyn & Toronto party scenes. While the name isn’t familiar, if you partied in Brooklyn in the later oughts, Newmindspace & their dope Bushwick loft was a storied institution not to be missed. A member of Opulent Temple, he’s moved up to massive Pillow Fights, Bubble Battles, tangling with the Empire With Ears & bringing a big metal swan to the playa! He’s friends with Ryan & Erika from our first Why We Burn as well, so I hope you enjoy the chat!)

Brack1

By Terry Gotham

1. What’s your favorite Burning Man memory?
My favorite memory was the first sunrise I spent with my wife Marie at the burn, a.k.a. the moment we started dating. I’m pretty sure we both knew even then it was going to turn into something magical 🙂

Not my favorite memory, but my most unforgettable moment: It would be hard to top Paul Addis burning the man early in 2007 while most people were distracted by a lunar eclipse. For those who don’t remember, that was the year that Burning Man allowed Tesla to put an unmarked prototype in the Green Man “Corporate Pavilion.” It was an unmitigated PR disaster that was magically swept away by the deranged actions of a sick man. And even though I do think what Addis did was dangerous and pretty messed up, a tiny part of me does think it was the final chaotic, anarchic action of a Burning Man most people will never experience.

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Burners Get Bohemian for New Years

Got your New Years plans locked in? It looks like New Bohemia NYE at the Armory is where Bay Area Burners will be gathering to see in 2016. Production crews Opel & Vau de Vire are bringing out a combination of the best Burning Man talent to support like Opulent Temple, Distrikt, Dusty Rhino + Flaming Lotus Girls, Michael Christian, Kinetic Steamworks, the Scumfrog and Stanton Warriors.
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There is no dress code—the sky’s the limit on your creativity. That being said, New Bohemia is a themed NYE party where participants are encouraged to snazz up and get in the spirit of the cross section of worlds we are creating and bringing together inside The Armory. Not a hippy-paisley Bohemia mind you, but more along the lines of the Burning Man playa meets Moulin Rouge.  A kinky, naughty twist is A-OK and encouraged, but, as much as we hate to say it, no outright nudity.
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Sorry, shirt-cockers porky piggers. This is not the party for you.
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If you haven’t seen a Vau de Vire Society show before, you’ve been missing out. This is from last year:
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Here’s what the promoters have to say on Facebook:

New Bohemia NYE 2016 is the 3rd Annual NYE’s event at the iconic Armory. It is, and has always been designed to be a special and co-created destination, bringing together the best of the avant garde and underground creative worlds of the Bay Area. A world like no other. You’re invited to part the velvet red curtains to find an SF twist on those timeless bohemian values of Truth, Beauty, Love and Freedom. Deeper, and higher into this castle find cutting edge sounds, SF’s most dynamic music collectives and the synergy of intentional revelry on the precipice of a new year.

Poets and performers, aerialists and DJ’s, burlesque dancers and live painters, acrobats and absinthe hawkers, Art Cars and visual treats, crimson busts and decadent costumes; are all to be found in different markets, plazas, private upstairs chambers and titillating dark corners and streets inside New Bohemia NYE.

We have amazing music, but we don’t go ‘mega headliners’, because we’re much more interested in creating a community based spectacle of art and talents amongst friends and the amazing people of our circle of friends. And – we wanted to keep the ticket prices accessible for a party this big and offering so much on NYE.
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The curtain is raising again on the show worth getting excited about New Years Eve. Let’s ring it in together.

YES – we’re totally aware of of some of the previous venue kinks (pun intended) around lines, seating options, bathrooms, and security. Trust us that we care A LOT about making sure that even the things we don’t have total control over is 100% right for you on NYE. Our goal is to get you inside as fast as possible and enjoy an evening with friends in a World Like No Other and that everything clicks at a high standard all night. It’s a huge priority and you’ll be able to tell.

