Burning Music

Giant mutant vehicles crawling through the desert, stilt-walkers with cloven hooves lumbering through crowded streets, massive geodesic domes encompassing large rave parties, fiery gesticulating dragons, generous nudity, healing modality workshops, and best of all, a departure from absolute dependence on modern commodities. Such a description could only be fitting for Burning Man, a week-long wellspring of activity in the middle of the Nevada desert. It’s the most eerily satisfying sensation, experienced in the midst of an ephemeral settlement called Black Rock City, wherein a massive effigy of a man is set ablaze annually.

This year, around the Man, a pilgrimage of roughly 50,000 people gathered and constructed an amazing amalgamation of community structures and art installations, in an otherwise barren wasteland. It was the most inspiring thing I had ever beheld and, accordingly, it formed a label in my mind as the best week of my life – if not for the music alone.

So many things to say… but the music was at the heart of the experience. Walking from one side of the two-mile diameter temporary city to the other, any of the thousands of awed pedestrians were subjected to a cacophony of multi-styled music genres, blaring from ridiculously powerful sound reinforcement systems. Amazingly, the relationship between each provocative installation flowed from one stanchion to the next without cluttered noise amplification. Moving between the setups was like performing a personal DJ mix-down. Just follow the sound you want!

Primarily, techno and trance dominated the theater of sound, which gave interesting merit to an ordinarily quiescent desert. But as I grew weary of repetitive kick-snare and looping sin wave modulation, I drifted toward the outskirts of town, seeking other audible flavors. There I heard Rage Against the Machine – at which point I witnessed several people rocking an old beater-car up and down by jumping on top of it. Awestruck, I gazed at the incredible scene, which until then had only seemed to prevail in movies.

Continuing my walkabout, I encountered a behemoth mechanical spider-like walker, resembling something out of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Atop the ferrous anomaly, amidst an array of base-mounted variegated lights there were people dancing and flashing reflections of different hues to the strobe and baseline of a trip-hop beat. The sheer engineering of this robot beast was phenomenal, not only in its ability to carry dancing passengers smoothly, but to contain such a powerful line output as to flood the desert with omnipotent decibels of enmeshing music. If I was any less possessed of my good senses, I could have gawked in awe until one of the massive steel legs would have simply replaced me where I stood.

Moving quickly to safer environs, I picked up a small black-and-green schedule which listed the events of the night. Amazed, I singled out the one that said “Daft Punk Headlining”. Supposedly they had played at Burning man five years previous, and a current migration was underway to see them again that night.

To my utter dismay, it was a complete hoax. Daft Punk didn’t show, and I was sorely let down.

As a sort of reanimation from the little death inside which I felt from such a letdown, I heard DJ Dan, as well as Carl Cox, and Armin Van Buuren were spinning at the Opulent Temple. So I headed for the bellowing flames at the intersection of two o’ clock and Esplanade.

When I arrived early at the venue, the crowd was already gaining critical mass. There would be no luck finding anybody familiar, even with directions like, “let’s meet at the back-of-the-crowd, stage left”. In the center of the crowd there were tandem fifteen-foot tall flames spouting into the air, marking the location of the DJ. Above, there was an insanely cool laser show panning green and blue rays of light over the heads of literally several thousand people. The music was deafening, and I didn’t know how to dance when I was shoulder-to shoulder with others, except for just jumping straight up and down. Feeling a little more than claustrophobic, I departed.

To my surprise and great relief, I witnessed one of the coolest performances in my life. It was at a random small venue that had an open bar with free alcohol, a decent amount of patrons, and a stage harboring several smiling musicians. Technically it was an open mike, but all of the instruments were provided, and people were called from the audience to play anything they knew. Not surprisingly, the same half-dozen newly introduced patrons kept taking the stage. The interesting part was that the performers continually exchanged instruments. After each set, and each subsequent beverage I consumed, I was stunned to see the bassist move to the drums, and the guitarist to the sax. Over a span of several hours, I was lost in the musical talent, and a plethora of well-performed cover songs. It was one thing to see musicians of the same band exchange instruments and play well together, but for complete strangers to tie it all together as such, was something intrinsically different. It went beyond entertainment, becoming more of an impetus for inspiring others.

With such musical wonders, the great gathering known as Burning Man gives much, and takes little. This is apparently the point of the festival — gifting. In a place were purchasing things with money is not condoned, the greatest gifts, like music, are absolutely free. If I could recommend one thing to a first-time burner, it would be: bring an instrument. <!– document.write('

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