(For your Turkey Day delight, I bring one of the newer local producers of note. He’s one of the mad geniuses (genii?) behind The Bleachers, one of my favorite art cars. Deploying a group called Treetops, he’s putting on an event for any of you strays that find yourself here in New York, two nights after Thanksgiving. It’s a bit more whimsical than most of the NYC scene, so if you’re around, drop in on them & tell them Terry Gotham sent you. ~Interview By Terry Gotham)
1. Do you think you throw “Burner” parties? How would you classify Treetops?
Fun Question! I’ll start with the second part first…I would call Treetops “parties directed by whimsy, creativity, and curiosity”. We try to combine renowned musical talent with mini-improv pieces and various silly bullshit in a way that gets people laughing and engaging with each other. Something different from most of what I’ve seen in underground events, where seriousness and a sense of “I need to be cool” can take over.
At our Back to Work party, the main entrance mimicked an office receptionist’s lobby, and guests went through an absurd “job interview” when they arrived. Admittedly a little risky because you don’t know know how people will react to that in a party space, but it ended up being hilarious. Everyone picked out a tie as they walked in, handled party business in the Board Room, and watched the Power Point presentation projection art. The place was full of people at play – making jokes, smiling, dancing, and laughing.
We definitely pull from the Burner community in audience, and many of the people that are involved in production have been to and love Burning Man. We consciously try to do something that touches on a specific part of the Burner world that isn’t noticed as much in the more dance or yoga oriented community of today – that is, interaction and engagement through humor. Dance is a big part of what we do, but even if it’s just decor that plays with thoughts and normalcy, our goal is to use art to set a tone that is more playful/thoughtful/silly than it is sexy/shiny/dramatic. Things are going to get weirder in 2016, with more non-dance elements present like presentations and interactivity. So I guess the answer is.. sort of?
2. What is the favorite project or art piece you’ve worked on and brought to the playa?
I was/am co-producer of The Bleachers, an art car built in Vancouver by an amazing crew including my friend Neil and a number of really awesome folks from Vancouver, throughout Canada, and other New Yorkers. It looks like a mobile set of Bleachers (predictably enough). Neil and I speak from the booth and essentially announce BM as if we were sportscasters or radio DJ’s. It started out with an idea Neil had playing on the “No Spectators” rule, and after some late night bantering sessions, sounded like it’d work well with both of our narcissistic asses yammering away as it cruised around. It was a really interesting experience – constructing it was incredibly emotionally taxing, and some really amazing people worked their asses off to get it physically put together in Vancouver. Everyone involved learned a ton, and I’m proud to say that the end result, even if you correct for Playa Hyperbole, was received well beyond our wildest dreams. People absolutely loved it, chased it around, and it was constantly full of smiling, laughing, comfortable people.
The neatest part of it, to me, was that it managed to become not just a funny joke machine, but a comet of absurd joy. Driving around in something that focused positive-oriented “looking at stuff” on whoever was in front of the 80 or so spectators on the vehicle was incredible to see. So many smiles and laughs, and a feeling of actually putting joy into the world and maybe making people think a little bit about the paradox of Spectating and Creating, and the interplay between the two.
I’ve also supported and spent a lot of time on the Mobile Boardroom, known as “Driven by Profit” – a Vancouver project done by a creative badass named Sean, which has been around for about 10 years and is an absolutely hysterical experience.
3. Have you always been in NYC? If not, where did you come from?
I’ve bounced around a lot. Missouri, Illinois, Upstate NY. College in Montreal, Peace Corps (briefly – I didn’t finish my tour) in Benin, West Africa. Then to San Diego where I got an MBA, little time in France, then, finally, New York. Been here since 2007, and there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.
4. How do you support your Burner lifestyle & trips to the playa?
You know those little ads on webpages? I sell those for a big company. It’s a fun job, although not one that has a ton of emotional resonance or sense of connecting to something greater than ourselves. Corporate. Which is a lot of why I throw parties, work on art projects, and try my damnedest to connect with the people I love and foster a sense of community.
