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]


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 (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



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.

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 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.


“Top Model-douche at the World’s Weirdest Fashion Cluster f*ck”

Benjamin Guest has written a post at the DJ List, reviewing Burning Man. Click here for the full original story, here are some of our favorite highlights:

Burning Man 2014: Skrillex, Snark and Senioritis.

30 September 2014 – Benjamin Guest – The DJ List

Article and Photos by Benjamin Guest
For the full album, head to our Facebook Page

This was my fourth year at Burning Man (2011-2014), so I guess in the American educational sense, that makes me a senior. Like seniors in any academic institution I feel like with the years since I first set foot on the Playa, that I’ve gained some perspective and maybe even a tiny bit of wisdom. So, what’s my advice?

Don’t go. Just don’t. Its hot, dusty, and played out. Everything you read about Burning Man jumping the shark is completely accurate. The Safari camps, the number of virgins who never bothered to read the survival guide, the severe spike in MOOP (Matter Out Of Place), it’s all true.

Or maybe I’m just mistaking my wisdom for another quality that Seniors the world over posses; jadedness. Am I jaded? Probably, even the shiniest of festivals has lost some of it’s glitter, but just because something has lost its overall shine doesn’t mean that there aren’t diamonds waiting to be uncovered.

Lots of people will tell you that every burn is different; my jaded response is: Really, you mean 70,000 people build a whole city and they don’t build it the same every time. Maybe they should take a hint from Coachella and just do the thing on repeat, that would be nice; it would certainly solve the ticket scarcity problem.

…Burns are always new and different and this burn for me was about acknowledging my jadedness and the fact that things that were amazing in the past lose their luster and so I searched out and found some great diamonds in the rough, and it’s those diamonds that will keep me coming back year after year.

So without too much fanfare, here’s a list of things you will hear about, my jaded opinion of them and maybe some things that will still be awesome next year.

…A person wiser than I said that you should schedule your burn around sleep, here’s what I have to add to that: Go to bed at 9pm and wake up at 3am. Here’s why: The two greatest times on the playa are sunrise and sunset. If you crash out after the sun goes down, set an alarm and wake up for sunset, [you’re] not missing either. From 9pm to 3pm it’s cold and you’ll sleep comfortably in your tent with a sleeping bag.

Also, Burning Man like anywhere else has it’s share of macho frat bros, they are not pros. They drink beer, and by 10pm they are drunk and annoying and they will continue to be drunk annoying until they crash out at 2am per their default world schedule. At Burning Man the party never stops, so when you wake up at 3am all the yahoos are gone and you are left with the pros, who you can continue to party with till the sun comes up and into the next day. You’ll be energized for the rest of the day, you can go hit up Pink Mammoth, go to workshops and won’t feel like a zombie having been up for a day and a half.

Bring or make a MOOP bag, while you’re at it bring one for a friend. I made one out of an old pair of jeans and tied it to my camelback. If you see stuff on the ground, pick it up and put it in the MOOP bag, doesn’t matter where you are. Pros will notice that you are doing your part. Instant burner cred.



 photo burningmantower_zps686c1d2d.jpg


There is was so much amazing art out there. Burning Man is first and for most an art festival and the art out there is way more interesting than any set from any DJ will ever be. I’d go into detail on every piece, but it would take too long. Google Burning Man Art and prepare to be amazed. Better photographers than I have taken thousands of pictures of all of it. Some notable other photographers that never fail to disappoint: Trey Ratcliff and Cliff Baise.

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In 2011, not that long ago, I remember coming across Robot Heart on a friday morning, and there was maybe 100 people there… Oh how the times have changed. Last year and this year Monday through Saturday morning, Robot Heart was a mad house. I stopped in several times throughout the week. Their sound system is super impressive. Less impressive is what a scene it has become. Forget about good house music, the Mobs of Furbros and Furbies all seem to be much more interested in vying for top model-douche at the worlds weirdest fashion cluster f*ck. The music was top notch, but suffice to say I never stayed very long. photo burningman2_zpsccc5cec6.jpg

That being said, Monday morning at the Bus was a completely different story. A common theme this year was people leaving the burn Sunday before the temple burned. Maybe they were trying to avoid Exodus, maybe they thought the party was over or maybe they were just so green they didn’t know that the temple did burn. By Sunday evening our block was kind of ghost town. Many of those early abandoners must have frequented Robot Heart, because when I woke up at 3am to go check it out the, the crowd was maybe a tenth of what it had been early in the week. The music and vibes were awesome and it reminded me of going to Robot Heart in at my first burn. True to form, the pros had stuck it out till the end.

