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postcards from the event horizonGraham St Johnhttps://plus.google.com/105623560017324457043noreply@blogger.comBlogger52125
Updated: 3 years 24 weeks ago

Researching the Burning Man Diaspora

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
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Graham St John  Temple of Juno 2012 by bluedogsd
After my first encounter with Burning Man in 2003, I grew intrigued by its global reach over the subsequent decade. This trend is reflected in the 2012 Black Rock City Census results (BRC Census 2012) in which we learn that 24% of the population of Black Rock City are reported to be non-US residents (about 10% European). There is no reason to believe that this global gravitation to the quintessential do-ocracy in the desert will abate any time soon. While this trend is fascinating in itself, of corollary interest is the stimulus that descending upon the Man is having back in the world. By 2014, pilgrimage to the world's largest temporary city has triggered a global diaspora, with regional developments worldwide, stoked and nurtured by the Burning Man Project. Across the planet, official Regional Events (adopting the Ten Principles), as well as other event-communities, art initiatives and “transformational festivals” are being influenced, if not directly inspired, by Burning Man and its ethos.
While the Burning Man Regional Network in North America has been growing steadily since the 1990s, the global regional network builds apace. In February 2014, adopting successful procedures, along with skilled facilitators, from the annual Burning Man Global Leadership Conference format, the first European Leadership Summit was held in Berlin, with participants from 25 countries. Larry Harvey, Marian Goodell and James Hanusa were among the speakers, and Meghan Rutigliano a most capable co-ordinator. As an Australian, I was myself fortunate to be among the EuroBurner participants converging in Berlin. I’ve rarely had the privilege of sharing a room with such an ensemble of activated individuals, who while representing various regions, initiatives and projects, were united by their experience and challenges transposing Burning Man to regions across Europe. Like bright-eyed and barefoot ambassadors, each participant appeared to me a condensate of good will conveyed from those regions to join their spirit to the flame. There is great potential for this Summit to evolve into a fully fledged annual Conference.
In Berlin, I was given the opportunity to introduce Burning Progeny: The European Efflorescence of Burning Man, a cultural research project supported by the University of Fribourg and the Swiss National Science Foundation, designed to gauge the evolution of the Ten Principles in the European Burning Man movement. This project, in which I am collaborating with my Burner-colleague Prof Dr Francois Gauthier in the Dept of Social Science at UniFribourg, involves a survey of EuroBurners developed partly in collaboration with the Black Rock City Census team, and projected to expand into a comparative ethnographic phase of European Regional Events. The Burning Progeny survey(closes on March 7).
Among the difficulties undertaking this kind of research is that, as far as I know, there has been no comparable study of the Burning Man movement, including in the US, where the regional development is prolific. It is somewhat alarming that, despite its flourishing in North America and elsewhere around the world, and per contra to the annual growth of media profiles (see the up-to-date aggregator of Burning Man news reports and blogs over at Vox Ignis)the movement has attracted comparatively little interest among social and cultural researchers—at least compared with the mammoth blinking mirage in the desert, which of course continues to attract student researchers like flies to a carcass.
Black Rock City should clearly remain an object of study, year after year. And, in my view such studies will ideally be informed by auto-ethnographic methods driving the continual evaluation of one’s self, or indeed one’s otherself, in the desert of the surreal. Such approaches are preferable to, say, documenting an event history already raked over 1001 times, or revisiting the very same theoretical model applied with a similar conclusion by another graduate student a few years ago, begging questions about the value and usefulness of the research …. or whether playa theory was better last year.
Don’t take me the wrong way. I’m familiar with the confrontational, and even overwhelming, conditions faced by those committing to document, datamine, excavate Black Rock City and its populations during their moment under the sun. But Burning Man is a Bermuda Triangle of Research (BTR). Anthropology graduates brandishing golden passes to an ethnographic Wonkaland, data creeps, Syntheists on radical sabbatical, surveyors of burnoir couture, purveyors of occult mathematics, have disappeared in heavy whiteouts, never to be seen again. And that’s to say nothing of the missional evangelist last sighted busting moves out at DISTRIKT, the embedded Deleuzian who deterritorialised in the deep, or the would-be novelist who haunts every camp on the playa (you know who you are). Every one a victim of the BTR.
Actually, there have been numerous quality researches telegraphed back from “the front” in Nevada, with true grit accumulating at the coalface converted into various books on, and indeed films depicting, Burning Man. But as Burning Man has evolved into a movement that has long extended its reach beyond the Black Rock Desert and its temporary metropolis, actual research commitments (if measured by research publications, for example) are strongly disproportionate to the growth of the global regional network and its mushrooming diaspora. Researchers haveturned their attentions to the outward expansion of Burning Man and its flourishing ethos in the default world. And yet while details are emerging on the dissemination of Burning Man’s inclusive community logic in collectivities beyond its geographic and temporal boundaries (Chen 2011), quality and innovation experts figure how the Ten Principles can catalyse radical innovation in organizations, especially higher education (Radziwill and Benton 2013), sociologists celebrate the impact of a “living model of commons-based peer production” on the San Francisco Bay Area's new media industries like Google (Turner 2009), and journalists field reports on the status of Burner “neotribalism” flowing between San Francisco and Black Rock City (Jones 2011), little if any research on the proliferation of the Burning Man movement and its founding principles, either in North America or globally, has been undertaken.
There are probably a host of reasons for this silence, including highly competitive academic funding environments preventing the turnover of otherwise feasible projects. Perhaps its simply a matter of motivation. Burner researchers are Burners first and foremost, and who wants to spend their time inside the trash fence of Black Rock City or Burn-inspired events “doing research”? I guess some of us just can't help ourselves. And some might rightly ask what's in it for Burning Man? What is the usefulness of research to the Burning Man community? These are good questions at a time when The Burning Man Project is promoting its pedagogies of practice and seeking philosophical exchanges in ever widening circles.
In a recent article in the 10 Principles Blog Series, Larry Harvey (2013) has written that “the Ten Principles have proven to be useful, durable and productive; they have enabled us to think and communicate, they have enabled us to act, and they have helped us to project our culture into the world. However, this could cease to happen unless we remain ready to constantly exercise and examine them.” As a study of the translation, adaptation and mutation of the Burning Man ethos abroad, Burning Progeny is a project responsive to this endeavour. And in this way, while remaining independent, it aims to be in service of the Burning Man community.
P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }A:link { } BRC Census. “Results from the 2012 Black Rock City Census”. Chen, Katherine K. 2011. “Lessons for Creative Cities from Burning Man: How Organizations can Sustain and Disseminate a Creative Context.” City, Culture and Society 2(2): 93–100.Harvey, Larry. 2013. “Introduction: The Philosophical Center”. Nov 12. https://blog.burningman.com/2013/11/tenprinciples/introduction-the-philosophical-center Jones, Steven T. 2011. The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert Is Shaping the New American Counterculture. CCC Publishing.Radziwill, Nicole M., and Morgan C. Benton. 2013. “Burning Man: Quality and Innovation in the Spirit of Deming.” Journal for Quality and Participation. 36(1): 7–11.Turner, Fred. 2009. “Burning Man at Google: A Cultural Infrastructure for New Media Production.” New Media and Society 11(1–2): 73–94.
If you are a EuroBurner, we'd appreciate your participation in our survey: Burning Progeny: The European Efflorescence of Burning Man, integral to a cultural research project supported by the University of Fribourg and the Swiss National Science Foundation. The survey is open until March 7.

Dr Graham St John is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, where he is working in collaboration with Prof Dr Francois Gauthier in the Dept of Social Sciences researching the global Burning Man movement as a religion beyond religion. His website is www.edgecentral.net

[New Book] Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am

In his new book Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance (Equinox, 2012), Graham St John presents a vivid account of the visionary dance culture of psytrance, mushrooming globally following its beginnings in Goa, India in the 1970s/1980s. Based on extensive international research, as the first detailed work on psychedelic trance, the book explores the diverse roots and global proliferation of this music and festival culture. Consideration of comparative aesthetics, spiritual technologies and controversies with studied attention to internal dynamics will strike appeal among those holding scholarly and popular interests in ritual, music and culture.

400 pages / 45 B&W images / 10 years work

Available from Equinox

Contact the author for signed/personalised copies

Global Tribe on Facebook


"From the esoteric traveler jams of Goa to the liminal zones of Boom and Burning Man, Graham St John guides us through the cosmic carnival of global psytrance with an intoxicating blend of deep research, empathic ethnography, and edge-dancing cultural analysis. This is the definitive book on what has become, from the perspective of planetary spiritual culture, the most resonant music scene of our transhuman century."
Erik Davis, author of The Visionary State and Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica.

"Graham St John writes more insightfully about psytrance than any other academic. He provides a sophisticated understanding of that subtle relationship between contemporary spirituality, dance and music. The festival and the party are also a window into broader cultural trends. He understands both the intensity and transformative experience of psytrance, and draws on, and develops, contemporary academic theory to interpret psytrance in a way that is both respectful and incisive. We need more work like this."
Douglas Ezzy, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Tasmania

New Book: Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness: Essays on Liminal States, Psychic Science, and the Hidden Dimensions of the Mind

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am

The latest anthology from the Evolver Editions of North Atlantic Books edited by Daniel Pinchbeck and Ken Jordan, Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness: Essays on Liminal States, Psychic Science, and the Hidden Dimensions of the Mind, is an intriguing collection in which I was honored to be included. An earlier version of my chapter "Divine Mothership of Trance: Boom 2010", was posted here at Edgecentral two years ago.

Book Description:

A diverse group of authors journey into the fringes of human consciousness, tackling psychic and paranormal phenomena, lucid dreaming, synchronistic encounters, and more. Collected from the online magazine Reality Sandwich, these essays explore regions of the mind often traversed by shamans, mystics, and visionary artists; adjacent and contiguous to our normal waking state, these realms may be encountered in dreams or out-of-body experiences, accessed through meditation or plant medicines, and marked by psychic phenomena and uncanny synchronicities. From demons encountered in sleep paralysis visions to psychic research conducted by the CIA, the seemingly disparate topics covered here congeal to form a larger picture of what these extraordinary states of consciousness might have to tell us about the nature of reality itself.

"[A]n absorbing and fascinating read... collected, edited, and introduced by Daniel Pinchbeck; this book is a Renaissance of compelling writers delving into some of the most intriguing topics... Whether it’s Alberto Villoldo’s shamanic perspectives of mankind’s evolution into 'Homo Luminious' or Russel Targ’s article about the CIA experiments into psychic research, the book is hard to put down, however, the best thing about this is that it can be read at your own pace, with each chapter being a unique perspective. One must give this stellar collection of authors credit for their excellent writing style and compelling insights." —Dreamspeaker


Seasoned Exodus: The Exile Mosaic of Psyculture

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
My new article in Dancecult 4.1 - special edition on psytrance. Graham St John Eight Finger Eddie. Photo. Anders Tillman. AbstractPsychedelic trance music and culture (psyculture) is explored as a culture of exodus rooted in the seasonal dance party culture evolving in Goa, India, over the 1970s/1980s, and revealing a heterogeneous exile sensibility shaping Goa trance and psyculture from the 1990s/2000s. That is, diverse transgressive and transcendent expatriations would shape the music and aesthetics of Goa/psytrance. Thus, resisting circumscription under singular heuristic formulas, Goa trance and its progeny are shown to be internally diverse. This freak mosaic was seasoned by expatriates and bohemians in exile from many countries, experienced in world cosmopolitan conurbations, with the seasonal DJ-led trance dance culture of Goa absorbing innovations in EDM productions, performance and aesthetics throughout the 1980s before the Goa sound and subsequent festival culture emerged in the mid-1990s. Rooted in an experimental freak community host to the conscious realisation and ecstatic abandonment of the self, psyculture is heir to this diverse exile experience.
 Download full article PDF at dj.dancecult.net
  Bamboo Forest 1991/92. Photo by Luc Pliot.  Mandrem Beach, Goa 1991/92. Photo by Luc Pliot.

Chasing the Cosmic Sweet Spot: Total Solar Eclipse Gatherings

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
Photo. Tony Loucas
“Once I saw people applaud the sky”. 
It was March 7, 1970, and later maven of integrative medicine Andrew Weil had become witness to an extraordinary life-changing event. Under a clear Saturday morning sky, Weil had observed villagers and natives crowding into the market town of Miahuatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico, where they were exposed to a total solar eclipse. Marveling upon the sky, the locals are reported to have broken into a “spontaneous ovation of the heavens”. In his Marriage of the Sun and Moon: A Quest for Unity in Consciousness, Weil offers the immediate background for the excitement: “with great drama, a nebulous darkness grew out of the west – the edge of the umbra, or cone of shadow, whose swift passage over the globe traces the path of the total eclipse.”
The unearthly light endured for over three minutes, a temporality expanding into a prolonged present. Weil explained that there was “a quality to those minutes within the umbra that must be like the feeling in the eye of a hurricane. After all the dramatic changes of accelerating intensity, everything stopped: There was an improbable sense of peace and equilibrium. Time did not flow.” Indeed, it was three-and-a-half-minutes of clock time incomparable to any duration he’d previously known. “Then, all at once, a spot of blinding yellow light appeared, the corona vanished in the glare, shadow bands raced across the landscape once more, and the dome of shadow melted away to the east.” It was then that all of Miahuatlán broke into applause.
The people of Miahuatlán were getting high. Real high. At this privileged juncture in time and space they shared in the perfect alignment of Earth, Moon and Sun with their own bodies. And subsequent to this moment, our mesmerised observer sought to understand why this cosmic synchronicity had such a transfiguring impact on those who experience it. According to Weil, “to participate in that moment of uncanny equilibrium is to have one’s faith strengthened in the possibility of equilibrium and to experience the paradox that balance and stillness are to be found at the heart of all change”.
Photo. Deadreamer
The union of the Sun and the Moon is recurrent in philosophies and myths world-wide, that are “symbolic of the union of conscious and unconscious forces within the human psyche that must take place if one is to become whole.” Typically accessed via meditation, drugs, hypnosis, trance and other techniques, those hidden realms of consciousness occulted to us in our daily lives, are said to be perfectly represented by the corona of the Sun in union with the Moon, which is also recognized as a union of masculine and feminine energies. Thus, a total solar eclipse signifies an alchemical exchange of solar and lunar phases of consciousness, with totality contextualizing something of a peak psychocultural experience.
If we hold that there is truth in this reasoning, it then figures why such cosmic events are significant moments in the world of Goa/psytrance, whose participants, following the path Weil trailblazed in the early 1970s, would become totality freaks. By all accounts, the first “eclipse rave” was held near the coastal city of Arica at the edge of the Atacama, Chile, on November 2nd and 3rd 1994. Held in the immediate years of transition from Pinochet, that event was organised chiefly through a Chilean-German partnership, and was sponsored by outfitters Pash and filmed by MTV. With no more than 300 freaks converging (many of whom had been travelling to Goa), the occasion featured Derrick May and for the first time in his homeland, Ricardo Villalobos.
Astronomers Studying an Eclipse, by Antoine Caron (1571, oil on panel).Eclipse chasing has a long background. Historically, the experience of totality associated with a total eclipse of the Sun has been a cause for celebration or alarm, and has been interpreted according to local cosmological systems. Scientists have shown great interest in total solar eclipses since the 1700s, but it was in 1836 when solar physicist Francis Bailey had founded the industry of eclipse chasing while generating popular interest in solar physics. From that period, populations were known to travel from locations outside the line of totality to observe the spectacle, with multinational scientific expeditions mounted over the next century. Eclipse chasing eventually became a recreational pursuit with help from the Pedas-Sigler family of educators who, from the early 1970s, initiated eclipse tourism on cruise ships.

These entrepreneurs had, in fact, attempted to stage a rock festival (“Eclipse ‘70” in March 1970 at the same time Weil had experienced his epiphanies in Mexico), in the line of the Moon’s shadow in a tiny fishing village in Suffolk, Virginia, called Eclipse (so named after a total eclipse there in 1900). But the proposed event was opposed by the townsfolk who condemned the potential “freak-out” on their turf only months after Woodstock. 

These eclipse tours, which began with the “Voyage to Darkness” cruise off the north Atlantic coast of Canada in 1972, demonstrated that it was not only subscribers to Sky and Telescope that were gravitating to remote regions where shadow bands stalk the Earth. From the early 1970s, the 100 mile wide shadow has drawn many into its path. While the eclipse failed to be drawn into the orbit of the counterculture in 1970 in Virginia (when the dance music eclipse festival idea was abandoned for lunar liner cruises), with the aid of cheaper travel, electronic music technologies and the internet, it would take another 25-30 years for the dance music eclipse event to materialise.

By the late 1990s, as a cavalcade of spiritualists, astrologers and psychedelic big-game hunters found themselves in the playing fields of the HierosGamos, scientists and hippies found themselves proximate to one another in social spatio-temporal scenarios planned according to the alignment of celestial spheres at sites anticipated as optimum observation points on the line of totality. Despite the growing presence of those determined to record the experience using photographic equipment, psychedelic trance festivals accommodated those who implicitly recognise that a total solar eclipse is not merely a “cosmic event” to observe remotely, and nor just a personal alchemical experience, but a wild social event in which one was immersed totally. Like a daytime Full Moon party, or a dozen turns of the New Year celebrated at once, the alignments affected a licentious atmosphere among the crowds gathering in the totality.

So, as cosmic cowboys, prophets and prospectors joined the hunt, a whole new social event came into being as a highly specialised traveller phenomenon. Subsequent to the Eclipse Rave in Chile, solar seekers travelled to events mounted in Siberia/Mongolia, South Asia and Venezuela, where over 500 people trekked to “Total Eclipse 98”, held on the Peninsula de Paraguana at the northern tip of the country. The party featured the likes of Doof, Sid Shanti, Mark Allen, Max Lanfranconi from Etnica and Pan. In Dream Creation, Jason C (1998: 30) reported being “lapped by the Carribean Sea, cocooned in a sand-dune, surrounded by smiling technicolour people”. “Nothing can prepare you”, he reflected, “for the moment of totality. A wall of darkness races towards you, sudden dusk. And then …. You can see the cosmos like you’ve never seen it before, the Sun’s corona illuminating the Earth in a 360 degree sunset”. 
After witnessing an eclipse in India in 1996, Simon Posford and Raja Ram produced their ethnodelic “…And the Day Turned to Night”, the closing epic on their 1998 debut album Are You Shpongled?. Toward the end of the millennium, about 15,000 people travelled to the momentous Solipse Festival at Ozora, Hungary, which has been the site of the Ozora Festival since 2003.
  Star Sounds Orchestra at Solipse, Ozora 1999.
Ozora Festival 2009. Photo. Pascal Querner.
There was another Solipse in Zambia in June 2001 and in early December 2002 festivals were held on the path of totality near Lindhurst, South Australia (Exotic Native's Outback Eclipse), and in South Africa (organised by Vortex, Alien Safari and Etnicanet on the border of Kruger National Park). For an excellent documentary of the former event, see The Outback Eclipse Story by Lastlight Films. 
In the early years of the new millennium, these cosmic events accumulated a large following, as observed in 2006 at Soulclipse in Paradise Canyon on the fast flowing Koprulu Canyon River in Southern Turkey. At mid-afternoon on the day of the main event, the sky changed wrapping the 7-8,000 present in strange shadows. At that moment Hallucinogen flicked the switch, the Sun was occulted by the Moon and Venus burned high in the mid-afternoon sky.
Soulcipse 2006. Photo. Picspark
It was a three minute cosmic snapshot whose dark flash left an imprint on the multitude of naked retinas belonging to the howling massive. These massives have continued to grow and howl amid this daytime nightworld. Recently there have been smaller, exclusive and limited events in Altay, Siberia, (Planet Art Festival, July-Aug 2008), on Amami Island Japan (2009) (see the trailer for Ray Castle's forthcoming documentary Moon Shadow) and on Easter Island (2010). While the much vaunted Honu Eclipse festival on Easter Island was apparently plagued by difficulties and a small turnout, the concurrent Black Pearl Eclipse adventure to the Cook Islands in the same line of totality in July 2010 was a glaring success. With 50-60 intrepid adventurers, I boarded the island trader Tekou Maru II (fitted out with sound system and DJs) to intercept with the cosmic shadow off Mangaia in the Southern Pacific were treated to two minutes of blissful Shadow Time.
Photo. Vagabond Forest
Black Pearl Eclipse Adventure, Raratonga, Cook Islands, July 2010.
2012 has already seen one major eclipse gathering, with Symbiosis holding a massive gathering to celebrate an annular eclipse out at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, 17-21 May 2012. With a diversity of electronic and fusional styles, that event had four main stages and a strong Burner flavour (indeed the event was held just down the road from the Black Rock Desert, the site of the annual Burning Man Festival). The gathering was held on the shores of Pyramid Lake, with the permission of the Paiute Tribal Council - the last time an event was held there was in 1986 for a Grateful Dead concert.
  Eclipse Stage at Pyramid Lake, Nevada May 20 2012.
In the wake of the Symbiosis Gathering, international totality freaks now prepare to be bathed in the next umbra at the Eclipse2012 Festival near Cairns in Far North Queensland, Australia, 10-16 November 2012.

The style of music that has been performed at these events is as diverse as that which is accommodated within the shifting soundscapes of psychedelia. In 1998, the compilation Eclipse - A Journey Of Permanence & Impermanence, released by Twisted Records in advance of the eclipse festival in Venezuela, included a few Goa and ethnodelic anthems such as that produced by Nomads of Dub (Simon Posford and Nick Barber) whose revelation in deep space “Spirals” sampled a radio communiqué from a remote observer reporting “vivid colours, different colours, glittering colours, … colours that are really indescribable, I’ve never seen colours like that”. The same album featured Doof’s “Balashwaar Baksheesh” which attempts to sonify the unheralded awe associated with something akin to a collective birth. A woman sampled announces that “I’ve never ever seen anything like it before in my life, the energy that everybody felt, they were grabbing onto something for the first time… It was amazing, the happiness that everyone felt”. Around midway, the track ascends in waves of ekstasis with females and males screaming like it’s 1965 and they’re being exposed to The Beatles live. 

