Burning Love. Burning Man.
Here at ModernLook, we’re all about livable art, and few events are as unapologetically artistic as Burning Man. First held in 1986, on Baker Beach, California, the event seeks to bring community unification through experiment and art, as well as the employment of 10 main principles. We recently caught up with our in-house music aficionado, Manuel Maté, who attended Burning Man, and sat down with him to find out if the event really is as hot as everyone says. And boy did we get deep.
Image courtesy Mike Forman
ML: What created the burning desire in you to attend Burning Man?
Manuel Maté: I first started really hearing about it about 5 years ago, through some of my more artistic friends who were going for the first time. Back then, it really only intrigued me because I thought it was a bigger/different music festival that I might be able to go down the road. It wasn’t until I moved to LA in September 2013 that I really got into my music-mixing hobby and constantly searching for new and inspiring music. At the same time one of my best friends -- who’d been to BM twice before 2014 -- told me about her involvement with a BM camp and how she wanted me to help her build the identity of it, music-wise. That’s when I found my calling for BM. The right situation had come up, and I could bring out the creativity in me to help build something special.
ML: Wow! That sounds like kismet! Now that you’ve attended, what does Burning Man mean to you?
MM: Burning Man, in my eyes, is a civilization that is constantly evolving. It’s a culture, an idea, a utopian place that touches all my emotions unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. It’s a week-long internal test of the heart, body and soul. The ups and downs that you go through personally are the integral parts of BM that you need to really feel the full burn. All of these thoughts and emotions go through my mind when I think of what BM actually is.
Giant sculpture in the desert (Image courtesy Manuel Maté)
Burning of the giant wooden man (Image courtesy Mike Forman)
ML: Speaking of feeling the burn, Burning Man ends with the burning of a giant wooden man and leaves no trace, other than in memories; how do you feel you’ve changed and grown from this experience?
MM: There is really no way to quantify the changes and learning experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to go through at BM. I can honestly say I don’t know where I would be career-wise and personally today if I had not been a part of it. Seeing the daily human interaction in the playa has changed the way I judge an individual. Humans naturally judge someone in the first 3 seconds of locking eyes with one another. Burning Man has ingrained an ability in me to not be so quick to judge. To inquire about someone’s past and see how their personal path can help shape my own just by having a quick two-minute conversation. You never really know someone until you connect on deeper levels. BM has changed in me the curiosity to find out more about someone. Because you never know how that person can affect your future unless you take the time to first make that connection.
ML: Burning Man rests on the strength of 10 main principles. How did the event live up to those principles?
MM: I think BM would have long been extinct if it didn’t take all 10 principles seriously and people attending it made a conscious effort to apply all of them. The 10 principles are almost like a fence around your head at BM that you can’t escape. And frankly, I wouldn’t want to escape the thought of applying all 10 principles while I’m there. You can’t have Gifting without Decommodification. You can’t have Civic Responsibility without Communal Effort. When you do go, and are aligned with the principles, you can’t help but feel great inside, like you are part of something bigger. And we as humans, are always subconsciously trying to find something bigger than ourselves.
ML: Which of Burning Man’s 10 principles resonated most deeply with you?
MM: Immediacy – Def: Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
Immediacy is extremely important for me, especially during this year. I really wanted to go next level in terms of knowing who I really am and what I am capable of. Immediacy is a term that challenged me to find the answers that help me better understand myself and those around me. To learn how to solve minor issues and frustrations is to learn how to use immediacy (the thought of, “now what”). The issue is in front of you, what are you going to do right now to solve it?
Image courtesy Mike Forman
ML: Burning Man also highlights the importance of radical self-expression; what are some interesting ways you saw this principle manifested?
MM: Whether it’s individuality (how you dress, the music you play, the art piece you create) or in a group. Radical self-expression is what gives Burning Man its creative side. Thousands of individual minds coming together to create something unique and inspiring is what makes BM what it is. It’s the thought of: “If money wasn’t the issue, how would you express yourself in the eyes of thousands out there also trying to express the best for of themselves. The end result is beautiful.
ML: What was the sense of community for you while attending Burning Man?
MM: The feeling of community at BM is incomparable to anywhere or anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s like a Burning Man is our body and we are all tiny cells that work together (and go through our own experience) to combine into something truly out of this world. Knowing you can’t pay your way out of things helps you be more considerate and helpful towards others. If someone needs help or just a hug, you help them and you hug them because it’s the natural thing to do. Whether you get a tangible reward at the end or not, isn’t the reason for doing it in the first place. Because you truly feel a sense of communal effort and coexistence with others when you become a part of something bigger than you.
Image courtesy Mike Forman
ML: It sounds like you experienced a true metamorphosis. What advice do you have for those attending the event for the very first time?
MM: Read, watch, ask, LEARN, anything you can about Burning Man before going. And once you are on your way, clear your mind and tell yourself to let go of all those barriers/rules you’ve put on yourself while living in the default world. Because once you see the beauty of BM (that moment of bliss out on the playa) you will have already shed any negative thoughts and concerns you had prior to arriving. And having those thoughts there with you will only prolong the moment of bliss.
ML: What are some dos and don’ts of Burning Man?
MM: Do - Put your phone on airplane mode. Even if there’s signal out there, trust me, you will feel liberated.
Don’t - Panic about when/where you’re going to shower. Plenty of people out there will be happy to let you use their RV.
Do – Prepare yourself and bring anything that you would need to survive by yourself out in a desert. Yes you have friends and camps and thousands of other resources out there. But not everyone will be catering to your every need.
Do – Go out and explore every day a new area of the Burn you hadn’t been to before.
Do – Go out on your own to “find yourself”. Its sound corny but it’s true. The thoughts and ideas that come up when you ride solo out in deep playa will help you in the long run. And it’s true what they say, “sometimes you got to lose yourself to really find yourself”. So don’t hesitate to break from the pack and get lost.
Don’t – Plan your days according to music or specific shows you want to see. There’s so many things happening out there every second that having the non-plan plan is always the best plan.
Do – Plan your stay ahead of time. RVs, plane tickets, camp fees, are all important if you have a low budget.
Do – Bring the weirdest things you have laying around in your place. You’ll never know how gifting something you don’t use to someone who terribly needs it feels like, until you have gifted it to that person.
Don’t – Worry about trying to find your default world friends. Before you know it, you’ll been surrounded by new ones.
Do – Bring a bike lock. There’s virtually no crime in BRC except for drug use and bike theft; legit the only 2 “bad” things at BM.
Do – Bring gifts! First time burners get sad when they come to the playa and they receive so many gifts (for no reason other than love) from random people they meet. Bring something, anything to give to a few people. It will bring out the gifting spirit in everyone.
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