BURNING MAN 2012: A LONG, STRANGE TRIP

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A LONG, STRANGE TRIP

Where to begin?

Sometime last fall, I happened to come across a web posting about Burning Man. Apparently the festival had grown so large that they were capping attendance at 50,000 people this year, and they were instituting a lottery system for tickets. This piqued my interest.

I think Burning Man has really had been gnawing at the back of my brain for about 20 years. After all, I never met a Burner I didn’t like, and they all told me I’d love it. This had been happening for years. So why hadn’t I gone? Laziness? Fear of stinky hippies? I’m not sure. But now? What do I have to lose? And with a click of my mouse it was done. I submitted my request for 2 tickets, and then put it out of my mind. Quite coincidentally, three of my best friends had the exact same idea. I guess we all had the itch. A few months later, the news came in: We had secured 4 tickets in total. I guess it was really happening. Now what?

Slowly, the questions of how to actually do this start popping up. What was the best way to go? Should we stay in an RV or a tent? Should we fly in to Reno or LA or San Fran? Should we join an established camp, or go rogue? Are we going to die out there in the desert?

My friend Ben reached out to an old friend, Juan Carlos (JC), A crazy Colombian guy whom he knew from the advertising world. Not only had he been going for 10 years, but he was also the organizer of his very own camp: “Heroes & Supervillains”. Apparently they were known for 2 things: great parties and great house music. You don’t say?

A few weeks later, on a cold Tuesday night in February, my friends and I met JC and his wife Carolyn at a West Village bar called The Rusty Knot. We drank dark & storms in tall, ceramic tiki glasses and played 8-ball on the smallest bar pool table in Manhattan. Carolyn played straight man while JC made his pitch. He is a loquacious mother fucker, to put it mildly, so I cannot even begin to recall everything he said in the next 3 hours, but the gist of it was simply: “dude, it will change your life!”.

The last person who said that to me took me to Machu Pichu and dropped me in an ayahuasca ceremony with an Amazonian shaman, and in many ways, did just that. Years previously, a guy I met in Thailand told me to drop everything and go to Angkor Wat. Both trips were unforgettable, life-changing, and stay with me to this day.

In the cab on the way home from the bar, we all agreed: we were in!

DISCLAIMER: Most of these pics were taken by the illustrious Ben Cruz, and homeboy knocked it out of the park. A few I grabbed off the web – for the purpose of telling you the whole story.

LOGISTICS LOGISTICS LOGISTICS

After that night, I feel like I spent every free moment of the next six months worrying, planning, and executing all that needed to get done for me to get to Burning Man. It was like having a second job.

The Souliscious Camp Emails started pouring in. First, 2 a day. Then 6. Within weeks it was well over 20 a day. I even had to join the cursed, Borg Collective Facebook, which I have avoided for years, since I was simply missing too much crucial camp information.

Being part of a Burning Man camp is no joke. It means that you are down for the cause. It’s a massive group undertaking, with people from far and wide devoting all of their spare time and money to figure out how to make the collective “burn” as awesome as it can be for everybody in the camp. And the logistics? Dear god, so many logistics. Here’s a few off the top of my head:
- Making a deal with the Burning Man organizers for a designated plot of land to call your own.
- Arranging for a camp power generator, either by trucking one 100 miles out in to the desert, or going in on something bigger with an adjoining camp.
- All of the structures you need have to be planned: Communal showers. A common area with shade of some sort filled with couches, pillows, lighting, decorations, Etc.
- Purchasing all of the building materials, furniture, decorations, Etc
- Renting a couple of trucks to drive all of that out there from LA (13 hours).
- Mapping out the location of each person’s tent or RV, so everybody has the space they need.
- Collecting all of the dues and managing the distribution of money.
- And on and on…

In addition, the Souliscious camp was special, because of its location. Burning Man’s civic layout, aka Black Rock City, is arranged in a circle around “the man” – the seven story effigy that will be burnt on Saturday night. Locations are assigned two coordinates: a time, relevant to 6 O’clock on the circle, and a letter from A-L, representing the concentric streets that radiate from the center outward, starting with “The Esplanade”, then A street, then B street, and so forth.

To give you a better idea what this looks like, here’s a photo I stole off the web of some crazy mother fucker sky-diving in to the event.

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Our camp was located at 8:15 & The Esplanade, which meant front and center on the inner circle. In this pic above, the clock is upside down. The circular shape towards the top is actually 6 O’clock, so 8:15 would be around to the right hand side of the image.