In 1999, Flying Rhino released the dub and downtempo influenced album Caribbean Eclipse inspired by the eclipse passing over Colombia, Venezuela and the Caribbean Sea on the 26 February 1998. The album gathered some of the foremost artists in the scene, including Posford, George Barker and Jewel Stanbridge (vocals), who as Binah, produced the momentous “Crescent Suns”. Like an audio post-card for the eclipse, the back of the CD holds the question: “Where will you be standing for the next solar eclipse of the sun?”  

Over ten years later, the compilation released by Rockdenashi Productionz, Black Sun – Eclipse in Japan for the July 2009 eclipse in southern Japan featured local darkpsy artists who, according to the liner notes, expressed their “understanding of the world in creative darkness”.

The common thread between these different psychedelic styles? The shared experience in a cosmic event: a cosmic vibe. In his memoirs, Bailey wrote of his total eclipse experience in 1842 when he mounted a telescope inside a building at the University in Pavia, Italy: “All I wanted was to be left alone during the whole time of the eclipse, being fully persuaded that nothing is so injurious to the making of accurate observations as the intrusion of unnecessary company”. Bailey was expressing a concern common to the singular research scientist, yet remote from the experience of the eclipse festival. For while the presence of other people may disrupt scientific measurements, in the immeasurable landscape of the vibe, “company” is paramount. 
And it’s not only one’s close friends or family, but those others who’ve journeyed from far and wide to celebrate the event. Disembarking from a multitude of countries, speaking many languages, their heavenly bodies occupy that sacred space between the speaker stacks on board main floor motherships where they ascend to make interception with the sounds, the planets, and each other. On the line of totality, and in the direct line of astonishing music, solar eclipse festivals attract international habitués to a multicultural freak out of the kind that are unparalleled planetwide. With the continuation of these events, the cosmic vibe carries through to the psychedelic trance events of the present.

Graham St John is author of Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance (Equinox, Sep 2012). A shorter version of this article is reproduced in the book Goa: 20 Years of Psychedelic Trance.

Freak Media: Vibe Tribes, Sampledelic Outlaws and Israeli Psytrance in Continuum

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
I have a new article published in the journal Continuum in a special edition on Mediated Youth Cultures.

St John, Graham. 2012. "Freak Media: Vibe Tribes, Sampledelic Outlaws and Israeli Psytrance." Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 26 (3): 437–447.


As an electronic dance music movement, for over 20 years, psytrance (psychedelic trance) has been a context by which sonic, visual, pharmacological and virtual media have facilitated the expression of interwoven narratives, experimental modes of performance, and the experience of intense sociality in scenes the world-over. A key theme adopted within this movement is the ‘tribe’, the discourse around which is multivalent, though here I focus on the transgressive dimensions of psytrance to which one is attached as a member of a tribe apart. The article provides detailed examination of the outlaw figure and sensibility in psytrance, illustrating how cultural producers – e.g. DJ-producers, label owners, scene writers, event management – facilitate the party vibe, and a distinct ‘psychedelic. or ‘freak’ identity via this trope. Among the chief icons of performance, prestige and tribalism sampled within psytrance music and culture, the outlaw is adapted from popular cultural sources (especially cinema) and redeployed as a means of dissolving and performing difference. The exploration of the outlaw conceit in what I call nano-media amplified by the producers of psytrance music illustrates how a psychedelic fiction is generated. Specific, although not exclusive, attention is given to Israeli producers, which offers comment on psytrance in Israel where this music is considered popular.

Download the PDF

Prologue to my new book Global Tribe: technology, Spirituality and Psytrance

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am

They occupy the Temple in the thousands. At the dusk of a scorching day, in outfits with vivid fractal designs, alien insignia, OM symbols and geometric mandala patterns, they arrive in cohorts who’ve journeyed from a multitude of national embarkation points. With utility-belts slinked at the waste and dreadlocks knotted back, imprinted with futuristic glyphs, etched in tribal tattoos and marked by facial piercings, they come bearing gifts of specially prepared decoctions, meads, herbal mixes, ganja cakes, crystal powders, beer and other intoxicants, along with fruits and energy supplements they will share among friends and strangers encountered through the night, and into the day. Entering this vast hexagonal covered arena, the noise of the surrounding festival recedes as occupants are enveloped in “3D sound” controlled from a stage upon which rests a stellated dodecahedron portal within which scheduled DJs perform the hypnotic bass and rhythm patterns of electronic trance music dictating a compulsion on the part of those present to become activated by moves. And as the natural light fades, the Temple is enlivened with psychotropic projections, morphing geometric laser patterns and blacklights triggering ultraviolet reactive designs and illuminating the awestruck appearances of Temple dancers who will carve shapes into the night. At one side of this structure, groups huddle under luminescent Day of the Triffids-like installations crafted from recycled material, and all around the edges the enthused are lost to engrossing acrobatic displays, spinning fire staff and twirling LED poi with stunning light-trail effects. Into the early hours of the morning, the intensity of furious-paced “darkpsy” transits towards uplifting and melodic sounds as the Sun clears the horizon and begins its journey over the sky’s proscenium arch.

It’s mid-summer in Portugal, at the tail end of August 2010, and I’m on one of the most expansive and impressive outdoor dance floors on the planet. The Dance Temple is integral to the biennial Boom Festival held in central-eastern Portugal near the protected area Parque do Tejo Internacional and the village of Idanha-a-Nova. An eight-day event, Boom is the premiere production in world psychedelic trance (psytrance) and visionary arts culture, with its Temple attracting near 25,000 people holding passports from approximately seventy countries. If there’s a global centre of psyculture, this is it. Inside the Dance Temple, I’m immersed in a soundbath of languages and caught in a blizzard of sensory impressions. Up on stage, an artist is DJing from a laptop and orchestrating a sonic broadside incorporating hypnotic melody lines around persistent and seductive bass-lines. Frequencies amplified through the sound system enervate my whole being. Time passes, and I too pass outside of normal time. And within this prolonged now, the optical grows rhythmic and sounds become visible. The national colour-codes and iconography of Japan, Israel, Sweden, Brazil and Australia, to name a few, blend with expatriate gestures, not dissimilar to those performed by forebears in Goa, India, the birthplace of Goatrance, the formative dance movement from which psytrance and its various subgenres grew. There’s possibly 10,000 people on and around this dance floor at this moment, a vast congregation of fleshy gesticulations, its habitués performing the international hand and foot signals of trance. I feel like I’ve landed among a community in exile. There’s multiple personal, lifestyle and cultural concerns this community’s inhabitants have sought exodus from, and at this moment they’re communicating their desires in the expressive mode of dance. And, as I slide into the groove, I feel like I’ve come home.

As I come about, I’m face-whipped by a woman with long black dreadlocks. Commanding a wicked stomp, she’s beside herself. Nearby, a Japanese freak in his early thirties stands astride jabbing at unseen soap bubbles up ahead. He’s joined by compatriots in carnage alive on the pulse. An Italian girl in fairy wings swivels gracefully four-stepping in perfect unison with the beat. A German freak, who I recognise by his unyielding grin, is cutting it up inside his own personal smoke cloud. Others clown around, hug their partners in the sublime, prepare a chillum, maintaining form amidst the mayhem. All about me, transnational beat freaks ride the 16th note loop of psychedelic trance, compelled by its progression, acting as if everything depends on its maintenance, as if a faltering move will cause a collapse in the rhythm and a diminution of the vibe. And as we pass outside of ourselves, it seems to me that everyone has fallen into the slot, that zone which everybody knows though few can articulate—that moment in which nothing remains the same. “This is it”. Grinning under bass pressure, my crazy Russian neighbour shouts something barely intelligible, something about the “mothership” we’ve boarded. Oscillating between self-dissolution and spectacular displays of the self, its passengers are blissful abductees. Many producers have collaborated to steer our ship through the night. In transit, time’s lost and the world is gained. Eventually, I snake my way across this incredible synesthetic stomping ground, idling to absorb kangaroo stilt performers jumping over gales of laughter. Leaving this dance floor is like finding the best route out of a metropolis. Floating on a wave of exhilaration and the aromas of chai, charas and changa, eventually I emerge out of the Temple and disappear into the wider festival.

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Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
I am excited to announce that my new book Global Tribe will be finally out in a few months.
Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance
Graham St John
Preorder from Equinox 
Out: Sep 2012

Cover designed by Symbolika (symbolika.com) in collaboration with gwyllm-art.com"From the esoteric traveler jams of Goa to the liminal zones of Boom and Burning Man, Graham St John guides us through the cosmic carnival of global psytrance with an intoxicating blend of deep research, empathic ethnography, and edge-dancing cultural analysis. This is the definitive book on what has become, from the perspective of planetary spiritual culture, the most resonant music scene of our transhuman century."~ Erik Davis, author of The Visionary State and Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica.
Trance events have an uncanny ability to capture an era, and captivate an audience of travellers occupying the eternal theatre of the dance floor. As this book shows, the tendency within psytrance is to thwart the passage of time, to prolong the night, for those who adopt a liminal lifestyle. Amid the hustle and hubris of the psytrance carnival there is a peaceful repose that you sometimes catch when you’ve drifted into a sea of outstretched limbs, bodies swaying like a field of sunflowers in a light breeze. And you feel intense joy in this fleeting moment. You are the moment. You are inside the flow. You are all. Embodying the poetry of dance, you are living evidence that nothing lasts. And this is a deep revelation of the mystical function of trance. It is difficult to emerge from this little death, because one does not want the party to end. But it must end, even so that it can recommence—so that one can return to repeat the cycle.

The result of fifteen years of research in over a dozen countries, this book applies a sharp lens on a little understood global dance culture that has mushroomed all over the world since its beginnings in the diverse psychedelic music scenes flourishing in Goa, India, in the 1970s and 1980s. The paramount expression of this movement has been the festival, from small parties to major international events such as Portugal’s Boom Festival, which promotes itself as a world-summit of visionary arts and trance, a “united tribe of the world”. Via first-hand accounts of the scenes, events and music of psychedelic trance in Australia, Israel, Italy, the UK, the US, Turkey and other places, the book thoroughly documents this transnational movement with its diverse aesthetic roots, multiple national translations and internal controversies. As a multi-sited ethnography and an examination of the digital, chemical, cyber and media assemblage constituting psytrance, the book explores the integrated role that technology and spirituality have played in the formation of this visionary arts movement and shows how these event-cultures accommodate rites of risk and consciousness, a complex circumstance demanding revision of existing approaches to ritual, music and culture.

Ch 1. Transnational Psyculture
Ch 2. Experience, the Orient and Goatrance
Ch 3. The Vibe at the End of the World
Ch 4. Spiritual Technology: Transition and its Prosthetics
Ch 5. Psychedelic Festivals, Visionary Arts and Cosmic Events
Ch 6. Freak Out: The Trance Carnival
Ch 7. Psyculture in Israel and Australia
Ch 8. Performing Risk and the Arts of Consciousness
Ch 9. Riot of Passage: Liminal Culture and the Logics of Sacrifice
Ch 10. Nothing Lasts

Another review:

'Graham St John writes more insightfully about psytrance than any other academic. He provides a sophisticated understanding of that subtle relationship between contemporary spirituality, dance and music. The festival and the party are also a window into broader cultural trends. He understands both the intensity and transformative experience of psytrance, and draws on, and develops, contemporary academic theory to interpret psytrance in a way that is both respectful and incisive. We need more work like this.'
Douglas Ezzy, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Tasmania.

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Ohms not Bombs webportal

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am

Ohms not Bombs is a great new web portal resource created by Pete Strong with vast info on networked nodes, events and campaigns illustrating how dance party & political protest became mobilised in Sydney and odysseys beyond.

Rave From the Grave: Dark Trance and the Return of the Dead

Wed, 2016/08/10 - 4:44am
Karnaval 2008, Italy. Photo by www.alexcanazei.com
A new book from McFarland, Zombies Are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead, edited by Cory James Rushton and Christopher M. Moreman, has recently been published which features my chapter "Rave From the Grave: Dark Trance and the Return of the Dead" 

For more about the book see  Zombies Are Us.

While McFarland is unlikely to win awards for excellence in publishing, this is a very good collection of essays and has a companion volume "Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition". These were originally one volume but I guess McFarland saw the $s in the lead in to Halloween this year. In any case, these volumes are integral to a zombie heuristic apocalypse that has recently effected scholarship.

Unfortunately, this publisher can't see the value in promoting the TOCs of some of their books, like this one, but you can view that and some content at Google books. The photo above by Alex Canazie (which, by the way, is infinitely better than the "naked chick" chosen for the cover design) was intended to be included with the chapter but could not be included in the book (which features no figures).

Here's the introduction to my chapter, Rave From the Grave: Dark Trance and the Return of the Dead

Amid the aural assault you catch a line from Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10: “Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me”. Behind the chilling caterwauls, a petrified girl whispers “Are we still alive?” The former line is used in Xenomorph’s anthemic “Necroid Millenium” (1998), and the latter DarKDescendent’s “The Invasion” (Brazilian V.A.Mpires, 2008), sonic bookends to a decade in darkpsy, a genre of psychedelic trance (psytrance) music that has arisen in popularity internationally. Also known as “horror trance” or “night trance”, performed by DJs before crowds of enthusiasts during the darker hours at psytrance events around the globe, darkpsy revels in the gothic liminality of the zombie, and other monstrous icons. Part of a larger ethnographic and documentary project on psytrance, this chapter investigates dark trance (and zombie raves), documenting how the zombie illustrates a desire for social re-animation among youth in the contemporary. 
Lifted from horror cinema and computer game fiction, apparent in vocal samples, label sensibilities, fashion, and body modifications, and evident in post-apocalyptic aesthetics, the living dead caricature is manifest. Simultaneously dead and alive, with protagonists seeking transit from death to life, the zombie is a liminal figure ready made for the dance party. After all, a selling point for Return of the Living Dead (1985) was that the dead were “back from the grave and ready to party”. The dance floor has become a critical topos for the zombie since it signifies the desire to return from deteriorating lifeworld conditions, to be revived from the isolation, even social “death”, of modern life. It is on the psytrance dance floor that the zombie holds such purchase for it offers a symbolic assemblage emblematic of the altered states of mind and flesh sought and achieved there, an iconic repertoire for the dispossession of routine selfhood. Moreover, it is a device appropriated in the collective performance of re-enchantment from a spiritless and disembodied lifeworld. As the living dead archetype articulates self-dissolution, the zombie has become allegorical of the desire for social revitalization. Yet, the zombie possesses a deep ambivalence that renders this monster an ideal icon for ecstatic entrancement. Thus I begin with a discussion of the zombie as a historically ambivalent signifier for ecstatic dance.

Turning Man

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 3:07am
Davinci Man by Shifty Fox
In my first entry (Meet Your Maker) in this blog essay series, I pointed out that San Francisco's Global Leadership Conference is a kind of clearinghouse for Burning Man culture exported from Black Rock City, Nevada, to the world. For the hundreds of participants in the worldwide Burner network who converge on the GLC, a multi-principled culture refined over three decades of event-making is celebrated, cerebrated, and interrogated. I’d related that the Florentine Renaissance art theme for Burning Man 2016—Da Vinci’s Workshop—holds a reflexive angle on the confluence of commerce and creativity in Black Rock City. When this theme was introduced in late Oct 2015, it was communicated that Black Rock City has a population of wealthy participants who contribute to its build. “Over many years,” it was conveyed, “private donors, with a remarkable lack of fanfare, have quietly funded some of the most beloved artworks that have honored our city” (Burning Man, Oct 27, 2015). 
Larry Harvey has called this population “the 1%,” which may or may not be an underestimation. In any case, among the curious exchanges at the GLC held at the Marines Memorial Club in March-April this year was the roundtable in which members of the Burning Man Philosophical Center—Harvey, Stuart Mangrum, and Caveat Magister—took the stage to discuss “Art, Money and the Renaissance” (Magister, Harvey and Mangrum 2016). While the theme appears to have been crafted according to their varied interests in the Renaissance, it was clear from Caveat’s preamble that the “great taboo” in the Burning Man community—that concerning money—was on the main menu. “The question of whether making a living is compatible with being a Burner,” he announced, “is the most crucial challenge our culture is now facing.” Given that revenues from ticket sales are upwards of $30 million, that Burning Man has a Board of Directors stacked with billionaires and millionaires, and employs hundreds of people, both on-playa and year round staff, many argue that tackling this subject head-on is long overdue. Clearly, making a living has become compatible with being a Burner. But so far as Burning Man art is concerned, are there community-appropriate mechanisms that could generate value for Black Rock City art, to the benefit of its artists, year round? Such appears to be what’s at stake in Da Vinci’s Workshop, which, in its own way, seeks to workshop a problem that won’t get any smaller as Burning Man grows larger in the world.

Da Vinci’s Workshop is in no small part responsive to a predicament achieving critical status at Burning Man in recent years. In August 2014, a known situation simmering on slow boil for years bubbled over when The New York Times ran a Burning Man exposé featuring an image of giant yacht-like art car Christina and describing an “annual getaway for a new crop of millionaire and billionaire technology moguls.” More pointedly, the article exposed a landscape of gated RV compounds and high-end concierge services, that appeared to be sanctioned by the Burning Man organisation. One unnamed camp was reported to possess a $25K per head fee, featuring private return flights to Black Rock City Airport, luxury restroom trailers, female models flown in from New York, sushi chefs and “sherpas” (Bilton 2014). The story sparked outrage across social media, fuelled debate in the blogoverse, triggering fresh lamentation on the demise of Burning Man, the fate of which now appeared sealed by the regattas of “rich tourists” now populating the crowded waters off The Man, and specifically at anchorage in “Billionaires Row” (Waddell 2014). Controversy brewing in the burnerverse for years had now erupted in the wake of “sherpagate,” triggering public grievances, resentment and recriminations over the apparent outsourcing of event principles like Participation, Gifting and Radical Self-Reliance.
The heat was felt down at Burning Man HQ. Still smarting from a ticket scarcity crisis that threatened to bounce thousands of dedicated and loyal participants, there was an elephant in the room, and its name was Plug-N-Play. The phrase demanded attention when it was revealed that one of the chief culprits inspiring the exposé was Camp Olympus, a theme camp underwritten by James Tananbaum—billionaire founder and CEO of leading healthcare investment fund Foresite Capital—who was at that time on the board of directors at Burning Man. Tananbaum became an unwitting attention magnet when his 2014 Black Rock City camp Caravancicle was lambasted as an elitist hotel for wrist-banded VIPs flown in on private jets (and paying 15K per head) and issued popsicles to be distributed as “gifts.” Subsequently, according to a story in Bloomberg Businessweekfeaturing an image of a Learjet soaring to altitude above Black Rock City, Tananbaum had become “the Google Bus of Burning Man” (Gillette 2015).
Had the rogue elephant now sighted in the national media become a sanctioned creature, and domesticated feature, of the playascape? As a result, was Burning Man crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions? Such was already a foregone conclusion at The New York Times, where, following the 2013 appearance on-Playa of General Wesley K. Clark, Burning Man was reported to have become “the new golf” (Williams 2013). When Marge Simpson was tripping at Blazing Guy, as aired on The Simpson’s in Nov 2014, or when Burning Man or its regionals were featured in the in-flight magazine’s of Delta and EasyJet, for the Burner faithful such incidents were received as an affront to the principle of Decommodification. When president of Americans for Tax Reform and board member of the NRA, Grover Norquist, accepted Harvey’s invitation in 2014, tweeting “Scratch one off the bucket list,” on his way to Black Rock City, and then made agreeable noises about how the event’s ethos of Radical Self-Reliance squares with his neo-liberal sensibilities (Norquist 2014), critics were appalled. For journalist and long-standing Burning Man organisation critic, City Editor for San Francisco Bay Guardian Steven Jones, it was the last straw. The event had truly “jumped the shark, launching from the ramp of a high-minded experiment and splashing down into the tepid waters of mass-consumed hedonism” (Jones 2014). If we take shark jumping to mean ludicrous and irredeemable, the incident appears to have been the latest in a litany of such moments in the event’s history, depending upon who one listens to. Jones’ The Tribes of Burning Man (2011) documented a backlash against the “BOrg”—i.e. Black Rock City LLC—and its control of Burning Man through what he called the “Renaissance” period of the event (2004–2010). The main focus of dispute among critics in recent years has been the Ten Principles, the “acculturation” of which has been among the principal agendas of the newly formed Burning Man Project. These principles have come under attack in some quarters as the "Tin Principles." Using techniques with widespread currency on the Playa—i.e. détournment and parody—among satirist Dave Clooney’s “10 Principles of Earning Man,” as published in the 2014 BRC Weekly, are “Radical Seclusion,” “Radical Self Indulgence,” and “Corporate Support” (Clooney 2014). 
Buckling under the weight of its contradictions? Jumping the shark? Principles forged from soft metals? The questions were mounting up, especially over at blog Burners.me, the most popular news source on Burning Man. Disgorging a stream of consciousness on the unfolding Plug-N-Play controversy, adjacent stories on Michelle Obama’s Burner hairstylist, and wallpapered with the hottest women of the Playa, Burners.mewas widely received as the “Fox News of Burning Man” (a mantle embraced as an accolade). Burners.me is edited by self-identifying "dot com pioneer" Steve Outtrim, an enthusiast of Ayn Rand, Jan Irvin, and celebrity motorhomes. He is also a strident critic of BMOrg, whose Ten Principles are imagined to be “a cult-like doctrine used to brainwash people around the world.” For Outtrim, the embarrassment of riches revealed by sherpagate is not embarrassing in itself. It’s just that the billionaires haven’t turned up the volume. So in August 2014, during the week of Burning Man, and just after the story broke in The New York Times, Outtrim sought to seize the day with a vision for an alternative to Burning Man, complete with its own “Nine Principles.” Implementing a bogus survey, and claiming to adopt the meritorious aspects of Burning Man—apparently, wealthy patron funded art cars playing dance music at loud volume to cool people—the vision was a sleazy TAZ, exclusive and ravenous, what Hakim Bey might have conjured on a strong diet of MDMA, cocaine, and too much alone time in front of a screen. Introduced as a kind of Disneyland sans the “dicks,” “Burnland” was to be a place where loud is lauded and the DJ venerated as a pinnacle achievement in human evolution. Sounding out a new plateau for serious players in the short-span attention economy, an anarcho-kinder libertarianism that made the primitive conditions in Lord of the Flies comparably appealing, the statement on “Burnland” was among the more vapid diatribes in the history of the internet (Burnersxxx Aug 29, 2014). While the fifth column of raveolutionaries failed to materialise, Burners.me nevertheless became a controversy-fuelling source over 2014­–2015.

