Late August, over 50,000 participants from around the world spent a week in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada for the 24th annual Burning Man. A handful of San Diego performers braved the Martian dust storms and fire-breathing art cars in order to share their music with the postapocalyptic partygoers.
“This was the first time we got to absorb a lot of it and take it in without doing too many performances and burning ourselves out,” says sitarist Rama Douglas of electronic world group Universal Beats Universal Vibe. “It’s a lot of work getting all the equipment out there through the dirt.”
On previous occasions, the group built their stage and performed regularly. This year, a stripped-down version of the band (a laptop, Douglas, and a few dancers, including wife Zulema) played a short set at Center Camp and a dinner for Burning Man founder Larry Harvey.
“It’s amazing,” Douglas says of the gathering. “It doesn’t really make sense, but it happens every year. It’s totally mind-blowing to see how much work everybody puts into it.”
First-year attendee Santiago Orozco of Latin reggae-fusion band Todo Mundo brought out microphones, a guitar, and a PA system powered on a car battery, which lasted about six hours.
“My guitar looked like a trooper,” the Colombian-born songwriter reports. “There was all this dust.... It was hard to catch attention with a guitar. There were so many things going on. The least crazy part is a guy with a guitar.”
Orozco intends to build a Todo Mundo camp next year and “invite everyone out to play world music.”
Five-year Burning Man vet DJ Brian “Bassmechanic” Porterfield brought a larger system — 15,000 watts through 12 cabinets to power the Hunter S. Thompson–themed Bat Country camp.
“It was too windy to take my speakers down,” he says of his last day in the desert, “so they sat out for ten hours in 60-mile-per-hour dust.”
Despite the hard work, considerable costs, and potentially disastrous bouts of rain and wind, Porterfield will return.
“For me it’s like a pilgrimage,” he says. “I was burnt and jaded after DJing for ten years. I went to Burning Man thinking I was a pretty creative person, and I was knocked to my knees and humbled.... Now I can’t imagine myself not doing it.”
Porterfield plans to build a mutant vehicle with the San Diego burner community for next year’s excursion. The car will carry Porterfield’s sound system and look “somewhere between a spaceship and a tank — on the Mad Max tip — with fire.”
Also representing San Diego were DJs Puppy Kicker, Reactivity, Holden, and Jonny Quest.
When asked what makes the whole thing worth the trouble, Porterfield recalls a quote from the good doctor of Gonzo Journalism: “Buy the ticket. Take the ride.”