For the record, I didn’t hear SKRILLEX play at Robot Heart, but I heard from reliable sources that It was actually a pretty good techno / tech house set.

Usually a shit show, can be fun if you catch the right act, I saw STANTON WARRIORS play at Opulent in 2012 and it was amazing, this year I had the not so good fortune of randomly stopping to Opulent Temple during Skrillex’s set, I could tell it was him by his little screechy voice, I didn’t stay long, but yes, I witnessed SKRILLEX at Burning Man, it was hardly memorable. I’m scared to know what his presence there this year will do to the ticket scarcity problem.CELTIC CHAOSceltic chaos indie
They built a full on Castle over on the 2:00 side. An impressive two story castle wall enclosed a bar and dance floor. More impressive was the massive fire poofer mounted over the DJ booth that startled everyone when it would go off. The amount of heat that it put off seemed to be carefully calibrated to almost singe hair and eyebrows of the dancers below. I wasn’t expecting much out of this camp but was pleasantly surprised by the type and quality of their music. The bartenders and others involved with the camp were incredibly friendly, definitely worth checking out.


DISCO KNIGHTS photo burningman3_zps41168edf.jpg

“Thank God for Disco Knights”. I spent the majority of my sunrises at Disco Knights and for good reason. They had an unbelievable lineup that never failed to disappoint. Their sound system delivers a hard punch that makes deep house and tech house sound amazing.

Anthony Mansfield is the force that runs Disco Knights and a hell of a DJ to boot. He and GUY GERBER played sexy, sexy music Wednesday morning into sunrise. I was enhanced by the vibes and the music and all I kept thinking was, “damn, Disco Knights is the classiest sound camp on the Playa.”

Disco Knights keeps that classy reputation being honest upstanding people, playing sexiest house music, and respecting LNT and other BM ethos: I loved their MOOP for drinks exchange program, also, for the amount of traffic they had it was encouraging to see that their entire front area was green on the MOOP map.


VBC was the next camp past Camp Question Mark on 2:00, I’ve know about this camp at 2:00 and K for several years and I’m pretty sure they get better every year. I try to make at least one pilgrimage there every year and try to bring along as many lovey raver virgins as I can. VBC is a punk rock camp, they have a skateboard ramp and three sided plywood house / bar, the insides of which is covered in vial sharpie graffiti. They have their own radio station that plays nothing but punk rock and other weird music, the DJ uses a dell desktop from 2004 to play tracks from the hardrive. It’s stark contrast to the rest of Burning Man makes it a welcome relief to the constant huggie hippies and the constant unce unce.

This years trip to VBC was no different. After an epic sunrise at Disco Knights we corralled a bunch of VBC virgins and said that we were going to show them something awesome and they better come now. We walked over, did shots of bottom shelf whiskey, and attempted to remember how to skateboard. 15 minutes into our excursion the DJ started into the “My Dick Power Hour” which was essentially a bunch of classic karaoke songs in which the singer had thoughtfully and skillfully replaced the lyrics with “my dick” at every opportunity. I forgot my camera, but sitting on the half pipe, laughing my ass off to “panio dick” with old and new friends is something I will never forget.

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The girl with the giant arrow pointing down that said “Awesome Spot.”
The giant “BORING” sign art car. I wish I had thought of that.
The crew who brought a fully stocked cooler of alcohol to the center of the dance floor at Pink Mammoth and started making drinks. You guys rock.
Bleachers art car. So much awesome.
The Petting Zoo Zebra striped dive bar of sorts over on 2:00ish side, I’ve managed to stop by at least once a burn for a beer. I don’t think they are going anywhere soon. 


If you should learned anything from my ramblings its that you need to seek out and make your own burn, avoid the crowds and the things that were hyped on social media for months in advance. Go against the flow, avoid the sheep, go seek out the hidden treasures. There is tons of super fun amazing and authentic things happening in the city.

Finally, live by my three rules of BM
1) Don’t Die: We love you and we want to see you again.
2) Don’t Suck: Certain caveats apply, but generally be awesome and conscious of your actions.
3) Don’t Let it Hit The Ground: Seriously, it’s one of the great things about Burning Man, if you see MOOP on the ground, pick it up, use that MOOP bag you brought.

 photo benguestburningman_zpscbc10f6b.jpg



Burner Benjamin’s original post is worth a read in its full glory.