1996 burning man report

read bruce sterling's article in wired also, he explains it much
better than i do and it's a great article, whether you were there or not

This was the email that I sent out upon returning from burning man.

My friend Maureen and I just got back from 5 days at burning man, in the Black Rock desert of northern Nevada. The desert isn't all that big really, maybe 15 by 40 miles or so... you can always see some mountains in the distance so you don't get disoriented (at least not in the daytime). The surface is flat, cracked mud; the "playa" as people call it is actually an ancient dry lakebed, perfectly flat.

Setting up sufficient shade to keep the brutal sun off of us was a lot of work; took most of a day to set up and another 5 hours to break down. There was around 5,000 people, but many of them didn't arrive until Saturday (day before the man burned). Most people were set up in the main camp, which had roads laid out and had a central area with radio station, stage, etc. Rave camp was 2 miles north (last year they were only 1 mile south, and the heavy bass bothered some folks). We were camped halfway between main and rave camp.

The scene was total anarchy; people drove wherever they wanted, wore bizarre clothes or (a good-sized fraction of the population) nothing at all, made whatever strange noises/music they wanted, and of course those into recreational substances did so with great gusto. There was the usual weird art projects and challenging performance art, strange encampments, and odd vehicles including art cars, self-propelled parasails, hand-built helicopter, motorized skateboard shaped like squid, etc. One camp had a replica of Stonehenge made to resemble mud called Mudhenge, which had a mudpit nearby which typically had 50 or so naked people lounging in slippery wet mud. The sound of techno, motorcycles, airplanes, and flame-throwers was overlaid with the howl of the wind which picked up each afternoon and early evening. At Fern Grotto camp they had a portable hangar filled with real live ferns and a misting system; it felt *really* good to stand near them during the hot day. In the Chai tent they had really groovy dub playing, soft couches and hot Chai for free in the middle of the cold night.

Some music I recognized being played: Loop Guru / Duniya, Orbital / Orbital 2, Delerium / Semantic Spaces, plenty of Banco de Gaia.

On Saturday (the main party night) there was a big performance involving some people dressed up as Satan and female devil with giant strap-on dildo, numerous symbols of corporate America such as a 7-ft. box of McDonalds fries, a SRL (survival research labs) robot (tank tread with a 10-foot robotic arm capable of lifting, crushing, and hurtling a shopping cart), more than one flame-thrower, and a "towering inferno" building which put off such a blast of heat when it burned that the thousand or so people present screamed and ran for cover in panic. After the she-devils finished sodomizing the fries, the robot sloppily hurled them into the inferno... actually this was all weirder than it sounds.

Sunday night was the burning of the Man himself. At about 40 ft., he wasn't a big as I would have thought. Still, he was loaded with paraffin-soaked canvas, fireworks and other small explosives, etc. and was quite a sight when he burned. Everybody was present in their finest/weirdest costume (or lack thereof, showing off some really impressive body piercings) and we screamed and danced and pounded drums etc. The heat was so intense that there were mini-whirlwinds coming off the man filled with flame.

Sadly in this state of chaos there were a handful of accidents. One fellow was driving drunk in the middle of the night on his motorcycle with his lights off and smashed into a truck, another person fell asleep at the wheel and ran over two people in a tent. There was some shock and much sadness on the last day as people dealt with the loss of their friends and the realization of the risks of having so many people camped so crazily in an open desert without roads or speed limits. Part of the problem was that it was Labor Day weekend and many of the people driving around weren't even burning man people, they were locals come to gawk at the nekkid wimmen and get drunk.

At rave camp there were 3 big soundsystems and several other smaller camps had big speakers as well. At Gateway Sound System, they had a beautiful tower with billowing gossamer black-light-illuminated glowing fabric and Mariposa, a 7-ft. light-green female alien, luminous and beautiful in the black-light, crafted by Maureen. I helped transport and set up the alien. Maureen and I put a container of Gummi Octopus next to her alien and labeled it 'Alien Food'. The octopi, slightly melted from the desert heat and glowing under the black lights, definitely looking like something not of this planet. It got eaten very quickly!

footnote: The alien got her picture in the Wired article and multiple pages in the Burning Man book recently released by Wired publishing arm!