As the controversy acquired the attributes of a scandal, it grew clear that the animal now caught in the crosshairs had been foraging for years, establishing its home on the opulent savannas of Black Rock City. Only now, the outraged on safari, under the stiff bream of their LED pith helmets, brandishing burlesque blunderbusses and twirling their tit tassels critically, were tracking the beast, and tracing the money, to the source. It was a crisis that demanded a response, an interrogation of intentions, a reform of theme camp registration criteria and placement policy, and a focused attention on the role of entrepreneurs at Burning Man. With the corralling of a beast now identified, the Burning Man Project undertook the uneasy task of sorting “burnerprenuers”—who provide little more than services for privileged clients, and lip service to event principles—from those actively catalyzing the co-creation of art on the Playa.
This was not new news in 2014. Two years prior, the BMOrg had begun a dialogue around the issue of “Plug-n-Play” camps. With the ambiguity in the phrase “Plug-n-Play” flagged, a distinction was made between “turnkey” camps—many of which were perhaps more accurately assessed to be “Pay-to-Play” camps, given their vendor status—and those operations assessed to be legitimate sources of art patronage (Chase 2012). At that time, there was a recognition that PnP camps ranged from the “potentially exemplary” (i.e. staff camps and funded artist camps in which occupants access a range of services and infrastructure, as well as theme camps that operate on a dues system) to the “completely unacceptable” (“Adventure” outfits selling a “Burning Man Experience” to clients). This led to “turnkey guidelines” that were effectively updated in 2014 (Burning Man Dec 3, 2014). The controversy ignited in the media, and flamed on Burners.me, thus flagged an issue not unknown within the organisation. Nevertheless, it did trigger unprecedented attention towards the role of patronage in Black Rock City, prompting discussion on the relationship between commerce and community, a relationship formerly suppressed in Playa consciousness, even though Burner scholars have been offering observations around this theme for years (e.g. Kozinets and Sherry 2005; Gauthier 2013).
While unprincipled “rich camps” were to be chastised, there appeared to be little gained by chasing the money away. After all, explaining the appointment of corporate executives to the Board of the new nonprofit, Harvey has been reported to state that “it’s not a thoughtless amassing of rich folks. . . . If you want to change the world, you’d better get some people who have real muscular power” (in Gillette 2015). In his first public response to the new crisis, Harvey took the opportunity to defend the role of wealth in a project that was even then gazing out across the world from the Black Rock Desert. Radical Inclusivity has long been upheld as a civilizing virtue from which Burners should not flinch—all the more so if backers are pivotal to enable the inclusion of widening circles of participants. While identifying the dangers to the community implicit in a service, or “concierge,” culture, Harvey recognised the threat to liberty in calls for drastic punitive measures and in the scapegoating of Burners with wealth. In a subdued defence of capitalism, as he stated, “radical equality” is not among the Ten Principles. “This is because our city has always been a place where old and young, and rich and poor, can live on common ground. The word for this is fellowship, as in the fellowship of a club or lodge whose members, however diverse, are united by common values and a sense of shared experience. But common ground is not a level playing field, and should not be interpreted as mandating equal living conditions” (Harvey Dec 3, 2014). Among the more astute comments in response came from Paul Carey, who voiced concern about the diminishment of values in the conscious dissemination of the Burning Man brand. For one thing, there is “the righteous challenge of those who would want to be compensated for the exploitation of their gifts.” Ultimately, the future is believed to be in the regionals. “The playa today has a disproportionate population of predators, narcissists and spectators. I attribute this to a conscious desire to spread the culture rather than let the like minded find their own way home” (Carey 2014).
Cafe interior, 2005. Photo by Brad Templeton.
While some cast a narrow eye on an intentional projectthat exerts ever more pressure on Black Rock City annually, as it becomes the object of more and more attention internationally, understanding the logic to this brand’s centripetal development may derive from inquiring within, from training one’s gaze upon the center. Center Camp, that is. For years, critics have argued that, through its operation as a coffee shop, Burning Man’s Center Camp Café contravenes event principles. By 2013, Harvey used the example of the CCC to dispel the myth that Burning Man is a “moneyless utopia.” “We’ve never espoused a non-commercial ideology,” he stated. “To be against commerce is to oppose the very existence of civilized life. Even hunter-gatherers engage in trade in order to survive.” Harvey defended the CCC on the grounds that selling drinks, including coffee, percolates affective community while at the same time enabling the café to operate as an effective enterprise. The essay saw Harvey promoting the CCC as an alternative to the alienating impact of marketplace mediated social interactions, which is commonly understood to be the effect of commodification, which he has long railed against. So while the café moves units, it’s “not exactly Starbucks. We actually want people to linger, loiter and interact, not just consume a product and depart.” Radical exponents of Gifting were unconvinced by this turn of logic—for them, the heart of Black Rock City is symbolically corrupt. In the face of such criticism, at a time when Burning Man was leaving the Playa to come of age in the world, for Harvey, the Burnerbucks controversy prompted questions about “whether our community can learn to apply its unique culture to the world while using worldly tools” (Harvey Nov 12, 2013).
Renaissance Man
But if we are to train our gaze on the centre, to peer through the stain glass window of the soul of Black Rock City, it is to the Man that we must look. While standing naked at the axis mundi of the city, the Man has for at least two decades been clothed in thematic raiments, gussied up in the axioms of the moment, pimped in the zeitgeist, changing colour year in year out like a desert chameleon. Catching up with the times, by 2014, the towering effigy presided over Caravansary, a theme giving explicit attention to commerce and trade, but where “the only thing of value in this ‘marketplace’ will be one’s interaction with a fellow human being.” That year, the base of the man was designed to appear like a Moroccan souk.
Turning Man by Andrew Johnstone
And this brings me to 2016, to Da Vinci’s Workshop, in which the Man will stand, and turn, at the center of a city drunk on the memory of Renaissance Florence, known to be a watershed in the history of civilization, principally through the way it enabled an unprecedented flourishing of artistic excellence. That is, in a grand gesture literally geared to ends both pragmatic and symbolic, the Man is commanded to peddle the wheel of the Burning Man Project. In “Following the Money: The Florentine Renaissance and Black Rock City,” Harvey elaborates on the theme. Taken on a selective tour through the Florence of late 15thcentury Italy, the reader is transported into the world of Lorenzo de Medicini, its de facto ruler. Described as “a poet, a banker and a politician,” Lorenzo is said to be “famous for befriending artists and advancing their careers.” He created a salon, “a scene which formed the epicenter of a new Italian culture, and there is little doubt that this was fueled by money; the Medici were masters of an international banking network, and Florence’s emergent middle class, organized around a system of art and craft guilds, sponsored competitions that rewarded artists for their work” (Harvey Mar 10, 2016). In adopting the young Michelangelo, whom he sponsored among other geniuses, Lorenzo’s heroic acts of patronage are hailed as being integral to the Renaissance and the dissemination of humanist ideals. The perceived parallels with Black Rock City were emphasised in the text that introduced the art theme, where it was acknowledged that private philanthropy has played a significant role at Burning Man. And given Burning Man’s distribution in 2016 of $1.2 million to artists in the form of honoraria, Burning Man’s chief conceptual architect imagines the Black Rock City Arts Department to be “like the Wool Guild, the Arte della lana, the premier trade guild of Florence.” But the point of the essay is that money does not flow through “quasi-governmental” and private patronage alone. Projects in the burnerverse are subsidized through community fundraising events (and crowdfunding campaigns) held throughout the year. And much of the art in the gifting economy of Black Rock City—from theme camps to art cars and costumes—is self-funded. “In a society devoted to the giving of gifts, anyone at any time can be both artist and philanthropist.” With Renaissance Florence offered as an illustration, money “can be made to serve non-monetary values in a way that’s self-sustaining.” According to Harvey, in an explanation that serves to defend the direction of the BMP in the light of growing criticism, Florence demonstrated that “civilization isn’t possible without widespread commercial activity.”
In the approach to the 2016 event, the art theme has been discussed in a series of articles cranked out from The Philosophical Center, addressing the role and pathways of money at Burning Man, and published through the organisation’s main public communications channels, the Burning Man Journal and Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter. In the opening article, also published as a YouTube video, Caveat Magister begins addressing a fundamental tension at Burning Man: that it has become “increasingly associated with the kind of scale and spectacle that requires either a massive crowd-funding campaign or a very wealthy patron.” It may be an uncomfortable tension, but the reality is that Burning Man now straddles these disparate trajectories, with the Man now surfing a giant swell that breaks both ways. And if you’re watching this action from high up on the beach, you might see how Burning Man is now “perhaps the largest hub for crowd-and-participant funded art in the world,” while at the same time being “the new favorite playground of the ultra-rich, who spend ungodly sums of money to do what the rest of us used to do on the cheap.” Celebrating the efforts of Samuel Jackson, creator of the first English dictionary who “broke the traditional patronage system through scorn, mockery, and popular success,” Caveat himself wishes to break the “great taboo.” “Art and money have never been separable,” he writes, but somehow we have learned to accept and “admire ‘starving artists’ in a way that we would never endorse for ‘starving teachers’ or ‘starving firemen.’ We have a notion deeply embedded in our culture that anybody who talks about doing art for the money must not be a ‘real’ artist” (C. Magister Jan 12, 2016). While this concept is modern, it is unconscionable in an era wracked by profound economic uncertainty. And so, “for all its faults,” denizens of Black Rock City are asked to look to the Renaissance for guidance on how to act and not to act—the theme providing a lens on the tension in question, and prompting enquiry well before the Man is even raised. “If the 21st century is to have patrons, what are best practices for them? How can they be part of the solution, rather than a bottleneck for art and a source of anxiety for artists?” (C. Magister Jan 12 2016).
So how does an art scene flourish? While the emergence of thriving art scenes—bohemian or otherwise—often relies on a burgeoning middle class, the same “bourgeois” culture has typically overseen its demise, for example, through gentrification, and precisely the process critics have objected to at Burning Man. But as Caveat delves further into the Renaissance, he polishes a lens through which Black Rock City can be observed. In discussing the key factors Eric Weiner in The Geography of Genius has argued were integral to the success of the Renaissance (along with other periods of flourishing “cultural genius”), it is said that there is “an undeniable correlation between the flow of money and the vitality of an art and cultural scene.” But, it is a correlation that Renaissance and contemporary artists interpret differently. For instance, while Renaissance Florence frequently resorted to competitions that enabled excellence, there was no high stakes, winner-takes-all, scenario of the kind we have become familiar with. Second chances, indeed multiple chances, are integral to innovation and change. “To the extent that money is used to take chances in pursuit of excellence, it can be a boon to artists and the cultural landscape. To the extent that money conflates ‘bigger’ with ‘better,’ ‘repetition’ with ‘excellence,’ and circulates only among a select few rather than as a bridge to new talent, a scene is better off without it” (C. Magister Jan 25 2016).
In a further post excavating the “ethos of money” in the Renaissance, it is contended that Burning Man has conditions remarkably similar to the Renaissance mindset. “It is a world with clear boundaries in both time and space—literally fenced in and lasting only a week. It is a place where even small actions and decisions can have an enormous impact on the individuals and communities around you: a place where what you do personally clearly matters. You are relevant. It is a place that is utterly suffused with meaning, even if no one necessarily agrees on what it is.” At this point, Caveat might be accused of having inhaled too much playa dust, but his views do resonate with the trait most commonly identified in advanced liminal realms of which Burning Man is exemplary: potential. “It may be that when we experience a circumscribed world, a world where our actions give us more of a sense of direct and meaningful relevance, that an ethos of money more conducive to a vibrant arts scene emerges” (C. Magister, Feb 4, 2016).

As a pivotal component in the effort to combine Burning Man art, maker culture and creative philanthropy, this year, the Man is to be raised, and destroyed, as something of a new Renaissance Man. For Burn Night 2016, inspired by the artwork of Leonardo, as Uomo Vitruviano, the Man will be animated by way of an elaborate system of human-powered gears and pulleys. Burners will assist in rotating the Renaissance Man, turning a huge horizontal wheel, geared to rotate the figure a full 360 degrees on the vertical plane. As it has been proposed, Burners will be called on the hour by the chiming of Leonardo-inspired bells designed by Berkeley “feral physicist” Roger Carr, and to be positioned in bell towers. These towers, or campaniles, will be raised at the corners of a Piazza, a public square surrounding the Man, built from repurposed, reused, and recycled materials, and “designed to evoke the terra-cotta and plastered-brick ambiance of a Renaissance piazza” (Burning Man, Jan 25 2016).
Guild this City
The 2016 theme has also prompted the creative re-imagination of role and purpose of the “guild”—in sync with the operations of Black Rock City as a Maker City. The Piazza is to feature enclosures accommodating a variety of Guild Workshops selected by the Art Department in a competitive grant program funded as part of the 2016 Honorarium Art Grant. The call for grant proposals stated: “As part of the interactive experience around the base of this year’s Man, we will invite self-styled ‘guilds’ of artists, makers, tinkerers, and craftspeople to operate workshops for the delight and edification of the citizens of Black Rock City.” While the call was open to a variety of trades like leather-work, blacksmithing, brick-making, and weaving, potential applicants where also free to propose “more modern trades updated for a Black Rock City sensibility,” though with a preference for the use of “re-purposed and up-cycled materials.” While the Art Department expressed their openness to “ethereal, surreal, and absurdist guild activities and products,” the call for submissions emphasized that the workshops are intended to enable participants exposure to the physical act of production: to “make something.” Accordingly, they will be able to “select a new skill to learn, tool to operate, material to play with, contraption to design or some other hands-on learning experience—and perhaps even to depart with the fruits of their labor to keep as a memento, or offer as a gift to others” (Burning Man. 2016 Guild Workshops).
Man Base and Guild Workshops Layout, 2016
Education Director and co-developer of the annual art theme, Stuart Mangrum offers some background to the guild concept. Around the time of the Renaissance, when art was indistinct from craft, “the craft of art was acquired in a process common to all trades, by apprenticeship to a master and years of toil in his workshop,” often funded by a relatively small group of wealthy individuals. Before becoming masters themselves, “Leonardo worked under Verrocchio, Michelangelo under Ghirlandaio, and Raphael under Perugino.” In addition to carefully imitated technical skills, it is presumed that these artists “picked up the business skills required to operate a workshop and the social connections needed to secure commissions.” But as Mangrum adds, the workshop system was stripped away by history, its disappearance beginning at the time of the Renaissance, which saw the advent of the “star artist,” exemplified by Raphael (Mangrum, Feb 29, 2016).
We’re a long way from a time when craft-making and other professions were governed by guilds (or Arti), but the identification with guilds makes sense at Burning Man, whose event-ecology has spawned social units like theme camps, art crews, build teams and performance conclaves whose alliances are characterized, at least in part, by a shared commitment to quality standards and rules of operation associated with artistic professions and craft trades (e.g. fire art, welding, art cars). Over thirty years, a host of event-tribes have virtually risen from the dust, developing functions that have sometimes become instrumental to the operation of Black Rock City. And some of these groups, like Death Guild, or Bike Guild, are steeped in this mode of association. Fashioning distinct rituals, discourse, insignia, working with the Ten Principles, sometimes growing significantly in scale and membership, these event-organisations facilitate the sharing of, and training in, unique sets of skills across a variety of arts, as well as in organisational and technical fields infused with creative sensibilities. 
Death Guild Thunderdome by Mulling it OverOften behaving like apprentices if not initiates, these burn-ed (think learn-ed) city makers may apply their onplaya-skills in efforts to earn a livelihood in the “default world” (including “working for the Man” officially as an employee of the Burning Man Project, which has year-round staff and a HQ in San Francisco). It might not be too much of a stretch to compare Black Rock City arts confraternities with the social and religious functions historically associated with guilds, such as “organizing celebrations on feast days, sponsoring lay brotherhoods, and providing charitable support to the widows and families of their members” (Italian Renaissance Learning Resources). Burning Man inspires in its citizens a commitment towards do-ing, whether assisting in preparing a meal at camp, volunteering with the Playa Restoration Team, or joining an art project, this collaborative sensibility tends to unite participants in a greater purpose: making a city, and (as I will get to in a future blogged essay) unmaking a city too. Given this background, is it any wonder that Burners took to the 2016 Guild Workshop idea (at least in its submission phase)?
Manipulating mediums, “from molten glass to liquid steel, smelted aluminum to copper metal, sunlight to sound,” a total of 32 submissions were awarded Guild Workshop status, a third associated with regional groups. Among these planned outfits are the Vapor Cannon Guild, the Commedia dell’Arte Morality Puppet Play, Rocky Mountain High Flyer's Guild, Renoardo’s Artisan Menagerie, Dragon Smelter Coin Press, and Polimerica sulla Playa. There will also be several international regional projects, including Koulu on Fire (Finland), LOOP—Dream Machine Guild (Japan), The Renaissance of Musical Instruments (Lithuania), and the Grand Elaborated Rule Masters And No-holds-barrers from Berlin (Burning Man April 7, 2016).
Rocky Mountain High Flyers Guild 
Burners strolling the piazza will be encouraged to engage with artists associated with these embodiments of the artist collective that is endogenous to Burning Man. The Piazza will, then, showcase a defining virtue of Burning Man art, which, as Mangrum observed, is its “collaborative and inclusive nature, offering would-be artists the chance to learn by doing in a group environment” (Mangrum Feb 29, 2016). The Piazza and its Workshops are then conceived to parade the culture of co-creativity that has quite literally sprung to life, at the festival, in the city, and through the movement flourishing in the shadow of the Man. Like an AI model that has grown self-aware, the theme appears to mark a new level of self-consciousness in the history of the event. “From our earliest days in the desert, we have fostered a culture that values doing over being, creation over acquisition, and the innovative application of new tools and technologies to the unique challenges arising from the building and rebuilding of cities” (Burning Man, Jan 25, 2016). In design at least, it is configured to demonstrate that artistic excellence can be facilitated through a unique mechanism involving competitive grants and curatorial programs, studio/workshop collectivism, and civic engagement—a mechanism that counters the institution of Art embodied in commercial art galleries, art schools and taste makers who, as Mangrum reminds us, have served the demand for art products since the industrial revolution.
While this effort is stated to effectively “pull together artist, organizer, and maker resources to fashion an updated version of the guild network that was a signature feature of Florentine economic and creative life” (Burning Man Jan 25 2016), the piazza will be the scene of something more. Placed at the centre of the 2016 event, in the shadow of the Man, the Guild Workshops are set to celebrate the collaborative makers at the heart of the Burning Man movement.
Mechan 9. A 2016 Art Installation (Tyler Fuqua)
Among the commentaries endorsed by The Philosophical Center are a series of articles on art, gender and the Renaissance written by Felicity Graham, the implications of which add further spice to the theme. For while the patronage system at the time of the Renaissance may have afforded new opportunities for artists, women were systematically excluded from the arts, an oppressive circumstance associated with a “resurgence of Classical philosophy and renewed admiration for Greek and Roman culture” which afforded “new opportunities to confirm and enforce the perceived inherent intellectual, physical and moral inferiority of the female sex” (Graham March 24, 2016). Unworthy and impure, women could not naturally achieve virtuoso status, which was strictly reserved for males, who alone were exponents of the “fine arts,” with weaving, embroidery and other female-centric textile “crafts” devalued as lesser arts.  As Graham writes, “the same social and economic systems that promoted the system of patronage simultaneously deceased access to both economic systems and the arts for women” (Graham March 23, 2016).
While today we generally regard a patron as someone who commissions art, the meaning is traditionally far more restrictive. Deriving from pater (Latin for father), patron was variously used to designate “protector, father, defender, a lord or master or leader and ‘one who advances a cause.’” A patron assumed a role of leadership and protection. While women of the Renaissance were excluded from exercising such roles, they had a greater role as artists in the period than is widely recognised. And they became involved, furthermore, in nurturing the arts, and thus, in matronage, which “reflects the type of care and leadership that a woman, in her social role and experience, can provide” (Graham March 25, 2016). Expanding on this view, Caveat indicated that matronage does not simply involve the commissioning of art, but adopts the process of art commissioning to "establish and deepen relationships, build systems that encourage the future development of art, and establish the legitimacy of the artists as a class.” Further to that, he believes this process was evident “at the heart of the greatest patronage,” with the perfect example being Medici’s adoption of the young Michelangelo. “It led to commissions, but was not a relationship based on money.” In this light, “perhaps it is in fact matronage, rather than patronage,” he posits, that we're looking to foster, "that far from simply adjusting the flow of money, we want to establish and strengthen relationships between artists, their communities, and funding sources” (C. Magister March 31, 2016). 
In opposition to an arts culture where museums and elite art schools and galleries oversee the separation of art from life, Da Vinci’s Workshop is imagined as a vehicle through which Burning Man is seeking to connect artists to their own communities, and the wider culture. The commitment to what Harvey has called a “virtuous circle,” as opposed to a “vicious cycle,” can “generate more art for our community, more revenue for artists, and more ways for people to establish relationships with art and artists” (C. Magister, May 4, 2016). As a result of community feedback, The Philosophical Center is now championing Fundiversify as a possible benchmark in this development. 
Timeless (Mathew Welter)
Fundiversify is the brainchild of Timeless (Mathew Welter), an experienced chainsaw sculptor in receipt of a 2016 honorarium. The logic of Fundiversify is that, according to Caveat, “the more a piece of art is seen and engaged with by our community—at Burning Man, at Regionals, and at community and public events—the greater its likely sale value.” As a patron sponsors the creation of an art piece under the proviso that it will remain in the artist’s care for an agreed duration—perhaps even years­—to be used at community and public events, after which time the piece can be turned over to the patron or sold, the sponsored work becomes a community asset invested in by patrons to their own benefit and that of the artist. Here is the “virtuous cycle” at work: “The value that initially attracts the investor/patron is produced by our culture and its community, and the act of supporting our culture and community creates other kinds of value—relationships that can be formed, connections that an be made, and perhaps even (eventually) the commissioning of art for the community’s sake rather than just as an investment” (C. Magister, May 4, 2016).
The appraisal of Burning Man arts, and artists, beyond the Playa is now illuminated in monumental works at home and abroad. Perhaps this doesn’t get more literal than the $8 million LED display The Bay Lights, designed by Disorient founder and Burning Man Board member Leo Villareal, in which 25,000 algorithmically-controlled LEDs have illuminated San Francisco’s Bay Bridge since 2013 (see Slenske 2014). This feat could not have been achieved without earlier successes established in places like the walkway between the east and west buildings of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC (where Villareal’s 200 foot LED masterpiece “Multiverse” resides) and without Burning Man being a vital platform for his experimental LED projects since the 1990s. As for the extra-playa and inter-civic career of Black Rock City sculpture, there are numerous examples, like Marco Cochrane’s Truth is Beauty that is to grace San Leandro, or Laura Kimpton and Jeff Schomberg’s exclamational “BELIEVE” stamped on the Reno Plaza. Although, most outstanding is The Temple, founded by David Best, which has had a storied career within (Pike 2012; Edwards 2014) and beyond (Ferrari 2015) Burning Man. 
Some of this art has been commissioned through Burning Man honoraria, most of it privately funded. In April 2006, I met Carey Thompson at Soulclipse, a total solar eclipse festival near Antalya, Turkey, where he was showcasing a segment of the DiMethyl Temple, a structure first installed at Burning Man in 2005 (where it was co-designed by Rob Newell, with assistance from Victor Olenev and Xavi). 
DiMethyl Temple, Carey Thompson, Burning Man 2005
This white façade with doorway often opening to a gallery displaying the work of visionary artists was hauled to other European festivals in 2006. I saw it in the UK at Sunrise Celebration and The Glade, and then Portugal’s Boom Festival, where it became the gateway to the Inner Visions Gallery, a spectacular gallery-emporium for visionary art that was a component of that event’s Liminal Village. Thompson was subsequently appointed Art Director at Boom, a position enabling the influx of other artists (e.g. Michael Christian and Shrine) and collectives of artists like Do-Lab, who’ve made their mark and cut their teeth at Burning Man, now contracted by Boom. Similar stories might be told about the circulation of Black Rock City works at other festivals, and indeed how arts of the Playa travel—and presumably accrue value—through a network of “transformational festivals” in North America and worldwide. Something of a precursor exists in the strategy of the [freespace] movement who are effectively value adding to properties and incentivizing landlords.
A formal structure, like Fundiversify, could leverage the valuation that some artists have been able to take advantage of due to the providence—or playadence—of their work. So even while there is a call for expanding the annual migration to Black Rock City into “a national parade of sculptures and art installations stopping in communities everywhere,” a circumstance that would create “new connections between artists and venues, and provide significantly increased opportunities for artists to display their work, build followings, and in some cases receive payment” (C. Magister, May 23, 2016), such may concretise what has been transpiring informally for years, across artistic media. For critics, this process incites inquiry—how big can a large oceangoing fish grow before being vertically unclearable? For some, the market estimation of Burner art off-playa is a cause for concern, since this contravenes values loosely forged into event principles, like Immediacy, Gifting and Decommodification. While these are principles native to an event evolving in the desert, how well do they translate in the world beyond the trash fence? Such is the terrain of the “great taboo” of which Caveat spoke—the inseparability of money and creativity, which has long been a conceptual no-mans land. Today, trespassing across this uneven terrain tests the limits of principles said to have derived organically from three decades of event making. But it seems that one can only know these limits by dwelling in the lee of their confluence, by playing in the shadows of the Man, and perhaps by forging new works from inherited casts and principal moulds. The outcomes of these proposed efforts, the collision of values, the shattering of taboos, are naturally not yet known. Will this drama precipitate the demise or mutation of Burning Man? Will new principles be minted to reflect new valuations? Will Turning Man be the pivot upon which Burning Man comes of age?

