We’re cruising, gliding and swooping through the open desert on our bikes, far away in the distance a massive flying saucer looms out of the dust like some recently landed alien mirage, shimmering in the distance.
Weird distorted noises, irregular bass thumps, whooshes and poofs all emanate from the busy horizon. The shape of a huge octopus can be made out, all eight of its arms thrusting up and down and pumping out 12ft high flames, a life size tyrannosaurus rex walks past with a lazy gait just at the edge of our vision. But we seem to be alone, looking out in the other direction yields endless perfectly at desert, it’s enormity and sparse expanse calling and opening our hearts to the boundless possibilities of life.
What were you expecting to happen? This isn’t some vivid dream, this is Burning Man, in my opinion the most extraordinary and inspirational place in the world. A temporary city where everything is built by the participants simply because they want to, there is no money (it runs on a gifting economy – everything is given with no expectation of return), crime is virtu- ally non existent, litter is not a thing and people are just nice to each other, and look after each other… the whole time! A place where you see the most incredible things that you have ever seen, every 10 minutes. But why is it so different? What makes this often called “party in a desert” much more than that flippant description? Well, something happens to you when you step into the Black Rock desert for the first time, before you see all the mind-blowing art, before you meet the amazing generous people who populate the city for a few weeks each year. It’s as if the sparse white dusty floor on which the city is built breaks opens your mind to it’s own in nite possibilities, it’s a blank canvas and you can’t help but want to fill it. Suddenly you’re faced with the question, ‘What am I going to do?’ because one thing is certain, as soon as you’ve seen what everyone else is doing, you’re going to want some of the action. And then it turns out that the only way to answer this question is to rst answer other questions, ‘Who do I want to be?’, ‘What is it which represents me enough for me to give it to the community?’ and ‘How will I contribute to this incredible space?’. When these questions are asked in the midst of one of the most overwhelming, mind blowing experiences of your life, often under the influence of various mind altering substances. When you’re in the clutches of sleep deprivation, in a place where you have license to be anything you want. When you’re surrounded by inspiration exponential to that of the ‘default world’, you rapidly begin to find new and positive ways of thinking about yourself, your friends and your place in the world.
It was my second year at Burning Man, three of us arrived four days before it officially started and had sailed into the event. We parked up at 2B (the address system at Burning Man is based on a clock with ra- dial letters) on the edge of nothingness, where our camp was soon to be. The advantage of our location at Black Rock City is that we have a unobstructed view of the sunrise, which produces the most magical time of day, a time when the light is just perfect, bathing the alkaline dust in a warm amber light; a stark contrast to the harsh white terra in the midday sun. We watched our first sunrise in awe, shattered after a hard day’s work and long night’s drive, yet energised by the excitement of spending the next 10 days in the best place on earth, as well as the pending arrival of our latest acquisition… It had probably only been five months before, sitting around a kitchen table in London, pondering the plan for our camp (named Ooligan Alley) and what our 2013 offering to The Burn would be, when somebody said, “What about if we buy a plane to use as a DJ booth…”. Fast forward to Burning Man, my comrade Fede had gone off in our truck to look for our ‘DJ booth’, leaving Josh and I to wait in case it turned up at our address. The excitement had started to ebb as the sun did the exact opposite, the thermometer climbing ever closer towards 40 degrees and a stifling heat. Our water supplies ran low and as midday arrived, whilst the meagre shade thrown by our only piece of camp infrastructure, a generator, was extinguished. Should we run for it? We peeped our heads out from behind our mechanical island, scoping out the nearest oasis from the relentless sun, when a plume of dust caught our eye.
As the dust settled we danced around the massive low rider truck in uncontrollable excitement! There it was, the front 30ft of a Boeing 727 looming on the trailer. The events that followed, at the end of Au- gust for the next three years, were consistently and consecutively the best weeks of my life. Piling up a huge stack of Funktion One speakers, building flame throwers, LED signs, organising light formations and partying with thousands in front of our beautiful, staggeringly loud creation. Blood, sweat, tears, building unshakable friendships, occasionally losing it at those friends through exhaustion and overwork; battling storms, unforgettable adventures, highs, lows, and being overwhelmed by the multifaceted kaleidoscope that is Burning Man. It’s life on fast forward, and I have been irreversibly transformed for the better by these experiences. It’s the old adage that everyone tells us as children, “You can be whoever you want to be, and do what- ever you want to do” and then, somehow, the next 20 years reinforce the opposite. You reach your thirties and find yourself stuck in the same old groove, convinced that the world is how it is, and no one can change that. Your dreams downtrodden and “reality” so firmly implanted in your brain that you are unable to accept new ways of thinking. For me, taking an amazing concept, which seemed ridiculous and impossible – such as buying a Boeing 727 and transporting it to the desert in order to party around it for ve days, then dismantling it all and going home – changed the way that I looked at ideas. It took a raft of concepts and catapulted them from the mad and unobtainable, to the totally achievable. The final experience of Burning Man is the burn- ing of The Temple on Sunday night. The temple is a place where throughout the event, people can go to contemplate, to leave messages for lost friends and family, or to simply get away from the madness of the city. It’s a very different affair to the raucous, adrenalin fueled destruction of the Man on the Saturday. 20,000+ people sit around what is often the most beautiful structure on playa in silence, and watch as it’s consumed by fire. Burning any of the exceptional pieces of art and architecture that exist for one short week in Black Rock City does sometimes seem like madness, but this emotionally charged burn is a perfect example of the effect that it can have on people. Its cathartic release and powerful cleansing effects remind us that nothing lasts forever, but while we’re here we need to make the most of it, and burn like that fire – strong, incandescent, beautiful.
Written by : Lachie Gordon Athié