I’ve been on mute for a minute from Bottom Forty…for little other reason than my hair has been on fire. For those who don’t already know, I’m a founding member of a mixed-gender and -orientation Burning Man theme camp by the name of Conception, which has grown to be one of the larger sound & arts camps from the Pacific Northwest on the playa. This year, I was the logistics lead/CEO (“Chief Executive Otter”), as well as music co-chair, treasurer, and communications lead (playfully dubbed “Lt. Uhora”) for a camp of 50 people from 8 states and 4 countries. Our extended tribe of over a hundred campers over the years remains connected, some of whom took the year off or have drifted off to form their own camps and projects. As such, August is the peak of my year, and I find myself working and planning and communicating most days and nights until I desperately need a drink but it’s already 4 hours after my bedtime and I just drop from exhaustion instead.
We’re now back from the dust and to the world of “money” jobs, and I’ve had exactly enough time to shower, wash my clothes, clean dust off speakers and out of all of our lights before they croak and die, start reimbursing people for expenses, upload a live mix from our camp (more about that soon), and write this narrative.
It was a great year on the playa and the cocktail of music was en par with the best years I’ve attended since 2001. It was also the best Man I’d ever seen…all tricked out and rotating on top of a space ship! Playa dance stalwarts Opulent Temple and Root Society took the year off, but this just opened more room for other ventures. There was disco, house, techno, dubstep, acid, rock ‘n’ roll, banjos, marching bands, progressive, Afrobeat, breaks, and stuff beyond definition (thankfully). Not much trance though, which used to be a mainstay in Burning Man’s earlier years.
Let me state for the record that trying to attend every party in this place is so unimaginably insane that…shut up. I’ve given up on even chasing artists that I think are awesome–because time is so slippy and your ears and intuitions are much better at tending to your needs than having a “planned burn.” Yeah, so Carl Cox is playing at Opulent Temple on Friday night at 1am. Arrive and find it overrun in the middle of a duststorm and douchebag weekenders from Las Vegas have decided to shove you out of the way for best enjoyment of their night (true story from 2012).
The amazing thing about Burning Man is that the more you plan your journey, the more you suffer. The more you drift and let all kinds of bullshit distract and delight you, well…the brighter you burn. Often the lesser named artists, or weird unexpected occurrences are the things that find your core. I heard that some major named DJs were all playing, um, everywhere at every moment and I just said fuck it and decided to let the moment take me. Besides, we had a camp to run, parties of our own to throw, friendships and temporary intimacies to forge and who the fuck knows what’s around the next corner?
That all said, I had a great time. Got to see some terrific artists at camps, on art cars, or just whizzing by on my bike. Threw some great events. Saw so many friends, and so many gorgeous, delighted people everywhere that it’s almost annoying. And the art was amazing, as always. Some musical (and other) highlights for me from 2013:
– Sunday night, throwing up some basic lights and sound in our now assembled dome with some of my mixes. It already looks amazing and we haven’t even hung anything, just plunked some lights down on crates. Our friends Matt Fisher from Gays Hate Techno, Ben Holder, Todd Hafner & Kyle Able (who just got engaged an hour before) and Trevor Sigler drop by and dance for a while like it’s an actual party. The new QSC camp subwoofer sounds terrific and we’ve already started to make our sonic imprint on Black Rock City.
– Monday night, After a exploring the deep playa in the morning, and an afternoon of further setup of camp, I get up from my disco nap at 1am and find myself riding my bike around the playa to go see everything all lit up. On the way to the newly opened Man glowing greenly on top of his spaceship, I hear this fucking awesome music to my left. Somebody is destroying a camp with wicked acid mixed with oceanic waves of techno. I pull left only to roll up to an amazingly realized Slut Garden, a Seattle/Portland theme camp who have leveled the fuck up this year with a huge tower and lasers shooting everywhere. And who do I spy playing in the booth but my friends, Seattle DJs Kadeejah Streets and Chewy Lewis!
I find a way to sneak behind the scenes and up to the DJ booth where Chewy aka Zach hands me a bottle of artisan tequila to swig from, and Kadeejah is sporting his trademark flat cap as they tag-team and snatch skulls. So fucking awesome. Our buddy Chris Tower, also a Seattle DJ, follows them with more madness. It’s hard to believe this is just Monday night.