Space Whale, a 2016 Art Installation (The Pier Group with Matthew Schultz, Android Jones and Andy Tibbetts) 

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Meet Your Maker: Burning Man, Maker Culture & Culture Making

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 3:07am

Burning Man is a rich source of meaning for gnostic cowboys, code hackers and gossip columnists cavalcading annually into Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Extracting truth, bearing witness, feeling the burn, intention is multitudinous. For culture warriors, dissertation defenders and global event marketers among the event’s 70,000+ participants, the desire to make Burning Man transparent generates outcomes that exist on a spectrum between the brazenly absurd and the genuinely astute. But there is something about this hermeneutical Eldorado that renders it opaque to the outsider, and perhaps in a way not unlike the aporrheta—the unrepeatables—to the uninitiated in the Rites of Eleusis in ancient Greece (a circumstance compounded when commentators have not themselves drunk the kykeon). Despite a torrent of media and an accumulation of hyperbole, Burning Man continues to defy explanation.It may have been a magnetic field for hubris from the moment an eight-foot effigy was raised and incinerated on Baker Beach, San Francisco, on summer solstice 1986. While opinion makers, hypothesis builders and a surfeit of unicorns have been drawn to the event like saturnids to a flame over thirty years, their numbers growing dramatically following its transition to Nevada in 1990, the commitment to capture, codify and classify Burning Man is lampooned by long-time participants, including those who once developed the Burning Man “Phrase Generator” (as published in an edition of the first newspaper at Burning Man, The Black Rock Gazette, vol 8, Sep 5, 1999). “Pyro cultural lifestyle revolution.” “Retro tribal dada orgy.” “Trans bohemian renegade rampage.” The manifold combination-signifiers—ostensibly 160k—randomly cranked out from this device satirise commentators entertaining the conceit that they might be in possession of the real meaning behind Burning Man.

At the same time, the Phrase Generator makes implicit reference to a trade secret: that the organisation behind Burning Man does not supply the event, nor any of its signature rituals—notably the fiery destruction of its centrally positioned effigy called “the Man”—with official explanation. Ironically, the city that never sleeps has long objected to making a spectacle of itself, even though it has magnified into one of the greatest shows on earth. In an event whose public is compelled to gloss its signature rites with their own myth, you are the spectacle. Burning Man is like a neon cathedral to the self called MEET YOUR MAKER where, upon entry, one encounters a giant mirror framed in stage lights. But this phenomenon annually installed in the deep desert 110 miles north of Reno is more than the annual destruction of an effigy, a rite over which one holds heuristic right-of-way. These days, it has sired an organisation—the Burning Man Project—that quite intentionally propagates culture: a principled product that animates dozens of regional events worldwide. Squinting in the glare of this global efflorescence, I submit my own desire for clarity, as absurd or perhaps even futile as that may be. In that quest, I’ll generate a few not-so-random phrases of my own.

It’s a distinct challenge, compounded by the fact that, almost thirty years from its inception, Burning Man can be identified as a seasonal festival, a temporary city, and a global movement. As disparate as these characteristics are, a common thread emerges: Burning Man is a culture of collaborative design: an event, a city and a movement made—in Burner parlance, co-created—by its participants. This is indeed a theme cultivated in recent years by the Burning Man Project, actively aligning with the maker movement, a crafted alliance that might be as close to authorised definition as you’ll get. In the blog posts to come, I will discuss that alliance, drawing attention to two interrelated themes. The first is the intimate though complex relationship between commerce and creativity at Burning Man. By 2016, this dusty skeleton had emerged from its deep desert closet to take centre stage—and, moreover, the “public square.” The second is the way Burning Man is both made and unmade by its denizens, a worthy elaboration that draws attention to this event-culture’s distinct make.
Make it HereStroking a jumper-clad lap-terrier, go-to-market strategist Cheryl Edison speculates on Burning Man’s growing stature as the epicentre of “maker capitalism.” Edison is founder of The Gate, a 24-acre property in San Leandro that merges Walmart and other ground floor retail outlets with a second floor art, tech, and maker community. A global brand expert who helped build the identities of Continental Airlines, Calvin Klein and Revlon, who, according to her website, “thrives to create materials that can stand alone and silently sell,” and who at the height of the Tech boom, was instrumental in raising over US$53 million in venture capital, Edison now endorses the branding of Black Rock City as a Maker City.

Edison is exemplary among those entrepreneurs in the Burner community who’ve achieved success, and are helping others to make it too—via “maker spaces.” After all, “Make It Here” is The Gate’s well-crafted slogan. Espousing “backdoor philanthropy,” and ill-at-ease with the limiting notion of Decommodification (among Burning Man’s Ten Principles), Edison addresses those drawn to a workshop called “Making Maker Spaces and the Future” held in the Ballroom on the 11th Floor of the Marines Memorial Club, San Francisco. Coming over like a persian terrier-stroking head of SPECTRE meets makerspace matron, the confident discourse on risk, sacrifice and enterprise might have struck a chord with those (i.e. the US Marines) whose actions are memorialised in the setting for this breakout session, among dozens over the four days of the 10thannual Burning Man Global Leadership Conference (GLC) in March/April 2016.
Global Leadership Conference, San Francisco 2016.

For a decade, the GLC has been pivotal to the global mission of the Burning Man Project, which has quite recently (i.e. between 2011–2014) transited to a nonprofit public benefit organisation with 501(c)3 status. In January 2014, co-founder Larry Harvey announced that “after 24 years of tending our garden in the desert, we now have the means to cultivate its culture worldwide.” More recently, as reported in The Guardian, CEO Marian Goodell signalled formal processes the BMP have implemented to create Burning Man “culture.” Through its international network and via a series of summits, leadership programs, through its communications department, and in the GLC itself, the BMP is “giving people the tools to produce the culture—not just at events, but in their wider communities.” The culturethat is being cultivated here, and which is activated through these media, boils down to a popular ethos that inheres in the “Ten Principles.” Conveyed in the form of aphorisms, these principles are the subject of sometimes heated debate in the burnerverse, not least because they tend to represent disparate and sometimes competing virtues, values and commitments.
The Ten Principles were born in 2004 to Harvey, today identifying as the BMP’s Chief Philosophical Officer. With a remit towards enabling the “acculturation” of the principles, Harvey founded The Philosophical Center in 2013, intended to “serve as both the conscience and collective memory of Burning Man.” Interviewed in San Francisco after the 2016 GLC, Harvey related that we live in a time when “single acts cast such long shadows, and can form worlds that we don’t even imagine.” Ranging across personal intellectual heroes like Aristotle, Locke, Pierce, and William James, he stated that for most nonprofits philosophy is, at best, “a hood ornament,” occasionally pulled out to “polish the optics.” By contrast, inquiry on the principles, and debates on such axioms as freedom and liberty, autonomy and governance, and lately, commerce and creativity, are reckoned integral to “the project.” While the Philosophical Center “doesn’t have the power to lay down the law,” it will have “the power within the Burning Man Project to mandate thought.”
Introducing the Ten Principles Blog Series in 2013, Harvey stated that the BMP’s educational mission was to foment discourse interrogating the Ten Principles, citing a guiding motto from William James: “belief is thought at rest.” It was emphasised that the principles are not “commands or requests,” that they “do not precede immediate experience.” The understanding that these principles exist in “an ecosystem” is reckoned to counter tendencies to exalt single principles by extending their logic absolutely. “Philosophy occurs when principles collide, and we should allow these Principles to interpret and interrogate one another. Our philosophy, in other words, is muscular—it depends on the capacity of its assumptions to do work.” Playa-scribe Caveat Magister has flexed his grey matter to develop and move these ideas, as explored in a series of posts at the Burning Man Journal. Far from tenets in which believers must be indoctrinated, as one studies scripture, these principles, Caveat Magister writes, are closer to aspirations. “They’re things we strive to be, and admire when we see in others. They’re where we want to go . . . they’re our road map.” But the map is not the territory—one cannot understand, share in, nor communicate, these principles by means other than personally testing the waters off the ceaseless shoreline of that desert of the real out past the Greeter Station. That this experience directs and colours one’s life and actions back in the “default” world upon return is elementary. “The idea that we’re united by our actions, rather than our motives, ideals, or thoughts, means that when we try to communicate Burning Man to the rest of the world, we do it by doing.” 
And, by making.
You wouldn’t find 500 people anywhere in the world better prepared to interrogate the Ten Principles, throughout the days, and deep into the night, over absinthe verde. Teaming with radical empiricists, bare-foot philosophers, marvellous makeratti, and the occasional self-made venture capitalist, the GLC is a hive of the Burner faithful. The presence of Silicon Valley brand strategists and maker-matrons here is not inconsistent with Harvey’s courting of entrepreneurs, philanthropists and statesman in recent years. Nor is it incompatible with the principle of Radical Self-Reliance, that valuation of a rugged form of individualism and maverick self-sufficiency requisite for settling a remote desert frontier—an experimental zone where the resourceful, the independent and the enterprising have achieved notoriety, status and power. A paean to the authority of the individual unfettered by state intervention, moral guardianship and soul destroying bureaucracy, in Radical Self-Reliance we find an expression of the Romantic realisation that the “truth” lies within, a sensibility integral to the American Transcendentalists, namely nonconformists like Ralph Waldo Emerson whose influential 1841 essay “Self-Reliance” exhorted readers to have faith in their selves, to trust their inner genius, that medium of divine inspiration to which all are purported to have access. Fuelling an inner gold rush charged to mine human potential and influencing the self-help movement and “mindfulness” industry in which the corporate world has vested since the 1980s to inspire innovation, drive competition and maximise profit, self-reliance is a virtue recognisably radical in the myth of neoliberalism.
A principal actor in that story is of course the sovereign individual whose material possessiveness and self-expressiveness appear to be enacted from the same script. The conflation of competitive and expressive individualism may be a point of contention for critics railing against another aphorism written in the dust—Radical Self-Expression—often purported to be among the pillars supporting the gentrification of the burnerverse. In “Why the Rich Love Burning Man,” an article featured in socialist left magazine Jacobin published on the heals of the recent “sherpagate” crisis (to be discussed in a future blog), Radical Self-Expression is considered a means by which radical libertarians have ruined the utopian party. “The idea of radical self-expression is, at least under the constraints of capitalism, a right-wing, Randian ideal, and could easily be the core motto of any of the large social media companies in Silicon Valley.” Accordingly, under this unruly principle, “technocratic scions” now mold Burning Man to their libertarian ends. Indeed, the view that Burners are no longer participants (in any democratic, or even meritocratic, sense), but are now reliant on the charitable whims of wealthy elites, attempts to gain merit from the fact that Silicon Valley heavyweights have long called the Playa “home.”
Such critics may have been informed by reading the “Californian Ideology,” the term adopted in an influential albeit simplistic, caricatured, and now dated essay by Barbrook and Cameron (first published in 1995, and recently republished by the Institute for Network Cultures in The Internet Revolution: From Dot Com Capitalism to Cybernetic Communism). It is certainly not difficult to see the principles in question living large within that pre-millennial faith in the emancipatory potential of new information technologies to facilitate a “digital utopia” in which everyone was to be “hip and rich.” A frontier retreat for Silicon Valley imagineers, design cowboys and code warriors working and playing in fields that “promiscuously combine the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies,” is Burning Man a late Summer Camp for the unwitting exponents of the Californian Ideology? Given leaders from Google, Twitter, Facebook, Uber, among other outfits, have disassembled on the Playa, at least since Burning Man was boosted in Bruce Sterling’s Aug 29, 1996 Wired cover story as “The New American Holiday,” perhaps there’s some truth to this. And yet, while commentators might imagine Burning Man a “business bacchanalia”—i.e. a networking utopia for tech industry moguls—those within the industry, like Jon Evans in TechCrunch, respond that it’s not the tech “industry” that attends Burning Man, but the tech “community.” 
Silicon Valley has had a close connection to the event since its inception, explains appraiser Chris Taylor in Mashable, “because the tech industry tends to hire the same kind of smart, active, collaborative freethinkers drawn to the challenges of creating something unique on the blank, bleak desert canvas.” It could be illustrated that this temporary community—that relies partly on what Burners call Communal Effort, the valuation of “creative cooperation and collaboration”—has had a shaping influence on the industry. Indeed, indicating how a “living model of commons-based peer production” at Burning Man impacted the Bay Area's tech community, specifically Google, this approximated the view of sociologist Fred Turner in his 2009 article “Burning Man at Google: A Cultural Infrastructure for New Media Production.” An eventculture like Burning Man might be recognised somewhere downstream from developments outlined in Turner’s earlier book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, which documented the Whole Earth network’s repurposing of information technologies to communitarian ends. Hacking existing design, the builders of geodesic domes, the engineers of the multi-media Acid Tests, and the early technicians of the People’s Computer Company were alike feeding on the advances of the U.S. “military-academic-industrial triangle,” and retooling technologies in the establishment of a better world. If Bucky Fuller was alive today, it does not seem unreasonable to assume he would be invited to lead a workshop at the GLC. 
As maker culture heroes, Fuller and Brand are integral to the backstory of a design intensive movement whose chief objective is the construction (and reconstruction) of a temporary city in the wilderness. The story of Burning Man, at least as narrated by Harvey in his “How the West Was Won,” is a legend of civilisation evolving from a neo-anarchist outland. While original Burners sought freedoms from deprecations of the state, media and morality (a veritable TAZ), as Harvey recalls, “slowly, step-by-step, circumstances drove us to invent a government.” The story recounts the fate of new pioneers settling the high frontier. Throughout the 1990s, “our settlement began to leapfrog outward, forming a dispersed archipelago of separate campsites—a sort of gold rush in pursuit of individual autonomy.” But if it was to survive, and thrive, this rogue outpost of drive-by gunslingers needed rules, roles, and roads; it required borders, official communications channels, urban planning and risk management strategies; order in the place of chaos. Coping with existential challenge upon challenge, Harvey surmises, “we kind of reinvented step by empirical step the idea of civilization.” Ironically, as he said to me, while many anarchists “went out and said ‘we’re gonna be free of all rules and laws,’ it turned out that from the very beginning, instinctively, they needed order.” Without intention, and by necessity, beginning with the Black Rock Rangers, “we’d stumbled onto the principle of Civic Responsibility.”
Literally rising from the dust, the story of Black Rock City appears to offer an elaboration on the American Frontier myth, as elucidated by Frederick Jackson Turner, in which the advancing “fall line” of the great movement West gave shape to the American character. This is the thesis of Ronnie Diehl, who, in an 2010 MA “The American Frontier in Acoustic Space” has argued that, as a saga of survival on the “final frontier,” where civic institutions have been established in the place of unlimited freedoms and Wild West outlawry, and where a sense of identity is born from the repeated effort to strike camp and build community in a hostile physical environment, Black Rock City extends the frontier. It is evensuggested that conflicts played-out in the history of Black Rock City, exhibited in the dispute between Cacophony Society co-founder John Law (anarchic) and Harvey (civilising)—as, for instance, portrayed in the documentary film Spark: A Burning Man Story—echoes donnybrooks that broke out between disparate frontiersmen identified by Turner. Quite a provocative interpretation, but for me there is a primary inquiry arising from this analysis. If Black Rock City is a remote outpost in the long road from Europe, how are we now to make sense of the circumstance in which Europe is among the strongest growing regions in Burning Man’s transnational proliferation?
Civic Hacking
I’ve so far mentioned three of the operating ten principles, but the point I want to make is that if Burning Man is a Maker City, the resources in the philosophical toolbox available to its citizens are quite diverse. And yet, critics, holding to utopian, situationist, anarchist, autonomist and other sensibilities rail against the BMP’s business relationships, media practices and the implementation of more and more rules. Rancour runs deep, traced to at least 1996, the year of the first formal art theme, Helco, an adaptation of Dante’s The Inferno, in which the supra-national conglomerate Helco attempted to acquire Black Rock City. As Harvey explains the theme “substituted corporate-induced consumerism for metaphysical evil.” In This is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground, Brian Doherty recalled how Helco “touched on anxieties that were real for those who made Burning Man happen, both in the organisation and in the crowd; the corruption and the selling out of their experience, their community, their reality, to large, sinister, forces.” Now, while Satan was denied (and reduced to cinders) in that now-legendary pageant, some argue that “the Borg” would come to embody what was allegorised in the theme. It is curious that Harvey recognises that throughout the ages, “Hell has been a place of banishment. Whatever we wish to cast out of our world or out of ourselves is here destined to reappear and confront us.”
Defenders of the Burning Man Project observe that antagonists tend to under-appreciate, disregard, even deny, the real world circumstances with which the organisation must transact, negotiate and comply in order for Black Rock City (and any of its satellite events) to continue operating at all. Workshops at the GLC precisely revealed this organisational imperative, with sessions involving, for example, safety and risk management, liaising with law enforcement, media relations protocols, volunteer management tools and regional contact training. Breakout sessions had titles like "Wresting With the Government: How to Come Out on Top with a Permit,” “Bookkeeping, Money Management and Financial Transparency,” and “How to Deal with Growth and Scaling without Losing your Sanity.” While there were a range of workshops specifically on maker projects, taking in the panorama it became more than apparent that Burning Man and the cultural movement it has spawned is itself a vast maker project.
The neo-maker and civic hacker movements are primary vehicles by which Burning Man is propagating its identity in the world. In the lead up to the National Week of Making (June 17–23, 2016), Jenn Sander, who works on “Global Initiatives” for the Burning Man Project, wrote an article in which she placed the comments of Harvey (explaining the 2016 art theme) alongside President Obama (in his proclamation for the National Week of Making), noting that with great feats of engineering and creative solutions to challenges, “America and Burning Man alike encourage experimentation and reward risk.” Lest we draw too much from this juxtaposition of civilisations, Burner-makers are identified as possessing a unique form of citizenship shaped by Black Rock City’s thick braid of principles. It is an association reported to elicit a distinct civic pride mobilising Burners wherever they have travelled and networked—in recent years cross-pollinating with makers and hackers in diverse ways, with the ripples caused in the Black Rock Desert prompting those further and further afield to take note. 
Recognising that “makers pursue projects to learn new skills, to create an item with a story they are part of, and to share their creative process with others,” corporate performance pundits from Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, John Hagel III and John Seely Brown in Techonomy, touched on the philosophy that Burning Man shares with the Maker movement. “While advances such as 3-D printing create an opening for entrepreneurs to invent new physical products and then prototype and scale them with minimal investment, the driving force of the Maker movement is creative, not economic.” As a lab for testing “the balance of extreme liberty and community,” according to Peter Hirschberg, who is a former Apple executive, Chairman of Re:imagine Group and cofounder of Gray Area Center for Arts and Technology in San Francisco, Burning Man is "a fascinating place to observe the large-scale practice of self-organising governance in action.” Black Rock City’s prototypical, temporary and engaged form of citizenship is notable to Hirschberg, since it allows for play, learning and immediacy. Himself working to foster maker economies in cities around the world, in his chapter “Burning Man: The Pop-Up City of Self-Governing Individualists” published by ID3 in From Bitcoin to Burning Man and Beyond: The Quest for Identity and Autonomy in a Digital Society, edited by John Clippinger and David Bollier, Hirschberg finds the Ten Principles to be “broadly applicable guidelines for conceptualising a more sustainable, more conscious and less materialist world.” Though the reception was not as enthusiastic, the waves have even buffeted the White House. At his final correspondents’ dinner, Obama made a joke referencing his daughter. “Just recently a young person came up to me and said she was sick of politicians standing in the way of her dreams. As if we were actually going to let Malia go to Burning Man this year.”
Holding an objective to “make sense of and profit from emerging opportunities on the edge of business and technology,” I’m guessing analysts at the Center for the Edge don’t hold their offspring to such restrictions. And I suspect they’re training their eyes on Maker Faire for similar reasons. An experimental community of tinkerers, engineers and hobbyists, a cultural synthesis of the futuristic and the atavistic, a marriage of the technologic and the carnivalesque, Maker Faire is like an urban—though certainly not urbane—Burning Man. Commencing in San Mateo in 2006, Maker Faire is the festal outgrowth of Makemagazine (produced by Maker Media), which is like a contemporary Whole Earth Catalog. 