Early tier tickets have sold out but there are still some available for $70, and a variety of VIP room packages
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One of the VIP packages lets you take advantage of the Armory’s dual role as head (cough) quarters for kink.com, with your own film set to do with as you see fit…
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What’s a Burner party like without Burning Man? Come along and find out…

The Man Behind The Music

Image: IRDeep via Spin

Image: IRDeep via Spin

Spin magazine has an interview with Opulent Temple founder Syd Gris. Some highlights:

The organizers behind Burning Man deny any affiliations of being a “music festival,” but, for all intents and purposes, this is the wildest music festival in the world.

The denial of their identity as a music festival lets Burning Man rely heavily on crowdsourcing the 24-hour, over-the-top productions, visuals, DJ booths, sound equipment, and world-class music performances to ticket holders…

Attendees being responsible for their own entertainment is exactly what separates Burning Man from any other music festival. You bought the ticket, and have to do all the work. 

Gris is the co-founder, lineup curator, and overall production director for more than 13 years with the sound camp known as Opulent Temple. 

CREDIT: Photo by IRDeep

Opulent’s major objective is twofold: to provide a platform for spiritual dance expression and for DJs to explore the more artistic (and perhaps unacknowledged at other commercial festivals) side of their craft…

 This year, Opulent Temple took a step away from their typical stage build for their popular Wednesday night “White Party.” Instead, they provided attendees a truly magical alternative that captured the true essence of Burning Man by forming a commutative stage consisting of multiple art cars from other camps. The Opulent team set up their DJ stand on top of an art car, outfitted with large speakers, to drive deeper into the open center area of Burning Man. Various cars from other camps outfitted with large speakers met them at a specific location and linked up wirelessly through RF technology to form a makeshift half circle dance floor. While each car was synced directly to the Opulent DJ performance, additional art cars unaffiliated with the camp would drive in and the Opulent workers would link them up to join the party as well.

What was the sound camp scene like when you arrived at your very first Burning Man?
Back in 2001, there were certainly less of them and most every scale of production was downsized compared to current standards of Burning Man sound camps, especially the scale of sound systems. I say that mostly because camps such as “Lush” in 2004 and “Sol System” that same year (fondly known as Sol Henge) were even by today’s sound camp’s standards massive productions, but those were definitely outliers and seemingly burned both crews out because neither ever came back after that year.

Is it true that you fought for the rights of sound camps at Burning Man?
Yes, I organized a bunch of camps in 2008 including representatives from camps like El Circo, the Deep End, Green Gorilla, and others to approach the Burning Man organizers to request some changes and support. The premise was basically that collectively we’ve felt like we give a lot to the event. Which, of course, is fine; it’s why we started creating such camps in the first place. But we hoped we might get more support and resources from the organizers to do what we do since it is our perception the role of the Large Scale Sound & Art Camps had evolved to be an integral part of a large number of attendees experience and reason for coming. What we asked for and what we got for our efforts were different. Spoiler alert: not much!

Did artists like Tiesto find it unique having to purchase their own ticket?
Yes. We are a volunteer and fundraising camp. All the equipment, food, shelter, and electricity comes out of our own pockets, while we all have day jobs outside of Burning Man. He provided a donation to our camp debt after he played for us in 2005, he said, “It’s the only time I’ve paid someone to play for them.”

What did Opulent Temple do to set the standard for today’s music scene at Burning Man?
What we did to raise the bar was really just building on the precedence of the great camps that came before us but taking it to a higher level. We make our own art and the production pieces that make up our camp, and we build new stuff every year to add to our recognizable look. We were the first to have a DJ-operated flame-throwing booth, and the first to consistently bring out an eclectic range of so-called ‘big-name’ DJs, and we did it all year round through volunteers building the camp and making the art.

CREDIT: Photo by IRDeep

What’s the future of the music community of Burning Man? Will the music be too much and eventually take away from the art as it slowly becomes the main attraction?
I think people’s association and experience of Burning Man — unless something drastically changes — is always one of art and music. For now, it is by far primarily dance music. Though it sounds ironic to say, in one light you could say the organization has gone to great lengths to do nothing to support music at Burning Man beyond allowing it to exist. They do a lot to nurture the art scene, so I don’t see it becoming too much.