I continue to wander all around solo, stumbling across Robot Heart in the deep playa. A fire spinner is performing as dancers throb to chill techno.
As I continue my wander ’til dawn, I see this art car I’ve never seen before on the playa, which I later learned was called the Mayan Warrior. It’s playing awesome glitchy techno at cray cray decibels. I mark that one and think, Robot Heart better watch out because there is a serious challenger. You can see the bass throb in the video image.
Here’s my buddy from Honey Soundsystem Jason Kendig’s sunrise set from the Mayan Warrior, the morning after, which has been getting a lot of attention:
– Tuesday. All day putting up sound and lights in our camp in anticipation of our Wednesday night party, with a brief stop at the Bear Shower Happy Hour at Astropups, where I get to take part in the meat-market-that-is with a three way public shower with gorgeous beardy men over drinks. Scrub a dub dub.
I hit a wall after dinner and collapse (my pattern for the week). Find myself waking up at 2am and refreshed. My gurl Collin Bass says, “hey, Soul Clap is playing at Disorient right now.” We jump on bikes and head over, all the way across the playa to the other side of the city 2:30 and Esplanade. Turns out it’s not just Soul Clap, but SC playing a versus set with Wolf + Lamb. That’s a lot of goodness right there. C-Bass hands me a flask with coconut rum to sip as Soul Clap and Wolf + Lamb (don’t know who is who, but the dude with the jaunty mini-top hat is killing me) are rocking Disorient’s dome. The set is both fucking EDUCATIONAL and INSPIRING. Coll leans over and says to me, “yeah, they’re all jazz kids who became DJs…” (like me) “…and as likely to throw a saxophone solo in the middle of house beats as anything else.” Exactly ZERO fucks are given here about genre lines–they’re holding it down with Afrobeat mixed into disco into downtempo house and the shit just all WORKS. I’m right in front of the decks dancing and one of them hands me a bottle of whiskey. Yay Burning Man!
We wander out; Coll rides his bike home about 5am and I wander more. I catch the Rhino art car playing some breaks, though not as many people are still out–at least on this part of the playa–on a Wednesday morning at 5:30am.
I watch the sun rise while perched atop the Life Cube 2.0 art installation after talking about art and making out with some older Israeli-sounding dude I didn’t even know was gay. I still don’t. I ride my janky bike home watching the green neon Man rotate mostly silently on his spaceship.
– Wednesday. Game faces are on for our XenoConception party! Conception’s M-W-F loincloth workshops are a hit as they have been for the last five years, and I fashion my own as I eye some gorgeous dude in his 50s with a body I can only dream of, buck naked, getting served by a camp member. It’s always appropriate to voice appreciation (deal with it) so I do while crafting my Anubis (Egyptian gatekeeper of the next life) loincloth to go with my badass Anubis headdress, which of course I never end up even wearing. Burner Todd Hafner played a great first public DJ set at the workshop in the dome, continuing a fine tradition of Conception creating a space for people to develop new strengths and flex their creative talents.
Our party encroaches on dinner and I scramble to throw some tunes together, trading off with the other resident DJs Mz Art Iz and C-Bass who do a great job getting the party warmed up…but the party *really* gets rolling when Kadeejah Streets and Chewy Lewis show up and drop their special magic. After their successful tag team collaboration on Monday night at Slutgarden (first time working together), they’re eager to do it again and run away with it. The sound is great, the Conception egg dome/DJ booth looks fantastic and here comes 2013. My beautiful, sweet friend Jack shows up with his rainbow flags and commences to do the single most dreamy flag spinning routine I’ve ever experienced, drifting like a rainbow nebula in Conception’s lasers and H2O lights. Choose HD for maximum dreaminess:
The Messenger from San Diego closes the party with an awesome psychedelic breaks set, soon to be featured in a B40 podcast (I think). 😉 It’s been another terrific year of XenoConception, our signature party on the playa.