Being situated right on the main thoroughfare meant that we were required to provide entertainment of some sort almost 24 hours a day. This meant:
- Getting a sound system.
- Building a bar and stocking it with free booze for 7 days.
- Building go-go stages for semi-naked girls to dance on (DUH!).
- Building a DJ booth and filling it with turntables and mixers.
- Putting up lighting rigs for the dance floor.
- Building a second shaded area near the dance floor with beds, couches, and lighting.
- DJs had to be booked and scheduled for almost every hour of the day and night. Some of those DJs needed tickets. Some needed a place to stay. Etc Etc.
- Renting another truck to drive all of that stuff from LA.
- My camp was partnering with a larger Philly camp called “Pex”, so some of these tasks were shared, but most were not. I think the collective feeling among the 4 of us was simply “WTF have we gotten ourselves into?”.

Lucky for us, being noobs, almost all of those tasks I mentioned fell to seasoned members. Other than my offer to DJ and do some free graphic design, all the four of us really had to do was, oh I dunno… buy plane tickets, rent an RV, buy a tent, arrange for power to both, arrange for grey water pumping for the RV, buy four throwaway bikes, buy a portable stereo, and buy every little god damned thing on God’s green earth one might need to survive seven days in the desert. The checklist included: Boots. Camelbak. Gas mask for dust storms. Goggles for daytime. Goggles for nighttime. A sunhat. Headlamp. Flashlight. Glow sticks. Head & tail lights for bikes. Rebar for tent stakes. Lights for the rebar tent stakes. Locks for the bikes. Repair kit for bike tires. Additional lights for the side of the bikes. Sun screen. Aloe. Wet wipes. Batteries. Zip ties. Ziplock bags. Trash bags. Pillows and flooring for the tent. Carabiners. A clip on travel cup. A swiss army knife with kitchen utensils. Work gloves. Plastic sheeting for the RV. Lumber & hardware to build a door structure for the RV. Box cutters. Duct tape. Blue painters tape. Ear plugs. Rain ponchos. Chapstick. Bandanas. Eye drops. Nose drops. First aid kit. Pots and pans. Spices and condiments. Cups to drink out of. Clothes for 110 degree weather. Clothes for 30 degree weather. Food for 7 days. Enough water for each of us to not die each day. Water for showering. And 50 other things I can’t even remember.

Oh, and costumes. We needed superhero costumes, as that was the theme of our camp.

As the event grew closer and closer, this list loomed larger and larger. Nobody wanted to focus that much time on something that was just supposed to be a vacation. But that’s the thing, see. Slowly, you start to figure out that [b][i]Burning Man is not a vacation.[/i][/b] It’s nothing remotely like a vacation. It’s an epic battle of will and persistence, lasting weeks or months, culminating in 7 days of craziness that is both the ultimate trial and the ultimate reward.

GET IN TO CHARACTER

My biggest hurdle was really the creative one. What superhero did I want to be? For some reason, we all took this very seriously. After all, it was the theme of the entire camp, and as noobs, we wanted to come correct.

We decided on a two-prong approach. Come up with individual costumes of our own making, and do a group costume of sorts.

Our group costume was to be “The Nowhere Men”. A paramilitary black ops unit encamped at Burning Man for the purpose of giving out daily superhero missions to any and all who were up to the task. To this end, we bought an 10-man military tent, a table for maps and coordinates, 4 matching desert storm military jump suits and goggles. We had a friend hand-sew on patches and various accouterment. Ben designed a Nowhere Men logo which we hand-stenciled on the back of each uniform with spray paint. We bought utility belts, hats, and other accessories. We worked out a loose script complete with makeshift military protocol. I stayed up for 3 nights downloading obscure recordings of military radio chatter from various wars for a 12 minute sound design loop that would be playing inside the tent 24 hours a day. The missions were typed out on tiny slivers of paper bearing the Nowhere Men insignia and inserted in to clear gel capsules. These were, after all, secret missions, and heroes needed the option of swallowing the intel in case of capture.

We were very proud of this elaborate scheme. Alison, who had been the previous year, laughed at all of this planning and prepping.
“Just wait…” she advised “As soon as you get there, all of your planning is gonna go straight out the window”.

Not us. No way.

Not only had Alison been to The Burn before, but she had just returned from “Boom”, the Portuguese Burning Man, so she was well versed in surviving in the wild. Her sage advice and her camping gear were both equally invaluable.

My personal costume was another matter entirely. After much debate, I came up with the name “Silver Surrender“. Yes, I’ll admit the word “surrender” does seem kinda lame for a superhero, but hear me out:

The word surrender has come to take on a special importance for me this year. It’s all about accepting some major changes in my life. About surrendering to that which I cannot control, as a means of letting it go. Letting go of all the stress and strife that has plagued the last three years of my life. Strife that ended my 13-year relationship and shifted my midlife crisis in to overdrive. Stress about my unknown future and fundamental questions like “what the fuck am I doing on this planet?” There was a lot of stuff I just needed to let go of, so I could finally move forward. For this reason, “surrender” seemed like the perfect word. And in truth, this was the real reason I was going to Burning Man. I needed a spiritual re-boot and a clean slate.

