Sunday, 9 October 2011

Review: Burning Man 2011 - Rites of Passage

After yearning to to check out the West Coast bass music scene since 2007, this year, with clearance from work and a willingness to plunder my savings, I finally made it to Burning Man with D-ra.The theme was Rites of Passage and this certainly was a pilgrimage for me.

Burning Man takes planning. This is a desert festival based on radical self reliance in a currency free environment, not an English country garden with overpriced food stalls and potable water on tap. For more details check out the survival guide.

Getting to Black Rock City is all part of the experience. Stories of broken down RVs and hours spent waiting for a lift from Reno are common. We flew out to San Francisco and found an eco-bus traveling from Santa Rosa (using this brilliant new ride-share site) so had a fairly easy ride of it - until at about 10pm Sunday night we hit the most epic queue of tail lights you've ever seen. Even so, were one of the earliest to arrive on site and it was quite an experience to feel the city fill up around us.

Our base for the week was with the Pink Heart at the prima-playa real estate of 9.30 Esplanade. We couldn't have chosen a nicer camp to stay in or a better way to connect with others on the playa. As well as providing shelter from the sun and pink fluffy sofas for tired limbs, we were giving out Coconut Bliss ice cream and ice cold cucumber water to all who came.

Black Rock City (click on map above) is vast and full of distractions. The best analogy I can think of in terms of size is Glastonbury Festival, where it takes hours to get between stages. It's nothing like the muddy crush of densely packed bodies bogged down in drizzle though. With a vast open space between the two sides of the city and day-time temperatures of up to 50 C, it's the complete opposite.

The best piece of advice anyone gave me before we went is to get a bike. Without one you're either gonna spend your days trekking epic distances on foot or remain slave to the whims of mutant vehicle drivers as they meander across the playa at random. We had ours actually delivered to the Playa by the guys at Re-Cycle.

The other way to travel in style is to catch rides on mutant vehicles. These DIY art projects bring the mad max flavour to the festival and for me were one of the real creative highlights of the week Many take nautical or animal themes, but there's all kinds of craziness out there. You often only glimpse them emerging from dust clouds or far in the distance, somewhere out there on the borders of mirage and reality. At night they're lit up with EL wire and fairy lights, as are all the bikes and people (you don't wanna be a dark-wad and get run over).

After a day of settling in, we kicked off the party on Tutu Tuesday at Distrikt with M.A.N.D.Y. and Lee Combs. It's all about Distrikt for the daytime party. Set deep in the suburbs of 9 and Funeral, the system fires up at about 11am when it's got too hot for anyone in a tent to sleep anyway. This is the Ibiza beach party of the playa, albeit with a more steampunk disco feel. It reminds me of the daytime Origin Stage at Glade or Funky Beach at Boom - good time vibes, beautiful, semi-clothed people and pumping progressive house building into tech funk as the dusk draws in.

My favourite moment came later in the week when a group of Santas and their elves started to infiltrate the crowd around the rig. Before we knew it the dance-floor was being pelted with snowballs.

Later that evening the city came to life. With sound the main sound camps still pretty muted, we decided to jump on the first art car that came our way and ended up all the way out on Liminal at the edges of the city for a game of glo-frisbee. A few more cars took us via a few artworks to the Man, the Temple - a most beautiful, peaceful building that would look quite at home in the Alhambra - and eventually across to the purple geodesic shapes of Disorient at 2 o'clock and Esplanade.

I'd been told that one of the best places to see the sun come up is the legendary Robot Heart, a colossal mobile rig on the back of a truck, which we found somewhere out past the temple playing deep house and funky progressive techno.

By Wednesday I'd managed to find someone with a music line-up (thanks to the RockStarLibrarian) to scour for set times. One of the first must sees on my list was Stephan Jacobs, who I caught at Dub Scouts that night. It was like heaven to finally be submersed in some proper interesting bass and his set was right on point. Stephan is by far one of my favourite producers at the moment and has just dropped this sweet new EP on Simplify.

  Stephan Jacobs & NiT GriT - Walk On Out by Stephan Jacobs

Next up was Sugarpill at Basscamp's Temple of Boom, on the corner of 10 and Esplanade, surrounded by glowing mutant vehicles an open to lasers stretching across the playa from other stages. I've been aware Sugarpill via our blogs for about 3 years, watching him progress to become a very exciting producer, so it was a great pleasure to see him play such a good set.

  Sugarpill - Live at Coachella 2011 - The DoLab stage (Unreleased Tracks Out Friday, August 12th!) by sugarpill

Sugarpill was followed by another of my 'must sees', local lads Love and Light from Reno. Alongside Opiuo these guys have been behind a funkier, squelchier bouncing glitch-hop in the last two years and their set really carried that energy, with girls and guys that had previously been lost in their own bassheads dancing together with the funk.

  Playa Nights by Love and Light

ill.gates kept the tempo up, bringing in some more ragga stylings and varied beats. Going for some kinda playa record, this animal played over 30 times throughout the week, visiting just about every sound camp, so I dipped in and out quite a few of his sets which between them covered just about every kind of bass music. A true innovator, he's just dropped his first full length album since 2008, The ill.Methodology.