– Thursday finds us a little dragged out but excited for our gendered (? all our events are inclusive to non-creepy people) events at Conception: a Pogonophile (“beard-lover”) spa and social, followed by a Camp Conception XX Women’s Tea Dance. OK, let’s just say this: the afternoon is fucking sweltering, around 100F, and I’m DJing from 2-4pm as our friend Scott Williams, chief Pogonophile, comes over to trim and generally love on men’s beards.
A whole bunch of gorgeous bearded men show up in various states of creative undress to have their beards, um, maintenanced. I am fucking melting in the DJ booth, inspired by Soul Clap/Wolf + Lamb’s “no fucks given” policy on genre and proceed play a downslow set of beardy beats united by a throbbing groove. Y’all hear? Here:
Predictable shenanigans happen in the dome with gorgeous men and I miss everything because I’m playing music. Wah.
The afternoon continues and cools a little bit, just enough for Mz Art Iz & C-Bass to get the Women’s Tea Dance ignited, as I make a quick dash to the Bear Wash Happy Hour to see if I can get another, devoutly-needed group shower and vodka cocktail(s).
Miss Ben “Visa” Holder, drag queen with a megaphone and a water gun who loves me (did I mention that drag queens love me? Or at least SHE does…), squeezes me in another 3-way wash and my afternoon is *almost* complete, with a stop by Celestial Bodies where I run into my burner friend Armistead Maupin, whom I met there the previous year. Oh how we try not to be star fuckers but the man wrote fucking “Tales of the City“, for Sylvester’s sake. Sue me.
I arrive back in camp in time to find my good friend Kit dancing to our T-Dance headliner DJ MQuin, a Brazilian transplant to Seattle who is rocking the fuck out of our dome as women and trannys dance around. So much sadness that there is no recording of this set. :’/ Tears.
Thursday evening after dinner, I attend a gay burner wedding with my long-time friend Colin Cherot and his honey Matthew Holloway in the spaceship under the man. It brings tears to my eyes to see the man who introduced me to Boards of Canada, Autechre and Aphex Twin, and took me to concerts when I had no money in San Francisco, get married to his honey.
We’re all crying as the neon green man revolves overhead and the nearly blonde dredlocked girl child of the attending minister presses buttons that make Close Encounters-like sounds in the installation while Col & Matthew say their vows. Champagne toasts and loveliness and I am off back to camp to join my friends Untethered, Puka, Ricky, and others in a memorial service, feeling very aware of the cycle of life. We run out to the Temple of Whollyness to create a shrine to our dear friend Greg Jones, who passed this year, and spend some solemn moments. Here’s the temple in day:
We take a large scale photo of Greg and lash it with bungee cords to one of the faceted geometries of the Temple, from when Greg’s partner Ray proposed to him on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Greg’s memorial picture, looking up into the sky, a few days later after dust has soaked it:
Next to the temple, we find BAAAHS, the Big Ass Amazingly Awesome Homosexual Sheep, an art car pioneered by some San Francisco boys we know in collaboration with a whole vanguard of queer DJs, with Honey Soundsystem’s P-Play and Jason Kendig at the helm. BAAAHS is looking and sounding great despite a mishap that took out part of the sound system, and Trevor Sigler is playing a tight-ass set of house and techno. Jacob/P-Play gives me the tour of the BAAAHS bus, which has festive couches on the main level and a perch, lights and DJ booth up top.
Every time we encountered BAAAHS the whole week, the music was en pointe (as would be expected by anything run by P-Play, Kendig and Honey) and surrounded by scores of crazily gorgeous, beardy men. Do I sound like a broken record yet? I guess I’m a pogonophile too. A rabid one.
After dancing a while in front of BAAAHS, we fly off to White Ocean (now the biggest club on the playa) where our lesbian playa wives Blaze and Sass await, and Diplo and Paul Oakenfold are supposed to be playing.
We catch a set of electro that isn’t really to my liking (I don’t think it was Diplo), and so I urge us forward to catch some techno and breaks at Bat Country down the street, the Messenger’s home camp. We’re served free drinks from a flaming bar (which I can’t get near for fear of my wig going up in smoke–and I did mention that everything is free at Burning Man except coffee and ice, right?) and Untethered, Dono, Ricky and I watch guys playing fire tetherball with a flaming ball and fireproof gloves. We stumble across Robot Heart’s actual home camp and check some minimal techno for a while, and go home to crash.