[Source: Spin]

Read the full interview at Spin Magazine.

Here’s a Syd Gris set from last year’s Halloween.

Strike 2 in EDM War: Opulent Temple Denied Placement for 2015 [Updates]

BanAllTheThings

When news came out that Dancetronauts had been banned for at least a year for being Too Loud For Burning Man, we wondered if there might be more to the story. Was this part of a bigger pushback to exclude “Broners” from our culture, an attempt to differentiate Burning Man as “more than just another EDM festival on the circuit?”

Well, speculate amongst yourselves, Burners…meanwhile, the coincidences continue to mount. Now we hear that Playa stalwarts Opulent Temple have been denied placement. Why? For not being interactive enough.

This is a sound camp with at peak moments more than 10,000 people being entertained. By the world’s best DJ talent, for free.

From Opulenttemple.org (emphasis ours):

2014 saw us go big once again. We produced and gifted our 11th incarnation of the camp, doing so for our 7th time anchoring a corner spot. We built a new (partially) crowd funded DJ booth we called Armagan, aka OPod 3.0. We also built new 3D screens for visual mapping known in OT slang as the snowflake screens, new I-beams and support structure to put the raised stage platforms together, and a custom made 3 shower stall on a trailer. We moved warehouses, did upgrades on our fire effects manifold, built a paneled LED light effect DJ booth for indoor events, threw 16 fundraisers, and we bought a swing set. We also founded a new 501c non-profit organization called Sacred Dance Foundation to formalize with the IRS what we always been in action, a non-profit community, gifting an experience in the hopes it will do a small part to plant seeds of goodness in troubled times.

So yes, we’ve been extremely busy, expended a high amount of financial and personal resources last year to make it all happen and ended up with a considerable amount of debt. It took us quite a few events just to come back from the deficit so we head into this year’s burn needing a different and less risky experience. Our core team has never had a year since starting or joining OT where we haven’t produced a large sound camp. It takes a massive coordinated group effort each year to raise enough funds to bring our production to the desert and I’m sure you know that we, like every other sound camp, do it all with only the support of our community, without any help from BMorg. We attempted to apply for a grant for our large-scale fabrication projects last year but were denied because sound camps and music are not considered art that the powers that be wish to support. While other art installation projects have access to almost $1 million in grant money, free tickets for crew and validation from BMorg, sound camps get no support even though we also contribute a highly interactive and memorable experience to tens of thousands of burners every night of the week at BM and beyond. It would be safe to say that sound camps play a big role in why many of the BRC population make the trek each year so the lack of support and respect from the organizers is disheartening… so much that they didn’t even assign us a placement for our camp this year.

So now the plan is to step back and have a different BM experience while still maintaining an OT presence and vibe in Black Rock City. There will still be a great OT camp that will be close to the many dance floors in the 10:00 and Esplanade vicinity, and we’ll still do a number of events, but they just won’t take place in our own sound camp and dancefloor. We’ve asked why we’re not getting placed and were told our camp is not ‘interactive’ enough since most of the events we’re doing are mobile. We’ll be announcing our events here in the coming weeks but definitely keep Wednesday night open for us with your creatively fabulous white attire for our annual Sacred Dance ‘White Party’, but this year on the open playa, stationed around the Flaming Lotus Girl’s Serpent Mother. We hope to enroll as many art cars as possible to link up and add to the epic party. Please contact us if your art car would like to join that sonic train and participate in the overall experience.

Thank you for the ongoing support to help us do what we do. Seems like the community based sound camps (in contrast to millionaire funded ones) are dwindling; many of the popular sound camps from years past will be absent this year: Roots Society, Osiris, Dancetronauts, Digital Apex. At this point we don’t really know year to year where the wind will blow us, but you can certainly bet whichever direction that is, we’ll be forging ahead with fire, beats, community and a mission, forever purposeful.

See you in the desert!

The only major sound camps we’ve heard that got placement are billionaire camp White Ocean and Disorient. Burners this year will also have to make do without:

Root Society

Osiris

Dancetronauts

Digital Apex

If you’ve heard of any other sound camps that won’t be returning this year because they were denied placement or couldn’t get enough tickets, please let us know and I’ll update the list.