After two solid months of browsing costume stores , thrift shops, Soho boutiques, Army/Navy outlets & bargain basements, buying anything silver I could get my hands on, Silver Surrender came together pretty solidly. I was finally ready. Or at least as ready as I could be, which means not at all.

SO MUCH DRAMA IN THE LBC

Two days before Andreas and I arrived in LA for the rendezvous, Ben had picked up a new recruit, his boy Welly Lo. And then we were five.

We ran some last minute errands in LA for a couple of days. It seemed like the entire city was crawling with Burners, buzzing around in a panic of last minute purchasing. A cute chick checking out goggles at the Army/Navy store. A cool dude in front of me in line at Home Depot. I started to recognize Burners on sight. You could just tell. I must admit, it was really exciting. There was a palpable energy in the air.

Myself(L) and Andreas, dressing frightfully similarly in our old age. WTF.

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As we finally hit the road, one thing was immediately clear: we were five grown men, with very different approaches to traveling, who were all very used to being in charge of such things. Some wanted to stay on a tight schedule. Others wanted to keep it loose. Some wanted to print out directions and alternate routes and debate the nuances of each. Others just wanted to get in the car and fucking wing it. Whichever camp you fell in, I think we were all thinking the same thing: “7 days in a 10×30 box in the desert, with no running water, with these freaks? Who is coming to blows first?”

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We drove 9 hours through the California desert to Carson City, Nevada, just outside of Reno, where we stayed in a cheap motel overnight. Monday morning’s schedule was crucial. We had much to accomplish by noon: get to Home Depot and buy some lumber. Get to Walmart and Whole Foods buy $1200 worth of groceries and 80 fucking gallons of water, and get to the Reno bike store before 10,000 other weirdos got there are bought all the decent bikes. Bikes are a must at BM. It’s the only way to get around.

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ARE WE THERE YET?

The drive from Reno to Black Rock City is relatively straightforward. 100 miles northeast in to the middle of NOWHERE. When you look at the map on your phone, the road beyond the highway just falls off in to blank white space, as if the data hasn’t loaded yet. But it has. There’s simply nothing there. This was a whole new level of going “off the grid”.

Once you turn off the highway, the only cars left on the road are Burners. And there’s a lot of them. RVs, pickup trucks, sedans. If they have bikes strapped to them, and they’re driving north, they’re burners. One big, slow-moving convoy. We were getting close! We were getting excited!

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Once you clear all of the 25mph speed traps on the Paiute Indian Reservation at Pyramid Lake, it just get’s FLAT. A big, flat, nothing: The Black Rock Desert – a 300,000 acre piece of land, much of which is occupied by the Alkali Flats, or “Playa” – a dry lake bed of immense proportions that stretches out to the northeast for as far as the eye can see, bordered by the Calico Mountains on your left and the Jackson Mountains on your right. The landscape gets more and more barren until it’s almost completely stripped of any flora or fauna.

Then, at a certain point along the 2-lane highway, you see a handmade sign for Burning Man. Finally! At the sign, You turn on to an 6-lane, soft-sand road and drive straight out in to the void.

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We were so excited by this point, we could barely contain ourselves.

THE DO LUNG BRIDGE

A low-level dust storm was enveloping the gate as we arrived. Various black-clad, black-goggled, Road Warrior-lookin’ weirdos were standing around gyrating to some kind of death metal. Topless chicks in raver clothes walked in and out of the line of vehicles. One guy took our tickets while a girl boarded our vehicle and searched for stowaways.

A topless woman in her 50s, dressed like Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS, came over and told us her name was “Hot Stuff”. She asked if any of us were BM virgins. I was the only one who raised my hand. She took me out of the RV and brought me over to a big patch of sandy dirt. She made me get down and swim in it. Front stroke. Back stroke. Rubbed it on my face and in my hair. No crevice was left untouched. Virgins have to get filthy the minute they arrive. I was officially filthy with playa dust – which is light grayish-brown and has the consistency of baby powder. Afterwards she gave me a big, 50-yr-old-bare-tittied bear hug and sent us on our way.

Driving through Black Rock City for the first time is pretty much indescribable. Words cannot do it justice. All that kept crossing my mind was Lawrence Fishburne’s immortal words from Apocalypse Now, when they reach the Do Lung Bridge – the crazy, lawless, chaotic, no-man’s land between Viet Nam & Cambodia.

“This sho nuff is a bizarre sight in the middle of this shit” – Clean

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It was as if we had survived the Apocalypse and just now come across the only remaining group of survivors on earth. Survivors who had resorted back to weird customs and behaviors. Bands of rejects living in strangely shaped huts and geodesic domes flowing with tattered fabric. Their eyes covered with bizarrely shaped, dark goggles to protect from radiation exposure. Some choosing to wear no clothes at all, painting their skin with tribal markings, tattoos, and scars. Some were adorned with massive feathered head-dresses and dirty, disheveled clothing. It was as if I had finally found the bombed-out, magical world from Ralph Bakshi’s “Wizards”. Something that, in truth, I’ve been searching for since it blew my mind in 1977.

