Blackout – art poster. This is a piece of art I made for an event I produced at Burning Man 2007 called Blackout. I started planning the event almost immediately after the 2006 burn. Once I realized that there would be a total lunar eclipse during the 2007 burn. It was an uphill challenge the whole way.
The plan was to have a party out at 12 o’clock and trash fence – the furthest (and darkest) point away from the city. Start it with some of the best in playa breaks and beats. As the Earth occluded the moon, bring the tempo down and let the eclipse be the star of the show. After totality, the tempo would pick back up as people continued dances the night away (as happens at Burning Man).
Back in 2007, the gates opened at 12:01am on Monday morning. And most participants trickled in over the course of the week. There were also far fewer registered theme camps, and far fewer people arriving early (to set up their projects). By comparison, in 2018 the gates opened at 12:01am Sunday morning and a much larger number of people are in Black Rock City on Monday night.
I knew that for Blackout I needed the help of a mutant vehicle that had a respectable sound system. Most vehicles I knew were either taking the year off or just wouldn’t be up and running that early. Pani and I were planning on building a mutant vehicle, but a proper sound system wasn’t within our budget.
With a few months left, and no vehicle and sound to support it, I thought I would have to cancel. Fortunately, Aaron Jae (of SF’s Evil Breaks collective and part of the Space Cowboys) was able to come to the rescue. He was a fan, and fairly certain that not only would the Cowboys’ epic UniMog vehicle be out there, but that he could convince his campmates to help.
What About The Lineup?
The Blackout lineup was tricky as well. A number of artists and performers were interested early on. But plans do change over time and people’s travel and camping plans fell apart or came together. Invariably, though, holes were filled. There were enough rockstars in the mix that if somebody wasn’t able to make it, I knew that somebody would be able to cover.
All That Was Left Was Everything Else
I still had my own travel and camp plans to work out, plus a new mutant vehicle to build. After 2006 it became clear that living in SF and trying to organize a camp that was mostly in LA wasn’t ideal, so we decided to organize our own camps (with Pani and I creating what would become Eridu Society) and we would try to camp beside each other. That turned into a lot more work than I’d anticipated, and included re-designing a new shade structure for 2007.
Things were progressing on the mutant vehicle front. I had gotten a custom steel frame designed and welded to the vehicle’s frame. The plan was to drive it to and from the event, and attach everything to the frame in the desert. In order for that to work, I needed to design and build all the parts in the city. The problem was everything was taking longer and costing more than planned. Catching up meant working longer hours, and leaving SF two full days later than planned.
The Blowout Before Blackout
Running late, and beyond fully loaded, we set out from San Francisco. As we got to Sacramento at the start of rush hour, one of the front tires suffered a serious blowout. By some miracle, I maintained control of the vehicle. We were able to get to the side of the road. After more delays, we were able to get the tire taken care of and get back on the road. We finally made it to Black Rock City on Saturday.
Of course, the conditions were awful. Shortly after we arrived one of the most serious dust storms I’d experienced to date kicked up, and the whiteout conditions lasted all day.
It’s Bigger Than You Think
Burning Man is big. It’s bigger than most people think. When I started participating, the perimeter of the trash fence was 5 miles. You can’t walk everywhere. You need a bike or some other form of transportation. In years past I had always brought a bike, and when I was crewing a mutant vehicle I just never used it. So I gave my old bike to a friend in need.
Of course. Between the late start and the uncooperative weather, there was no chance of having the mutant vehicle ready in time travel between all the other camps involved in the event. And I had no bike. The only thing that would make the irony funnier is if the city somehow got even bigger.
Which is exactly what it did. That year, Black Rock City’s perimeter expanded from five miles to seven. The city itself didn’t expand massively, it was only a much bigger deep playa, and a trash fence that got so much further away.
It Didn’t Stop There
The challenges didn’t stop there. The much larger playa led to some confusion. You’d ride (or in my case, walk) way beyond the temple, past where you think the trash fence would be. There was no sign of the trash fence. Peter Hudson’s amazing Homouroboros installation was up and running and had amassed a crowd. For a while some people thought the Blackout party should just happen there. Even if everyone agreed, there was no way to communicate that in the middle of the night. This only a couple short months after the first iPhone was launched. Long before the telecom companies set up mobile towers. Even if you had a phone, it would have been powered off and stored securely at camp (if you didn’t just leave it at home).
Everything Seemed To be Falling Into Place
Eventually we made it all the way out there, and everything seemed to be falling into place. More people had shown up than I expected, and everyone seemed to be having an incredible time. The moon was on schedule, and as totality approached the tempo and the lighting dropped to let the sky take center stage.
That’s when things started to get awkward. Some of the Space Cowboys crew hadn’t been filled in on the plan for the night, and they didn’t take kindly to what was being played on their sound system. The event was a huge success for participants, but behind the scenes was a massive ball of stress. They hung in there, and as totality faded the tempo came right back up and the crisis seemed to be averted.
The Blackout party kept going, but I needed to make my way back home (on foot, of course). On our way back, we noticed what seemed like an unusual number of vehicles with sirens flashing racing around the perimeter, and what seemed like an awful lot of light and commotion in the center of the city.
I didn’t see any of the fire, and initially thought that the commotion was the build crew working into the night (if the weather is calm, building at night has the benefit of not being oppressively hot).