The Techno Ghetto – the History of Dance Music at Burning Man

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 1992 djs and lasers

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:

shit apple laheyIn 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.

techno-ghetto

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)

[Source: Burners.Me]

Burning Man flyer advertising DJs, 1998

Burning Man flyer advertising DJs, 1998

bm flyer 1999

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.

[Source: Edgecentral]

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?

edm artistSurely 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

Humboldt General Reveals Details of Medical Split

burning-man-ambulance_11219452

Say good night to the ambulance. That’s the last time you’re ever gonna see a ambulance like this again.

Humboldt General Hospital was recently dumped by BMOrg as the provider of medical care on the Playa. A shame, since they have a hospital and ambulances nearby, and from what Burners are saying they have done an excellent job for the past 4 years.

Now we know a little more about what drove this change, thanks to HGH director Pat Songer. It seems there were several factors:

– Humboldt wanted contingency plans for a Mass Casualty Incident (MCI), and to “shine a spotlight on safety issues”

– Humboldt gave 180 days notice to terminate and re-negotiate the contract, expecting to negotiate in good faith with a partner they’d provided exemplary service to

– BMOrg took that as a “fuck you” and responded with “fuck you too”, ditching HGH for CrowdRX

Other, admittedly more speculative, factors may be the departure of BMOrg’s Emergency Services Chief Jospeh Pred and the new team being assembled around Operations Chief Charlie Dolman; and the rumor media report of a West Nile virus outbreak in Gerlach last year.

Presumably CrowdRX already have these Mass Casualty Incident contingency plans in place, given that they do much bigger events like Coachella. Of course, the main issue is “take a lot of people to the nearest hospital”, and there are plenty of buses in Palm Springs. The danger here to Burners is that –  by their own admission – the only experience CrowdRX have ever had in dealing with remote locations was a Phish concert in New England 20 years ago. Pretty sure Phish tickets don’t make you take responsibility for serious injury or even death on the way in…

CrowdRX recently had a disastrous show on their hands in Chicago. They needed a lot of ambulances to transfer 16 people to hospital, out of a crowd of 10,000 ravers at a Skrillex concert. They provided services for Electric Zoo in New York, where 2 people died of “an overdose of MDMA and hypothermia”.

This situation reminds me a bit of the Google employee who is creating Burning Man – The Musical, despite never having actually been to Burning Man. Here we have “Burning Man – the Medical”, brought to you by the team who once hired a guy who went to a Phish concert, but that was twenty years ago. Hey, it’s Coachella in the desert, how hard could it be, right?

From the Journal of Emergency Medical Services:

Humboldt General Hospital began providing medical care at Burning Man in 2011. Each year, Songer said his agency tweaked their contractual relationship with their host to compensate for increased numbers of participants and the associated risks of hosting one of the country’s largest mass gatherings in one of the world’s most remote and austere locations.

This year didn’t seem different except Songer said some safety concerns identified by his staff in 2014 needed clarification, so in February, the agency exercised their 180-day right to cancel their contract.

That happened in a meeting with Burning Man officials and the entire group agreed to move forward, intent on renegotiating a new contract that, among other things, would allow for at least one more EMS agency to provide backup in case festival numbers surged again, like they did in 2012.

“We just wanted to continue that same level of preparedness,” said Songer. “After all, this is a large-scale event with the potential for an MCI in the middle of nowhere. I think some people forget the potential for disaster there.”

Still, the two parties tended to disagree on Humboldt General Hospital’s role: was the agency simply an event contractor or were they a public safety agency with all the associated risks and responsibilities?

Last week, when Burning Man officials announced they were negotiating a contract with CrowdRX, a large-scale event contractor, Songer said he got his answer.

“I think that was really the crux of our concerns,” he said. “When we came to this event, we saw it as an extension of our hospital. We were going to provide hospital-level care, even if it was in the middle of one of the world’s most remote locations.”

He continued, “We weren’t there as an event contractor, we were there as a medical provider in the Black Rock Desert—a fully operational, gold star-staffed medical facility.”

Songer added, “I think as the event evolved and our expectations for safety continued to escalate, philosophically and operationally, we found ourselves on opposite sides of the coin.”

The agency was certainly planning to complete its initial five-year commitment, said Songer, and hoped to see that relationship continue beyond.

Apparently, so did many others, including officials from local, state and federal governments, hospitals and even law enforcement.

“There is safety concern out there,” Songer explained. “When Nevada is investing so much to hold an event of this magnitude here, you want there to be some long-term good that comes from that collaboration.”