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TOUCHDOWN. BLAST OFF

We found our camp and were greeted warmly by the fantastic four: JC, Carolyn, Daniella, & Chorizo. “Oh shit The New York City virgins made it! Congratulations!”

Then began a mad rush to prepare what little we could before the sun went down. My priorities were getting the bikes wired for lights. It is crucial that your bike be well illuminated.

Dave set about building the frame for a plastic-sheeted front door for our RV, in a vain attempt at keeping dust out of the vehicle. I knew the minute I swam in that dirt that there was no way we were keeping anything clean. It was a lost cause. However, not all of us were ready to surrender just yet.

The first things you notice as you enter Black Rock City, are the “art cars”, BM’s signature moving sculptures. They are bizarrely-sculpted, outrageously-decorated vehicles of all shapes and sizes, the more outlandish the better. A hodgepodge of welded-together-monstrosities and true works of wonder. Glowing apparitions covered in pulsating lights and shooting bursts of flames like a whale clearing its blowhole. They are chaos incarnate.

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As we raced against the sunset, we started seeing our first batch of art cars in full regalia, heading out for the night. First, the entire front porch of a house drove by. There was 5 people in Old West costume dress performing a musical number. The only common denominator among the art cars is that they all have a booming sound system built in, blasting some kind of dance music at maximum volume.

The house was followed by a life-size replica of Jabba The Hut’s desert “Sail Barge” from Return of the Jedi. The wheels were tucked so far under the glowing underbelly that it really looked like it was floating!

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That was followed by massive neon rooster that rolled by. Each car was crazier than the last.

After the front door structure was built and the bikes were wired to go, we suited up as best we could and set out on our first exploration.

Water? check. Goggles? check. Headlamp? Flashlight? Gas Mask? bandana? Chiggity Check. Enough already. ROLL OUT!

The magic and majesty of your first view of the Playa at night cannot be over-stated. It is simply otherworldly. Alive. Electric. Insane. A living, black light landscape that fills your entire filed of view in all directions. It’s at that moment, when you first see it, that you are SO FUCKING HAPPY that you actually made it to Burning Man. All of that stress and struggle and money and time – it was all worth it!

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The first night was magic. We rode around in a little bike gang with JC and his crew. I felt like a kid in my first amusement park. What’s that over there?!! Let’s go over there! Holy shit what’s that way over there?! Let’s go over there!!! And so it went, all night long. We biked from one bizarre, amazing oddity to the next. We were’t even on drugs but it felt like tripping. You NEVER get this much visual stimulation w/o hallucinogenic drugs. It’s just not possible. Or so I thought…

The impact of the physical landscape, or utter lack of landscape, is also something that’s very hard to describe. The Playa is a completely flat plane. You’ve never been anywhere this flat in your life. Being devoid of any detail, it just becomes this abstract blank canvas that stretches off in to infinity. A blank canvas filled with 40,000 neon black light laser-shooting fire-breathing Jabberwockies. I need to stop trying to put it in to words because I cannot do it justice.

We stayed out late that night, riding around and exploring the endless wonders there were to see. So many amazing art cars. So much music blaring at you from all directions.

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The cacophony of music on the Playa is quite surreal. There is so much sound competing for your ear drums. Songs appear and then disappear as the wind shifts. As you ride around, one minute you’re hearing dubstep, then seamlessly some techno drifts to center, then house music, then god knows what. At one point a magic carpet with glowing underbelly drove by, filled with hookah smokers, blasting Louie Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”. I heard maybe 2 lines of the song before it was eclipsed by a louder tune from elsewhere.

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This went on all night. We rode out in the center of the Playa, as well as back among the endless parade of camps on the backstreets. Most tents on the road are alive with lights and lasers and whatever are they’re offering you something. A bar serving drinks. A DJ playing music. A tent full of massage tables. Somebody’s making popcorn. Others are serving wine & cheese. A drum circle. A kissing booth. A bad advice booth. A spanking. A hug. Healing workshops. Aura cleanings. You name it.

And it’s ALL free. Money is strictly forbidden. No transactions are allowed to take place. You just roll in to somebody’s camp and they’ll tell you what’s being offered. If you have something of your own, you can give it to them in kind, but more often than not you just take it for free, knowing that you’ll give back to the city in whatever way you intend. I had burned about 50 mix CDs before I left, so I gave those out from time to time.

There was so much stuff to see I didn’t want to sleep, but this was just the first night. I had seven nights to go, so OK fine. We probably should pace ourselves. Fine.

