The people have spoken. And it’s as I predicted: most think there is room in the world for more than one Burning Man-style event.
So far in our poll, about three quarters are in favor of something new. A fifth think there can only ever be Burning Man in the world, and that’s it. Even the Regionals can never compete. For these people it’s capped at 70,000, so inevitably will become more exclusive. Every year, more Veterans can’t go, which this group sees as a good thing. A different group, only 4%, think the future is in the Regionals controlled by BMOrg. I think it would be fair to call that segment of our community the Kool Aid drinkers.
We’ll see what happens when more Burners return from the Playa, maybe they’ll go back through this blog and read this, and maybe they’ll vote differently. Somehow, though, I doubt it.
Burning Man is a festival of creativity first, and art second. Creativity could be MacGyvering a tool to solve a problem in the middle of nowhere. It could be figuring out a way to get that hot girl back to your tent. It could be working out how to get water when you run out and your survival is at stake.
Whatever form it takes, creativity thrives on freshness. And Burning Man is becoming stale. If it has jumped the shark, then we’re the shark.
And we’re swimming around a great big ocean, looking for more good times.
“Enough bashing Burning Man!”, cry the readers. “What are we going to do about it? Do you have a vision for something better, or can you only criticize others?”
Good question. So permit me this long answer, which is going to require several parts. It takes a few iterations before a vision becomes simple to explain. And this isn’t just about my vision – I want to hear your ideas too. If we create something together, what’s that going to look like?
I have put a lot of work into this blog in the last 2.5 years, and if it’s going to continue – go to the next level, even – then it’s going to take a lot more work. More than one person can do. I’m going to need allies, Burners and Camps and tribes that share a vision of trying something new. Of doing it better. We will risk failure, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The prize would be the preservation of the awesome bits of global Burner culture, and encouraging it to evolve in a direction to help the planet as well as ourselves.
Forget Leave No Trace – I want to Leave It Better.
If we’re to imagine something wonderful together, Burners, then it’s important to me that you understand where I’m coming from. If there’s a war between the inclusive Burners and the Burnier-Than-Thous, then I want to make it clear which side I’m on. It’s the side of the Burners. The rebels, the freaks, the cyberpunks, the nomads, the international adventurers. If you’re reading this blog now, then you’re probably not at Burning Man, and maybe some of you are interested. Or you’re back from Burning Man, which means you’re definitely interested.
Think of this as About Burners.Me, the Extended Edition.
Buckminster Fuller is a hero of mine. Up there with Tesla as one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. He once said:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― R. Buckminster Fuller
I have no interest in fighting Burning Man. They can do their thing, and we’ll keep writing about it. It’s definitely grown to become a big event on the annual Burner calendar, like a week-long Halloween. There is plenty of other time in the year for more things to go on in more places. As Burner culture spreads, the one event becomes less and less significant overall. 75% of Burners say there is room for something more. I think there’s a great deal of room.
This new space we’re dreaming up needs a name. To get started I’m going to call it Burnland. Think Disneyland, but a cool one for Burners, not the cheesy one for kids with its Mickey Mouse Club spewing out pop idols.
I see Burner culture as a movement. It’s a big, worldwide movement, bigger than me, bigger than you, bigger than Burning Man, bigger than all of us. It’s the future, manifesting into reality through art and music and imagination and inspiration. Through skill and connections, through access to capital and audience. Makers and designers and inventors and artists and promoters and performers.
The section of the movement I’m interested in for Burnland, is not the same as Burning Man’s demographic. Ours has members. If you’re in, you’re in – you’ve made that choice. You want to be a part of Burnland. Sure, you can invite your guests to come play with you, even if they’re not members. Some events are members only, some are open to the public. You can check it out casually, no strings attached. Just buy a temporary member ship, for a night or a week. You don’t have to be “acculturated” or “brainwashed” to attend. But no-one is part of “we” until they freely and explicitly choose to be.
Membership does not have to be unlimited, and open to all comers. There is no need for grand ambitions, or to take over the world. Let’s just try to make something awesome, something that is simple and appealing and scaleable. Something we can teach others to replicate in their home towns and also profit from. Something that the community can all benefit from together. Something that can give back and Leave It Better.
Burnland is something I’ve been envisioning for some time. I guess you could say it’s my Burning Man art project, the thing that I was inspired to dream of from the first time I went out to the Black Rock Desert. Even before that, my friends and I had been doing “raver camping” in bigger, badder deserts in the Australian Outback. Creating techno micro-villages for the weekend in the middle of nowhere, with solar panels and wi-fi. In my case, glamping – I had an off-road caravan with solar-power air conditioning, formerly used by a demolitions expert working for the mining companies. It had a bathroom, a shower, and a mirrored table like it was a suite at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco. I towed it with a 14-seater offroad mini-bus called an Oka. We could go anywhere, and we did.