The event is described by its founder, Dale Dougherty—also executive chairman of Maker Media—as “somewhere on the spectrum between Burning Man and Disneyland.” A great many Burners are involved as volunteers and artists at MF. While it has provided something of a staging area for many Playa-bound artists, Maker Faire is also a realm for showcasing the makers who furnish Black Rock City with its art, including artists receiving honoraria from the Burning Man arts department. Promoting the 2016 Bay Area event, this was the news conveyed by Director of Content and Community at Make, Will Chase, formerly Operations Manager for Burning Man’s art department, and Minister of Propaganda. Claiming it is the closest thing to Burning Man he’s experienced, “only with less dust and more pants,” Chase indicated that while Burning Man “provides a physically challenging, celebratory platform for Makers of all stripes,” Maker Faire offers “a more accessible, family-friendly” version. Indeed Faires have become spaces where children are encouraged to experience a hands-on approach to making stuff.
MF also provides maker/artists with the opportunity to more openly perform what is virtually taboo in Black Rock City—vend the product of their creativity. With that said, with each event in the worldwide network of Maker Faires organized by volunteers, this grassroots engine house of the maker movement venerates the role of collaborative production in the creative process. “The core of what we’re trying to do here,” states Dougherty, “is celebrate making in our culture,” which his comments suggest represents a shift away from the otherwise relentless tide of consumerism. “There’s something particularly resonant about that, something we’ve missed, something that’s been marginalized” in the U.S. “We used to be proud of things that we made. Making used to be a middle-class virtue. It was a point of pride. . . . I think we’re trying to bring that back to the center of attention.”
Both rooted in the Bay Area, BM and MF are now worldwide movements with a great deal of crossover. Take, for example, the emergence of steampunk. Researching the background and emergence of steampunk, as James H. Carrott observes in his book co-authored with Brian David Johnson, Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk into the Future of Technology, at both events, materials recombobulators and eccentric inventors design steam powered contraptions with more than a hint of Jules Verne, in the process making a history that never existed. Experienced with Black Rock City, and reporting on a visit to the San Mateo MF, Carrott observed “a kind of mad science in action that pervades both places, a desire to push the bounds of the possible, and ‘make it work,’ no matter the circumstance.” Characterising Maker Faire as “a kind of dress-rehearsal” for the Playa, a space for inventors to test an idea, to see how it rolls, before they “set it ablaze” (“literally, figuratively, or both”) at Burning Man, he feels that the connection between these events runs deeper. “It’s about the art of the possible.”
Neverwas Haul. Photo: Christopher Michael.
Rumour has it, if you believe Shannon O’Hare, chief creator of the self-propelled 3-story Victorian House Neverwas Haul—which was built at the Shipyard art space in Berkeley and first roamed the Playa in 2006—the Haul, and possibly steampunk itself, emerged from a “chromatic vortex anomaly” that appeared on the Playa in 2006, when O’Hare and his crew failed to burn their Victorian Gothic installation “The Clock Tower” before midnight. “All of a sudden,” Carrott writes how O’Hare recalled, “everybody went ‘Oh, we can do Victorian. I didn’t know we could do Victorian.’” The Playa provided the perfect space for re-living the greatest period in history that never was. And indeed, for going out of time—as this was also the year of massive installation/dance club Uchronia, popularly dubbed the “Belgian Waffle” (in 2006, I wrote on Uchronia in this post). This was not the first time makers flooded the Playa, but the period saw an influx of a futurist vintage style—e.g. El Pulpo Mechanico, the mobile fire-belching octopus—that rolled the Playa in subsequent years.
El Pulpo Mechanico, Scott London
 Emerging also in 2006, the San Mateo Maker Faire—where the Neverwas Project and alternative fuel systems were an early attraction—was integral to an art movement that mobilised makers, quire literally gathering steam over the next decade, as evident in 200 events worldwide, from Mini Faires to the World Maker Faire in New York. While makers are elevated here, this event model isn’t primarily showcasing individual genius, but is a platform where collaboration, education and resource sharing are integral—a platform that would, as Megs Rutigliano commented to me, “spark a dialog about maker culture in our realm.”

Rutigliano is producer of the GLC, an event that has forged an alliance with maker movers and shakers, as was apparent by 2014, when Alex Goldman and Rebecca Chesney from the Institute For The Future led a “Maker Cities” session to explore the convergent forces “empowering makers to create and improve the cities in which they live.” That presentation showcased platforms like the Kickstarter-backed project Air Quality Egg, an air quality sensing network using DiY sensors in which users are able to collect readings of NO2 and CO concentrations outside their homes. Typically sessions facilitate the exchange of ideas where attendees introduce their own design prototypes, such as, in that case, Neighbourhood Bike Racks, which explored engineering hybrid public-private spaces for street level bike storage, and Figment, charged with the idea of transporting Burning Man-style art into “youth-appropriate, radically accessible spaces and events to encourage playfulness and creativity.”  
That year, the GLC also showcased the advent of [freespace], which over a few short years became an infectious international model for the benevolent hacking of urban space. Hacking the National Day of Civic Hacking, in June 2013, Mike Zuckerman and fellow San Francisco Burners in now legendary circumstances began renting a three-story 14,000-square-foot SoMa district warehouse for $1, transforming it into a community space, and in the process kick starting a new movement in civic innovation. These culture hackers were not only extending by a month a national civic hacking day authorised by The White House, they were also hacking the concept of the hackathon, or codefest, events typically purposed around the collaborative design of software. As Zuckerman explained to Lindsea Wilbur from the Institute for the Future, [freespace] is “an analog version of what online platforms are—like Facebook or other social networks but in the physical realm, where programming, design, content and governance all are determined by the participants.” 

The original [freespace], SoMa, San Francisco.
The first event at [freespace] was BurnerHack, a user-generated flesh flash and knowledge exchange enabling Burners to show fellow participants how to use Arduino, accomplish tasks like solder EL wire, make hand-held illuminated jellyfish and tinker with useful web-tools and resources, such as the pre-playa Facebook tool and popular participant driven project, BurnerMap. In the language of the zeitgeist they were leveraging the technical wisdom of citizens to hack cities, in this case, perhaps the most improvised city of all, already the product of a three-decade long civic hackathon. While this was not an official Burning Man Project project, the BMP could hardly deny the up-take of urban do-ocracy . . . nor the valence of a bloom of illuminated jellies undulating along the streets of SoMa. Attracting radical gardeners and tactical urbanists, social entrepreneurs and those co-founder Ilana Lipsett called “changemakers,” like Marc Roth from The Learning Shelter and the free bike share project Yellow Bike Library, in one month alone, the space hosted 119 free events. Zachary Crockett gave the roundup in Priceonomics, “There were silent discos, movie screenings, and Wordpress workshops. The space even hosted a ‘crafternoon’ session for Kindergarten students to paint and garden. One Thursday night featured a ‘digital detox’ party, during which tech-clad San Franciscans shed their computer companions for several hours, and turned off smartphones, tablets, and music players.”
As author of In Real Life: Searching for Connection in High-Tech Times, Jon Mitchel—who would assume the role of Minister of Propaganda at Burning Man—explained, “with its non-hierarchical, gift-driven, art-centric culture, [freespace] looks like a prototype for the kinds of spaces that can promote Burning Man culture year-round and in the default world.” And this appears to be precisely what has happened, with this open-sourced prototype of civic innovation taking off in locations worldwide. According to the [freespace] website there are [freespaces] developing in 26 locations in 18 countries. Creating new incentives for landlords, and providing instructions on how to obtain free or discounted properties, they, says Crockett, “map out what it takes to spark a successful, community-driven effort: inclusivity, safety, openness, transparency.”
Can Valldaura, BarcelonaIn 2014, I caught Zuckerman at the first Burning Man European Leadership Summit (ELS) in Berlin, introducing the idea to a room full of inspired Burner emissaries from 25 countries across Europe. By the time of its third incarnation, Barcelona in February 2016, the ELS had become a principal convergence in Burning Man’s regional network, bristling with civic hacking and maker movement activity. The Summit kicked off with a Surrealist themed opening at Atenau de Raval, a [freespace] venue in the Gothic Quarter. The main venue was the gorgeous Can Valldaura, a location in the heights above the city on a property surrounded by bush land. The site of a Cistercian monastery in 1150, a royal palace of the Crown of Aragon in 1297, and a farm since 1888, Valldaura now houses a digital fabrication lab that uses natural resources and is a partner in the international network of FabLabs led by MIT in Boston, and part of the Plan Avanza national network of laboratories in Spain. 

There was a Saturday night masquerade party at a local art gallery, and a Sunday convergence at the Third Annual Mini Maker Faire Barcelona. In her report on the event, according to Rutigliano, who is also Regional Network Associate Director, the 2016 ELS played host to 135 Regional Contacts, Community Leaders, event organisers and Burning Man staff from 21 countries. As such, the ELS has become a pivotal hub in the Burning Man movement that has been evolving over two decades and now claims some 65 official Regional Events in dozens of countries.
Burning Man Regional Network

Beyond Maker City It makes sense that Burning Man would be targeted for the citizen-led hacking embodied in BurnerHack, and enabled through venues like [freespace]. This is the legacy of the event, in practices traced back to its beginnings—e.g. the “latte carpenters” responsible for the early Man builds. Those who are drawn to Burning Man—and here I do not simply imply customers who’ve bought a ticket, but those gravitating to roles in its reproduction, whether volunteering in build teams, contributing to art projects, designing the city—are makers and hackers. Engineers, civic planners, and groovy scientists, programmers, social sculptors, and radical welders, architects of systems and sonicities, innovators sharing know-how, pooling resources and improvising in a laboratory of the imagination, Black Rock City is reliant on a build community who collaborate to solve the immediate problems of a liminal civilisation, and who, over its recurrent iterations have forged organic precepts that are now raised to the stature of event principles like Gifting, Communal Effort and Participation, the merits of which are subject to sometimes heated debate by philosophers and philanthropists. While many in this community are members of existing hobbyist collectives and grassroots art movements, Black Rock City has spawned a multitude of unique initiatives and adhocracies in the Bay Area and beyond, e.g. Do It Together projects like [freespace], workshop collectives like Flaming Lotus Girls, cooperative industrial studios like NIMBY, and nonprofit art schools like The Crucible.
Maker City
Applying solutions hard won in Black Rock City and further afield in efforts to hack life and change the world, the exemplary achievement in this centripetal development is Burners Without Borders (BWB), the volunteer organisation that emerged in 2005, when post-Playa, several participants travelled south to assist communities devastated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As the art theme that year was Psyche, featuring an explicit focus on “self-expression, self-reflection and the unconscious power of dream,” there occurred a surfacing to consciousness of a powerful urge to perform good in the world beyond the trash fence. This surfacing was whipped up by a powerful storm that caused disastrous flooding in the Gulf Coast severely impacted the lives of millions of people, including Burners, during the event. As Jex recalled, it was a moment of intense self-reflection in which “one of the most important and phenomenal representations of Civic Responsibility was born. When word made its way through the dust of the devastation of Katrina, a group of burners discovered a profound sense of self and reflection of those in need. They headed straight to ground zero of the disaster area to help rebuild the destroyed communities.” The eight month long effort saw BWB volunteers rebuild a destroyed Vietnamese temple in Biloxi, Mississippi, and gift over $1 million worth of reconstruction and debris removal to the residents of the region. These actions catalysed a movement whose key objective is community empowerment through projects designed to “unlock the creativity of local communities to solve problems that bring about meaningful change.”
Over the subsequent ten years, BWB promoted activities around the globe that “support a community’s inherent capacity to thrive by encouraging innovative approaches to disaster relief and grassroots initiatives that make a positive impact.” Founded by Carmen Muak, BWB have conducted disaster relief projects in the US, and internationally, including Peru, Japan, Haiti, the Philippines, and recently in response to the European refugee crisis, developed annual grants programs, and in April 2015, became the official civic engagement arm of the BMP. 

Reflecting upon more than ten years of BWB initiatives, Program Manager Christopher Breedlove alludes to the way Burners are enabling others to find solutions to crises resulting from natural and humanitarian disasters—an empowering transference of skills and resources figured to enable self-reliance. “It shouldn’t be a surprise by now that when you drop into some of the most difficult and complicated situations on earth [such as “The Jungle” in Calais] you find Burners, and they’re prototyping solutions.” Breedlove indicates that Black Rock City is the cultural ground zero for this fomentation. “We seem to have the skills to survive in adverse conditions, people who can build, manage, roll with the punches, and find gaps in the social structure while having the leadership to bring about creative and immediate solutions.” Also reflecting upon the context that has incubated these skills and whose participants feel the burn, Peter Hirschberg is in agreement. “With so much experience in self-organising their own municipal infrastructure in a hostile environment, Burners are particularly skilled at functioning during chaotic crises when normal services—running water, electricity, communications channels and sanitation systems—are not available. Burners don’t just survive in such an environment; they create culture, art, and community there.” And the model is fertile, spawning offshoots like Communitere, an organisation providing maker spaces to communities in the wake of natural disasters. As Sander observes, Communitere “allows people to create the relief efforts they need for themselves, tapping into their own skills and resiliency and applying their knowledge of what they their neighbours actually need right now.” Now operating in Haiti, Nepal and the Philippines, Communitere provide space to NGOs like Field Ready, who pioneer the use of 3D printers in disaster areas.  
As I’ve noted, beyond Black Rock City, the chief accomplishment in the burnerverse is its Regional Network, with each satellite, besides orchestrating regional events, a node for numerous projects, civic engagement initiatives and maker culture clubs. Tapping into the maker culture and civic hacker zeitgeist, BWB have capitalised on this global bloom. In 2015, Breedlove workshopped BWB’s Kickstart Local Civic Projects program at the second European Leadership Summit, in Amsterdam—a nascent yet thriving Burner scene, with Burning Man Netherlands among the latest affiliated regional organisations. With the goal of generating a global “culture of ongoing engagement” of projects that “support a community’s inherent capacity to thrive by encouraging innovative approaches and grassroots initiatives that make a positive community impact,” BWB have also initiated their Global Wave of Service initiative. Challenging regions in the network to conduct a BWB project within 128 days from the GLC, this initiative commenced in 2015 with 21 projects in total. Among these projects was the North Texas Beach Cleanup, where Burners committed to removing tons of MOOP (matter out of place) from a seven-mile stretch of beach in Corpus Christi, Texas. As the group, now identified as BWB Corpus Christi, stipulated, “Burning Man started on the beach, we intend to stay there.” The mini-burn and ultra Leave No Trace atmosphere of the event—which, of course, had its own effigy burn—has inspired subsequent cleanup celebrations along the stretch dubbed Burner Beach.     
Burners Without Borders Vancouver - Christmas Isn't Over.                                   I first learned about BWB Corpus Christi seeing Jay Guerreropresent the initiative at the GLC 2016. As a veritable hive of developments, initiatives and seed projects directed towards more than simply growing regional Burning Man events, the conference gave weight to Hirschberg’s comment about the event training a “global volunteer workforce that could bring Burning Man’s can-do problem-solving and community-oriented work to the world.” Amid the panoply of Burner initiatives in the GLC program, the showcasing of BWB activities reflects the mosaic of the “Project” of Burning Man. The complex pattern of this movement is a weave of the many faces of Black Rock City, a temporary theater-city fraught with tensions expressed by way of its active principles. If San Francisco hobbyist repair collectives can be seen as pop-up “theatres of alternative industry,” as they are in a recent study "Theaters of Alternative Industry" by Daniela Rosner and Fred Turner (in Design Thinking Research, Understanding Innovation, 2015), then the Maker City on the Playa is a theatrical pop-uperopolis of alternative industry. While some critics might characterise it as city propped up by the super wealthy, possessing a distinctly comprehensive ethos forged at the edge of the frontier, Black Rock City possesses a design model consistent with the “comprehensive design” ethic of Buckminster Fuller, in which designers, architects, builders, and programmers, repurpose the products of industry “to remake their own lives and show others how to change the world.” As a model Maker City, it acts as a cultural incubator for culture in the making.
Thirty years inland from Baker Beach, Burning Man dramatises a tension that characterises what some call a crisis, and others see as an opportunity. I refer to a grand pageant in which the cooperative and entrepreneurial personas of Burning Man are to be staged. These days, for reasons that will be addressed in my next blog, the Burning Man Project have sought to publicly mediate these personas through a means no less than the Burning Man art theme. And so it seems, a reflexive effort to balance entrepreneurialism (e.g. in the form of patrons) and cooperativism (e.g. in the form of guilds) is implicit to Da Vinci’s Workshop, the 2016 art theme. While this theme is intended to celebrate the role of art patronage in the Italian Renaissance of the late 15th century, and specifically in Florence, “a city comparable in size to Black Rock City,” it is not so much population size that has motivated theme developers Harvey and Stuart Mangrum to regard Renaissance Florence a sister city in time to Black Rock City, but a “pattern of philanthropy” they observe characterising both. According to them, as announced in the theme description, “humanist ideals, a rediscovery of science, and funding from a newly moneyed class of entrepreneurs fuelled a revolutionary cultural movement that redefined Western civilisation” in the Republic of Florence. And this selective historicism provides the backdrop for a grandiose vision: i.e. nothing less than “combining Burning Man art, maker culture and creative philanthropy to make Black Rock City the epicenter of a new renaissance.” This is no small beer for these concept architects, and nor is it for the armies of artists from the Bay Area and beyond who’ve responded to the call with project ideas, guild builds and performance art. As we’ll see, this theme didn’t emerge from nowhere, but is the public response to a crisis besetting the organisation in recent times, the legacy of which plays out through a means we’re accustomed to expect at Burning Man: art, on a grand scale.