5. Do you have any thoughts on the debates raging on decommodification & the presence of the 0.1% on the Playa?
There’s a very interesting conversation I once had with a friend about the presence of police on the playa, which related to the fact that Burning Man should, in some ways, pull in the reality of the world outside of it. If it were completely removed from the outside world, it would have less inborn conflict and so less energy and less inspirational power.
In this respect, the presence of the wealthiest folks on playa is almost necessary, along with the financial imbalances present. The biggest problem I see with the .1% is any ticket acquisition issues that come from raw wealth. If they are able to get better access to tickets based on their dollars and associations, then I think that is unfair.
Outside of that, Burning Man as we currently know it, including the insane level of spectacle and momentary events, came on the backs of those same .1%. Almost every major art project on the playa – and especially the big sound cars/camps – wouldn’t exist without the help of individuals who are very very wealthy. Burning Man is one of the most insanely expensive events on the planet, and you can’t crowdfund Robot Heart or the Mayan Warrior.
That being said, class conflict, especially given the social context of this time and the socialistic and generally left leaning perspective of most burning man attendees, is inevitable. I think if the bmorg works hard to keep separation between themselves and giving of benefit to individuals based on their financial status, that’s the best we can hope for to address the issues.
6. Where does Burning Man go from here? Are there any regional burns you particularly enjoy?
Burning Man, from what I understand, has been changing dramatically since its creation. After the first sellout in 2011, and the massive press boom of the years following, there was no question that things were going to be different. Add into that the explosion of festivals and electronic music in popularity, and Burning Man is guaranteed to become more like a gigantic awesome rave and less like an art festival full of artists and nutters every year. It’s still the best party on the planet, but it’s leaning a new direction, and that’s one that is more mainstream. Which is fine, but it’s going to be another adaptation of the event, and lead to people putting more emphasis on creating their own events that put their specific subcultures and interests in focus. It’s a natural progression.
7. As a dance party producer, how did you react to the creation of the “EDM Zone” (as it were)?
I was actually in favor of it! For the past 5 years, the open playa has become louder and louder, and it often feels like there is no place for even a moment of peace to be found on the entire playa. Music is a major part of my party experience, but I think the more we can try to keep BM a balance between art and music, or communal and individual experience, the more rich the event will be, emotionally. What I read about the rules themselves is that they were mostly focused on keeping there from being massive moop and/or poop piles all over the deep playa.
8. Some people are saying that it is becoming difficult to produce relevant art or countercultural experiences in the increasingly expensive New York City. As a producer, do you think they’re correct?
I view the increase in cost as cutting down on the number of viable venues. Pair this with the crackdown since NYE 2013/2014 on semi-legal warehouse spaces, and you’ve got a situation where doing something different gets hard, because you just don’t have as many options. I think this is going to be slowly corrected over the next bit, but for now it’s definitely a challenge.
9. Favorite Burning Man memory?
One morning in particular sticks out from 2011. I was riding the Mobile Boardroom at sunrise with a number of amazing new pals, and we’d been cruising the playa all night, playing, laughing, fucking around. There were probably 5 or 6 of us standing on top of it, and I had put on Need You Now by Cut Copy on the little system on the vehicle. It felt like we were on a gigantic surfboard, looking way out into a gorgeous warm and shining future. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such an ecstatic sense of excitement, possibility, comfort, joy, and gratitude. It was magic, and helped to change the way I viewed my own life, friendships, and creative possibility.
10. Favorite thing(s) about Burning Man? I’ll give my two highest minded points:
1. A friend of mine once said that there were two major parts to the social identities of Burning Man – New Age and Punk. I like the punk side: The fucking around, the messing with each other, the humor and the challenges to our comfort and self-seriousness.
2. I view BM as a gigantic blank canvas. Everything about the event, from the open white landscape to the swirling dust storms, and the many people who are being broken down to their core just as you are – it asks you to create something. Maybe that thing is internal, maybe it’s external, but the momentum towards finding a truth is like nowhere I have ever been, and changed my life. It’s not “home,” though.