Inspiration – a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul.
Inspiration comes in many forms; reading a book, travelling, listening to your favourite music….alcohol! My inspiration comes in the form of Burning Man. It’s hard to describe Burning Man to people, but I’ll try my best. In a nutshell it’s a week-long event held each summer in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The site is roughly 5 miles across, so having a bike is pretty much a necessity, and this year’s population was 70,000. It’s part art festival, part rave, part social experiment, and part ‘Mad Max’! There is no commerce (the only things you can buy are ice and coffee), so you have to bring in all your own food, drink and water supplies, and everything you bring in you have to take away with you (one of Burning Man’s main principles is LEAVE NO TRACE.) It’s a celebration of creativity and radical self-expression, and it’s one of the craziest places on Planet Earth!
This year was my second time attending, and it was also part of my honeymoon. When I first attended in 2011, my wife Louisa (then my girlfriend) proposed to me at sunrise on the morning of my birthday (#romance), so we couldn’t think of a better place to spend some of our honeymoon…..plus we like having good stories to tell our grandkids! I was fully confident that by following my ‘To Do’ list I would experience double the amount that I did in 2011….I was wrong!
‘To Do’ list 2015
One thing that I should have remembered is the unpredictability of Burning Man. You are exposed to the elements out in the desert, and this year Mother Nature was REALLY kicking some ass in the form of daily dust storms and freezing cold nights. It was intense, tiring and at times pretty terrifying. One night a group of us were riding out on deep playa (the area away from the main site) looking at art pieces, when a bad dust storm hit that lasted hours. Normally riding back to camp would take roughly 20 minutes (if you don’t get distracted along the way), but this ride took about 1.5 hours. There were moments when we just had to hunker down and stop riding as there were no visible landmarks anymore to help guide the way, and I couldn’t see the person riding next to me. It was frightening but totally exhilarating at the same time! By the end of the night I looked like I’d been trapped inside a Dyson vacuum cleaner…..this was accentuated by the fact I’d picked that night to wear probably my most impractical piece of headgear in the form of a pom-pom/Lego fascinator, so it actually looked like I’d been hoovered up from behind the sofa! Our refuge that night was a huge pen filled with about 500 giant teddy bears and 1500 pillows….literally THE comfiest place on earth, and somewhere we spent much time reclining over the course of the week (until people outnumbered bear, and it wasn’t as comfy anymore!)
Fully Dysoned (fascinator sadly out of shot!)
The Bear Pit
Each year we camp with Gallavant, which is a pirate theme camp with its own pirate ship art car, the U.S.S Nevada. Here she is in all her glory!
Gallavant’s gift to the playa comes in the form of the ‘AARGH Bar’. Its signature drink is a cocktail called Seamen…a fruity rum punch with a kick! In 2011 my voluntary bar shift was one of my highlights, so this year I was doubly excited that our gang were given a 4 hour slot to throw our own party, and even more excited that my friend Pete was bringing his decks, so I would get to DJ. The ‘Sexy Scots Lost at Sea’ party was the stuff of legend! Everyone coming over from Scotland brought two bottles of Buckfast and either a box of Tunnocks teacakes or caramel wafers in their luggage, despite us all being well over on our 23kg luggage allowance….dedication to the party! We served Bucks Fizz with shots of Buckfast downed at regular intervals. My favourite moment was when a random Scottish girl came running in to the bar screaming ‘oh my god, you guys have BUCKFAST!!’….she had clearly sniffed it out, and was ecstatic that a taste of the motherland was available over 4500 miles from home, in the middle of the desert.
The ‘Sexy Scots’ (only half the people in this photo are actually Scottish)
As I mentioned before, I celebrated my birthday last time I was there, and coincidentally this year was the first year since 2011 that Burning Man fell on my birthday again. The celebrations started with my only planned night of the whole burn. Dressed in our most cosmic attire, we spent the next four hours in the company of Fleetmac Wood, an awesome DJ duo who play Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks remixes and edits…..my idea of heaven! I think I actually got a bit emotional a couple of times during their set. Firstly when they played this remix of ‘Smile at You’ by Stevie, as it has been a staple in my DJ sets over the years, and is also a really special song for me and my buddies. Then later, after the clock had struck midnight and it was my actual birthday, they dropped one of the most beautiful remixes of ‘Rhiannon’ I’ve ever heard. I nearly imploded as it’s one of my favourite songs of all time! (If you want to listen for yourself, then you can hear it at the beginning of this Fleetmac Wood mix.) I spent the remainder of my birthday getting up to all sorts of mischief that I won’t go into here, apart from mentioning that I got to DJ in an old school bus that had been converted into a giant ball pit….rad and random!
A load of balls
Winner of most random place I’ve DJed!
I knew ahead of writing this blog that it was going to be hard to condense it down, as I have so many tales to tell (just grab me at the next social event if you want to know more), but I’m going to attempt to bring it back to my original subject: Inspiration. At Burning Man there are so many ways to express your creativity, and to experience other people’s. The art and art cars are mind blowing, and the effort people go into with their costumes is phenomenal. There are a million different adventures to be had, but it was actually the dust storms that helped me decide what inspires me the most. Initially at the end of the burn I felt frustrated that I hadn’t had the opportunity to see a lot of art or explore as much as I’d wanted due to the dust, but then I started thinking about all the amazing people I had met over my 9 days there. All the little interactions and lengthy chats I’d had with random strangers, or friends that I hadn’t seen in 4 years. The gifts I received from people who I’d only just met (my favourites were a pot of beeswax from a beekeeper named Ben, and a gimp action figure necklace from a guy who made custom figurines), and the reactions from people at the gifts I gave them (including the awesome fish taco badges courtesy of Material….which only offended one person!) Nothing beats the feeling of laughing hysterically with someone you only met 5 minutes before, or getting a massive hug from a person because you said or did something nice. I always leave Burning Man with a sense of just how incredible the world would be if we treated each other this way in ‘real’ life. Riding high on this feeling, I boarded the plane for our flight home and noticed that the gentleman next to me was pretty old and frail, and travelling alone. Normally when I’m on a flight I’m all about my personal space and minimal interaction with whoever is sitting next to me, but I remembered how good being nice feels, and decided to offer him some of my pretzels. We started chatting and I discovered he was a doctor from Punjab who had just been to visit his son in America to celebrate his 89th birthday. We drank a toast (thanks for the free booze BA), and he shared more stories about his life. It was fascinating, but also sad as he had lost his wife 10 years ago and lived alone, keeping himself busy by still working in a hospital a couple of days a week. As we left the plane he told me how glad he was to have sat next to me, and that I had made his long journey much easier. Being kind and friendly towards people doesn’t take much effort, and is definitely good for the soul. Luckily for me I was coming back to work in an environment where creativity is nurtured and inspiration is everywhere….plus my fellow Materialites are an awesome bunch! I’ll leave you with the wise words of Bill and Ted “Be excellent to each other…..and party on dudes”!
My trusty steed
Burning Man from above. I got to go on a plane ride!
The man sat atop a pretty difficult maze this year
The Totem of Confessions
Coming LIVE from Black Rock City
El Pulpo Mecanico is my favourite art car…..best place to stand on a cold night!
My best ‘perfectly timed photo’ of the week
A musical, playable Tesla Coil….one of my favourite art installations this year
Pom-Poms and Tutus make me happy!
En-route for a night with the Mac