SAGE ADVICE

The next morning we wandered around the camp for a bit, introducing ourselves. We were only about half full at this point. It was another six days until the man burned so there was plenty of time to get there. We were introduced as “The New York City Virgins”. JC grabbed an old friend and told him to give me some solid virgin advice from a lifetime Burner. He stepped forward, leaned in, looked me in the eye, and simply said:

“I got three words: SUCK IT DRY!”

This sounded like the best advice I was going to get all week, so it became my daily mission.

AND SUCK I DID

The rest of the seven days is best told in small anecdotes and random photos, as it all kind of a blur. Here’s some of the things that made it awesome, in no particular order.

A WEEK ON THE MOON

I keep describing it to friends that it was like being on the Moon for a week. The physical environment is nothing like anywhere on earth I’ve ever been.

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It’s incredibly dry. So dry that you barely even sweat when it’s 100 degrees out. Blazing hot during the day, scorching your skin, and way too cold at night. The first night we arrived it was 36 degrees. I was not really prepared for that shit. I had just enough layers to get through the weather swings, but they kinda wreaked havoc on my late night costume ideas.

In addition to being dry, the Playa dust has such a high alkali content, that exposure to it can give you a mild form of chemical burn. This can get especially bad on your feet and fingertips. They warn you to always wear socks and boots, and clean your feet every night. I didn’t really take that seriously, and I wore my trusty Keen hiking sandals for the first few days. After the 4th day, the heels of my feet started showing cracks. These got worse and worse. My feet eventually recovered, but I swear my fingers still aren’t back to normal.

Oh an I almost forgot: the dust storms. Holy shit.

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They call them “white-outs”. Imagine the worst snowstorm you’ve ever seen in your entire life. 10-foot visibility. Stuff blowing over left and right. 60mph winds whirling around in all directions. OK. Now imagine that snow is sand. And instead of hiding inside like a sane person, everybody simply goes outside, right in to the heart of the storm, and they PARTY like it’s 1999 B.C. This is what they do at Burning Man. It’s insane. The most surreal night of all was the night of the worst white out. We walked around from party to party. Everybody was in full gas mask mode. You couldn’t breathe otherwise. But nobody cared. The DJ is good. LET’S DANCE! Amazing.

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That said, these harsh physical conditions do take their toll. The heat. The cold. The dirt. The alkali burns. I definitely had my moments where I had to stop and wonder if it was worth it. WTF am I doing out here? Do I really need to endure all this just to have a little fun? It seemed ridiculous. It WAS ridiculous. But then I would venture out in to the wonderland again, quickly come to my senses, and realize: YES. Yes, it was completely fucking worth it.

PANCAKES , XANAX, AND FREE LOVE

On our very first morning, Ben, Andreas and I went searching for coffee. We found an old west brothel looking facade with a tent outside serving coffee and muffins. A guy in old timey clothes was playing mandolin on the balcony, surrounded by women dressed as strumpets from the Old West. This camp also appeared to be the home of that moving front porch art car I saw on the first night.

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A large friendly man in a wedding dress emerged through two saloon doors and gave me some pancakes.

I sat down and had a chat with a very nice young lady who had yet to go to sleep from the previous night. After a brief conversation she mentioned that she had some interesting prescriptive substances back in her tent and asked me if I’d like to accompany her forthwith. Having just woken up, I politely declined. In truth, I was extremely flattered to get such a generous offer, as this pretty much never happens to me.

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WE ARE THE GOON SQUAD AND WE’RE COMING TO TOWN

Burning Man, at its core, is a non-stop seven-day Halloween Party. Everyone is either dressed up in the most outrageous shit you’ve ever seen, or they’re completely naked. Either approach works. If you show up simply dressed as a camper or hiker, you might as well be invisible. The style is pretty narrow: Road Warrior meets 90s Raver. It’s certainly not my own personal tastes, but it does look sexy as hell on the women. The men-in-Barney-Rubble-fur-coats thing got old pretty quick, but everyone’s having fun, so who cares?

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I broke out my Silver Surrender costume on the second day. It had many different variations. With cape. Without cape. Silver bamboo hat. Silver kufi. Cowboy hat. Tiny silver shorts. Longer silver basketball shorts. Silver jacket #1. Silver jacket #2. Silver vest. Shirtless. Etc. Finally, I was getting the hang of this place.

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I even had an evil alter ego with a chrome-like face mask (pictured below). This was by far the bigger hit. People stopped me to take my picture wherever I went.

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The Distrikt parties were pretty off the hook. DJs like Matt Kramer. Scumfrog. Marques Wyatt. Worthy. Etc.

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I had a Pearl River red monk robe that I wore the night the man burned. It was most effective for night wear since I could layer up underneath. Brrrrr.

All I know is, if I do go again, I am going ALL IN on the costume thing. There’s no other way to do it.