“Sure, you can issue that temporary license,” said Songer, “but what we’re hearing is worry about the long-term. When your hospital or your Nevada ambulance company provides those services, there is an investment there, an investment of time, experience, equipment, manpower and you come out more prepared—way more equipped for Nevada—than you went in.”

…With HGH out of the medical mix, and REMSA before that, Nevada’s medical network has definitely lost a one-of-a-kind training ground. That being said, Songer said he is proud of what HGH EMS Rescue brought to the festival’s table during his medical tenure including, according to Burning Man officials during early April, his agency’s ability to “shine a spotlight on safety.” Other successes came with the agency’s partner relations, which Songer said were critical to his agency’s success at the event and in the future through the many mutual aid agreements forged during the festival.

“Burning Man did not define who we are; we defined the systems that made Burning Man’s medical an incredible model across the world,” he said. Now, said Songer, HGH EMS Rescue will take that model and continue to adapt it to the other special events it oversees each year, including the increasingly popular music festival “Night in the Country” as well as the up-and-coming “Further Future” festival, 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas

The full press release from HGH is at the bottom of this article.


robot heart distriktHGH will be providing medical services for Burning Man off-shoot Further Future, happening this weekend. Further Future is put on by the Robot Heart crew, who have thrown many large parties on the West and East coasts.

YourEDM says “Further Future Takes The Festival Experience To The Next Level”:

For many of us, the weeklong desert exodus of Burning Man is simply too much to stomach. From the inevitable lungfuls of dust to the complete isolation, some festival goers would rather have comfortable amenities and leisure than try and test their physical endurance and stamina. Robot Heart, host to some of the most elaborate events held during Burning Man, understands this mentality and has announced the conception of an entirely new experience to go down this May only 45 minutes from Las Vegas.

 
Robot Heart; photo by Peter Ruprecht

Robot Heart; photo by Peter Ruprecht

 

Further Future aims to be one of the first events to equally combine the aesthetic and vibe of a music festival with the guest list and esteem of a Silicon Valley tech conference. The desert party is only open to invited guests and those whose applications are approved. Among the supposed 3,000 attendees will be Soundcloud founders, Google X directors, and heads of other technology companies currently at the forefront of the movement. These guests will be hosting panels and tech talks amongst the artists performing, fostering an entirely unique and somewhat career-oriented approach to the festival scene. Professional networking is just as much a part of the experience as jamming out to the stacked roster of musicians. Unlike Burning Man, energy conservation is not of chief importance at Further Future, as they will be offering a staggering amount of high-end amenities to those willing to shell out dollars. In addition to the $275 tickets, luxurious pre-built group camping tents complete with A/C are being offered at $3,200 for the weekend. In the “Gypset” members-only area, there will be round-the-clock food and spa services provided.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 1.21.08 PM

And Forbes says Burning Man’s Cool Kids Break Off To Mix Music And Tech At New Festival:

For the past few years, Robot Heart has been known to host the most stylish gatherings during the week-long desert revelry that is Burning Man. Known online as a group of “doers, dreamers, artists and entrepreneurs,” the party-throwing collective could often be found on the desolate expanses of Black Rock City dancing until sunrise during the week before Labor Day, which sees many a Silicon Valley tech employee take off “to discover, exercise and rely on his or her own resources.

This year, however, Robot Heart is making sure that its followers won’t have to wait until the end of summer to lose themselves in a haze of dust, heat and extracurricular substances. At the beginning of May, the collective will host its first Further Future festival, a three-day get-together in the Nevada desert that’s a 45-minute drive east from Las Vegas.

While there are some similarities to Burning Man, which drew nearly 70,000 people last year, Further Future is deliberately more exclusive, an invite or application-only party that does not preach the same inclusive principles or self-reliance of its effigy-torching predecessor

There was a brief moment of last-minute panic when they couldn’t use the venue they wanted, after the BLM moved to shut them down. Fortunately, a local Indian tribe stepped in to save the day.

the invitation-only festival for as many as 5,000 people will be held May 1-3 on the Moapa River Indian Reservation along Interstate 15, about 40 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The site won’t look quite like the beautiful landscapes shown on Further Future’s slick website, but it will help avoid federal trespassing charges.

Early this month, both the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management denied the festival a commercial use permit for roads crossing public land to the privately owned Anniversary Mine, a 215-acre tract just outside the boundary of Lake Mead National Recreation Area 35 miles east of Las Vegas.