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The Mystery of DMT

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 3:07am
Erik Davis interviews Graham St John on Reality Sandwich about his new book Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT (Evolver/ North Atlantic Books, 2015)


Download Chapter 1 from Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 3:07am

Download Chapter 1, "DMT: An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery" from Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT by Graham St John (NAB/Evolver).

Foreword by Dennis McKenna
Available Nov 24, 2015
Paperback & E-book | 493 pages
Preorder at PenguinRandomHouse.com.
Since the mid-1950s, the psychoactive compound DMT has attracted the attention of experimentalists and prohibitionists, scientists and artists, alchemists and hyperspace emissaries. While most known as a crucial component of the “jungle alchemy” that is ayahuasca, DMT is a whole story unto itself. Until now, this story has remained untold. Mystery School in Hyperspace is the first book to delve into the history of this substance, the discovery of its properties, and the impact it has had on scientists, poets, artists, and musicians.

DMT has appeared at crucial junctures in countercultural history. William Burroughs was jacking the spice in Tangier at the turn of the 1960s. It was present at the meeting between Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and Tim Leary’s Millbrook associates. It guided the inception of the Grateful Dead in 1965. It showed up in Berkeley in the same year, falling into the hands of Terence McKenna, who would eventually become its champion in the post-rave neo-psychedelic movement of the 1990s. Its indole vapor drifted through Portugal’s Boom Festival and Nevada’s Burning Man, where DMT has been adopted as a spiritual technology supplying shape, color, and depth to a visionary arts movement. The growing prevalence of use is apparent in a vast networked independent research culture, and in its impact on fiction, film, music and metaphysics. As this book traces the effect of DMT’s release into the cultural bloodstream, the results should be of great interest to contemporary readers.

Features a Foreword by Dennis McKenna, cover art by Beau Deeley (Divine Moments of Truth,www.beaudeeley.net), and thirty color illustrations by various artists, including Alex Grey, Android Jones, Martina Hoffmann, Luke Brown, Carey Thompson, Adam Scott Miller, Randal Roberts, along with Jay Bryan, Cyb, Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule, Art Van D’lay, Stuart Griggs, Jay Lincoln, Gwyllm Llwydd, Shiptu Shaboo, Marianna Stelmach, and Mister Strange.
Download Chapter 1, "DMT: An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery"

PRAISE for Mystery School in Hyperspace
“Graham St John’s book on DMT untangles the threads of this holy molecule, from anthropological antiquity to labs in Hungary, from hipster soothsayers to visionary art at festivals, including some of the best descriptions of the wonderfully weird tryptamine worlds inside all of us. Read Mystery School in Hyperspace and appreciate the miracle in our midst.”
—Alex Grey, artist and author of Net of Being.

“Meticulously researched and highly readable. St John covers every imaginable aspect of DMT’s place in the Western aesthetic and intellectual landscapes. Setting down his book, I came away with a new appreciation of just how embedded the DMT meme has become.”
—Rick Strassman MD, author of DMT: The Spirit MoleculeDMT and the Soul of Prophecy, and clinical associate professor of psychiatry, University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

“Combining the breadth of a scholar, the savvy of an underground journalist, and the open spirit of a radical empiricist, Graham St John has written the definitive cultural history of the weirdest molecule on the planet (and in your body). Mystery School in Hyperspace tells amazing tales, sheds light on the shadows, and brilliantly referees the ongoing psychoactive rumble between the sacred and profane.”
 —Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information.

“Scholars and psychonauts alike will find much to appreciate in this lucid, thoughtful, provocative and thoroughly enjoyable cultural history of DMT. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Mystery School in Hyperspace is remarkable in its deft interweaving of neurochemistry, countercultural thought, spirituality, and the arts. In years to come, anyone with a serious interest in the socio-cultural significance of induced altered states will have read this book.”
—Christopher Partridge, Professor of Religious Studies, Lancaster University, UK.

"Boldly going where no one had gone before, Graham St John takes his readers on a properly hallucinatory yet extremely well documented tour through the history of DMT. Analyzing six decades of radical countercultural experimentation and exploration at the limits of human consciousness and beyond, this is a significant contribution to the emerging study of entheogenic religion."
—Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy, University of Amsterdam.

"Mystery School in Hyperspace is the textbook history of DMT for serious students of transdimensional evolution... Graham St John's tour de force through the tapestry of alchemists, hippies, DJs, scientists, shamans, mystics and seekers of the mystery that DMT reveals is an exhilarating ride and a thoroughly researched achievement. St John successfully builds up a historical profile of both dimethyltryptamine and the quest to understand it, piercing the mystery to bring back translinguistic trip reports that illuminate the central gnosis of our time. And as the latest generation of psychonauts explores the invisible landscape of Terra Incognita, Mystery School in Hyperspace could very well be the map that we have all been looking for..."
—Rak Razam, director of Aya: Awakenings.

“Wrap your mind around the most ubiquitous and profound psychedelic on the planet, DMT! A multidimensional journey that provides a smorgasbord of information, and will give seasoned psychonauts, dogmatic academics, culture aficionados, and frankly any curious mind, plenty to chew on.”
—Mitch Schultz, founder of MYTHAPHI and director of DMT: The Spirit Molecule,

"In Mystery School in Hyperspace, St John provides a full curriculum on DMT from its historical origins and geographical haunts, to today's uses, and, of course, to DMT's unique hyper-reality domain. Enriched by quotes, footnotes, URLs, and references, Mystery School in Hyperspace documents its resources and provides its readers with a vast wealth of leads for future explorations."
—Thomas B. Roberts, author of The Psychedelic Future of the Mind.

Weekend Societies. New issue of Dancecult on EDM Festivals and Event-Cultures

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 3:07am
New Issue of Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture
Vol 7, No 1 (2015): Weekend Societies: EDM Festivals and Event-Cultures (edited by Graham St John) 

Introduction to Weekend Societies: EDM Festivals and Event-Cultures— Graham St John
Feature Articles
Searching for a Cultural Home: Asian American Youth in the EDM Festival Scene— Judy Soojin Park
Boutiquing at the Raindance Campout: Relational Aesthetics as Festival Technology— Bryan Schmidt
Harm Reduction or Psychedelic Support? Caring for Drug-Related Crises at Transformational Festivals— Deirdre Ruane
Dancing Outdoors: DiY Ethics and Democratised Practices of Well-Being on the UK Alternative Festival Circuit— Alice O'Grady
Folk Music and Commercialization in Danubian Trances and Boheme— Barbara Rose Lange
Free Parties and Teknivals: Gift-Exchange and Participation on the Margins of the Market and the State— Anne Petiau
From the Floor
Dead by Dawn 1995— Riccardo Balli
Strobe light Salvation— Michael Arty Ghannoum
Goa: 20 Years of Psychedelic Trance (Tom Rom and Pascal Querner)— Joshua Schmidt
Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album (Charles Fairchild)— Ian Keith Rogers
The Globalization of Musics in Transit: Music Migration and Tourism (Simone Krüger and Ruxandra Trandafoiu eds.)— Garth Sheridan
Why Music Matters (David Hesmondhalgh)— Kat Nelligan
Music, Style, and Aging: Growing Old Disgracefully? (Andy Bennett) and Ageing and Youth Cultures: Music, Style and Identity (Andy Bennett and Paul Hodkinson eds.)— Liz Giuffre
+++++++++++++++DANCECULT 7(1)http://dj.dancecult.net+++++++++++++++

[forthcoming Book] Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 3:07am
A sneak look at my new book out later in 2015, Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT (by Graham St John). Published by North Atlantic Books (EVOLVER)
Foreword by Dennis McKenna. Cover art by Beau Deeley. 25 colour illustrations.

Since the mid-1950s, the psychoactive compound DMT has attracted the attention of experimentalists and prohibitionists, scientists and artists, alchemists and hyperspace emissaries. Until now, the complete story of DMT has remained untold. Mystery School in Hyperspace is the first book to delve into the history of this substance, the discovery of its properties, and the impact it has had on poets, artists, and musicians.

DMT has appeared at crucial junctures in countercultural history. It was present at the meeting between Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and Tim Leary’s associates. It guided the inception of the Grateful Dead in 1965. It showed up in Berkeley in the same year, falling into the hands of Terence McKenna, who would eventually become its champion in the post-rave neo-psychedelic movement of the 1990s. Its indole vapor drifted through Portugal’s Boom Festival and has been evident at Nevada’s Burning Man, where DMT has been adopted as spiritual technology supplying shape, color, and depth to a visionary art movement. The growing prevalence of use is evident in a vast networked independent research culture, and in aesthetic impact. As this book traces the effect of DMT’s release into the cultural bloodstream, the results should be of great interest to contemporary readers.

The book permits a broad reading audience to join ongoing debates in studies in consciousness and theology where the brain is held to be either a generator or a receiver of consciousness. The implications of the “spirit molecule” or “the brain’s own psychedelic” among other theories illustrate that DMT may lift the lid on the Pandora’s Box of consciousness. 

See more and pre-order

Features artwork from: Alex Grey, Android Jones, Martina Hoffmann, Robert Venosa, Luke Brown, Carey Thompson, Adam Scott Miller, Cyb, Jay Bryan, Beau Deeley, Randal Roberts, Gwyllm Llwydd, Shiptu Shaboo, Art Van D'lay, Mister Strange, Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule, Stuart Griggs, Marianna Stelmach, Jay Lincoln, IzWoz.

“Meticulously researched and highly readable. St John covers every imaginable aspect of DMT’s place in the Western aesthetic and intellectual landscapes. Setting down his book, I came away with a new appreciation of just how embedded the DMT meme has become.”
Rick Strassman MD, author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule

Graham St John’s book on DMT untangles the threads of this holy molecule, from anthropological antiquity to labs in Hungary, from hipster soothsayers to visionary art at festivals, including some of the best descriptions of the wonderfully weird tryptamine worlds inside all of us. Read Mystery School in Hyperspace and appreciate the miracle in our midst.”
Alex Grey, artist and author of Net of Being.

“Scholars and psychonauts alike will find much to appreciate in this lucid, thoughtful, provocative, and thoroughly enjoyable cultural history of DMT. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Mystery School in Hyperspace is remarkable in its deft interweaving of neurochemistry, countercultural thought, spirituality, and the arts. In years to come, anyone with a serious interest in the socio-cultural significance of induced altered states will have read this book.”
Christopher Partridge, Professor of Religious Studies, Lancaster University, UK.


Astronauts, Psychonauts and Electronauts

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 3:07am

Astronauts, Psychonauts and Electronauts (by Graham St John) is a "from the floor" article just published in Dancecult: Journal of EDMC 6.2

Astronaut by Gwyllm Llwydd (gwyllm-art.com). 

I was recently asked to write a commentary on one among many of the extraordinary works produced by Gwyllm Llwydd . . . .

I chose to comment on Llwydd’s “Astronaut”, the contemplation of which gave me pause to recall Apollo 14 lunar module pilot, Edgar Mitchell, whose return journey to Earth in 1971 was occasioned by a powerful savikalpa samadhi experience. Uniquely exposed to Earth from space, Mitchell, who later founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, recalls: “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it”....

Continued here

Begoggled in the Theatre of Awe: Electronic Dance Music Culture at Burning Man (Graham St John)

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 3:07am
Now published in Playa Dust: Collected Stories from Burning Man (Edited by Samantha Krukowski). Black Dog Publishing (2014).

    I was at a cocktail party at camp Daguerrodrome—aka Low Expectations—at Faith and Sublime. It was my maiden Burn (2003), and every sound, and word, in any moment, seemed enlarged as through a giant magnifying glass. 

    Magnified, like the on-the-spot admonishment Larry Harvey dealt me about that evil word “rave.” 

    In passing, I'd mentioned a book I was then editing with the title Rave Culture and Religion.1 Dropping the R word in the presence of Burning Man’s founder and chief visionary—who was among the many descending on Newt's Bar in the Blue Light District to mark the advent of the first scholarly collection on Burning Man (Lee Gilmore and Mark Van Proyen's then forthcoming AfterBurn: Reflections on Burning Man)—was like flashing a muleta at a fighting bull. The hackles were understandable I knew even then, although my awareness of the issue expanded as I dove into the history and culture of electronic dance music (EDM) at Burning Man over subsequent years. In 2003, we were dancing in the dust clouds of a decade of discord over the presence of EDM and its chief agent: the DJ, a figure loved and loathed in equal measure. “Rave camps” had long been disputed on the playa—a source of antinomy expressed in art skirmishes, desert jousts and heated conflagrations. But this wasn’t just an internal controversy. The legal status of “raves” threatened already tentative arrangements with law enforcement and licensing bodies whose ongoing approvals the city relies upon to function and flourish. After the successful passage of the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003—formerly known as the “RAVE Act,” Senator Joe Biden’s sponsored effort to “Reduce Americas Vulnerability to Ecstasy”—police were empowered to impose heavy penalties on the organizers of events where “controlled substances” were found to be in use. Having become synonymous with these “substances,” here was a word that literally killed the vibe.
    Burning Man has never been a rave, but in 2003 Black Rock City was blanketed with the polyphonic ambiance of electrosonics after dark, and into the day. With my ears still ringing from Larry’s rave, I wandered only a few feet from Daguerrodrome to encounter a euphoric dance party lasting well into the night. At House of Lotus, and various other camps scattered around the clock, burners, in all their blinking absurdity and cognitive dissidence, were exposing themselves to the optimal and yet immeasurable social conditions that enable the conversion of identity and belonging from being, sometimes spectacularly, vulnerable.

    And the more I investigated, the more I discovered that dance music was embedded in the soundscape of Black Rock City, especially at its outer conurbations at 10:00 and 2:00, the coordinates for a gathering storm.  

    Yet there was nothing singular about what I was hearing in this optimal bohemia where at any moment one may be seduced or assaulted by noise filtered from the daily circus. A plucked banjo, a naked black metal outfit, Barry White, Jethro Tull and Peaches competed for attention as I rode through the neighborhood on a Persian carpet. There were other sounds too. A few days in and I’d grown accustomed to the accent of jubilation, a cacophonous poetry that rose from every street corner, and the crack of a whip, repeated as a random leather-chapped shemale unleashed nine of her best across my virgin butt. It’s a common feeling among denizens of BRC that allof one’s senses are smarting, that one feels more alive in this city than at any other time or place in one’s life. Over days, a blizzard of sensory impressions accumulates to form a synesthetic avalanche under which one falls, and from which one may not return without being irrevocably changed. Here I focus specifically on music, and in particular EDM. And while there are multiple styles—i.e. techno, house, trance, drum ‘n’ bass, and dubstep—in 03 I appeared to have accessed an advanced realm of sonic hybridization, organic and technical in nature.
    I was perplexed and intrigued. Something unique was going down on this frontier unsettlement. Entire camps dedicated to symbiotic sound soldering the demented mechanics of which saw a variety of styles performed and mixed to assist the process by which one becomes unrecognizable even to one’s self. These playa-identities encounter other altered selves in a city where the performers most capable of mixing diverse styles appear to enjoy considerable cachet. It struck me that this bizarre hipster universe was remarkably similar to other accomplished nadirs of stylistic profusion and influence in the history of EDM, like New York’s Paradise Garage or Ibiza and Goa in the late 1980s. 

    Only here we find a scene, indeed a city, founded on projects that employ and combine multiple media—from sculpture to mechanical, fire, circus, and the body, to video and sound art—although an ocularcentric aesthetic appears to shape policy effecting the distribution of subsidies for the production of art at Burning Man. Yet fusion and diversity is endogenous to Burning Man, cultivated through “radical inclusion” and “radical self expression,” among the Ten Principals in operation in this“promiscuous carnival of souls, a metaphysical fleamarket, a demolition derby of reality constructs colliding in a parched void.”2 Burning Man’s resident techgnostic, Erik Davis has offered speculation on what he called the “cults” of Burning Man—“experience,” “intoxicants,” “flicker,” “juxtapose” and “meaningless chaos”—described as “cultural patterns” which are refractions of Californian spiritual counterculture that perform, miscegenate and multiply in Black Rock City.3 While Davis doesn’t name formations sired from the union of these tendencies, others have surveyed the contours of the communities of “ritual without dogma” arising in BRC, such as the Flaming Lotus Girls, The Fire Conclave, Pepi Ozan’s Operas, and The Temples.4 

    Existing research pays little attention to sound arts, nor the tempestuous career of EDM at Burning Man. This is unsurprising given predominating commitments to document visual art forms. While Burner-sonics has rarely been considered to be among the arts of performance and ritual at Burning Man, in his The Tribes of Burning Man, journalist Steven Jones investigated a network of art tribes that have thrived within and proliferated beyond the trash fence during the 2005–2010 “renaissance.”5 While there is a tendency to prostrate himself before DJs as godlike objects of worship, Jones offers useful details relative to the ways sonic arts have grown integral to popular projects rippling across the playa, and moreover the synergy of EDM with fire, sculpture, and mutant vehicles.
    While its status as a rave is disputed, evidence for what was once dubbed “the ultimate metarave” was in ample supply by my second trip to BRC in 2006.6It was amplified in the wake of the torching of BRC’s eponymousfigure when the city’s inhabitants and hundreds of mutant vehicles—many with their own DJs queuing up the sonic apocalypse—encircled the Man in a scene approximating the Drive-in at the End of Time. Packed with fireworks and mortar-rockets, the figure eventually cascaded with sparks and succumbed to a spectacular series of detonations, its demise willed by the bold and the sumptuous whose paroxysms produced a mushroom cloud of fine white dust observable from space. 

    It had been suggested by two of my Daguerrodrome comrades that “the burning of the Man opens up opportunities to embody a popular dance orgiasm facilitated by modern technologies.”7 In the aftermath of the 06 blaze I explored these opportunities, hazarding into a Space Cowboys wagon circle and Hoe Down. Kitted out with a quality sound rig, video projectors, screens, radio transmitters, onboard generators and an orange bomber dome under which a vinyl-playing DJ took position, the Space Cowboys UNIMOG All-Terrain Audio Visual Assault Vehicle (ATAVAV) has been described as “the largest off-road sound system in the world.”8As an outrageous accomplishment in sensory technology, bass and breaks propagated across the alkaline desert night, animating multitudes wired-up and el-wired.

    Space Cowboys Unimog

    But Black Rock City is one mother of distractions, and catching my eye in deep playa there appeared a gigantic haystack winking in green luminescence. As I orbited the mystery, I determined that it was no mirage. An object 200 feet long, 100 feet wide and 50 feet high, Uchronia was an installation funded by Belgian artists and built using rejected timber from a Canadian lumber mill by dozens of volunteers. Used in the title of Charles Renouvier’s 1876 novel Uchronie (L’Utopie dans l’histoire) and replacing topos (from “utopia,” which literally means “no place”) with chronos (time) to generate a word that literally means no time, “uchronic” refers to an “alternate history” that enables its observers to challenge their “reality.” For its creators, Uchronia was a “portal, showing us what the world could be like if creativity ruled supreme” and time is hung differently.9 What one observer described as a “giant’s haystack twisted into a computer model of a wave with curved entrances on three sides,”10was an intentional parallel-world posing the question to its Uchronian occupants in the fashion alternate histories pose for their readers: “what if?” With the desert night a welcome reprieve from the frying sun and whiteouts, and its occupants bathed in neon-green, the Belgian Waffle was a dance club. And, on the final night, it burned. 

    With its image seared into my retinas for weeks, Uchronia became a cavernous conflagration, an allegory of impermanence, the flaming whispers of which engulfed all who witnessed. In the wake of its desolation, on the celebratory margins of its dissolution, sensual acts of beauty transpired in blinking conclaves upon the playa. In its remarkably short life, surely it was one of the most fabulous clubs ever created.

    Uchronia - Scott London

    Techno Ghetto
    This on-playa electrosonic proliferation offers quite a contrast to earlier years. EDM was first amplified at Burning Man in 1992 when a small “rave camp” appeared a mile from the main encampment “glomming parasitically onto the Porta-Johns.”11The camp was organized by Psychic TV member Craig Ellenwood of the early East Oakland acid party crew Mr Floppy’s Flophouse. The headline act was Goa Gil, who played from Aphex Twin’s “Digeridoo” on digital audio tape to no more than 25 people. Also playing to hardly anybody were Brad Tumbleweed, Dave Synthesis (aka “Dsyn”), Craig and Terbo Ted, who has the mantle of being the first person to play a DJ set at Burning Man.12Ted said he played on Friday afternoon to literally no one, with only ten miles of dust in front of him. "It was awesome.” While he didn’t recall precisely, the first track was probably some “spacey stuff” from a Jean Michel Jarre 12 inch from Craig Ellenwood’s record pile, “a record he was willing to sacrifice to the elements.” It was “literally a sound check.” 13
    The set up the following year was equally primitive. Charles Gadeken recalled: “I remember going out to the rave camp, it was five guys, a van, a couple of big speakers, a card board box covered in tin foil, colored lights and a strobe light. It was all cool.”14
    The general reception, however, was much cooler. Ted recalls that the punk—add your own prefix: anarcho, cyber, steam, neuro, shotgun, etc.—sensibility predominating at Burning Man held DJ culture complicit with “consumer society and a stain on an otherwise anarchistic, art-oriented event.” Ted recalled,
    On one morning near sunrise in 1993, a hippy dude came up to me while I was playing music on the sound system and held up a knife towards me and yelled “are you crazy?” And I said “no, you’re the one with a knife.” Then he said he was going to cut me or the speakers. So I turned the music down, ditched the decks and circled far and wide off into the desert. He tried to cut the speaker cones with his knife but they had metal grills on the front, he looked like a fool and gave up and wandered off. I put on a cassette of Squeeze’s “Black Coffee in Bed” as he walked away.
    The Organisation insisted that the techno reservationists maintain their isolation a mile from Main Camp between 1992–96 during which time the camp evolved into a kind of outlaw satellite of Black Rock City. 

