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Published: March 29th 2009
The Man Burns!
An impressive pyrotechnic finish to the festival, as the Burning Man gets what's coming to him
It was midday. I was in the middle of the Nevada Desert. I had just climbed a ladder onto a truck that had been converted into a magnificent 50-foot golden dragon. Huge speakers were strapped to the outside, pumping out dance music, and a plethora of people in crazy costumes were on the top deck, mixing cocktails and dancing to the beat. A huge flamethrower at the head of the dragon threw out a belch of flame and smoke, and then the truck set off, slowly driving into the heart of the desert
Welcome to The Burning Man Festival. A festival unlike any other you will ever visit, and an experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Quite possibly the most extreme festival in the world, but also the most exhilarating. A feast for the senses lies around every corner, and sometimes you can’t quite believe your eyes…
The Burning Man festival is an alternative arts festival which runs each summer in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. It’s a gathering of creative souls who gather from all over the States, and indeed all over the world, to build a vast desert community for
This was taken at 6am. The desert is a beautiful place in the morning
a week. It has been described as an “experimental community of tomorrow”. It’s almost impossible to describe the brilliance of this special festival, but I will try. There are a number of elements which come together for this amazing experience
BLACK ROCK CITY
A week before Burning Man begins, thousands of volunteers descend on the desert to start building “Black Rock City”. Starting with just bare sand, they soon build an infrastructure which will become our desert home the following week. Roads, paths, basic structures that are needed for running this festival. The city, from side to side, spans a distance of about 3 miles. Amongst the vast space are areas for people to construct their “Theme Camps” (I’ll come back to these later). And following the festival, everything is taken down in a week-long cleanup operation. Everything is packed up and shipped off. Not a single trace remains, not even a single scrap of evidence to suggest there were once 100,000 people partying in the desert.
There were about 800 theme camps in Black Rock City. Some of them are only open at certain hours of the day. For example, “Porn and Eggs” is an
Full steam ahead
One of of the many wonderous vehicles you will find trundling through the desert
early morning camp where they serve up eggs while showing porn movies in the background. At the opposite end of the scale is the “Milk and Cookies At Midnight” camp. Others include…
“Math Camp” - a safe haven for Mathmeticians, offering a social place to drink and derive. This camp is also the home of the “Fabulous Electric Cupcakes” (see below)
“The Hookah Lounge” - a huge Moroccan themed tent offering chillout space, a range of teas and coffees, and flavoured tobaccos for the Hookahs
“Death Guild” - Home to the Thunderdome, a huge geodesic dome built out of iron girders. Straight out of Mad Max 3. At night, it lights up, and people climb the dome for a good view of the battle. Inside, two people on the end of bungee ropes will bounce and fly around the arena, battling each other. The motto is “Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves”. One night when I was there, a small guy took the microphone and said “ladies and gentlemen, I am going to fight my friend tonight. He is bigger than me. He is stronger than me. And he is going to kick the living sh*t out
the Pink Tequila Cowboys
Myself and Steve were dispensing free tequila to the masses
of me for your pleasure”. And he literally did.
“Snuggletown”, a tent devoted to being extremely comfortable. The perfect place to relax
“Gasso Camp” - Home to the “Orgasmatron”, a seat with a special vibrating part that titillates certain womanly parts. Across the seat is the motif “Get off or get off”. This is also home to the “Spankomatic”, which is air-operated automatic spanking device
Most of the camps offer a place to sit and relax, where you can partake of their generosity and have drinks and food. Others offer an interactive experience, or the chance to learn a new skill, or to watch a performance. You might see a band playing on instruments made out of recycled car parts, or visit a firedancing lounge, or a bar entirely populated by “staff” dressed as Elvis Presley. You can get massages, learn to darn socks, build kites, make cocktails. There was one camp with a boxing ring, where you climb into an Iron robot suit on rails, and fight against another Iron Robot. With 800 theme camps to choose from, it’s a visual and social feast.
Nothing is for sale at Burning Man. There are no
the Golden Dragon
This was the first "Mutant Vehicle" which we hitched a ride aboard
shops, stalls, vendors or anything. The festival is an exercise in survival, self-sufficiency and sharing. You bring your own food, water and alcohol for the duration. However, there is a strong spirit of sharing, and this is one thing that makes Burning Man so special. You can wander into many of the theme camps, and they will be serving food and drink, free of charge. It is their donation to the greater good of the festival. For example, between the hours of 9am and 11am, the Waffle Camp would be offering hot waffles. That camp would then close, and maybe the people running the camp would enter Vamp Camp, and have a free vampire cocktail. The hosts of Vamp Camp might close their camp mid-afternoon, and take a wander, entering the “Black Rock Roller Disco”, where they have 100 roller boots available for free use.
