This article originally appeared in the 2015 edition of the BRC Weekly. http://www.brcweekly.com/BRCWeekly2015_ext.pdf
It seems that no sooner than the collective explosive diarrhea over the whole turnkey debacle finally ran out of steam, that it was time once again for that oldest of Black Rock City traditions – which is bitching in one way or another about sound at Burning Man. Actually – bitching about one thing or another out here really has become the new radical self expression, but the sound/music one is a classic.
Maybe it’s the amplifying factor of Facebook, or BRC’s own fundamentalist panic room version of the Drudge Report - burners.meh that’s turning up the volume on the notion of turning up the volume – but even back in the old days we bitched on 3Playa – a crappy html web interface, which mystifyingly still exists, and is still chock full of angry people tearing their garments over the perceived loss of “their” burning man. Truthfully, people have been wringing their hands over the Death of Burning Man pretty much non-stop since at LEAST 1996. You can take some comfort in knowing that people have been ruining this event since long before you got here and started fucking things up for everyone.
Perhaps a little history is in order, because context is king, you little serfs….
Past Perfect and Present Tense – a Brief History
Once upon a time, way back before your mom and I even started dating, this city was just a few thousand jackasses going apeshit across the desert floor. Center camp was just a parachute on some sticks, no one gave a shit about burn scars, and chaos held sway. People were driving around shooting guns out of moving cars while dragging their friends from the bumper on tarps. Pussy and winning lottery tickets rained from the sky every morning. It was glorious and you missed it.
But even then – for all the madness people WERE cool with – the one thing NOT EVERYBODY was down for was a bunch of someone else’s music being blasted at them. So compromises were made. Those who wanted to dance to music were invited to take their shit a couple miles out into the open desert where they could have “Rave Camp” – and everything was cool right?
Except that putting an attraction way the fuck out in the darkness meant that people had to travel - and at that point there were no roads, no DMV, and nothing to stop anyone from just piling into a car and blasting blindly through the darkness out to go to where the music was. This led to a vehicle smashing through an occupied, unlit tent someone placed way out in the open playa. It was the event’s first fatality. While it’s unfair to say music claimed the first life at Burning Man, it at least goes somewhere on the list as a contributing factors.
Lots of things changed after that, and because of it. Now there were Rules. A map was made, roads were made. The city shape as you know it starts here. Now everyone’s all piled together. The blasting music got closer to everyone again. This is where the bitching about Burning Man really became a professional sport and it’s first wave of all-stars were made. Some people swore off Burning Man for good here and never came back. Some of those people are still online bitching about an event they stopped going to damn near 20 years ago.
Don’t mind us, officer. We’re just making art.
There were two fundamental forces at work here that banished music out to the outer edges of the city. The first of which is that, again – not everyone wants 130 kick drums pounded into their skull every minute, so making a space where that could still happen in a consensual manner but still within the city proper made lots of sense. It still fucking does in fact. More on that in a minute.
The second thing touches on something that has been the subject of much rumor, kvetching and speculation even to this very moment – which is Burning Man’s (and by that, I mean the event’s organizers specifically) complete and total institutional allergy to MUSIC as an art form out here.
While literally MILLIONS of dollars have been doled out in art grants for sculptural art out here over there years – so far as anyone can remember – NOT A DIME has ever gone to an installation out here who’s principal component was music. (Pepe’s Opera may or may not have gotten a few bucks back in the day – somebody can fact check me on that) There’s a reason for this – but it’s probably not what you think.
You see - when this event was turning the corner from being a few thousand people to multiple TENS of thousands of people in the late 90’s and very early 2000’s - weird things were happening in America. Instead of sneaking into bars to watch their friend’s band’s play rock and roll – a new generation of suburban white kids were instead now piling into warehouses to get fucked up on shitty ecstasy while their friends “spun” electronic dance music. This lead to enough of these kids overdosing on poorly manufactured drugs to get the attention of local politicians (under the pressure from suburban white parents) to “do something” about it.
So all kinds of stupid shit started happening on the local and then eventually federal level – culminating in the proposal of the R.A.V.E Act (Reducing American’s Vulnerability To Ecstasy Act) in 2002. This Senate bill saw the unlikely alliance of somewhat reliable progressives like Joe Biden and Dick Durbin with career assholes like Orin Hatch and Strom Thurmond. For those of you who weren’t paying attention – it was easily one of the stupidest pieces of legislation ever pushed through the sphincter of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. Look it up sometime. To give you a sense of just what a stinking pile of offal this bill was – among other things – it magically transformed things like air conditioned rooms, pacifiers, bottled water and glowsticks into drug paraphernalia on par with a crack pipe - merely by placing them within listening distance of electronic music.