    Over the following two years, San Francisco’s DiY music and culture collective SPaZ orchestrated the sounds exclusively. It was extreme, eclectic and haphazard. Cofounder Terbo Ted recalls that at one point in 1993 “we put on a cassette of the Eagles’ Hotel California by request of these two cowboys who rode in from the desert on horseback, they were thrilled.” According to fellow cofounder Aaron, that same year “a wind storm blew down our speaker stacks, but they were still plugged in and we never stopped playing.”15 Listed as the official “rave” in the Burning Man brochure for 1994, SPaZ would have a great influence on sound system culture at the festival. In these years, SPaZ, members of which later initiated the Autonomous Mutant Festival, were effectively encouraging Burning Man to be “more like the UK festival vibe where anybody could bring their sound, big or small. 

    In 1995, Wicked sound system, the UK derived outfit that held full moon parties on beaches and parks around the Bay Area between 1991–96, arrived with their turbo rig.Cofounder Garth recalled playing “for 4 days and nights through hail, wind, rain and electrical storms.”16North America's first free party tekno sound system, Pirate Audio, also appeared that year. On the windblown frontiers of EDM, in this nascent vibrant ghetto accommodating the eclectic, experimental and inclusive sounds of SPaZ, the dionysian house sounds of Wicked, and other sounds besides, Burning Man had begun to attract a variety of socio-sonic aesthetics, paving the way for the mega-vibe it would later become.

    Techno Ghetto - CCCBesides the sometimes sizable distinctions between habitués and proponents of varying dance music aesthetics and practices—from the inclusive to the more proprietary—a stand-off developed in this period between those who’d fashioned themselves as more or less authentic denizens of the playa and those they held as little more than raving interlopers. Ted remembers, “ravers were always pariahs at Burning Man in my day. . . . It’s like we were the poor people on the wrong side of the tracks and the wrong side of the man.” Ted’s brainchild, the Techno Ghetto, appeared in 1996 as a legitimate outer suburb of BRC. Gaining the support of organizers, Ted designed the Techno Ghetto as a “fractalized imprint” of Main Camp. “We were into pre-planned zoning, using surveying flags to plot out an orbital city with sound systems on the outer ring and encampments in the center.” Ghetto sound systems included SPaZ, CCC, Gateway and Wicked.
    But things didn’t go according to plan out in the Ghetto. Ted recalled the Ghetto was an abysmal failure. . . . DiY gone mad. . . . Music snobbery and cliquishness and DiY anarchist tendencies prevented an orderly camp from forming and the resulting spread-too-thin sprawl proved to be dangerous in an era when cars were still driving at every vector on the playa at high speeds in dust storm white outs.He alluded to a tragic incident in 1996 when three people were seriously injured sleeping in their tents near the Gateway sound system, one in a coma for months, after their tents were collected by a night driver. Together with an apparent perception that the “rave” was giving Burning Man a bad name in official circles, and how electronic music was perceived as disturbing chatter for many participants,17this incident generated an unofficial “anti-rave policy.” 

    What’s more, the darkening mood was signalled by a “gift” that dropped out of the sky. In the last days of the event, a gyrocopter passed over what remained of the Ghetto, releasing its payload near the dance floor. At his first burn, Simon Ghahary took up the story:everybody was in party mood and happy, and everyone was waving and all of a sudden the gyrocopter dropped this bag, which really took our imagination.” The delighted ravers rushed over only to find that a fresh bag of shit had exploded at ground zero.18According to Garth, Burning Man had the porta-potties removed from the Techno Ghetto before the festival ended. “When people started crapping on the desert for lack of options, someone carried over a bag to main camp. . . . Burning Man was so enraged by this they flew over and apparently dropped it on one camp.” 

    Out beyond the Man, deprived of sleep and sanity, denizens of the Ghetto were deep in the playa, and even deeper inside the splatter radius of reassigned fecal discharge.
    All’s Fair in Love and Awe
    Any decent history of the DJ would recognize his—for typically male—role as an outlaw, a breaker of rules, in defiance of convention, pushing boundaries, including those associated with aesthetics and decibel policies; transgressions innovative for some, threatening to others. Culture hero or serial pest, at Burning Man the cowboy DJ is an ambivalent figure. I can’t give this issue the depth it deserves here, but the scrap between ravers and their adversaries was dramatized in a performance in which Goa Gil came to loggerheads with a giant pedal-powered flamethrowing drill and margarita maker called the Veg-O-Matic of the Apocalypse—or more to the point, anti-rave crusader Jim Mason, who was pedaling the beast. Robert Gelman reported on this scene:
    It’s straight out of hell, suggesting engineering from the industrial revolution transported to Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Part vehicle, part flame-thrower, part earth drilling device, I envision this machine being used to battle creatures in a 1950s monster movie, or to torture souls of the damned in the realm of satan.19
    Veg-O-Matic of the Apocalypse - Leo NashWith a pressurized gas-charger blasting flames as far as seventy feet from its barrel, and a gathering mob inciting it to greater acts of destruction, the Veg-O-Matic was known to burn installations in its path following the demise of the Man. On its post-Burn rampage, when the Veg-O-Matic rolled into the first Community Dance in 1997, Mason found Goa Gil directly in his path:
    The crew of the machine is tilting the flamethrower’s barrel up at the console. Gil is staring down the 12-foot barrel of this jet powered char-broiler. I had to remind myself that this is theatre, or is it? I’m still not sure. “Burn it!” the mob chants, “Burn THEM!” Like an opposing pacifist army, the ravers are standing their ground, some shouting in defiance of the threat, some in disbelief that this could really be happening. Chicken John, like the demented circus ringmaster that he is, issues his now-familiar warning over the bullhorn [“Stand Aside”]. We seem to have travelled back centuries in time. I don’t remember ever feeling farther from home than this.20Goa Gil
    Forty-six, a sadhu and legend of the Goa scene, years before the emergence of “darkpsy”, Gil had been selecting from the darkest entries in psychedelic trance, in a ritual that he has characterized as apocalyptic.21Loading up from his “divine dozen” arsenal over seven hours, Gil was doubtlessly inciting detractors to acts of symbolic, if not physical, violence. He may well have been playing from Pleiadians’ U.F.O. or Psychopod’s Headlines at the moment the mob arrived to deliver their demand: Led Zeppelin orthe flame. 

    But the scene Mason and his supporters crashed was no glowstick picnic. The champion and his army of Anti-Ravers rode out to slay the dragon at the gates, only to find the Dark Yogi summoning Kali the Destroyer. Little wonder Gelman thought he’d landed amid an epic conflict. It was perhaps in this moment—when Gil stood his ground, even turned the volume up, in the face of obliteration—that ravers gained a foothold at Burning Man. “Stairway to Heaven” was never played. With that said, psychedelic trance maintained minimal credence at Burning Man subsequent to this period. While Space Elevator became the most well known dedicated psytrance camp, that sound was effectively drowned out by a fusion of breaks, dub and electro house.

    That was some years off, for in the late 1990s, the battle of the boombox was just beginning. Veteran of the frontier shit-storm, Ghahary was vaguely declarative after his first burn. “After that, you’d want to put the Burning Man out wouldn’t you.” 

    The playa appears to have been an ideal laboratory for Ghahary, designer of the Pod speaker system and founder of label-house Blue Room Released. Ghahary was drawn to Burning Man since, like the psychedelic parties he’d been hosting in the UK and elsewhere since c1992, the space “defies reason” because there, one’s experience is not proscribed. Offering background on his design praxis, Ghahary explained “the vessels that emit sound are just as important as the sound experience,” weighing in against detractors: “people thought we just turned up partied and played music. But everything was orchestrated as an art project, its just that it has sound. . . . Sometimes people argue that sound is not as dramatic as sculpture or paint. It simply just hasn’t got the history. But sound is a complete sensory experience.” 

    In 1998, with the assistance of Nick Crayson, Adam Antennae Ohana, Cyril Noir, among others, including crew from the Russ Street Warehouse, Ghahary designed the geodesic Blue Room Molecule dome.We imagined the Molecule to be highly charged. We wanted to create a space within the Molecule to reflect the kinetic and creative energy that the property of the Blue Room Molecule might contain. Because we could not build a complete sphere, we built a submerged sphere, so half we imagined was underground and one half overground. So we executed that by creating a geodesic dome. So this idea of a molecule was manifested.
    Blue Room Molecule - Simon Ghahary 
    That year, Ghahary arrived with a San Francisco style fire engine that he acquired with Crayson. Sprayed blue with intricate decals and motifs like “play loud” and “CAUTION! HEAVY TECHNO,” it was a vehicle of protest. Filled with water, the engine was used to create a mud bath on the open playa near the Molecule. But the engine had another purpose. Ghahary and Crayson trucked around the playa recruiting burners to their newly established 420 Division, practicing fire drill procedures. Unfortunately for them, on the night of the burn, the team dwindled down to Ghahary and Crayson, who were left with their hoses dangling. En route to douse the Man, they “were intercepted by two security cars that didn’t take it at all in good humor.” Chuckling at the absurdity of the moment, Ghahary admits “in hindsight, it probably wasn’t the cleverest idea, but it was quite funny.” Still laughing, he added, “we got banned from Burning Man after that.”

    Blue Room Fire Engine - Simon GhaharyCredibility is hard won on the frontiers of art. A cultural war continued to rage over the validity of arrant loudsters, “monotonous computer loop music,” and the presence of some of the highest paid EDM brand names like Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto, Carl Cox and Infected Mushroom,22 many flying in on the rockstar-junket, and departing quick smart to maintain touring schedules. 

    For many acts, appearances at Burning Man serve to boost credence and brand energy. When the biggest names in commercial dance music perform “45-minute showcase sets to massive crowds at MTV-Beach-Party-style setups” before racing off to their next venue, we may very well have arrived at “the EDM equivalent of putting a Starbucks or H&M on the Esplanade.” 23Writer and musician ST Frequency—aka Stephen C. Thomas—went on to state that he’d prefer “something a little more eclectic and unexpected, like funky industrial bluegrass, or ambient dub-zydeco. . . [to] a cacophony of 22 different epic trance records ‘blowing up’ from every imaginable direction.”24 

    Observing that which flickers in the shadows in the “High Desert Carnival Realm,” Jonathan Zap meditates upon how a successful journey through Burning Man requires hard work, or perhaps hard play in the form of intentional self-incendiary actions. For Zap, this requires more than simply burning one’s self up to yet “another of the golden oldies of the Babylon Matrix phonograph, that . . . combo of blasting music and intoxication in a socially dense environment.” With equal parts Jung and Crowley, he claims that this “is the zone on the planet that comes closest to being a Logos Beheld—a place where our psychic intentions become realized as communal dreamscapes. . . . As in a communal telepathic dreamscape, where those with the most focused psychic intentions create the most mutation.”25
    But sound camps are themselves mutations, undergoing constant adaptations in accordance with the social axioms of this incendiaryrealm. The # 1 rule among these camps appears to be that DJs, as with other artists, are never paid for their performances. Not unlike commercial dance festivals, camps like Opulent Temple have announced line-ups in advance on websites and Facebook pages, effectively promoting headline acts like Infected Mushroom, who have drawn some of the most adulatory and sycophantic crowds. Such patronage has fed the ire of those who’ve long railed against the advent of the spectacle, where participants grow to behave more like audiences, whose division from artists is consequential to an apparatus that lifts celebrities onto stages that expand in size and height. 

    The growing presence of party monsters and itinerant gawkers was a problem raised by art critic Mark Van Proyen concerned about the “Ibiza set” and other “tourists” swamping the city—i.e., those who behave like flâneurs of the playa, are more like visitors than locals, observers than participants.26It has been noted that Larry Harvey has never been to Opulent Temple.27But when entertainers like Infected Mushroom, who once appeared on a cover story in Vogue Italia wearing suits, boast of their appearances at Burning Man alongside their sell-out headline shows at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, as they do on their website, is it any wonder?
    Where Black Rock City serves as a prestige-building export zone for some EDM artists whose agendas compete with the noncommodified social art agenda of Burning Man, we might begin to understand why Peter Lamborn Wilson—aka Hakim Bey, scribe of the Temporary Autonomous Zone28—has been reproachful of electronic music. Actually, Bey dislikes most recorded music. The Opulent Temple et al. would be anathema to his “insurrectionary” agenda—just further evidence of the immiserating world of mediation from which one is entreated to disappear. In Bey’s screed, a turntablist does not preside over the festal, i.e., the social grounds of that which is characterized as “Immediatism,” an outsider art project with strong Situationist influences aimed to dissolve “the gulf between the production and consumption of art.”29 

    Bey’s “ontological anarchy” had an indubitable impact among burners.30 It provided the poetic architecture for many ravers in the 1990s, despite the incompatibility of the techno rave’s artifice with what Bey has held as appropriate responses to mediation. Consistent with an apparent desire to return to pre-WWI technology, Wilson maintains his contempt for recorded music that he characterizes as “a tombstone for live performance.” In his “Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto,” he complains
    if we have to hear a recording let it be a 1911-style shellac disc or even wax cylinder, cranked up by hand, not electricity—a magic music box to baffle the dog with its master’s voice—a cabinet of aural marvels.31
    In a jeremiad launched against “headphones & computers,” he claimed that “we let stars sing for us—we let machines come between us & the divine musician within us. . . . Music now lacks all socialityexcept the ersatz of mass consumption to hear live music sometimes.”32 Surely those EDM enthusiasts who’ve replayed and remixed the poetry of the TAZ—a sizable population of his readers—deserve a more nuanced critique, and yet for Bey no distinction is drawn between styles of recorded music. Bey makes not acknowledgment of independent music and event-industries, no attention to cultures of the remix, the visionary depth of multimedia assemblages, nor an understanding of how EDM technologies have been redirected from the purposes of control and command. Bey’s approach may warrant an equal measure of reproach since the effort to understand what protagonists have long been raving about is entirely absent from writings subsequent to the TAZ. Just as Harvey has apparently never visited OT, Bey has apparently never been to a rave. With his head in the sands of 1911, he consigns himself to history, claiming that the “full play of Imagination becomes possible only withoutmodern technology, because tech has become the heartless operation of Capital, which hates all forms of sharing.33 I doubt this would be an acceptable, or even possible, position for the habitués of the open source laboratory for ontological anarchism that is BRC, regardless of their attitudes towards EDM.
    An implicit myth of authenticity comes into view as the whiteouts lift. In electronic dance music liveness is a hotly debated issue especially since production and performance practices are inseparable and skilled DJs provide performances that are unique to each occasion. This is not the place to revisit such debates, but these conversations are not irrelevant to Burning Man where communities of volunteers collaborate to facilitate these performances. 

    It appears that long held views about immediatism, community and interactivity have informed logics by which “dance camps” are adjudicated illegitimate candidates for BRC arts funding. These views are doubtlessly fuelled by the rising presence of rock star electrotainment, whose audiences are anathema to the “inclusive, community logic” of artistic “prosumption” that has been intentionally encouraged by Burning Man since 2000.34 This is a complicated topic since the democratisation of musicianship enabled by technics, DJ performance techniques, the internet and optimised dancefloor “vibes” have augmented prosumer environments unparalleled in popular music. 

    Defenders of policy might indicate that dance camps do not compare favorably with intentionally interactive work like that of Peter Hudson, such as his 2007 Homouroboros, a zoetrope of monkeys powered by drum beating and bike pedaling participants. Dance camps hosting artists who are feted, elevated and inflated are held to contravene what are more than often implicit working models of anarcho-folk community—communities that work under the tacit assumption that, as expressed by Ananda Coomraswamy in Transformation of Nature in Art, and cribbed by Bey, the artist is not a special kind of person, but each person is a special kind of artist.35 And yet protagonists might well contend that in these interstices where occupants are animate in dance and altered together in wide-grinned abandon, the scene holds a carnivalesque and improvisational logic of it its own. There appears to be something universally artful about that.
    A Rhythm Remorseless
    In the last gasp of the 20th century, a host of EDM-oriented outfits with different agendas and styles descended on the playa. The momentum picked up in 1998. Several hardcore outfits, including New York’s Blackkat, The Army of Love, SPaZ and Arcane—outfits who would subsequently head to the AMF—collaborated on a community sound system that year. With its series of geodesic domes and bars, including a large dance dome and a bar dome made of CDs, SpaceLounge also appeared in 1998—a haven for funky SF house and new school breaks. Holding free Full Moon Gatherings in the Mojave since 1993, LA’s Moontribe also threw down, with Moontribe artists performing for three consecutive nights next to The Temple of Rudra, with the final party drawing 2,000 people following Pepe Ozan’s opera.

    Through this period, Michael Gosney resolved to fuse disparate sound outfits in a united front called Community Dance, a compromise promoted on Gosney’s Radio-V as a “techno tribal ritual celebration.”36Over three years (1997–99) these pre-millennial rituals saw the collaboration of CCC, Anon Salon, Koinonea, Sacred Dance Society, Dimension 7, LA’s Tonka sound system, Blue Room and other techno tribes hosting decidedly psychedelic line-ups. After the incident with Gil, the 1998 Community Dance featured a Flying Saucer installation. In 1999, the final Community Dance staged a recreation of the Banbury Crop Circle. The camp was a concerted response to claims that “rave camps” were bereft of the artistic vision and principled behavior that characterized Burning Man. According to designer Landon Elmore, the camp was a full size replica of the original Banbury Crop Circle.We painted the circle onto the playa floor using earth-based pigments mixed with water and a plant-based glue. . . . The idea was to have the Community Dance on top of the painted crop circle, so that all of the dancers would ‘erase’ the markings from the playa floor. ‘Leaving no trace’, which worked perfectly!”37Rave camps had transitioned to large scale sound-art camps in all but name.
    The amplification of electronic dance music was afforded legitimacy as a result of the innocuously titled Community Dance, but the pranks did not let-up at the turn of the Millennium. In 2000, probably harboring memories of Blue Room’s forlorn attempt to “put the man out”, as some kind of aesthetic reprisal, the Burning Scouts of America decided to perform their community service at Radio-V’s Flying Saucer, where they threatened to douse the sound equipment. The Burning Scouts enlisted among their number those who were “too cool, dumb, weak, punk or gay to have made it in the Boy or Girl Scouts.”38 

    Apparently they also included those who weren’t into loud raves all night long. The CCC’s Brad “Santosh” Olsen—founder of San Francisco’s annual How Weird Street Faire—remembers the scene on Sunday morning:They appeared walking around our camp, coming at us banging on pots and pans, no expressions on their faces, as they slowly made their way over to our RV. They must have thought: Sunday morning, we’re all crashed out and they were going to teach us what making a racket was all about! We looked on in amazement. When [one assailant] attempted to come into the RV, someone threw old bath water at him and we closed the door. After they left we came out and noticed that they pulled down our art and banners and vandalized the camp. We broke our camp and slowly drove over to the CCC system on the other side where DJ Perez (Perry Ferrel from Jane’s Addiction) was just coming on (& so were we).39With the indubitable ubiquity of amplified electrosonics, the BORG had to find solutions with concessions to all parties. Bass travels multi-directionally and carries easily across the playa where it cannot be contained effectively. As is stated on Burning Man’s “Sound Policy” page, this physical situation “gives sound as an art form an unfair advantage over other art forms.” In recognition, in the early 2000s, the Organisation began implementing a policy restricting large sound installations to the Large-Scale Sound Art Zone at the city’s limits on both sides where “a maximum power amplification of 300 watts is permitted, producing sound amplification not to exceed 90 decibels, when measured at 20 feet from the source.”40 

    What was once a source of absolute contempt—ghettoized one mile from Main Camp—was eventually accommodated via zoning guidelines. Excessive sound remains a persistent source of disturbance among BRC residents, however. While Burning Man’s # 1 rule is that “Neighbors should talk to one another when sound becomes a problem and try to resolve the issue through direct communication,”41 Black Rock Rangers are frequently called in to perform volume checks and mediate disputes, and they will disable sound equipment should their warnings go unheeded.
    With names like Lush, Sol System, Sound of Mind, House of Lotus, Oacious, Green Gorilla Lounge, and Pink Mammoth, Large-Scale Sound Art camps became permanent fixtures of BRC. The audio-visual aesthetics, style and duration of venues have varied considerably. From Emerald City 2000, the one-time extravaganza funded by eccentric inventor Patrick Flanagan with Joegh Bullock and Michael Gosney providing the entertainment, to the long running Root Society. From performance and fire art troupes like El Circo with their post-apocalyptic “dreamtime imagery” and Bag End sound system to the afternoon groovement at the Deep End. From salacious theme camps like Bianca’s Smut Shack and Illuminaughty, to the Rhythm Society’s Blyss Abyss, Lemuria and Area 51.
    Opulent Temple
    The Opulent Temple is among BRC’s longest operating and largest dance camps on the playa. Steered by Syd Gris with help from dozens of core volunteers, the camp started in 2003, and moved to the corner of 2:00 and Esplanade by 2005. The OT was built on the perennial shores of tension and release, and I surfed those waters in 2008 when English DJ Lee Coombs was coming on. It was only Thursday night, but thousands had turned out to be turned inside out. A master of the build, Coombs was aggregating immeasurable tension, like a pressure cooker, before the floodgates finally opened and the playa-massive erupted. At the OT, you know that moment has arrived as DJ-controlled flames blast out from the O-pod, a special chamber that is part steampunk time machine and alchemist’s laboratory. 