Then, just in case there was any lingering confusion, the BLM’s Las Vegas field manager, Gayle Marrs-Smith, sent a strongly worded letter to the mine’s owner and the festival’s attorney warning against using the site and treating the resulting fines and penalties as another “business cost” for Further Future. [Source: Las Vegas Review Journal]

Mixing music, tech, and networking sounds a lot like SXSW, which BMOrg’s merry band of travelling salesmen “represent” at.

Some Burnier-Than-Thous and Radical Haters would no doubt breathe a big sigh of relief if Robot Heart and other large EDM crews left the event, and took their rich and beautiful patrons with them. “The future is in the Regionals!”, they cry.  “You’re not a Burner if you have A/C!”

It would be naive to think that Burning Man could continue to reach its current 70,000/$34 million capacity purely with poor people (who somehow still manage to drop a couple of grand partying for a week), bike theft, home-made art, and unamplified music. The track record of Burning Man’s Regional Network as event producers is less than impressive. The last Robot Heart party I went to was On The Fucking Moon for Halloween in New York, the year Hurricane Sandy hit. They had no problems selling out what looked to me like a crowd of about 5000. Meanwhile regional events like Kiwi Burn pull less than a thousand people, even after more than 10 years. Maybe the future of Burner culture is more likely to lie in the hands of promoters, than bureaucrats and lawyers?

Despite Larry Harvey’s anti-EDM proclamations, I think the organizers of Burning Man Nevada are well aware that the surge in popularity of EDM and the simultaneous surge in popularity of their festival is no coincidence. Their Board member Chip Conley runs Fest300, which gives them intel on all the other festivals in the world. Size, attendance, popularity, ideas. With all the art cars, major sound camps, and smaller music setups throughout the city, there are more than 1000 music stages at Burning Man. Try finding that anywhere else – and who cares if some of them want to publish their line-ups? They are putting these DJs on for free, as a gift, why wouldn’t we all want to celebrate that?

Image: Snowbrains

Image: Snowbrains

The article I wrote last August What Dreams May Come is starting to look very prescient, now that Further Future has been announced. The poll there said 75% of Burners think there is room for more Burning Man-style events in the world without BMOrg, and only 4% thought they needed to be official Burning Man regionals.

So here we have a break-away EDM festival in the desert, profiled in business publication Forbes, featuring the most popular ever Burning Man art car – and, if you’re been to a Robot Heart party in Black Rock City lately, you will have noticed an armada of dozens of art cars that follow them around too. The “cool kids of Burning Man”, going off to do their own thing: exclusive, curated, professional. And HGH has partnered with them to bring a medical solution that is as good as Burning Man – the gold standard for events in the desert. All of a sudden, Larry & Co mysteriously ditch HGH in order for what looks like an inferior and woefully unprepared alternative. And then, also all of a sudden, the BLM at the last minute decides to fuck the festival organizers over on their permit and threaten them via lawyers.

Coincidence? Or conspiracy Nevada politics?


Humboldt seemed to deal with the local issues just fine. In 2011 they garnered industry praise for saving someone’s life with “miraculous” cardiac treatment.

In 2013 they were featured in an article “EMS In Charge At Burning Man” which began with the headline “If EMS Ran The Show”…possibly this was seen as some sort of challenge to the authority of Larry & Co.

Image: EMS World

Image: EMS World

This article is very informative. This was much more than just a week-long paid gig for HGH:

Burning Man itself may only last a week, but planning for the event is year round, says Louis Mendiola, BS, EMT-II, wellness coordinator for Humboldt General Hospital. He says one of the major challenges that go into that planning relates to recruiting, hiring and credentialing the nearly 400 Burning Man employees who will help oversee care.

“Establishing EMS for Burning Man is no easy task,” Mendiola explains. “The austere environment, remote location (no existing infrastructure) and the large population present a number of challenges. HGH relies heavily on the dedication of members of the Burning Man Leadership Team to ensure the operations rolls out seamlessly. HGH has organized a team of some of the nation’s best EMS leaders from a number of different backgrounds and areas of expertise. HGH strives to continually find ways to improve the operation by creating systems that improve patient care and system wide readiness. The willingness to incorporate EMS leaders from such diverse backgrounds has equated to an operation that is truly ‘high performance.’”

They have done more than just provide some medical staff on-site. They have created a fully functional emergency department, with ultrasound and x-ray machines. Their idea was to treat patients as much as they can on-site, where their medical expenses are paid for by Burning Man’s insurance, before sending them off to a Default world hospital where the patient’s own medical insurance presumably picks up the tab.