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THE MAN & THE TEMPLE

There are two significant structures in the middle of The Playa. The first is “The Man”, a tall wooden effigy lined with neon that stands above a 4-story circular gazebo.

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We visited the Man on our first night. There was a massive jungle-gym-like structure geometrically formed in hexagonal shapes in the center of the interior. Burners of all shapes and sizes were crawling all over it. Others milled about the circular balconies, peering both inward at the teeming horde and outwards in to the black light dreamscape. At midnight a guy dragged a blushing girl to the top of the stairs and screamed out “Attention everyone! This is Julie and it’s her 21st birthday!!!”. The entire place, maybe 500 strangers, immediately broke in to singing her Happy Birthday. She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry. I think she did both.

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The second is The Temple – the emotional centerpiece of the entire festival – the heart of Burning Man. It’s a beautiful, elaborately-carved wooden structure that changes each year. It burns on the Sunday night as the final send-off of the week.

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Originally, the Temple was simply another art project in 2000. It took on a deeper meaning when one of the crew of builders was killed in a motorcycle accident before it was even completed. They dedicated the finished temple to him. Since then, each year it has been living memorial for all burners to participate in.

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Thousands of people visit it during the seven days, leaving their own personal memorials to loved ones who have passed. As the burn grows near, the density of memorials increases exponentially. People can be found there at all hours. Praying. Weeping. Singing. Chanting. Playing instruments. Telling stories. It was an incredibly emotional space to be in. Often too much for me, to be quite honest.

I performed my own ritual of sorts there, and carried the feeling with me for the whole week. The surrender theme was running deep within me.

HEADPHONE ODYSSEY

Before we left NY, I made 3 one-hour mixes specifically for headphones. I made sure every member of the crew downloaded them all. The music was chosen for its sonic qualities as well as its dreamy mood. Each day at sunset, we would put on headphones, press play simultaneously on our mp3 players, and ride out in to the middle of the “Deep Playa”, beyond the Temple.

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It was truly a beautiful thing. The blank canvas of the Playa becomes this weird existential nothingness for you to get lost in thought and music.

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Sometimes we would simply chase the sunset, riding as far and fast as we could as it sank below the mountains. Sometimes we would just drift aimlessly, riding from one random sculpture to the next.

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If you ride far enough you come upon weird things in the middle of the desert. This below was a tiny, painted brick movie theater, complete with a little marquee, that some freak had built at the very edge of the Playa. They were playing the Wizard of Oz when we rode by.

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This headphone plan turned out better than I could have ever imagined. It became one of the daily highlights in a week filled with nothing but highlights.

You can download them all in the DJ mix section of this site.

Everyday at dusk, a large parade of lamplighters illuminate the roads of Black Rock City, post by post.

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OONTZ OONTZ OONTZ

Burning Man is different things for different people, but I think if you didn’t like house music, it would drive you absolutely crazy. There is a constant BOOM BOOM BOOM from ALL directions at ALL hours of the day or night. But especially at night.

Being right on the Esplanade, The Heroes & Supervillains camp was basically a 24-hour nightclub, with two speaker stacks blasting beats that could be heard a mile away. We had DJs scheduled just about every hour of the day. The only exception being from 8am-Noon, when the camp right next door borrowed our turntables for their own booming sound system. Going to sleep 100 yards from two speaker stacks is a challenge, but after the first night or so, nobody cared.

The Skulliscious dancefloor was a big, dusty patch of sand facing the center Esplanade. People would ride up, drop their bikes, and get down. they’d stay for a few songs or a few hours and then ride off in to the night.

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Half the reason I joined this camp was that they were known for great house music, and they did not disappoint. Marques Wyatt from LA. Rafael De La Cruz from LA. Small Change, Monty, and Deep Woods from NY. And a slew of people who’s names I never even caught.

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I DJ’d 3 different times during the week and had a blast each set. We had a residents’ night on Tuesday, where I got to throw down with some disco, funk, and afrobeat. It just seemed like the gap needed to be filled. I also played a nice 3-hour-long downtempo set on the last day as we took down the camp.

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THE MINISTER OF SILLY WALKS

One thing that really spoke to me at Burning Man is the collective, undying, unwavering devotion to absurdity. So much of what you see is just pure, unfiltered silliness. Silliness for silliness’ sake. And it’s all the more silly and hilarious because of where you are. You know how hard it was for you to get all the way out there. How much money you spent. All the planning you did. All the worrying you did. All the shit you had to buy. All the logistics. And then you see people who did all that AND they went out of their way to give the gift of absurdity, either on a grand scale, or a tiny one.