If you ever get the chance, go to an Eclipse party. Many of the people on the Eclipse circuit (yes, there is one, just like there’s a festival circuit) go to Burning Man too. It’s a great time, and a magical event to experience with a crowd of 10,000+ people in the middle of nowhere.
Instead of an art car, I contracted an engineer to construct me a road-legal custom hot tub trailer. It had a gas heater and a generator which ran the whole camp as well as the pumps. We could go miles from anywhere, pump water in from a fresh mountain stream, and be partying outdoors gazing at the stars from the hot tub in 45 minutes. We had the music pumping as loud as we wanted, all night long. And we wanted it loud. I’m talking parties around 30-40 people, a small group of friends getting together for a weekend adventure. With a laser or two. Some of us would DJ, we’d drink from a cooler and sit on camping chairs around a fire. Nothing fancy.
We had a really, really good time. A large amount of fun. We called it Chicken Madness.
If you think that makes me a douchebag, well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not going to be welcome at my party. Have a nice day.
Something to listen to while you read…
When I first went to Burning Man in 1998, I recognized some similar elements from our camping parties. Instead of embracing the temporary, transitory, destructive, oasis in the desert is-it-all-illusion nature of the event, Burning Man inspired me to think of permanence. There was finally a location that I could go to be me.
And what me did I want to be? How did I wanted to express my radical self? I wanted to turn my stereo on and blast my favorite tunes.
Doof Doof Doof Doof
What if there was a city, somewhere in the world, that you could go to any time you wanted, crank the music up, party, and in doing that you’re actually being friendly to all your neighbors. If you like loud music, there are not many places you can go and do that. Sure, there are places you can go and listen to the loud music of others. Mostly nightclubs. And there is your home, where your neighbors are liable to rat you out to the police if you turn your stereo above a certain volume. Or worse – I’ve been in situations where murder was threatened over my stereo volume. Even though we’d already turned it down.
When I first went to Burning Man I thought that’s what it was, a place where everyone had gone all the way into the middle of the desert so they could do what they want without annoying the neighbors. A festival of freedom. As it has grown the imposition of ever-increasing noise restrictions, and venom towards the Sound Camps from the founders, has been pushing it away from that. Not to mention police with sniffer dogs, pulling Burners over because their bike rack blocks their license plate when they’re not even on the public roadway.
I used to live on a beautiful 300 acre woodland property in Australia. My own private forest. A famous musician lived next door, and I’d hear his parties all the time. It wasn’t doof though. No subwoofers involved. When I turned my own stereo on, the kangaroos loved it, and would come closer to the house. They’d laze around on the lawn all day listening to it, basking in the sun and feeling the beats. I never actually got a noise complaint, but one time came close. 14 police showed up at the gates to the ranch. People had complained from 2 suburbs away. I had rented 2 Funktion1 mid-range speakers and 2 subs, which would be a small system even for an art car at Burning Man. I was on the largest privately held land parcel in Melbourne, and my stereo was too loud. Where to go?
More recently, I was living on a 6 acre vineyard in Sonoma. I had no neighbors, just other vineyards. I was next to the highway, which in itself is quite noisy. My Burning Man JBL system cost me less than $3k brand new on Amazon, it plugs into a headphone jack and a 4-outlet power strip. If anyone is looking for a stereo, these great self-powered 15″ speakers are only three hundred bucks each right now.
Again, on the vineyard I never got an actual noise complaint. But it’s a small community, and some of my friends are long-time locals. Word got back to me, that people heard the music, and it was pissing them off. It wasn’t even close to full volume. I had 1 speaker and sub in the house, and 1 each outside on the deck.
I think it’s fair to say I like it loud. And I’m not the only one. And that has always been a huge drawcard of Burning Man to me. If you don’t like the music, you can go check out somewhere else with different music, or somewhere with no music. Or you can make your own. It’s open to anyone, and unlike most of the world, people who like it loud aren’t excluded. Some of this music is so good, it deserves to be turned up to 11.
So that’s got to be part of Burnland, for me – raging is a raison d’etre. It’s gonna be fucking loud, in lots of different places. Hey, there can be quiet zones too. I’m open to that. There can even be kids zones and work zones and commercial zones. But the kids and the fetish models and the naked people are not going to be mingling all together in the same spot.