Instead of approaching Burning Man like any other mass event, we looked at the geographic distance to civilization and healthcare facilities, the environment, the attendee type, and decided to take a more global direction,” explains Bledsoe. “Instead of just placing ambulances and first aid stations everywhere we decided we would develop an integrated emergency healthcare system that ranged from first aiders to board-certified emergency physicians. We specifically wanted to use paramedics in an expanded role because they are already accustomed to the austere environment, independent thought, and the general mindset of the event medical and EMS leaders. As emergency physicians we saw the capability to safely expand their scope of practice to meet the needs of Burning Man.”

Because the providers on-site at Burning Man are quite literally the only care for miles, patient care needs to be robust and all-encompassing. The care provided ranges from minor to major and during the entire event there is at least one physician level provided and one medical director on call (usually via radio), says Mendiola.

“As with a typical ER, most patients are first seen by a triage nurse or tech, who decides which of the four pods the patient is best suited for,” Mendiola states. The actual structure is comprised of four inflatable disaster-type hospitals and a large wooden triage structure that serves as the entry way. More impervious mod spaces are used for x-ray, a suturing suite and command offices.

“We operate a fully functional emergency department, with facilities for minor care, emergency care and extended care,” adds Bledsoe. “We have x-ray, ultrasound and lab capabilities. While we rely heavily on emergency medicine residents and fellows, a Nevada-licensed medical director is within the hospital or nearby at all times (with a radio). We reduce fractures and dislocations, repair lacerations, manage drug overdoses (including mechanical ventilation), use deep and moderate sedation, and treat multiple common medical conditions. On the last Saturday of the event, the day they burn the man, we become one of the busiest, if not the busiest, emergency department in the United States. We will exceed the volume of patients we see daily at UMC in Las Vegas (a big, busy public hospital) by over 40% (more than 600 patients on the last Saturday). We have a large formulary/pharmacy of prescription and non-prescription drugs to treat the attendees at the event. And all medical care is provided without costs to the attendees, keeping with the prevailing spirit of the Burning Man event.

Notes Mendiola, eight ALS ambulances are staffed and deployed with at least one ALS level provider. One EMS operations chief oversees ambulance observation and one incident commander is available 24/7. An airway team/critical intervention team is also available to assist with advanced procedures.

The patients the EMS providers and medical staff see during Burning Man are quite diverse, encompassing all ages (though relatively few are children) and all walks of society.

“The population is generally healthy and chronic conditions are less common,” Mendiola says. “Unlike a regular healthcare system there are typically fewer patients with secondary gain issues, like drug seeking, doc shopping, or who are indigent.”

But the perception of risk is highly distorted on playa (the desert). “The culture equates to risky behavior, which subsequently means more injuries,” explains Mendiola.

“We see a lot of lacerations and fractures, eye problems, skin problems, female urinary tract infections, dehydration and similar conditions,” says Bledsoe. “Although many people think Burning Man is a drug fest that’s far from the truth. In 2011, only 2.5% of the patients we saw were drug or alcohol-related. The Burning Man systems actually take care of most substance abuse problems in a separate facility, referred to as the sanctuary. We help them with medical issues, if present, and have sent some of our psychiatry residents over to the sanctuary to help.

“We treat all comers,” Bledsoe continues. “Sometimes all they want is a medical opinion, a band-aid or an over-the-counter medication. All patients who present are assessed and triaged to the appropriate level of provider (e.g., EMT, community paramedic, nurse, physician). There are certain things we don’t get into unless absolutely necessary. We don’t do sexual assault exams and female pelvic exams. We did treat some pregnancy-related issues but had ultrasound available. High-risk issues and problems are immediately handled by the most senior personnel. For example, we had a patient go into labor at 36 weeks. I personally assumed her care, did a quick OB ultrasound, checked her cervix to ensure she could safely make the trip to Reno, contacted her OB/GYN and the labor and delivery department in Reno, and safely sent her to the hospital by ground ambulance.

“The difference between Burning Man and other big events,” adds Bledsoe, “is that we can’t simply say, ‘That’s all we can do here. We’re going to send you to the hospital.’ The closest hospitals are 150 miles away and sending an ambulance to the hospital can take 6–7 hours to go and return as the event enters the weekend. We try and do as much as we can on site. If a patent needs more detailed care, imaging (e.g., CT, MRI), or hospital admission we send them to Reno or Sacramento. Some can go by private vehicle. We pride ourselves on minimizing transports off the desert. People plan for this event all year, spend a great deal of money to attend, and want to stay through the final ‘burn.’ The people are quite nice and thankful. Pat (Songer) always receives nice letters from patients who compliment the medical care at Burning Man and even go on to say that they feel that medical care at Burning Man is a model for healthcare in general.”

