Burning Man offers participants a unique and transformative experience unlike any other on the planet. It’s home to many of us at LessThan3, and the burning of the man night has become much like a second New Year’s Eve celebration.
What makes the community-based art and music festival at Black Rock City, Nevada so special is that the event runs almost entirely off social capital. The participants are what make the event great, not just the organizers. The art projects are mostly crowd-sourced, the art cars and music stages are self-funded, and all the performers, DJs, and attendees choose to volunteer their time and give free gifts rather than get paid with money. Moreover, the Burning Man Organization (BMOrg) does do a great job of setting up the 68,000 person city, acting as the glue that brings everything together every year.
Now that the dust has settled, here are some aspects of the Burning Man 2014 setup that I appreciated, and some areas to improve upon next year. Remember, change is good!
What Burning Man Did Well
More Climbable Art Structures
The lovely primates of Black Rock City can’t resist climbing on art structures, and this year there were plenty to go around. While some delicate art pieces had signs that restricted climbing, there were more than enough for the apes to play on, including a giant Xenomorph alien queen fortress, a big metal spinning globe, and a huge tower with a globe on top that you could only get to with the use of some basic rock-climbing skills. Kudos to all the builders!
Extended Number Of Days
BMOrg increased the number of days of Burning Man to improve the flow of burners in and out of Black Rock City. While transport still took awhile (more on that later), it was significantly better than previous years because you could arrive on Sunday, Aug. 24 without an early arrival pass, and you could leave Tuesday, Sept. 2. This was a step in the right direction, and if they can extend the first day of arrival to Saturday next year, it may help traffic even more.
Embrace Art Structure
This was arguably the most impressive and talked-about art structure at Burning Man 2014. Both human body structures had passageways with windows all the way to the top of the heads, where you could see out through the eyes. The male structure had a heart with gears and a machine inside of it, suggesting logic. The female structure had lightbulbs in her heart, suggesting creativity. It left quite an impression when it burned Friday morning at sunrise.
Nuclear Dream Burn
The pyrotechnics and firework shows of Burning Man are among the best in the world. On Thursday night, they detonated an art piece titled Nuclear Dream that resembled a bloated atomic bomb halfway dug into the ground with its rear sticking up towards the sky. The massive mushroom cloud explosion sent burners recoiling from the blast, and could be heard all across the playa (watch video below).
Big Name Talent
The raging sound camps at Burning Man had massive stages, giant flamethrowers, and impressive sound systems that rival and surpass that of many festivals and nightclubs. There has always been great electronic music talent at the burn like Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold, and The Crystal Method, but this year I was thrilled to witness sets by a few big name newcomers, including Skrillex, Major Lazer, Above & Beyond, and many more. Additionally, Robot Heart blessed the mornings with sunrise sets in deep playa featuring some of the best in techno and deep house, like Tale Of Us, Lee Burridge, and Jamie Jones. We hope this encourages more artists we love to discover the magic of Burning Man next year.
How Burning Man Can Improve Next Year
Install Better Porta Potties
If you looked across the playa at night, there were thousands of pee puddles everywhere. The community cares about environmental damage to the playa, so perhaps it’s time to consider using better porta potties. To solve this issue, we can look at how some European cities deal with folks peeing in the streets. They have these three to four man standing urinal-type porta potties. These can be scattered discreetly around the playa, and each can serve many men quickly. This will improve the situation for ladies too since there will be fewer drunken men that can’t aim using the traditional closed-door porta potties.
The Man Burned For Too Long
The burning of the man on Saturday night is always an epic and powerful event. The flames this year engulfing the man were enormous and impressive; however, it took way too long for the man to collapse. It took over an hour for the man to fall, and this made it rather anti-climactic when he finally fell over. People started leaving long before then, as it was pretty difficult to maintain excitement and sit on the playa for that long. Many burners enjoyed last year’s UFO burn more because it lasted a more appropriate length of time.
Speed Up Will Call
It should not take several hours to get through will call. This problem isn’t new, but there are ways to address this issue. One suggestion I heard is to give all the hard-working Will Call staff members an iPad, or even just a list on a piece of paper, to walk up to burners’ vehicles, look up their names, and issue their tickets.
More Unique Theme
To put it bluntly, the Burning Man 2014 Caravansary theme was pretty weak compared to the Cargo Cult and Fertility 2.0 themes of years past. It’s not fun to pronounce, and it didn’t inspire many unique art cars or fashion. Let’s hope the 2015 theme is more fresh.
Address Bicycle Theft
This issue is getting worse every year, and it’s not just an issue of stolen property, it’s an issue of MOOP too. Thousands of bicycles are left at Black Rock City every year, and this has an obvious environmental cost. While some of these bicycles were left behind by irresponsible individuals, a great portion of them were stolen by selfish bicycle thieves and then abandoned. Nearly everyone has heard of someone getting their bicycle stolen this year, and it’s going to take more than telling people to lock up their bicycles to solve the issue of bike thieves. Perhaps the BLM with its eagerness to issue fines should set up some decoy bicycle sting operations to catch bike thieves in the act red-handed. The word will quickly spread of the hefty fines and penalties, and it will discourage some bike thieves from riding off with bicycles that don’t belong to them.
Burning Man 2014 photos by Chris Downar and Conrad Wentzel.