The world needs more places where we can all go beserk, get crazy in a good way. Party with our hands in the air, like we just don’t care. Cast off the rules and shackles of existence, leave the day-to-day reality of our lives on hold for a little while and just have fun. A serious amount of fun.
I am going to propose 9 Principles, just to show we’re starting by trying to make things easier. We don’t even need that many. Everything we need can actually be summed up in a word: karma. If you understand the principle of karma, which I believe to be a fundamental force in this Universe, then you will be naturally inclined towards acting positively, with kindness and compassion towards others. You will do good things because you understand that it is in your own self-interest, as well as in everyone’s.
Of these 9 Principles, I think they are all important, but if we were to just stick to Leave It Better then Burnland will always be improving. And that’s the main thing. If anything’s going to change, it should be the way the System of Organization of the City meets the needs of its constituents efficiently, harmoniously, amusingly, and wonderfully.
There are probably others, and these should by no means be considered as final. Let’s put our heads together, and dream together of what could be. Maybe integrity should be one. Maybe goodwill, and being present. Consider this a first cut.
- Fun – this is light hearted, makes us laugh, the goal is to have a good time. Leave your tears at home.
- Abundance – With innovation and collaboration, we want those involved to flourish and prosper, and to help them if we can
- Leave it Better – How Can We Make This More Awesome? We prefer to build stuff than destroy things.
- Environment – Permaculture with Habitat Preservation. Strive to be harmonious with the earth
- Magic – even if we don’t know what it is, we believe there’s something. God, spirit, luck, kismet, whatever. We have a soul and our souls can connect.
- Consciousness Community- aware of our actions and their affect on others.We’re all in this together
- Listening, Learning, Teaching. Each one teach one. The Trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. How to listen, how to learn, and how to respond.
- Love. Kindness, compassion, caring. For each other, for those less fortunate, for the earth, for the indigenous people who are custodians of the land.
- Transparency – open systems, open books, integrity and honesty.
All this shit about Radicals. “Rules for Radicals” is a guerilla warfare handbook for the political class, the “Community Organizers” like our current Dear Leader. This is the kind of stuff that was going on around UC Berkeley in the late 60’s, a time of civil unrest and racial tension. A young lawyer named Hillary Clinton was all over it, she wrote her famous thesis on it. Burning Man endorses progressive political candidates in San Francisco, as well as promoting their ties to Washington and Nevada politics. I would rather keep politics out of it. By all means, make it rad. But the radical extremists can go somewhere else. We want everyone to have a good time, you don’t have to be acculturated to an unusual way of thinking.
What else don’t we want? Haters. Broners. Nutjobs. Heavy, militarized police presence. Gangs. Sexual assault, or indeed, any assault. Bike theft. Satanists. I’m sure we can all think of plenty more. Rather than having to memorize principles, a 5-10 minute video on the sort of things we discourage should suffice.
What about tech?
Absolutely. Google founder, Billionaire Burner Larry Page is right – the tech industry needs some spaces it can experiment with new technologies, without freaking everybody out at once. I want to create those spaces, we can rent them to the tech companies and that can fund the creation of the community’s infrastructure.
I believe passionately in the ethos of the Open Source movement. I’ll be writing more on that in the coming week or so. It built the Internet, an amazing and precious gift to our civilization from the hackers. Let’s hope The Man doesn’t fuck it up for all of us with ever increasing regulations.
The Maker Movement and Burning Man have a big overlap. Fabrication is required to make these 3-dimensional art projects. Crossover skills are required. The art cars need lighting people. The lighting people need iPad interface developers. The artist needs a pyrotechnic specialist. I think that’s a great thing about Burning Man projects and camps, the way people are encouraged to collaborate on something that is a fun project with their friends, and results in something they can all do together. Why do we have to destroy it at the end, though? If something is cool, keep it there. Add to it, innovate, leave it better.
We have enough of everything already to make this community sought-after by those who want the Burner aesthetic. It’s a little bit steampunk, it’s a little bit Mad Max, it’s a little bit Agent Provocateur. You want an art car, or a fire sculpture DJ booth? Come to us. We have the space, the resources, the tools, the people, and the experience to make whatever you can dream of. And we invite others to come and make with us.
A sculpture gallery for big art could be a drawcard. So could experimental laser and LED technologies.