Here is the full press release from HGH (emphasis ours):


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Nicole Maher, Director
Community Education and Development
Humboldt General Hospital
(775) 761-2624
Email: nicole@hghospital.org

HGH EMS RESCUE SAYS BURNING MAN ‘LESSONS’ WILL BE INVALUABLE MOVING FORWARD

WINNEMUCCA, Nev.—“We wouldn’t trade our experience with Burning Man for anything.”

That was HGH EMS Rescue Chief Pat Songer’s statement last week after his agency was notified that their four-year contract providing medical care at the annual counter-culture festival has been terminated.

Songer said it’s those “lessons learned” that will stay with the agency long after memories of the dust, dehydration—and even death—fade away.

The art festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert gathers 70,000 people each Labor Day weekend, making the make-shift city Nevada’s fourth largest for one week.
“It was a challenge providing medical to over 450 community members each day,” said Songer, “but it was an exhilarating challenge and one that we are immensely grateful for.”

Humboldt General Hospital began providing medical care at Burning Man in 2011. Each year, Songer said his agency tweaked their contractual relationship with their host to compensate for increased numbers of participants and the associated risks of hosting one of the country’s largest mass gatherings in one of the world’s most remote and austere locations.

This year didn’t seem different except Songer said some safety concerns identified by his staff in 2014 needed clarification, so in February, the agency exercised their 180-day right to cancel their contract.

That happened in a meeting with Burning Man officials and the entire group agreed to move forward, intent on renegotiating a new contract that, among other things, would allow for at least one more EMS agency to provide backup in case festival numbers surged again, like they did in 2012. “We just wanted to continue that same level of preparedness,” said Songer. “After all, this is a large-scale event with the potential for an MCI in the middle of nowhere. I think some people forget the potential for disaster there.”

Still, the two parties tended to disagree on Humboldt General Hospital’s role: was the agency simply an event contractor or were they a public safety agency with all the associated risks and responsibilities?

Last week, when Burning Man officials announced they were negotiating a contract with CrowdRX, a large-scale event contractor, Songer said he got his answer.
“I think that was really the crux of our concerns,” he said. “When we came to this event, we saw it as an extension of our hospital. We were going to provide hospital-level care, even if it was in the middle of one of the world’s most remote locations.”

He continued, “We weren’t there as an event contractor, we were there as a medical provider in the Black Rock Desert—a fully operational, gold star-staffed medical facility.” Songer added, “I think as the event evolved and our expectations for safety continued to escalate, philosophically and operationally, we found ourselves on opposite sides of the coin.”

The agency was certainly planning to complete its initial five-year commitment, said Songer, and hoped to see that relationship continue beyond. Apparently, so did many others, including officials from local, state and federal governments, hospitals and even law enforcement. “There is safety concern out there,” Songer explained. “When Nevada is investing so much to hold an event of this magnitude here, you want there to be some long-term good that comes from that collaboration.” In other words, explained Songer, “you don’t want an out-of-state event contractor to simply take the money and run.”

Songer said that concern focuses on the differences between a Nevada medical provider that becomes a long-term asset to the state as it grows its present and future medical network, versus an out-of-state contractor that operates on a temporary medical license for seven days and then leaves. “Sure, you can issue that temporary license,” said Songer, “but what we’re hearing is worry about the long-term. When your hospital or your Nevada ambulance company provides those services, there is an investment there, an investment of time, experience, equipment, manpower and you come out more prepared—way more equipped for Nevada—than you went in.” When you bring in a temporary contractor, that goes away. You’re not empowering a medical network across the state, you’re simply funding an out-of-state business.” “I think that’s the worry,” Songer added.

With HGH out of the medical mix, and REMSA before that, Nevada’s medical network has definitely lost a one-of-a-kind training ground. That being said, Songer said he is proud of what HGH EMS Rescue brought to the festival’s table during his medical tenure including, according to Burning Man officials during early April, his agency’s ability to “shine a spotlight on safety.”