When the Founders first announced their retirement and transition to a non-profit, then followed it up with an Anti-Burner ticket lottery, we speculated as to their motivation. Was there some perverse element disgruntled at Burners, and actually trying to destroy Burning Man from within?

I’m not sure what the motivation is, maybe you guys have some ideas. The decisions they’re making at BMHQ in the Mission just seem to be getting worse and worse, the older the Founders get. A tragedy, really.

shark burning man sfbg


[Update 9/13/15 5:25pm PST]

Thanks to a source for sharing this. From OT’s recent email to camp members:

This year is a unique year by OT standards because for the first year since our inception in 2003, we are not building a large sound stage / camp-central dance floor.   After 12 straight years we decided this was finally the year to step back and have a different BM experience while still maintaining an OT presence and vibe in Black Rock City.

So, there will be a great OT camp…But please be clear, though there will be  many dance floors in our immediate vicinity, most of the time it won’t be our own.

The camp will have limited space this year for ~120 people, including no more than about 20 RV’s.  (for comparison, last year we had about 275 people by the end of the week).  So by our standards will be on the mellow / intimate scale.  The requested camp placement is 250 feet back from 10 & A (so essentially behind whatever sound camp is on 10 &A).  That puts us well behind the usual loudness that’s generally been part of the OT camping experience but still close to the Esplanade and the action.

So that’s all they were looking for – somewhere to put less than half of the previous year’s camp. That’s the placement that was denied them, for not being “interactive enough”. So do the camps behind the 10 o’clock sound camps all have to be interactive now?

They were going to have events every night which were all open to the public.

EVENTS
Party wise we will do 5 events (only one of which is a full on OT scale blow out.)

-Tuesday Sunset: OT Happy Hour – Meet and greet for all camp members and open to the public to invite friends, live DJ’s and drinks.
-Tuesday Night: OT partners with an Art Car tba for an OT vibe and DJ mobile party.
** – Wednesday Night: our biggest event of the week – our annual OT Sacred Dance ‘white party’ – open playa locale TBA.
-Thursday Night: OT hopes to partner with a placed sound camp to synergize vibe and talent with our crew and theirs.
-Friday Sunset: OT Happy Hour – Meet and greet for all camp members and open to the public to invite friends, live DJ’s and drinks.

Would it have been so hard to reward their loyalty with placement? If not where they requested, then anywhere?

Burners on social media are saying that MOOP is the “actual reason” Opulent Temple were denied placement. This allegation has now been completely debunked, see below.

In other veteran news, Dusty Rhino was denied placement on the Esplanade, for not being interactive enough.

Let’s hope this means there will be incredibly interactive camps along the Esplanade this year, and in the back streets behind the sound camps.


[Update 7/11/15 6:34pm]

Opulent Temple themselves, perhaps fearing further ire from the Borg, have moved to downplay the situation, and distance themselves from any speculation about motivation.

Hey folks, OT here. We know people love getting drama-tastic about Burning Man, but while we appreciate Burners.me a lot for their support of music at BM, we feel this headline is a bit sensationalized. We don’t want to get pulled into some conversation about ‘war’ on EDM music, because frankly we don’t see it that way. Our scoop is in the web posting and we encourage people to read it on our site. Again in a nutshell – Unlike previous years, we don’t have our fixed stage. We never planned on having it for the reasons outlined in our post, which has nothing to do with placement. We are doing a number of OT events though, that will be at various spots around the playa, and because our camp itself did not have an interactive element, but is more of a base camp for our events around BRC, we weren’t placed. We’re still going to be there, it just makes things harder for us than we hoped it would be. We thought and wished partially based on legacy and previous contribution we’d get a reserved spot, but we didn’t. We’re not trying to call victim, it is what it is, we’re well versed in being disappointed in decisions from the org and we choose to be there with open eyes. It had nothing to do w MOOP either, for the record… There was zero mention of MOOP in their reasons for their decision. Thanks for everyone’s support and we look forward to seeing everyone out there, especially Wednesday night at the Serpent Mother. Peace.

