Each year thousands of people from all over the world descend upon a dried-up prehistoric lake in Nevada to celebrate human connection, self-expression and self-reliance. They collectively form Black Rock City, home to the event known as Burning Man.
Burning Man is the kind of magical place free of judgment where you can let your freak flag fly in all its glory, meet others of your kind and have a chance to relieve yourself of the traps of the 9-5 grind. It is the closest thing you can get to utopia. An adult Disney fantasyland full of possibilities that renews your faith in mankind and generosity and the creativity of others.
There are countless activities and workshops available to you - temples, art installations, mutant vehicles, lectures, light shows, fire-breathing mechanical octopuses and snakes. The collective and creative energy of Burning Man’s attendees is breathtaking.
Nothing can quite prepare you mentally for what Burning Man throws your way.
First held in 1986, this once-small San Francisco beach gathering has grown drastically over the years. The organizers behind the event deny any affiliations of being a “music festival,” but for all intents and purposes, this is the wildest music festival in the world.
The event has hosted its share of high-profile DJs, many of them by the currently-out-of-favor Opulent Temple, a sound camp that regularly draws thousands with its unforgettable stage and next-level sound system.
Sound camps are formed to provide dance floors with a specific focus on the expression of music and dance. Although these areas play various genres, electronic music is the dominant sound. It is also imperative that sound camps must all provide their own equipment. This is in accordance to one of the ten guiding principles of Burning Man; radical self-reliance.
The more widely known sound camps include the Opulent Temple, Distrikt, Disorient, Bubbles and Bass, Sacred Spaces Village and Camp Question Mark. These spaces have hosted hundreds of DJs including old-school international superstars such as Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto, and Paul Oakenfold, EDM-era titans like Bassnectar, Skrillex and Diplo, break-beat regulars such as Stanton Warriors and well-respected dance music veterans like Marques Wyatt and Francois Kevorkian.
This year, Opulent Temple took a step away from their typical stage build for their popular Wednesday night “White Party.” Instead, there was a commutative stage consisting of multiple art cars from other camps. Various cars from other camps outfitted with large speakers met them at a specific location in the center area of Burning Man and linked up wirelessly to form a makeshift half circle dance floor.
Around 1AM, the caravan of art cars announced a special DJ performance by both Carl Cox and Diplo.
This special performance was an exception to the new rules of Burning Man this year. The organizers this year specifically designed Dance Music Zones for art cars with not one, not two, but three levels of sound. The DMZs were located a mile away from The Man in the opposite direction of the camp grounds. Given the popular surge of electronic music and acts like Above and Beyond, they figured this was the next best option to accommodate the select crowds.
Dance music populated most of its pages, but there was something for everyone. There was flamboyant excess at the Liberace Karaoke and Piano Bar at Disorient. There was a rare and innovative instruments session at Kamp Suckie Fuckaye. Planet Earth gave 80s fans a Depeche Mode Tribute while the Rootpile worked on fixing your fiddles. Reverbia threw psyfolk gospel rock performances.
Tuesday was Tutu Tuesday. The Distrikt during the day had DJs Derek Hena and Ejagz spinning french house and electro swing. At one moment, Thomas Jack appeared with his fellow Aussies. This was nothing unsurprising. And that’s the beauty of Burning Man. It didn’t really matter where you came from. Status or prestige or fame also let down its guard.
In the midst of the dust storm that hit Tuesday night, there was the Kalliope Art Car at the far end of the camp ground. Tony Pink and other DJs kept it steady and played a fusion of disco, funk and house to liven up the mood despite the 1930s dust storm that lasted a few hours.
Wednesday’s annual White Party hosted Carl Cox and Diplo in the inner playa. We then headed to the Deep Playa, which was past the boundary lines of Burning Man. This is where the DMZ (Dance Music Zone) was located. Situated far outside the camp grounds to isolate the loudest Art Cars noise levels. By far the most popular art car was the Robot Heart, which played mostly minimalist techno and tech house. Tycho returned this year to follow-up with his signature Sunrise Sermon, a downtempo masterpiece that started around 6am.
Early Friday morning David Hohme unleashed an amazing set at Bubbles and Bass that we sadly had to miss, but the recording is one of the best sets posted online. The last night out we mustered up enough energy for the West Coast Bass Party at Sacred Spaces Village which featured tribal bass legends Beats Antique and glitch hop beast Phutureprimative. Friday was packed with the best acts out there, including Camea at Disorient, Mikey Lion and Lee Reynolds at Distrikt and Marquess Wyatt at Bubbles and Bass. At this point, we were losing steam from the week and enjoyed the Burning of the Man on Saturday.
Despite rumors, Burning Man wasn’t only centered around techno. As an added bonus for exploring, it offered the most eclectic sounds in electronic music, as long as you were willing to explore. (Article and photos by Alex Grabowski)
(Photos and article by Alex Grabowski)