    Opulent Temple emerged in the year of the theme Beyond Belief and has maintained its role as a “sacred dance” camp. Other large-scale art and music camps with similar spiritual pretences were encountered on the playa that year, including the Church of WOW, the Sacred Water Temple, and Connexus Cathedral where weddings and parties were held inside a neon cathedral. In his outline of the 2003 art theme, Harvey inquired: “How does the sacred exist, and where might it be found?”42Habitués of the night were answering with their feet, as the Opulent Temple grew to be among the most popular venues on the playa. Paraphrasing Erik Erikson, cited in Harvey’s 2003 art theme explanation, those gravitating to these temples in which one could worship one’s own body and that of others were being “lifted up to the very bosom of the divine.”43Sound art camps flourished in this period, their success a combination of ingenuity, shared vision, independent funding sources, and dedication to a collective project operating on burner principles year round.   

    The Space Cowboys predate the Opulent Temple by several years. Founded in 1997, the SC had allies in the SpaceLounge, with whom they merged by the end of 2002. By 2012 SC had become sought after proponents of breaks, house and nu-funk. Cofounder Peter Kimelman (aka pk) offers insight on the way SC operate distinct from other outfits:
    The Space Cowboys, like SpaceLounge and other early camps, threw parties that were much more than just a large sound system, they had bars, artworks and tried to have a "vibe" that got people to stay for hours on end (Distrikt and Disco Knights still follow that model). We didn't publish line-ups as the focus was on the crew, even when international celebrity djs played it was kept quiet as they were just friends we knew. We still follow that tradition today.44
    A week on the playa used to pan out rather differently than it does today. In the late 1990s and early 2000s it was not uncommon for camps to focus their energy on one night.SpaceLounge did Thursdays, the Cowboys did Fridays, FalseProfit eventually took Tuesday etc... Camps focused on a particular sound/vibe and tried not to compete with each other. Plug 3 did hip-hop and the Church of Funk did funk, Space Lounge did a funkier side of house/breaks and Space Cowboys had a slightly harder style.
    pk further stated that the Space Cowboys are “proud in our role as a strong element of the community that continues to provide support to artists and is able to self-fund our activities through the hard work of our collective members.” SC would become an exemplary sound art organization that has successfully raised funds for its playa time operations through year-round events in the Bay Area, hosting Breakfast of Champions on New Year’s Day since 1999, and running SnowFest at Squaw Valley, GhostShip (the annual Halloween party on Treasure Island) and their annual Cinco de Mayo fundraiser.
    The Space Cowboys’ UNIMOG was the first large-scale sound vehicle on the playa (2001). With the UNIMOG, SC began their practice of building sound installations on the open playa. Playing vinyl in these conditions while mobile requires an enclosed area to protect equipment from dust and a suspension system to prevent skipping. Since “the Mog” featured these elements the SC held a design advantage over other art cars with DJs. Over the next decade, with the advent of CDJs, mutant disco vehicles had grown ubiquitous, from the Garage Mahal, a double-decker bus with DJ booth, dance floor and crows nest, to the shape and location shifting vehicles of the DI5ORIENT EXPRESS, to the massive bass of Robot Heart. Some vehicles feature stadium sized sound systems, and their reception is mixed and not necessarily welcome, especially when rogue units maraud quiet areas of BRC. To deal with this, the DMV implemented sound level ordinance for mutant vehicles with a100db limit at the top end, and limit performance to areas beyond 10:00 and 2:00.
    Instant Disco: Rolling in Deep Playa

    The Space Cowboys UNIMOG was not only the first mutant sound vehicle on the playa, it was the first to use an FM transmitter, syncing its rig with that of other mobile units. The transmitter was first used in 2003, when the Hoe Down was transported out to Zach Coffin's Temple of Gravity. This development allowed for radically versatile operations and mobilized immediacy. Today, some of the most adored outfits on the playa are mobile mutants. Each year the outlandish character of these moving multimedia installations exceeds that experienced in previous years. These sound art armadas hump their thump into deep playa, out past 10:00 and 2:00. 

    Years after the demise of the Techno Ghetto, the deep has again become the canvas for alliances sounder than before. Ranging out to drum up the sun, these mutant motorcades feature vehicles with varying purposes. Some provide the sound, others lights and screens, others are engines of fire, and yet others hold purposes left only to the imagination. In recent times, many of the thousands who are moved to experience this itinerant disco inferno gravitate to Robot Heart, a mobile cabinet of aural marvels whose crystal clear bass blankets the deep; a sound attracting a blush of mutant vehicles. 

    In 2012, Robot Heart was linking up with the DeepSbass sound system of the Dancetronauts, the Disco Space Shuttle and others. Some of these dalliances maybe as tasteless as easycheese squeezed onto a stale crumpet. Australian burner Ben Dixon offered me tales of such obnoxious interventions that year, which he said were “not helped by the fact that the smaller systems on some cars were being pushed way into distortion in a stupid DJ look-at-me loud-off.”45He was, however, impressed by the “instant party” like that starring El Pulpo Mecanico, a giant motorized octopus belching flame in time to the beating of the Heart Deco Express.

    El Pulpo Mecanico - Steve Orso
    Riding into the deep, waves of BRC occupants capitulate to multisensory broadsides to which a legion of decorated mutants have conspired. In collaborative mobilisations, sound armadas have gathered strength at the city limits, a theatre for frontier art as interactive as it is intercorporeal. Military metaphors offer ebullient weight to this allied objective—not so much to conquer the other, but to vanquish one’s fear of others, and indeed otherness. Launching a barrage of sonic and visual transmissions from its inception in 2001, it is no small detail that the Space Cowboy’s ATAVAV was modified from a 1973 Mercedes-Benz NATO communications vehicle. 

    Modified and re-enlisted for service in this new theatre of awe, the Unimog does not roll alone. I'm thinking of the astounding and audacious Disco Duck, a marvel I first encountered in 2008 at sunrise out beyond 10:00. A mobile three level club in the form of a yellow bath-time duck had unloaded its cargo of weird humanity to greet the rising sun. During the night, with green laser eyes, fire-spitting Mohawk, and a blinking fur-lined double-decker auxiliary bus, the Duck became a fabulous mobile beacon. But now, with morning sunlight refracted off its golden glitter-ball head, the Duck was exposed in all of its splendor.
    What wasn’t so apparent was that this marvel was built on the chassis of an armored amphibious assault vehicle. Instruments of warfare transmuted into pleasure machines, the UNIMOG and the Disco Duck reminded me of the work of legendary industrial-sculpture collective Mutoid Waste Co, renowned for recruiting war machines for radical assaults on the senses. Throwing the first acid house warehouse raves in London at the old Coach Station and mutating the refuse of modern culture into the marvelous, these salvage-situationists had been instrumental conspirators in London’s reclamational sensibility. Throughout the mid to late 1980s, and into the 1990s, the Mutoids had been busy revivifying obsolescence and transforming forgotten landscapes into objects and sites of beauty, stirring those who came to witness, and dance, with a passion to make some noise. In London and across Europe, furnishing squatted buildings with anthropomorphic engines, mutated bike parts, and transmuted Russian MiG 21s, and raising subterranean spaces of difference where all became a spectacle to each other, they incited fellowship and inspired the imagination.
    I felt something of this energy in both the ATAVAV and the Duck, but 2008 also saw the arrival of Mutoid Waste Co artists themselves, including co-founder Joe Rush. It was an auspicious occasion, especially since MWCo had been mutating cars, trucks and tanks since the early 1980s, including a series of Car Henge projects that started at Glastonbury and reached as far as Australia, in the work of Robin Mutoid Cook. At Burning Man, their motorized animatronic fire-breathing horse and covered wagon Spaghetti West 10, and a pair of dinosaur-like mechanical beasts—the Dino-Dumper and the Clamp-O-Saurus—were imports described as “one-third Little House On The Prairie and two-thirds Horseman Of The Apocalypse.”46


    Residual Burn
    Finally, I’m drawn to discuss the quintessentially liminal sensibility of Burning Man. DJ Spooky once referred to Burning Man as a context for "the prolonged present.”47 Out there, he claimed,
    the demarcation lines we’ve all been conditioned to accept dissolve. . . . Time blurs, you lose all of these strictures of New York, waking up, or going back to sleep, people, parties, events, blur, scenes blur, camps blur.48
    The experience is typical. Playa life is an altered reality in which day and night, waking consciousness and dream states, domestic space and public thoroughfares, wicked laughter and familiar faces, merge in a disorienting carnivalesque. Dwelling inside this cauldron for a week one can feel the atmosphere, taste color, see sound. On the playa, now is an extended experience lasting longer than most other moments in the lives of participants, generating a powerful compulsion among the devoted to replay the playa, time and again, year after year, often sculpting, modifying and optimizing this liminality to suit their personal pleasures, dreams and visions. 

    In making the return journey, pilgrims are not only revisiting the same place but are re-accessing the same time. But it is a "time" that is not so much a duration as a "time out of time,” an "eternal presence" reminiscent of that explored by Roy Rappaport in those intensive ritual phases in which one experiences “the sheer successionless duration of the absolute changelessness of what recurs, the successionless duration of what is neither preceded nor succeeded, which is ‘neither coming nor passing away,’ but always was and always will be.”49Awash with synchronized melodies and off-beat rhythms, under the rule of the sun and the heat of controlled burns, in the ambience of electroluminescent wire, playing chicken with a fleet of motorized tarts, in the cool stare of an indigenous androgyne, in this “successionless duration,” one returns, to revisit Rappaport, "ever again to what never changes”: playa time.50
    In Black Rock City, one grows acutely aware that what never changes is change itself. But what happens when banana time sneaks out at carnival's end? When elements of "the quick and the changeless" steal back to the "default" world? When impermanence gets an encore? Burning Man clearly leaves a compelling impression on its inhabitants, many of whom reboot eternity the year round in a proliferation of Burn-inspired intercalary events. The event is at the center of a burgeoning creative counter-cultural industry whose mission is to make now last longer, to facilitate the distribution of playa time across time and space. As the commitment to extending artistic practices, ethos and identity beyond Burning Man possesses a reverse correspondence to that of "leaving no trace" on the playa, fundraisers, fêtes, spores and other residual burns immolate and mutate the present across the continent and further afield. Bay Area dance clubs are integral to prolonging the sounds and styles of BRC, from venues like 1015 Folsom, Sublounge and Mighty in SOMISSPRO, EndUp, The Independent and Kelly’s Mission Rock, to art spaces like SomArts Cultural Center and CELLspace, the Sand by Ton parties at the American Steel warehouse in Oakland, along with parties in countless warehouse spaces.
    Drunk on playa time, wrapped in glow fur under dusty lampshade hats, the burn’d—think learn’d—parade the streets of San Francisco, from the How Weird Street Faire in May to the Heat the Street Faire (Decompression) in October, a begoggled masquerade where the “second life” of Mikhail Bakhtin’s carnivalesque floods the thoroughfares and habitats of the first.51 As this strange pedagogy revivifies local lifestyle it seems reasonable to assume that one's "social time,” to again cite Rappaport, becomes enchanted by the ecstatic theater of "cosmic time.”52Details have begun emerging on the dissemination of Burning Man’s inclusive community logic beyond its geographic boundaries53 about how the neotribal jouissance ebbs back into its progenitor,54 a city revivified by social art projects that are ecstatic, utopian, gnostic, geek, queer, punk and much much more. 

    While “post-Burnum Depression” is a common feature of re-entry, “a fragile rainbow covenant still lingers in the Burner's imagination.”55As burner-tribes have cultivated variant socio-aesthetics re/optimized annually for more than a quarter of a century, and as burner sensibilities proliferate beyond an event horizon charted and scaled repeatedly over this period, a great deal more can be articulated about the expanding liminal horizons of Burning Man. The name of Vancouver's regional event, Recompression, or Recom, the OT’s after party, might reveal something of the protracted liminality sought and lived. New York's Freak Factory, Santa Barbara's Clan Destino, Montreal’s taBURNak!, and collectives like Space Cowboys, regional events like Australia’s Burning Seed, Spain’s Nowhere, AkfrikaBurn and more nascent initiatives in an increasingly crowded regionals calendar such as Sweden's The Borderland, Israel's Midburn, and Japan's Burninja might illustrate what post-burn liminalisation looks, sounds and feels like. 

    Behind this efflorescence, in torrents of blogged data and on networked social media the Ten Principles and its codes for living are translated regionally through optimised processes orchestrated by the Burning Man Project and illuminating, perhaps, how Burner culture persists through its mutations. Amidst this expanding mutant presence, this acceleration of the prolonged present, this vexatious virtualization of the vibe, what becomes of Burning Man, whose spirit is its own ephemerality?

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    [i]         St John, Graham. ed. 2004. Rave Culture and Religion. New York: Routledge.[ii]         Davis, Erik. 2005. “Beyond Belief: The Cults of Burning Man.” In Lee Gilmore and Mark Van Proyen, eds., Afterburn: Reflections on Burning Man, pp. 15–40. Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press. (p. 17).[iii]        Ibid.[iv]        See Bowditch, Rachel. 2010. On the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; and Gilmore, Lee. 2010. Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at the Burning Man Festival. Berkeley: University of California Press.[v]        Jones, Steven T. 2011. The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert Is Shaping the New American Counterculture. CCC Publishing.[vi]        Gosney, Michael. 1998. “Community Dance Genesis.” [vii]        Kozinets, Robert V. and John F. Sherry, Jr. 2004. “Dancing on Common Ground: Exploring the Sacred at Burning Man.” In Graham St John, ed., Rave Culture and Religion, pp. 287–303. New York and London: Routledge (p. 293).[viii]       <http://www.spacecowboys.org/pages/about> (accessed 12 October 2012).[ix]        <http://www.uchronians.org/> (accessed 12 October 2012).[x]        May, Meredith. 2006. The Burning Man Festival: Hot Spots at the Burn.” San Francisco Chronicle. September 3.[xi]        Doherty, Brian. 2004. This is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground. New York: Little, Brown and Company (p. 66).[xii]        We’ve come a long way from that moment to 2013 when hundreds of playa-recorded DJ sets are uploaded on Soundcloud and listed at <http://www.rockstarlibrarian.com/?p=1713>.[xiii]       Terbo Ted, all email correspondence, 13–17 February 2007. [xiv]       Gadeken, Charles, A. 1993. “Burning Man 93” <http://www.burningart.com/ch/burningman93.html> (accessed 12 October 2012).[xv]       Aaron, all email correspondence, 11 February 2007.[xvi]       Garth, all email correspondence, 17 January 2007.[xvii]       Including Brian Doherty, who recounts hostilities in This is Burning Man (2004: 171–173).[xviii]      Simon Ghahary, interviewed on Skype, 21 January 2012. In 1996, Ghahary, founder of Blue Room Recordings, had flown in Danish psychedelic artists Koxbox to shoot a promotional video. I’m not sure about the video, but they did record Live at Burning Man 1996 (of which no more than 20 vinyl test pressings were made).[xix]       Gelman, Robert, B. 1997. “Trial by Fire: A Burning Man Experience.” <http://bgamedia.com/writing/trialbyfire.html>. [xx]       ibid[xxi]       See St John, Graham. 2011. “DJ Goa Gil: Kalifornian Exile, Dark Yogi and Dreaded Anomaly.” Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture 3(1): 97–128. < https://dj.dancecult.net/index.php/dancecult/article/view/318> (accessed, 4 December 2013).[xxii]       See, for instance, the 2005 post-Burn discussion “Rave Camps Too Loud” on tribe.net: <http://bm.tribe.net/m/thread/281d6446-efd8-4356-b6f7-3b79e650a419> (accessed 10 October 2012).[xxiii]      ST Frequency. 2007. A comment “The musical burn,” on Reality Sandwich: <http://www.realitysandwich.com/node/574> (accessed 10 October 2012).[xxiv]      Ibid. [xxv]      Zap, Jonathan. 2012 (20 August). “Incendiary Person in the Desert Carnival Realm (A Burning Man Story).” Reality Sandwich: <http://www.realitysandwich.com/incendiary_person_desert_carnival_realm>. (accessed 20 October 2012).[xxvi]      Gilmore, Lee. 2006. “Desert Pilgrimage: Liminality, Transformation, and the Other at the Burning Man Festival.” In William H. Swatos, Jr. ed., On the Road to Being There: Studies in Pilgrimage and Tourism in Late Modernity, pp. 125–158. Leiden: Brill.[xxvii]      The Tribes of Burning Man[xxviii]     Bey, Hakim. 1991. TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone - Ontological Anarchy and Poetic Terrorism. New York: Autonomedia.[xxix]      Bey, Hakim. 1994. Immediatism. Scotland: AK Press (p. 8). [xxx]      See Gilmore Theater in a Crowded Fire, p.22.[xxxi]      Wilson, Peter Lamborn. 2011. “Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto: Music.” OVO, 4 November, 2011. <http://ovo127.com/2011/11/04/peter-lamborn-wilson-back-to-1911-movement-manifesto-music/> (accessed 20 October 2012).[xxxii]      Ibid.[xxxiii]     Wilson, Peter Lamborn. 2011. “Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto: Telephone.” OVO, 4 November, 2011. <http://ovo127.com/2011/11/04/peter-lamborn-wilson-%E2%80%93-back-to-1911-movement-manifesto-telephone/> (accessed 20 October 2012).[xxxiv]     Chen, Katherine K. 2012. “Artistic Prosumption: Cocreative Destruction at Burning Man.” American Behavioral Scientist 56(4): 570–595.[xxxv]     Ananda Coomraswamy, Transformation of Nature in Art.[xxxvi]     Gosney, Michael. 1998. “Community Dance Genesis.” <http://www.radiov.com/communitydance/genesis.htm> (accessed 10 November 2007).[xxxvii]     Landon Elmore, email correspondence, 5 November 2007.[xxxviii]    <http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/2000/00_camp_vill.html> (accessed 8 October 2012).[xxxix]     Brad “Santosh” Olsen, all email correspondence, 8 November 2007.[xl]        <http://www.burningman.com/on_the_playa/sound_systems/policy.html>. [xli]        Ibid.[xlii]       “2003 Art Theme: Beyond Belief” <http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/2003/03_theme.html>.[xliii]       Ibid.[xliv]       Peter Kimelman (pk), all email correspondence 31 October 2012.[xlv]       Ben Dickson, email correspondence, 25 October 2012.[xlvi]       <http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/2008/08_art_funded.html#mutoid>.[xlvii]      Miller, Paul (aka DJ Spooky). 2007. “The Prolonged Present”: http://www.realitysandwich.com/node/574 (accessed 10 October 2012).[xlviii]      Ibid.[xlix]       Rappaport, Roy. 1999. Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (p. 231).[l]         Ibid.[li]         Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1968 [1944]. Rabelais and His World. MIT Press (p. 7).[lii]        Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity[liii]        Chen, 2012. p. 586.[liv]        See Jones, 2011, The Tribes of Burning Man[lv]        Zap, 2012. “Incendiary Person in the Desert Carnival Realm
    Bows to all my campmates at Camplo, BLD, and the city that never sleeps. Deep thanks to Genevieve Von Lob for reading an early version and editor Samantha Krukowski for realising this excellent volume which you can get direct from the author ($15) at her link below.

    Published in Playa Dust: Collected Stories from Burning Man (Edited by Samantha Krukowski)

    See also Playa Dust Facebook page

    About Playa Dust:

    Burning Man’s in-your-face, counterculture vibe has meant that the festival has always been something of a media darling. But when the event sold out for the first time in 2011, there was a marked increase in the commentary about its history, current status and future. When, in 2012, a new random lottery system for tickets left so many long-time attendees ticketless, that commentary deepened. Questions about the evolution, meaning and value of Burning Man as an experiment in community, self-sufficiency and anti-capitalism are being raised, and Playa Dust seeks to answer them.

    Playa Dust is a compilation of essays by authors who are part of the universe of Burning Man or who envisage the many ideas and landscapes on its periphery. By juxtaposing an unusually array of voices and stories, the volume reveals the complex nature and range of this annual pilgrimage to the desert, now in its 27th year.

    Contributors include those who built the first wooden effigies on San Francisco’s Baker Beach from 1986 to 1990, in the gatherings that would later become Burning Man; artists who have installed works at the festival; musicologists, photographers and filmmakers who have made work there; writers who have written about their Burning Man experience; architects who have built there, sociologists who have studied Burning Man’s experimental nature and even lawyers who have brokered Burning Man’s controversial existence.

    Dancecult 5.2 - Afrofuturism, guest edited by tobias c. van Veen

    Fri, 2016/07/08 - 3:07am

    Dancecult issue 5.2 - Afrofuturism, guest edited by tobias c. van Veen



    Executive Editor's Introduction.

    Guest Editor's Introduction. tobias c. van Veen

    Feature Articles

    Vessels of Transfer: Allegories of Afrofuturism in Jeff Mills and Janelle Monáe. tobias c. van Veen

    The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology. Mark Fisher

    The Vibe of the Exiles: Aliens, Afropsychedelia and Psyculture. Graham St John

    Ethnoforgery and Outsider Afrofuturism. Trace Reddell

    Ethnography From the Inside: Industry-based Research in the Commercial Sydney EDM Scene. Ed Montano

    "Stay in Synch!": Performing Cosmopolitanism in an Athens Festival. Vassiliki Lalioti

    From the Floor

    Afrofuturism Unbound: tobias c. van Veen in conversation with Paul D. Miller. tobias c. van Veen

    Vocalizing: MC culture in the UK. Nabeel Zuberi

    Fabulous: Sylvester James, Black Queer Afrofuturism, and the Black Fantastic. Reynaldo Anderson


    Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. tobias c. van Veen

    MP3: The Meaning of a Format. Nabeel Zuberi

    Electronica, Dance and Club Music. Hillegonda C Rietveld

    Electronic Awakening. Garth Sheridan

    Showtime. Philip Ronald Kirby