  Ill Gates - Under Mi Wildflower - Free DL by ill.Gates

I was woken up by some friends Thursday afternoon and headed back to Distrikt via a mojito bar built above an old school bus. On the way back we found the notorious snack food glory hole and thankfully avoided any complimentary cock.

Thursday night was Muti Music showcase at The Do Lab's Fractal Nation Village over at 2 and Graduation. The combination of Muti Music's Clipping Paths compilation and Fractal Nation's art dome coming to Boom and Glade in 2007/2008 are what led me towards a love of the West Coast bass scene in the first place. Now I was finally here!

After the Burning Man regional effigies around the man were burnt I headed over via a Beats Antique DJ set at HookahDome (more on them later), arriving in time to catch Heyoka perfectly setting the scene with some squelchy psychedila, whilst I caught up with my fire dancer friends at the back.

It was Mimosa that I was really itching to see though and I made my way to the front. He's been a favourite for a long time and his 2009 Burning Man mix had a hell of a lot to live up to. Thankfully he delivered. The set co-incided with a pyronaughts fire-show on The Do Lab stage, which really picked up the atmosphere, even if the people standing gawping with their mouths open did kinda dampened the dancing. It was going off on front of the DJ booth as Tigran played a set that spanned more club style hip hop remixes, classic Mimosa, some amazing tune with steel drums, and the newer d'n'b dubstep of the likes of Block Party. I got totally lost in it.

Download MiMOSAs September 2011 mixtape (right click save as)

Tigran was followed by label boss Dov who played another wicked set through the full Muti Music repertoire of glitch-hop, dubstep and drumstep. We left while Freq Nasty was blowing the roof off with his own flavour of energetic dubstep.

Friday night a giant Trojan horse was dragged out into the middle of the playa by volunteer slaves. Gradually all the art cars parked up around it, sound systems blasting, jetting fire and spilling people to create the atmosphere of a mad max cruise cum space age carnival

It seemed like most of the crowd joined me in heading to the Fractal Nation Village again to see Beats Antique playing their full live set. This is quite the playa event. The place was so packed that I decided to hang out behind the mixing desk where there was space to dance with all the sound quality afforded to the legendary Monkey King at the controls. As a result I didn't see much of Zoe Jakes bellydancing, but the tunes were good and we had a loads fun.

Not interested in David Starfire ("he was just a wanker anyway", reports our Musical Mana correspondent) we split over to the Hookahdome to catch the end of Dulce Vita's dubstep set and to see Knowa Knowone, another target on the list. Due to some kinda tech issue that prevented clean switch-overs the crowd had completely disappeared by the start of Knowa's set. As he eased us into his glitched out percussive beats more and more people drifted toward the torchlight patch of dust, until by the end a very happy crowd were popping and swaying to Knowa's conscious sounds. Someone very kindly lent me some fire poi for my only voluntary spin of the week, finishing just as the technical hitch kicked in again. I went to have a chat to Knowa afterwards and he's a real lovely guy. Did you know he was at Secret Garden Party last year? Neither did I, but I hope he comes back!

  Fire on the Roof (FREE DOWNLOAD) by Knowa
  ill.Knowledge (feat. Knowa Knowone) - Free Schmunday School EP by ill.Gates

After riding and dancing on a few art cars that were cruising up and down the strip at 2, we set off on foot into the deep playa for sunrise. Halfway across we found a Hawain hog roast BBQ going on!

I made it to Robot Heart just after sun-up to find a load of our mates for a magical morning in the hands of Lee Burridge. Sunshine out grooves, beautiful smiling people, girls in cages dangling off a crane, crazy art cars, amazing outfits and plenty of booty shakin'.

  Live on the Robot Heart bus Burning Man part 1 by leeburridge 
  Live on the Robot Heart bus Burning Man part 2 by leeburridge

After dancing our fill we retired to the bar at Nexus, where Treavor Moontribe was playing some funky and floaty Opiuo laden glitch-hop. I think I reached the point where I was to drunk to stand, or climb the dome, around the time Nanda came on.

We didn't wake till Sat eve - just in time to rock the conclave with the Fireworks Collective before the man burnt. Hungover and drained, we went back to bed straight after, not waking up till just before dawn to see the sun come up from the temple. After exploring some art as far out as we could walk, we went back to pack up camp before watching the temple burn.

This review  doesn't even come close to capturing the crazy scale of everything that happens at Burning Man. If you've not been yet, just do it and don't worry too much about catching all the DJ's you wanna see (I never got to see Opiuo, Samples, Sub Swara, Guttstar, Gladkill, Chris B, Mikhal and many more). Just go with the flow and don't get stuck on the sound camps. Make sure you make the time to explore all the art properly and to bimble through the weird and wonderful world of the suburbs - that's where the experience really lies.

I'll be playing a glitch-hop set as the Morbidly Obese Midget in The Village at London Decompression, 1.30am on 21 October. See you there!

1 comment:

  1. Lee Burridge Robo Heart soundcloud links are dead. Did you grab a d/l before they disappeared? Would love to hear the set.