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My favorite example of this was a guy I saw on the second day. It was at least 100 degrees. He was wearing a mask and a little tiny cape. And he was riding across the entire middle of the Playa on the tiniest fucking clown tricycle I have ever seen. His knees were right up in his face. He could barely peddle the damn thing. He was probably going about 1/100th of a mile an hour. He could have walked 10 times as fast. But he didn’t. He brought this tiny fucking tricycle all the way from god knows where, JUST to ride t across the desert, JUST for the visual pun. He did this in the blazing mid-day heat. It probably took him 3 hours. But he did it. Not for recognition. Not for any money. He did it simply because he knew other people would think it was hilarious. The purity of that intention just blew me away. And you see SO MUCH of that.

Why did somebody build a working martini bar three stories up worth no ladder? Oh of course, it’s for people on stilts!

Why are there two giant shark fins swimming through the desert? Oh of course, two people made 8-foot shark fin costumes in their garages back in Boise and now they’re walking around out there, circling people and sculptures, probably roasting half to death inside those things, just for the visual joke.

I didn’t even see these bunny slippers below. This pic is from 2010 (I think). But I post it here to illustrate my point: Absurdity. Absurdity. Absurdity. If that kind of shit appeals to you, you may just be a Burner. At the very least, you and I should have a beer.

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EVERYBODY RUN, IT’S THE COPS!

The funniest thing about the entire week was our Nowhere Men costumes. Remember that whole plan we had? Dressing up like a military unit and giving out secret missions? Yeah, well, we hit a snag on that one. Thursday night we all got suited up, ready to dazzle the camp with our clever spin on the superhero theme. But first we did a little recon, because on Thursday night they burn the inner circle of sculptures and we didn’t want to miss that.

While out on the Playa watching the infernos, we noticed people were acting really weird around us.
“Excuse me, where can I leave my bike during tonight’s burn?” said one dude.
Another guy patted me on the back as he walked past.
“Is it OK if my girl and I sit down over here?”
WTF was going on? Why were all these people talking to us?
And lastly, right outside of our RV, a guy came over and said “Thanks for all your hard work. You guys rock!”
It was then that we realized, our Nowhere Men suits were identical to the Park Ranger suits. AKA the cops. We were dressed like cops! Talk about a Picard facepalm moment. The last thing you want to do in a place where every single person is tripping is dress like a cop. Oh well, There went that idea LOL.

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I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD

By the third night I had figured out the magic formula for sucking it dry: Wake up, eat some California brownie. Go explore wherever the road (or lack there of) takes us. Come back, eat lunch, quick nap. Wake up. Explore some more. Headphone bike ride at sunset. Come back. Eat dinner. Nap until about 1am. Wake up and head out tripping the light fantastic until sunrise. I think I saw the sunrise almost every day after that. It was glorious.

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This was some pulsating LED thing that constantly undulated with colors and patterns. It came with 3D glasses. Laying underneath it was like “MY GOD IT’S FULL OF STARS”

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Ben Cruz – my man fifty grand and my general partner in crime for the last 15 years. Game for pretty much any damn thing at any damn hour of the day or night.

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ONE FOR THE TREBLE

The parties at night are fantastic. All types of club music. All shapes and sizes. Huge riotous dubstep assaults inside a 4 story pyramid with lasers and enough sub-bass to dislodge your teeth fillings. Tiny gatherings in makeshift tents with one working JBL speaker a few Burners playing old funk songs from their itunes folder. Moving parties on art cars with mobile techno DJs and mobile cocktails cruising around the black light wasteland and the back streets of Black Rock City. By NYC standards, much of the music is just “aiight”. It will get you by, but you really need to dig to find the real shit.

Some of the cooler parties are these massive gatherings in the middle of the great void, where 10 or 20 art cars gather together in a big circle. All but one turns off their sound system, and everybody dismounts and goes nuts to 12 straight hours of house music. The best of these seemed to be “Robot Heart”. Whether 3am or 10am, it was jumping. DJs like M.A.N.D.Y., Lee Burridge, and DJ Three. Almost no vocals. Just beats beats beats. Not all of it was my cup of tea, but the DJs knew their crowd.

This is some place called Opulent. I think Carl Cox DJ’d there one night. It was so bananas in there I couldn’t even go inside.

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All that said, my best nights out were the tiny underground tent parties that we just stumbled upon. A handful of music lovers and DJs who stay in their camp and just throw a party for whoever happens to wander by. These are magic.

My favorite set all week was Rafael De La Cruz, from our crew, playing for a very intimate crowd in The Kundalini Camp. We danced for hours in the middle of a large dome-shaped tent while a serious orgy was in full-swing all around us. Naked bodies writhing in all directions. It was a sight to see, and a night I’ll not soon forget.