The scariest thing about it, however, was it effectively transformed any area where kids were “raving” into the same legal category as a crack house and by extension – the owners of said property were now essentially held tantamount to drug dealers. It eventually passed (without any actual debate, mind you) the full House and Senate in a different, only slightly watered down form as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003 – snuck in as a rider to the bill that created the AMBER alert system. Because Congress.
Obviously – the organizers of Burning Man (rightly) didn’t want any of this shit, and with the profile of the event going up, and already a growing reputation as a place where white people went bananas with their pants off, high on psychedelic drugs – the absolute LAST thing Burning Man needed was to be perceived as was another goddamn “rave”.
Add to this it is simply easier by orders of magnitude to set up a sound system for a DJ over what a live band would need out here, and its easy to see how the hegemony of electronic dance music started growing like an out of control weed out on the playa.
This put the organizers of the event into the position of having to come up with an increasingly elaborate cover story to convince the Bureau of Land Management, along with a whole host of suddenly interested law enforcement agencies that what was going on out here on the playa was, in fact, NOT a felony drug crime in progress happening on an industrial scale – but rather ART and an “experiment in temporary community”. Which is a much easier sell to say the least.
In fact – most of the crazy woo woo bullshit you believe about the purpose and overarching deliberate “culture” of Burning Man (culminating in the “Ten Principles”) probably traces itself back to this phenomenon. My guess is Larry will probably deny this to his grave – but the fact remains – most of the psedo-religiosity and cultural dogma of this event almost certainly has its roots in being part of a rational excuse for the existence of what to this day still remains to be one of the worlds largest 7 day collective sex and drug benders this side of spring break. We just decided to call it art. Apparently that and millions of dollars in land usage fees will buy your freedom to run around naked and high as balls on federal land in Northern Nevada, albeit at mini-bar prices.
How can you vote with your feet when the beast is chasing you?
Which brings us to today. Apparently not content to just be banished to the seedy downtown edges of Black Rock City – the local purveyors of EDM have decided to rise up – place massive half million dollar sound systems on moving vehicles and take their party to everyone, all the time.
Now I’ve made a FUCKTON of noise out in this desert for a LONG ass time. In fact – if you are under 35 or so – I was out here rocking literally 10’s of thousands of asses A DAY while your shit was still in high school. Between the Mutaytor, The Dub Pscience Laboratory and now The Gentlemen Callers of Los Angeles – I’ve probably played more music at high volumes out here than 99% of you fuckers – SO I GET IT. BUT……
If you’re going to make a mobile large scale sound installation – fine GO FOR IT. Shit – ask me – I might even come out and even play on the fucking thing - but TAKE THAT SHIT OUT TO THE OPEN PLAYA, JACKASS.
You may be surprised to hear this – but not everyone is stoked to hear every special, life transforming note your superstar DJ from wherever the fuck could cram on an iPod playlist, just so he could hang out on the back pumping his fist, while one of you runs a douchebag door policy on the front trying to up the ratio of “chicks” on your artcar. Especially when the sum total of your car’s “art” revolves mostly around having a stripper pole.
When the loud music was exclusively congregated it the city’s edges – exposure to it is at least consensual. If you didn’t want to hear loud ass psytrance, all you had to do was stay the fuck out of large scale sound. That’s called a social contract. And it works. But once you go making a massive system mobile – now you are violating that social contract - because now it’s no longer a choice. You can be completely hanging out somewhere, having one of those amazing getting-to-know-you-on-a-deep-human-level conversations with some impossibly beautiful new friend – and all the sudden, the world’s largest mobile sound system comes barreling in, playing the world’s shittiest song – spraying you both with the musical equivalent of bukkake.
One person’s auditory shamanic communion dispensed from the anointed high priests from the altar of the DJ booth is another person’s ear rape. Plain and simple.
The good news for everyone is that this is still a big ass desert. Try spreading out and minding your own fucking business for a few days. You’ll have more fun.
You’re definitely doing it wrong.
And as far as all this bitching goes – how ‘bout let’s fucking tone it down, goddamnit. This aint a real city, or a real religion, and all of you will probably go back to having a REALLY good time if you stopped worrying so much about who’s ruining burning man for who. Don’t like turnkey camps? Stay off K street. Don’t like loud noise? Stay off the corners. Don’t want people bitching about your stupid art car? Take it out to the open playa. There’s more than enough room for all of us to do annoying shit out here without bothering other people with it. Why do you think we all dragged our asses out into the middle of nowhere in the first place? So we could behave like ASOLUTE MANIACS without bothering decent people.
You ALL are ruining Burning Man – but it’s to be ruined though. Why do you think we burn this whole city to the ground every year?
Sooner or later – they are going to chase us all out of this desert for good and you’re going to look back and wish you spent more time fucking shit up, and less time sitting in a camp chair – or even worse – at your desk at work - bitching about the next guy at Burning Man.
So Aloha, bitches – free it up.