Other successes came with the agency’s partner relations, which Songer said were critical to his agency’s success at the event and in the future through the many mutual aid agreements forged during the festival. Songer also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn the complexities of mass casualty incidents—not only the ins and outs of staging such a massive medical operation, but also in learning to “trust other agencies that you only know for one week each year.” He praised the “once-in-a-lifetime chance” to assemble and work with a world-class medical team. “These weren’t contractors who go from event to event, these were medical practitioners at the top of their respective fields; they were there to practice medicine.”

Perhaps the agency’s greatest accomplishment on the Black Rock, however, was creating and adapting a system to the needs of the patients—fully in line with Humboldt General Hospital’s mission of “being helpful and caring for those in need.”
“These people wanted to stay on the playa,” he said of each year’s Burners. “They had invested a lot in terms of their time and money to get there and our job was to keep them there.” Songer added, “It’s no different than what we do at our community hospital. We have invested millions and millions of dollars to allow people to get their care right here at home. “When we went to the Black Rock, that model did not change, so we had to create a system that would allow patients to get the majority of their care “at home” on the playa.

Songer said there are those who will see the severed contract as a black mark for the rural EMS agency. “We don’t,” he said. “Burning Man did not define who we are; we defined the systems that made Burning Man’s medical an incredible model across the world,” he said.

Now, said Songer, HGH EMS Rescue will take that model and continue to adapt it to the other special events it oversees each year, including the increasingly popular music festival “Night in the Country” as well as the up-and-coming “Further Future” festival, 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas.

Of course, the model remains the core of HGH EMS Rescue’s delivery of pre-hospital care across 10,000 square miles, parts of two states and three counties.
“We had an excellent run with Burning Man,” said Songer, “and now all those resources, that knowledge and those experiences come home to our community.”

Video

Awaken: A Story of Dreams [Update]

A new video documentary of Burning Man. Spot your friends!

We covered Project Dreambox earlier: St Art Ups Posing As Playa Art

You can read more about their Dreamus venture in Ever Widening Circles:

what if your “dream” isn’t that of an item to be sold or…put out into the world free of charge? That’s where Dreamus comes in. Dreamus.com allows their users to follow dreams they feel are important, add fellow dreamers to friendship lists for private communication, and comment on a users dream. On your own dream page you can also add any number of goals you hope to attain and check them off as they’re completed, giving viewers a clear of where you are in terms of your overall goal.

The Dreambox was the vision of Teddy Saunders, who created the popular “Oh The Places You’ll Go” Dr Seuss-themed viral video, which was blamed by BMOrg for causing the ticket lottery debacle. Saunders was happy to use the Burning Man connection to promote his startup in the media, saying this year to Daily Dot:

 “I think we’re one of the first art installations that gave birth to an online Web platform that reaches beyond the borders of the playa and connects Burning Man participants to the outside world in a timeless way that lasts after Burning Man.”

The Dreambox has been going to Burning Man since 2012, when it raised an initial $29,277 from Burners in a successful Kickstarter campaign. It has now been to Burning Man 3 times.  This year it received further funding in the form of an Art Honorarium grant from Burning Man Arts.

Despite all this, there are no dreams from Burning Man on their web site. Perhaps because these days even dreams need a license from Decommodification LLC…

You think I’m kidding, or being snarky? From Daily Dot:

“Our plan with DreamBox 3.0 was to put a satellite on the DreamBox so that people could immediately share dreams,” Saunders recalls. “However, at the last minute Burning Man’s media department put the brakes on us after their art department already gave us full support as an honorarium project. It’s pretty embarrassing actually. We’re saddened that they are hesitant to allow their participants to share such beautiful intentions.”

Saunders also says there are 12 short films he created about the Dreambox project that the media team won’t allow him to release because Dreamus features a donations option—and that this is an act of “commodifying” the festival.  

Is it really commodifying Burning Man, by sharing Burners’ dreams and helping them come true? Maybe the competition for donation dollars that might otherwise go to the Burning Man Project is the real reason for BMOrg’s media department putting the brakes on something their art department fully supported.

[Update 1/12/15 11:49am Australia]

Paola Baldion, who previously had spoken to us in relation to the Dreambox but asked for her comments to be confidential, has contacted us with this information:

Although (as my previous message states) I am not part of DreamBox anymore, Teddy and I were the creators of it. It was actually my original idea and vision and then Teddy joined me in the project… We both worked together really hard for a month and raised 29k on Kickstarted. Even in the Awaken video Teddy says that we created the Dreambox together. Just so in the future you can say that it was ‘teddy saunders and Paola Baldion’s vision’.

image: Ian Kennedy/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Ian Kennedy/Flickr (Creative Commons)