I have a lot of experience in business incubation and early-stage startups. Crowd-funding is radically disrupting the VC model. I see that as being a part of Burnland too. Innovation and Imagination are to be encouraged. Most start-ups need more than just money to become reality, and just like it takes a village to raise a child, a virtual community can help build a business. Just look at AirBnB…
In Burnland, commerce will be allowed, so long as it is relatively invisible. Authentication is important, I don’t want anyone to get in trouble for serving booze or smoking prescribed medication. I’m thinking wristbands is the best technology, it’s something most people get already if they’ve been to a festival. All access passes on a lanyard are kinda lame, wristbands are a collectors item for some. I liked the way they did this at the Wild Wadi waterslide park in Dubai. I’m sure there’s a high-tech way we could do it with smartphones or biometric ID as well. You can buy drinks, you can buy t-shirts, you can buy art – but no-one has to see money changing hands. The marketplace is a zone, one part of the space, not something omnipresent. Not a big souk in the middle that you are drawn to by a giant effigy. Exit through the gift shop.
Vendors can sell their wares. Artists can sell their art. Fashionistas can display their fashion. Opulence and decadence can be part of a good time had by all. That’s what being a community means, we want to support each other, keep the money in the community if we can. Tip your server. Shop locally. We can have a big online mall to promote our community’s creations, a virtual market place. I think that most Burner artists would find a centralized gallery where they can trade their works and get commissions to be useful. We have a few on board already for this adventure, and I’m sure there are more out there who are reading this and would like to contribute to something new – and don’t mind if they make a few bucks for themselves along the way.
A rising tide lifts all boats, and if the whole community is prospering, it will just keep getting better and better. And that’s the goal. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as it’s always improving. The best system is one that everyone can participate in, and benefit from.
“Radical Inclusion” is the wrong principle from the start. There are 7 billion people on this planet, you have to exclude some of them. In Burning Man’s case, their 70,000 peak population limit is 0.001% of world population. 99.999% are excluded, whatever they say about inclusion.
I think better than a principle, is a rule: No Dicks. AKA Principle Number 8. With love and kindness, and all due respect, if you’re going to be a dick to others, we don’t want you at our thing. Go to Burning Man, where with Radical Inclusion the Burnier-Than-Thous will welcome you with open arms, then try to acculturate you.
I used to own a nightclub in Melbourne, Australia, called ZoS – Zone Of Separation. I was inspired by San Francisco’s DNA Lounge, which I’d heard was started by some guys who made their money in tech; and also by my hero Sir Richard Branson, who used his club Heaven in London to ensure that his finger was always on the pulse of what the hippest people in town were into. ZoS was licensed for about 1000 people at a time, and had a 24/7 liquor license. They party pretty hard Down Under. We would get maybe 5000 through the doors every week. An armored car would show up every Monday morning, and collect six figures worth of cash. I had a private room behind a 2-way mirror, looking over the dancefloor. I could chill out, I could party with my friends and talk to them in front of the A/C, I could dance like crazy without bumping into anyone, and I could look out at my customers all happy, whistling and cheering, dancing, having a great time. Any time I wanted to get amongst the people, I could slip into the crowd relatively anonymously; if I felt like socializing, there were a variety of Zones to do that including a sumptuous VIP lounge.
I’ve been to quite a few clubs in America, and elsewhere around the world. London, Ibiza, St Tropez, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico City, Dubai. I had a professional interest in it, as well as a personal interest in the music. The best clubs have a vibe, the whole crowd is going off. I started out with the music I loved, but learned pretty soon that we had to cater to the crowd. And I grew to love the same music the crowd did. I’m proud of the vibe that we created in that club, the whole team of people who made it work. Generally, it’s the promoters that make the club, not the venue…and that’s something that BMOrg just doesn’t seem to get.
One thing you can’t escape from in a club, is exclusivity. If it’s full, it’s full. A famous celebrity might show up with an entourage of 20 people, and if you want to let them in, you have to find 20 people to kick out. That’s how it works, if you want to run a good, clean, above-board, by the books venue. You comply with police and fire regulations. That’s partly why I wanted to own a club, because I got sick of all the gangster ones, and thought Melbourne could use a high-quality commercially operated venue.
So if you manage to create something cool, you always have to be rejecting people. It sucks to be rejected from a club, whatever the reason. We’ve all been there. The drunker you are, the more it sucks, the more belligerent people are inclined to be. Which sucks for the club security. Membership solves all these problems, you know that you can put yourself and your friends on the guest list.