[Update 7/11/15 7:00pm]

Thanks to MzFit for helping clear this up. Despite the haters’ claims (which we can put down to disinformation, or maybe familiar smear campaign tactics), OT was green for MOOP last year. They had a single red dot, which presumably was dealt with. It was a lot less than most camps, including most camps that only had one MOOP mark.

Screenshot 2015-07-13 18.57.08


 

[Update 7/14/15 9:03am PST]

This is from last year’s Piss Clear BRC Weekly. It reveals some of the Founders’ attitudes towards EDM and ravers:

sound camp lineup ban

 

White Ocean got placement. Dancetronauts and Opulent Temple got punishment. One is a billionaire camp (the founder owns 50 private jets), the other two are long time Burner camps who have put years into the event. Draw your own conclusions…welcome to Burning Man 2.0.


[Update 7/14/15 11:28am]

Someone suggested that 300 camps were denied placement this year, but officially it was 95. See the comments to this story for details.

From Opulent Temple:

For the record – 95 camps that asked were not placed (not 300). From our placement communication: “More camps requested Theme Camp placement than we have dedicated space for and as a result, we were unable to place 95 camps. Unfortunately your camp is one of these unplaced camps.”
Secondly, though yes – our in-camp interactivity was low (we know), it’s not like it was non-existent. Our interactive elements in the camp will be a large & plush public shade area open to anyone to come enjoy. (The same we always had on Esplanade for anyone to come chill) + 2 public sunset happy hours with guest DJ’s and drinks. + we’ll do 3-4 ‘mobile’ events and out about BRC, with Wednesday being the biggie. We’re doing more at our camp than some placed art car based camps that do nothing at their camp except park their art car when not in use.
Lastly, having some time to reflect, we say the reality of the placement thing is not that serious, it’s just been blown up because some have thought our normal big sound camp wasn’t placed, and we never intended to do the sound camp. It’s just the redundant, and consistent illustrative principle. We were, admittedly, hoping and assuming that our years of huge output of contribution was good for something in the consideration. Now we know it isn’t.

 

Burning Man: The Board Game

burning man board game

A great idea here that will provide hours of entertainment for Burners.

Johan the Dome Guy is a 20-year veteran of Burning Man, he has built many of the fabulous domes we’ve all enjoyed.

The idea behind the Burning Man Board Game is to have fun, and maybe learn a bit about Burner culture at the same time. You can use actual MOOP for game pieces.

moop game piecesThe game has interactive elements, like “everybody bump the thermostat on your A/C up 5 degrees”, which will have a flow on effect on the Playa.

bm board game

The game is being created as a reward on Kickstarter to help raise funds for some of the larger camps. Backers of the project can choose which camp they want to support with their donation. This follows the tradition of camps like SK8 selling skateboards and hoodies with the Burning Man logo, but is nowhere near the blatant commodification of Fest300 making Burning Man promotional videos with 10 seconds of their logo in them.

10 principles

A Burner who has played the game several times already told us “it’s fun to play, and I don’t like board games”.

Fun, right – that’s what this is all about? Art and enjoyment. All of us participating together, to amuse and entertain each other. Not money, not corporate power. Decommodification, not DECOMMODIFICATION LLC. Word is BMOrg are in an emergency crisis meeting right now about this game. Let’s hope they don’t try to shut it down. Last year they said they were teaming up with Indiegogo and Kickstarter to support Burning Man artists…how’s that coming along?

Find out more at the Burning Man Board Game Kickstarter page.

There is some discussion about the game at Reddit. Apparently some Burners think no camp should ever be allowed to use anything related to Burning Man in their fundraisers. This is different from Burning Man’s policy, though.

Screenshot 2015-04-07 11.15.53I would rather play this game than Caravancicle’s Burner Bingo…but to each their own. Cards Against Humanity released their game under the Creative Commons license, you can download it for free. This might be a good way for Burning Man The Board Game to go. Perhaps even an open source version, where Burners can come up with their own cards and share them.