A guest post from Terbo Ted, the first DJ at Burning Man (1992) and first Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.
Burning Man 2016: Year of the Mexicans
TERBO TED TERBOLIZARD·FRIDAY, 9 SEPTEMBER 2016
“Make America Mexico Again” – overheard in Black Rock City
Whether they were contributing by financing, creating, designing, building, staffing or populating Black Rock City, 2016 was a year noteworthy for outstanding input from Mexican nationals.
Mexico City’s Mayan Warrior art car returned to the playa with millions of dollars worth of mind blowing improvements. Their blend of music, form, sound and light was unprecedented and sets a global standard for art cars. Whenever it would slowly enter the playa playing solemn processional music, dozens of bicycles would dutifully follow along in anticipation of the festivities to come. The night Mayan Warrior linked systems with playa veterans Robot Heart set an unbelievable benchmark for sound in the desert and attracted an enormous crowd of thousands that danced well past sunrise. Equally impressive was watching the Mayan Warrior return to their large, well organized camp to go through the vehicle’s round the clock daily servicing; it was like watching a pit crew at the 24 hours of Le Mans automobile endurance event.
photo from Burning Man Festival at https://www.instagram.com/p/BKDwqYDgxeS/
Burning Man has become an international jet set destination and along with some very impressive camps from Mexico lining Billionaire’s Alley- such as Humano The Tribe-, there were other high end luxury Spanish language camps in that area as well, including Ibiza camp from Spain. All day long at the end of Lorenzo one could witness beautiful young people talking in Spanish strolling or riding by while modeling designer swimwear, tall boots and disco ball bedazzled military officer caps, which were very much in fashion this year. I’m glad I speak Spanish; I found myself having several conversations a day en Español on the playa.
Many of the Mexicans had elaborate feather costumes or wardrobe items, which was quite interesting in the wake of all of the strong social media dialog before the event regarding respect for Native American and First Nation traditions, especially the donning of Plains Indian style war bonnet headdresses. Mexicans, of course, may be descended from- or not- a range of indigenous civilizations that have long made use of feathers in ceremonial costumes and headgear, which might be influenced by Aztec, Mayan, Olmec, Toltec or other American cultures. To directly address the war bonnet controversy, while I never saw an authentic, actual Plains Indian Eagle Feather Headdress on the playa this year, I certainly did see one wasted, sunburned and pale beer-bellied white bro with his shirt off, wearing unfortunate Spring Break styled swim trunks and a low-cost child-sized neon green faux feather war bonnet headdress that looked like it came from the Spirit Halloween store. This poor fella looked like the only guy on the playa who couldn’t actually get laid, and I don’t think we should take his costume choices too seriously, he obviously doesn’t.
Black Rock City has all of the cultural sensitivity of an owl vomiting up a frog carcass it has recently devoured. Countless booths and kiosks line the city offering ‘Bad Advice.’ Ironically, these are usually unstaffed. While traveling around BRC, it is inevitable that some drunken clown, prankster or provocateur will yell at you through a bullhorn or distorted microphone with a message as succinct as ‘Fuck You!’ or ‘Fuck Your Burn!’ Which is usually followed with a sturdy hug and an offering of a drink. This is how a society built on ritualized destruction of a male effigy conducts itself on a normal day to day basis. If you are new to BRC, the culture is very likely to rudely invade your personal comfort zone and via ‘transformation’ help you redefine your own boundaries.
It seems that well over half of the population of Black Rock City are virgins now. What is remarkable is how all of the shared cultural history, knowledge and information has been of great use in preparing these people for their first visit. Sometimes virgins might even be over indoctrinated before they arrive these days. We should be reminded that in the early years of Burning Man on the playa, people were NOT good at it. Over 20 years ago people would routinely show up in the desert with no goggles, no mask, no sunscreen, no hat, no shade, no water. Back in those days, you’d find someone passed out on the ground, intoxicated, with a blistering sunburn and desperately in need of help. Now virgins show up in designer outfits tailored to the desert lifestyle. In conversation with virgins this year, I’d inevitably ask them how does being at BRC differ from all of the impressions they had beforehand, from all of the wealth of pictures, videos and stories they had experienced prior the event. Most people answer that they are surprised at how friendly everyone is in Black Rock City, and by how indescribable the desert environment is, including scale and conditions. You have to be there on the playa to truly understand.
Bicycles are an integral part of Black Rock City, but that has not always been the case. In the early 90s, BRC was small enough to easily traverse on foot, and you could drive your car in any direction you chose at any speed. Times have changed. A great deal of difficulties face bicyclists on the playa. LOCK YOUR BICYCLE or it will be ‘gifted’ from you and become a ‘playa bike.’ While literal bike theft seems to be down in BRC- in previous years people would actually throw bikes en masse into trucks to steal them- ‘borrowing’ or ‘appropriating’ of bikes is rampant in BRC. This is especially common around turn key camps that provide a fleet of bicycles to their guests. A turn key guest probably doesn’t have much attachment to their provided playa bike, and it is understandable that they would not lock it up, but once their allocated bike disappears, the consternation of this situation is generally inspiring enough to motivate their borrowing of someone else’s bike, which has an impressive cascading effect. LOCK YOUR BIKE OR YOU WILL LOSE IT. The amount of discarded bicycles strewn about after the city begins to fade away is heart breaking. If you do not want to take your bike home, please take it off the playa and donate it to any one of the local groups along Highway 447 who specialize in restoring and renting playa bikes to future guests.
Further bicycle notes: If you spend any time at all in the busy bike repair shops around the city, you will notice that one of the most common repairs is eliminating a derailleur and shortening the chain to transform it into a one speed bike. The playa is completely flat and the roads are rutted. Derailleurs fail regularly from all of the bouncing, dust and falls a bike encounters. If you are putting together or purchasing a new playa bike, one speed beach cruisers work fine. Consider avoiding multi-speed bikes to eliminate yourself some hassle. Also, while people are great at illuminating their bikes to avoid ‘darking’ at night, it seems more people could use bells or horns to notify other pedestrians, vehicles and bikes. It is remarkable how many people ride their bikes while not looking where they are going, there are many distractions in Black Rock City.
“Communities are not produced by sentiment. They grow out of a shared struggle.” – Larry Harvey
It was great to see ecstatic good vibes from the old timers in attendance this year. The recent purchase of Fly Ranch leading up to the burn warmed many hearts. But the path to this year’s joy has not been an easy one. Burning Man has faced much adversity over the decades. The festival almost collapsed after the deadly HellCo chaos of 1996. For every single one of the early years in the desert the festival only lost money, which seemed like a lot in that era, even insurmountable at times. Their have been countless lawsuits over the years against various government agencies. Early stalwarts such as John Law (who designed the man’s neon) quit long ago and vowed never to return. Others have passed away, such as Pepe Ozan, who helped pioneer large-scale ritualized spectacle in the earlier years. But every single time this year I ran across folks such as Larry Harvey, Crimson Rose, Will Roger, Maid Marian, Steven Raspa and more, they seemed to be in the greatest of spirits. Que vaya bien.
About the storyteller:
Terbo Ted Terbolizard first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City, with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.” His playa self and default world self can be remarkably similar these days.
Header image photo by Craig Ellenwood
#burningman #playa #artcar #mayanwarrior #robotheart