Even if you don’t have a theme camp of your own, you can give and share as an individual. Some people give head massages, other people offer a “sun tan lotion” service, or wet wipes to clean the desert dust off your sunglasses. Myself and Steve were the “ Pink Tequila Cowboys”. We had
Bad Taste Jesus
This guy was walking around with a cross and a sign saying "Get stoned with Jesus". He was also carrying rubber rocks which he gave people to throw at him...
a bandolier strap of shot glasses, and a holster containing a bottle of tequila. We wandered the desert at night giving out free tequila shots
There are literally hundreds of “mutant vehicles” which drive around the festival. Some are one-man vehicles, others are mobile sound-systems, others are just too crazy for description. Some of them you can climb aboard, and travel to other parts of the desert. It’s a surreal experience to be walking along the desert, and see an entire church drive past. I saw giant cartoon steam-engines, a whole missisippi-style paddle boat, a shuttle from the USS Enterprise, and a man aboard a giant rat. Gotta tell you about a couple of my real favourites though
1. The Fabulous Electric Cupcakes. Someone had built a miniature vehicle, just big enough for one man, in the shape of a cupcake. Your whole body is enclosed in the vehicle, and only your head pops out of the top. I saw one, and thought this was quite special. Then later I saw a swarm of fourteen of them speeding through the desert in formation!
2. Dr Megavolt. An unremarkable metal van parked itself in the middle
When one of these flamethrowers kicks off, everyone takes notice. Sometimes the desert felt like a post-apocolypse scene from Mad Max
of nowhere at night. On top of the van are two huge Tesla Coils. For those of you unfamiliar with these, they are resonant transformers which can generate huge bursts of electrical energy. Dr Megavolt then climbs out of the van wearing an immense metal spacesuit, looking like some futuristic robot. He climbs on top of the van with a metal rod, and stretches it out towards one of the tesla coils. A huge arc of electricity fires out an conducts itself down his suit. He turns to the other coil, and more electricity fires out like lightning bolts. Soon he is playing the electricity like a conductor in a concert. Amazing
3. The Funky Love Bus - Steve and I found a pink double-decker bus, lit in with neon, parked in the desert. DJs were playing funky house on the top deck, and there was a crowd of 200 people dancing around the bus. Suddenly, the bus started up, in mid-track, and headed out into the desert. Where are you going?? The crowd of dancers started after it, but it soon gained speed and we lost it. We found it again two days later and managed to get
This place came alive at night, lit up with combatants inside duelling "to the death"
on board. So there we are crusing through the desert, dancing on the top deck of a pink bus. We parked up, and a flotilla of mutant vehicles parked next to us. One huge iron beast of a truck cruised up to us, and fired it’s flame cannon on the front. The whole desert lit up, and it was very “Max Max”
At night, the whole festival shifts into another gear. The desert becomes a neon-lit wonderland, filled with all kinds of amazing fluorescent vehicles, creatures and bikes and people. The night sky is also periodically lit up by flamethrowers. But you have to be well illuminated yourself. With dozens of bikes, people and vehicles moving around in the dark, it pays to be seen! I nearly got run over by a glowing orange carrot, and had to sidestep an enormous grinning Cheshire Cat as it drove by
It can be a harsh environment at times. At night it can get very cold, and during the day temperatures can rise. But there are enough chillout tents and shade, so you can easily escape from the burning midday sun, relax and meet some interesting people. And at
Man vs Woman
The two women in the huge buggy were shouting over the megaphone at the guy with the huge willy "get that big c*ck out of our way!!" Then they drive off
all times you need to carry goggles and mask for the sandstorms. When they blow in, the whole festival grinds to a halt. I remember the first one. It was a total whiteout - you could not even see you hand in front of your face. All you can do is put on your goggles and mask, sit down and wait it out. A very surreal experience in itself
Throughout the desert are numerous art installations. They range from bizarre sculptures and buildings, to completely interactive art concepts. For example, there was a structure that was gradually built over the course of the festival. It was made out of plaster casts of people’s faces. Or the phonebox out in the middle of nowhere where you could pick up the phone and talk to God. But the ultimate art installation is the Burning Man himself. Every year he is based on a different concept, and at the end of the festival he is burnt to the ground in a huge spectacle of flames and pyrotechnics. This year, the theme of Burning Man was “Hope and Fear’. The Man was on a platform, rising out of a temple in
I had a very nice chat with this robot, until it decided it had somewhere else to be, and sped off into the desert.
the middle of the desert. Scattered around the desert were “voting stations” which were linked by Wi-Fi to the Man. You voted whether you were hopeful or fearful for the future. And based on the votes, the Man either rose out of the temple and held his arms up to the sky, or descended down into the building with his arms down. So by the looking at the Man, and the position of his arms, you could tell the collective mood of the whole festival at that point.
I had so many great experiences that I could talk all day about them. I remember walking along, and a tall robot on caterpillar tracks came up to me. It was wearing a crash helmet and had a camera mounted on it’s shoulder. “Hello, how are you?” it said. I spoke back to it and ended up having a conversation! I looked around, because someone was obviously controlling this remotely, but couldn’t see anyone. Then suddenly it said “excuse me”, turned around and lurched off. It almost knocked a woman over, said to her ”get out of my way” and then sped off into the desert! How rude
A fantastic vehicle, if I was driving this, I'd certainly be grinning like a cheshire cat
day I was walking past a camp called “Electroshock Therapy Camp”. There was a huge fat guy reclining on a sofa with a megaphone. He shouted out to me and said “Hey you over there! It’s 45 degrees, you’re in the desert, and you’re wearing pink fluffy boots. I think you need some electroshock therapy.” So I went over, and he told me to turn around and bend over. So I did. What I couldn’t see was him pulling out an electric cattle prod which he leaned over and zapped me with!
In summary, if you have a courageous spirit and love to meet people, share things and have fun, this is the fesitval for you. I am going again this year, so if anyone is looking to join a "UK camp", please get in touch!
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