– Friday. It’s already Friday. After a lovely day lounging through our last loincloth workshop, a group of us head for Distrikt, the biggest daytime dance venue and host of DJs great and small. I’m in an iffy mood, feeling unattractive and uninspired–because there is always at least two moments on the playa where my psyche collapses from the sheer pressure of overwhelm, overstimulation and liver rebellion. I expect to arrive to a major banger party with Elite Force or the like and am surprised to find Thugfucker and Ben Seagren keeping it quite deep. The crowd is going bananas–more proof that deep house is a backlash favorite as crunchy compressed frazzling dubstep/electro sounds seem to have found the door. My campmate Haulie, in an N.O. Explode-infused cocktail-inspired moment, is giving dancers shit about wearing feathers, which are fairly verboten because they tend to create MOOP (“matter out of place”, or litter) and I notice the sheer number of gorgeous people in every direction, tricked out in glorious outfits. Still not feeling it, I begin to dance and try to let the music claim and move me. Get up on a platform and dance, spaceotter. Mark Louque, queer DJ from P-Town’s FagBash party (and one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever laid eyes on) is there, being beautiful. Muscle guys who look like they were ripped straight from the White Party circuit and put in crazy burner garb are there. Gorgeous men and women, straight and queer, everywhere. There’s a dude in a giant robotic suit outfitted with stilts and water cannons, spraying the crowd. Yet, I am unmoved and feeling inferior, contractive.
Suddenly, from across the crowd my gorgeous friend Allen (known in some circles as Allen Silver) makes a bee-line for me and showers so much genuine love and affection on me that I cannot continue to pity myself or find myself separate from my Friday. Thank you Allen. I love you.
I stop at Pink Mammoth on the way back to camp for dinner only to be showered with more gorgeous, furry, muscle-daddy affection from my friend new burner friend Dave, as scores of people bob to a woman singing live vocals over Rob Garza’s DJ set. It’s good that the desert quickly dries drool.
Having been responsible theme camp & music lead all week and having consciously NOT overdone it, I decide Friday night is the night to blow shit out. Excited for Comfort & Joy’s annual Honey Dusted party with Honey Soundsystem, I get dressed up in my band major outfit and goofy glasses that spell out “COOL,” wearing pink fishnets and a single-strap hooker dress underneath for discarded layered glamour as the evening evolves. Half the camp is heading to Fractal Planet to check out some dancing beforehand, and then plan to find wherever the Robot Heart sound bus has parked for more dancing, so we gather our crew and head across the night for Fractal.
Fractal Planet is pulsing with psychedelic art, projections and music, all giving you the feeling of DMT without having to smoke anything. We LOVE Fractal Planet. Here’s why (SIXIS on the decks):
Finding our party of about 20, it quickly becomes apparent the futility of trying to keep that many people together as everyone’s various vitamins and chosen potions kick in amid thousands of blinking lights and distractions. After spending thirty minutes looking for half our party who wandered supposedly only a few feet away but could not be found, a group of three of us wisely say “fuck it” and head off for our own journey.
Reality starts to twist a bit as we tour art installations and stop at various art cars. We encounter the hand of God:
Puka/Greg wants to go to Comfort & Joy directly and skip Robot Heart because we know there will be boys there in quantity, so we head back to the gayborhood where the BAAAHS bus has pulled up in front of Comfort & Joy and scores of men are already assembled and dancing to techno beats by M*J*R at the top of the bus. We lose Greg instantly, and Zaryn and I survey the crowd. My friend Allen shows up for instant loving company, and Jason Kendig, Mark Louque and P-Play are close at hand. P-Play, a bottle of whiskey in his hand, drags me over to see a burner he found wearing a full 7′ giant sheep outfit with giant head (matching BAAAHS) that he convinced to come to the party and refers to a “the reigning Miss America…isn’t she???” Supposedly sheep man is giving blowjobs under the sheep suit…somehow. Honey Dusted is off, and so am I.