“Life’s about choosing the kinds of problems you want to have”, was one of the best pieces of advice I ever got, from a fellow Aussie who’d spent a lot of time in San Francisco as a public company CEO. I took his advice and got out of the club scene. Like most clubs, ours was hot for a few years when it first opened and then it tapered off and the crowd changed. I met many famous people and beautiful women. I got to hear some of my favorite DJs, playing on a world class sound system. As a former computer nerd, it was a bit like creating an art car for Burning Man: it made me more cool in the eyes of strangers, and gave me an excuse to mingle with people from different walks of life. Generally, though, I went there to do my own thing, and socialize with my group of friends. Melbourne is kind of clique-y like that. I didn’t need the spotlight, I didn’t need to network, and I didn’t need to make new friends. The after party was already full enough.
I sold that investment and moved to San Francisco. I wanted to go to Burning Man, not nightclubs. I wanted to dance to the same music, but be around people who inspired me, fellow wacky eccentric geniuses who loved to collaborate with lasers and fire and art cars and glowy shit and all that good stuff. People who don’t care how much money others have, because they have plenty of their own. A place where being cool meant more than spraying randoms with $16,000 bottles of Louis Roederer.
Burning Man today is facing issues of Exclusivity. As much as they want to claim Radical Inclusion is dear to their hearts, it’s a promise that’s impossible for them to deliver on. Not everybody can go, so that means some have to get bounced away. Whether by Guest List or Algorithm or police roadblocks, it’s getting harder and harder to get into Burning Man.
So I’d rather embrace the inevitable, and use exclusivity as a good thing to make the crowd better. If the event is smaller, and not everyone can go, then you get to be selective. You can recognize your regulars, and let them back in. You can learn who the dicks are, and put them on the NO list.
Membership is the way to go. Look at Burning Man’s only real competitor for billionaires and their sherpas, Bohemian Grove. You have to be invited to join by existing members, there is a waiting list, you have to pay. They’ve been going strong since the 1870’s, and you might be surprised how many Burners are also Grovers. I know at least half a dozen.
Is it elitist? Sure is. No dicks. Or in their case, “Weaving spiders come not here”.
Membership gives people a reason to behave civilly towards their fellow club members. And if they misbehave, the club has a mechanism to eject them.
Burnland’s community could throw larger events, open to lots of different audiences. Camps could throw their own parties, or the whole city could come together to throw a 50,000 person party any time you want. One night could be BDSM fetish-themed, at another time you could have an all ages event. Just showing up to a party once, doesn’t immediately make you a part of its community – let alone an owner of it. You’ve got to do something, contribute, or at the very least, buy your way in. Earn your place, if you didn’t get invited directly.
In the world I’m dreaming of, Burners can have a say, their vote can be counted. Building temporary cities is a chance to experiment with all kinds of political and social technologies. Let’s try Direct Democracy. Let’s try crowd-funding led civic budget allocations, and a tax system that lets you choose where the money gets spent. Let’s try Open Source government.
Right now there is an anti-rich, anti-tech backlash firestorm swirling around Burning Man. It reminds me of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, where society turns on the rich and then collapses in on itself when all the talent fucks off somewhere they’re more appreciated. Read the comments in the online forums, some people are ferociously passionate about hating on the rich and wishing they all left Burning Man.
Well, I don’t want our community to include those haters. Rich people, you’re going to be welcome at Burnland. Bring all the sherpas you want, and if you want to outdo the person next to you with amazing art and extravagant entertainment, please: be my guest. You’re exactly the kind of Burner we want at Burnland, someone who has resources at their disposal to facilitate new and unqiue forms of self expression. That’s part of what the art is, the inspirational and (for some) aspirational element. What could be done? What dreams may come?
I want to hang out with my friends, and meet their friends. A community of makers, and doers, and shakers. That’s who my friends already are, and I’m sure many of the readers of this blog who I haven’t met personally yet are in this community too. Some of my friends are broke-ass, some of them are very wealthy, so what? That doesn’t define them to me. There’s much more to life than just money, money is simply a means to any number of different ends. What’s important to me is that my friends are all pretty positive people, none of them are haters. They’re good hearted, smart and funny and inspiring to be around. Everyone has something to offer, and Burnland should be about recognizing contributions and gratitude.
It doesn’t need to be 70,000 people. It doesn’t even need to be 10,000 people. Quality over quantity. I don’t need to meet every person in the world, but I would like to meet other interesting, well travelled, fun people. That’s about the extent of “networking” that I have done in 11 Burning Mans. And I have made some amazing friendships out of it.
If we’re going to make the awesomest community we can, then I want to do it with the best people: the individuals and Camps that would come to our location(s) and participate. Whether it’s to visit and check out a party, or a destination to drive their art car around at sometimes, or somewhere they can take some space and store their stuff and who knows, maybe build their own permanent camp that they visit regularly throughout the year.