12 RANDOM MOMENTS YOU KINDA HAD TO BE THERE FOR

- 2 mini people in leather bondage gear zooming across the playa on 2 mini-segways.
- Howling at the full moon with 5000 other strangers as it slipped behind the mountains at 6am.
- Running in to a kid I knew in high school while tending bar completely off my face.
- An art car blasting Huey Lewis “Power of Love” at the Sunday sunrise at the temple.
- Swinging around at 100mph in a tripped-out blur with 30 other strangers on one of those playground roundabouts built around a massive disco ball, whilst driving across the barren desert at 5am.
- The heat of gas flares exploding all around you and that unmistakable smell of butane. I don’t quite get the fascination with fire, to be honest, but it does have its moments.
- Eating some weird Cali caramel that, after 30 minutes, felt pretty much like I’d been shot with a fucking tranquilizer gun. Beware.
- Shots of the Green Dragon. Beware the green dragon too.
- Sitting on a couch with Ben, right on the Esplanade, just watching freaks go by for hours and hours.
- Listening to two strangers on MDMA lamenting the absence of psy-trance, and specifically how it has “more texture” than all other forms of music. I kid you not.
- Watching my friend Dave air-conducting to Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube” while zooming across the wasteland on his bike on one of our headphone odysseys.
- That orgy thing I mentioned above. A sight to behold.

ONE SERVING OF SOUL PLEASE

Our camp’s big chance to give back to Burning Man was the Soul Brunch – an all-day / free food / free booze / free beats throw down for everyone’s enjoyment.

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in the morning, JC and Rafael called a big meeting under the shade structure. We stood in a circle, held hands, and all pledged to spend the entire day serving others. We divided up in to to rotating teams. 6 people on cooking. 6 people on serving. 6 people on trash duty. 6 people behind the bar. Etc Etc. Everybody went to their tents and RV and brought out as much food as they could spare. We had already given 2-3 bottles of liquor each to the bar, but everybody gave more. It all came together incredibly smoothly. The party was humming along solidly for about 6 hours at least. We never ran out of food or booze and the dancefloor was packed by the end.

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David Evans and the one that got away. Peep the green socks pulled over his shoes for the Robin Boots. Fresh.

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The Soul Brunch aside, I must say, I think Ben, Welly, Dave, Andreas & myself each felt incredibly lucky for having been welcomed in to the Heroes & Supervillains camp so warmly by JC, Caro, Daniella, Chorizo, Rafi & everybody else. These guys had amassed such a great mix of people, and everybody was indeed down for the cause in their own way. Having a home base full of wonderful weirdos to return home to after each long day was a real blessing.

BURN BABY BURN

They burn an inner perimeter of sculptures on Thursday. This was a huge wooden Anubis that you could climb on.

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When the man finally burned, it began with fireworks, followed by massive gas explosions straight out of a Michael Bay movie. It was pretty awesome.

Eventually, it all comes down, and everybody parties like its the last night on earth.

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SUNRISE AT THE TEMPLE

The madness after the man burns is some next level type shit. At dawn, a lot of the survivors ride out to the temple to see their last Black Rock sunrise. It was a magical morning for me.

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THROUGH THE FIRE

On an interpersonal relationship level, the week was a real bitch for all of us. Being utterly covered in dust in every imaginable crevice, with cracking feet, random cuts and scratches and bruises, sunburnt, constantly recovering from over-indulgence, and severely needing 80 hours of sleep was definitely taking its toll. Despite having the time of our lives, we were all a bit on edge and seriously in need of a little private space. But we kept going. We just had to hold it together for one more night. Then we could laugh about it all the way back to the first hot shower in Reno. That shower was the dream that kept us going.

THE BURNING OF THE TEMPLE

They burn the temple on Sunday night. It’s really the climax of the entire event. About 40,000 people ride their bikes or hitch a ride on an art car out to the site. Everybody sits in a big circle around the building and waits for the ritual to start.

At this stage, just about every single person is emotionally invested in this now sacred space. Either you dedicated a memorial to a loved one of your own, or you sat in there during the week, reading dedications scribbled in sharpee on the temple walls and listening to the dozens of weeping, mourning people all around you. It’s impossible to not be touched by it in some way.

When they set the building ablaze, you could hear a pin drop. To hear 40,000 people go completely silent at once was almost deafening. It was an incredibly profound moment for me. Something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.

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If this kind of cathartic group experience speaks to you, then you may indeed be a Burner after all.

There’s a million other things I’m leaving out. Really, you might just need to GO and find out for yourself.

AM I IN, OR AM I OUT?

That’s the question I keep asking myself. Either I’m never going back, or I’m going back SO FUCKING HARD every year from now until the day I die. It’s hard to say. It’s an incredible experience, yet, to be honest, I don’t really connect with that many people out there. They’re great people, but I’m not quite sure if they’re really my people – “my tribe”, per se.

Still, my camp had some outstandingly cool people, and at the very least, Burners and I do certainly share a lot of commonalities: A love of extremes, a love of absurdity, a love of house music, and a love of revelry for revelry’s sake. In the end, that may just be enough.


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