At Burning Man change is inevitable but Black Rock City’s soul remains intact
It’s no secret that Burning Man has officially become “mainstream.” What used to be a small gathering of hippies, steam punks and radical self explorers in the desert of Nevada has grown into the most unique event on the planet. Last week 70,000 people flocked to the Black Rock City to be transformed by the elements, art, and social interactions. Arguably the hottest ticket in the festival scene right now; attendees lucky enough to get a ticket are privileged to gain entry into an orgy of fun, music, and mayhem.
Whether you are at the legendary Robot Heart art car for a sunrise set, or at your camp’s neighboring bar; Burning Man is a fullblown hedonistic paradise. People say Burning Man has changed, and it has, but the core values and soul of the city stand strong. Everyone follows a set of guidelines; some might even say the hippie version of the overused “PLUR.”
Laid out before entry and sent side by side with your ticket are the 10 principles of Burning Man; radical inclusion; gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leave no trace, participation and immediacy maintain the tenets upon which the city was built. No handshake-needed introductions are accompanied by hugs. Kandi is given but not necessarily traded; many gifts are based on necessity or the reflection of the individual’s creativity. A vintage mirror ring, a light up pin so you can be spotted in the darkness, peppermint oil to keep you cool in the heat, a small pocket spoon to accompany your party; the gifts you get at Burning Man from your fellow Burners are remarkable and always appreciated Like a raver’s Kandi, they hold memories but unlike plastic beads, there is always a deeper purpose.
The playa has become a music mecca over the past 3 years drawing in top artists from every electronic genre. The lineup is unlike any other festival, with a forty page guide that houses the 7-day music marathon. In addition to the secret unannounced shows and lineups. Experienced Burners know to keep their ear to the streets weeks ahead of time since communication is limited and BRC is a land where cell phone towers don’t readily exist.
Nearly impossible to catch it all with parties taking place in every crevice of the immense desert city and the beats never stopping. Ranging from a secret Skrillex set under the moniker of DJ Sonny to a 4,000 person all white party at the legendary Opulent Temple, or multiple sets by Carl Cox, Jack Ü and Skream there truly is a sound and scene for everyone.
Tuesday night we headed straight to Ego Trip to catch Tokimonsta for her first visit to BRC. As she flooded the dance floor with booty droppers and big bass beats ranging from “Drop it like it’s Hot” to her own signature concoctions, BM’s musical magic began to come alive. After, a cruise across the playa led us to MiHKAL playing at the legendary bass haven, Camp Question Mark, where West Coast vibes were strong and the crunch factor off the charts. After retiring for the night the next day was spent exploring the nonmusical offerings until Atish and HOJ playing Pink Mammoth drew us in and began Wednesday’s musical quest. Diplo’s set Wednesday aboard the Robot Heart art car surprised everyone with a down tempo reggae dub sunset performance, showing the diversity of sounds that can be found at the famed Robot Heart party. Later on, a wander into the deep playa led us onto the Mayan Warrior art car where Damian Lazarus spun his magic to a crowd of fellow wanderers dancing upon lit up lily pads that changed colors with every beat. A fan of Damian Lazarus there have been times I’ve heard the set go too deep or off the radar but The Wizard was on his game delivering a clean set with a steady, constant flow and progression. A deeper ride that night led music lovers to The Dusty Rhino where Tycho brought the sun up with his signature sounds against the outer limits of the playa, dubbed “the trash fence.”
Thursday night marked the official start of the weekend with too many sets to count and the real challenge of the arrival of the weekend warrior — Burners who choose to come for the weekend only. Dance floors became more crowded and roads too busy to navigate leaving some camps untouchable and forcing some parties to close down. A missed Major Lazer set gave us a rocky start to the night as Camp Question Mark suddenly felt a lot less vibey and a whole lot more like the Coachella crew
had arrived. Luckily neighboring camp Ooligan Alley and GasLamp Killer provided a bass heavy retreat aboard their airplane watch tower where vibes consistently remained amongst the best all week long. As the art installations began to go up in flames we were reminded of the temporary nature of BRC. If you sleep in this city, you never know what you will miss.
Friday night after an attempt to catch Sacred Spaces who was hosting The Human Experience, Desert Dwellers and Random Rab we retreated out into the deep playa for some much needed open space. Arriving at Robot Heart the leaders of their camp assured us that Lee Burridge’s sunrise was the spot to be. Taking a gamble we cruised all the way out to the almost impossible to reach Disco Knights where Seth Troxler and friends blew us away. Francesca Lombardo was on the decks as we arrived and stole the week with an imaginative house set filled with deep funky beats and unique drops.
Many long time burners shun the fact that the biggest names in music are taking over BM, claiming it’s not a music festival or a rave, and chasing DJs across the playa takes away from the organic feel of the party. However, with so much to offer, music is merely an option that, for many, merely enhances the experience.
At Burning Man, no two years are the same. It’s a testament to the human imagination and the organic growth of a city built upon dreams in the middle of a desert. When you come across people who have gone to multiple burns it speaks to the versatility of attendees and the singularity of each year; each experience vastly different than the last. The desert acts as a large blank canvas that is filled and erased and left as if nothing had ever happened. Like every city there is an undercurrent of change and the new inhabitants with their unique expression is what fuels Black Rock City. Love it or hate it, change is inevitable and should be embraced with a careful hand and watchful eye to ensure the 10 Principles live on.
Burning Man is much more about the journey itself than the final destination. I leave you with this advice; say yes to everything that is offered, go on every adventure, follow the beats and talk to every stranger you encounter. The relationships that are forged are stronger than those experienced at other festivals. The playa often provides you with the people and connections you need, and if you are searching for answers in your relationship you will definitely have them before the week is done. Sometimes the best of friends become the worst of enemies and couples either burn away their relationship or rise from the ashes like a phoenix.
Bring your Kandi and your flare but most importantly bring yourself; there’s a place for everyone in this city.