The night becomes a blur. There are suitors, and shenanigans. I find myself in the Comfort & Joy Afterglow tent where I headlined Honey Dusted the previous year, before there was a BAAAHS art car. There are men doing all sorta nasty things all around. Kitten, my counterpart at Comfort & Joy, camp lead for a village of 600 people, is messing with the tent sound system which is crackling in and out as they are trying to pipe in the music from the BAAAHS art car. I ask him if he needs help and he motions wildly “spaceotter can you please make this work and put some music on. We have to disconnect the audio link from the bus” so I pull out my phone, get shit rolling on the mixer and play a mix. My potions on full tilt at this point, I find myself dancing naked but for long dangly silver earrings to one of my own mixes from my phone, unexpected host of Comfort & Joy’s sex tent, among scores of men, as P-Play and Kendig tear the sky down on the art car outside. Eventually the BAAAHS car pulls out to roam the deep playa with their cluster of men. I won’t talk about what happened next but let’s say I was an excellent host, and try to infuse each setting with warmth.
A lovely faerie had drags me out to watch a gorgeous sunrise together, wrapped together by his full length fur coat. Finally making my way out at 9 or 10am, I ride home naked save earrings and my band leader hat, recalling one of the more epic evenings I’ve ever experienced, even at Burning Man.
– Saturday was utter devastation. I think the Man burned that night. Wait, yeah, Untethered, Puka and I watched it from atop our 24′ rental cargo truck as we played sentry at our camp to make sure nobody came through our camp and stole everything. Sad isn’t it? People jack things during the burn sometimes, from bikes to equipment to speakers. Fuck that. We always have people watch. The mothership exploded and I went back to bed.
– Sunday morning, having slept all day Saturday and then again a full 8 hours after the Man burned, I rise at 6am to catch early morning. It’s glorious out, if a little overcast. I ride out to the still smoking remains of the man, which as usual is being picked over by a mass of burners. The Mayan art car is blasting downtempo music for the assembled curious. I head deeper into the playa, find a lovely art installation with a forest of hanging drifting white strips of soft plastic drifting over white fake fur, upon which you can lay and lazily listen to the rustling and soft provided music. From here I drift to the deep playa, where I encounter a familiar collection of souls in front of the Robot Heart art car for the Sunday sunrise party. I have missed Lee Burridge’s set, but Hoj is playing lovely mellow disco-tinged house and techno, and the light is simply amazing.
Atish takes over after a while, and I feel as though I got some sunrise Robot Heart glory, a tradition on the playa.
The remains of the burn are about tear down and striking camp. I direct the final part of taking down the shade structures and packing the truck, sweeping for MOOP, and watched as our camp starts to dissolve early. Many had planned to stay for the Temple burn Sunday night, but word had it that there will be a monumental rain storm on Monday at noon that willtrap everyone in Black Rock City for 4-12 additional hours should they not get out by then.
There is a rush on the gate, which many of our campers decided to join. It takes us 5 1/2 hours to get out, which is still not the longest Exodus I’ve endured (7 1/2 hours in 2011). I miss Lee Burridge’s all-day set at Pink Mammoth. Oh well.
Oh well. I guess it wasn’t short. And keep in mind: this is just a part of one person’s journey in one of the most intense places on the planet for the week of its existence, not some grand summary of the event itself. It’s simply too big. There were a trillion things happening that I did not see or experience. Hope you enjoyed it. More mixes and images to come…I’m sure.
Big shouts of thanks to the entirety of Camp Conception: Steampup, Ashely, Reflector Projector, Papa Smurf, Cubbubble, Sculptor Bear, Kori, Untehtered, Shady Sherpa, Haulie, Mz Art Iz, Royal Phoenix, Flying Squirrel, Marmot, Bad Wolf, Michael, Davida, Pack Rat, Puka, Phil, Mike, Eric, JoyMan, Phoenix, Raven, Andrew, Zaryn, Sparkle<3, Blaze, Sass, Skittles, Dusque, Frida B, Ricky, Erin, Cory, Katy, John, Trish, Canyon, Greg, Scout, Frankie, SeaBass, Goatweed, Razer, Mane, and Mauro, and to our whole family of former & future campers. Thank you for giving this dream life.
This is your spaceotter, signing off for now.
PS. If I forgot to credit your photo/art, yell at me and I’ll do so.