Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Burning Man Music For Dummies

With Burning Man hitting Nevada right now, sapping San Francisco of half of its population (not to mention matching the cities' yearly drug usage in a week), those of us left here might be wondering what the big deal is. Don't get me wrong, anyone who has lived in San Francisco even a month probably has already developed enough of a closet-hippie instinct to appreciate the utopian principles and free-love doctrine of this annual event (that originated in our very own Baker Beach by a colony of nudists, might I add), whether we can afford the vacation time and money to go or not.

But when surrounded by a multitude of more immediately obvious incredible lineups from festivals littered all throughout summer, the sad fact of the matter is that, with the exception of The Crystal Method performing this year, many of the best musicians on Burning Man's bill are overlooked and overshadowed by the enormous amount of countless similar, but much more generic, acts. After all, many of the sub-genres featured at the festival rank among some of the easiest styles of music to make (Dubstep and Trance, I'm looking at you). Everybody and their grandmothers are getting a hold of free audio programs and making intoxicated young people dance.

Thankfully, Burning Man doesn't make music the primary appeal of the event, instead choosing to find its niche in costumes, art installations, pyrotechnics, acrobats and general bat-shit insanity. However, for the people who value music a little more than all of that combined and need a little more convincing to get their asses out to the desert next year, consider just this small handful of artists on the 2010 lineup who, for one reason or another, manage to separate themselves from the large pool of unidentifiable electronic drivel.

Rabbit in The Moon
Confucious and Bunny mix and match styles in an enveloping coat of swirly atmosphere, similar to Pretty Lights or any other number of modern DJ's that are beginning to blur the lines between various Electronic genres in super accessible ways. Their tracks are heavy in the sort of ghostly, swelling voice samples that you would find on countless downbeat compilations, but with a more rhythmic break-beat borrowed from Trance, Trip Hop and House. More importantly, their live shows include the sort of deranged fashion show that could have only come out of a state as strange as Florida, featuring everything from full body light suits and crowd-surfing body bubbles to fire playing belly dancers and...well...good luck finding the words to describe whatever this is.

If the first wave of Dubstep could be compared to the first wave of hip hop (minimal, primitive, kinda goofy, and innocent...see artists like Skream and Benga), then artists like Glitch Mob and Mimosa represent the "gangster-step" phase of the genre. Like Dr. Dre before him, Mimosa duels West coast attitude and modern technology off in intensely deep grooves, fat synths and instantly lovable hooks. Some of his songs share more in common with Flying Lotus (appropriate since this style of bass-driven beats came from the same region of LA) than with Rusko, complete with clipped up samples and jagged, stuttering percussion, but Mimosa manages to make that style of bass-driven beats in your face enough to work on the dance floor.

Treavor Moontribe

To outdoor festival junkies, Treavor Moontribe belongs to an elite class of people. One of the major founders and resident performers of the Moontribe Full Moon Gatherings, an all-night DJ event that takes place once a month in various scenic locations of So Cal, he's also spent 14 years perfecting his spacious soundtracks for deserts and snakelike progressive house and techno movements. The best way to listen to Treavor is to get lost in the hypnotic repetition of it all. His tracks drift slowly and change gradually enough to ease listeners into a gentle trance, but the creeping buildups have knee-shaking pay-offs - one of the organizers of The Moontribe Full Moon Gatherings recalls how he once witnessed a girl lose control of her bowels while watching Treavor perform.

The human mind is basically an extremely complex and glorified super computer. We process and store information, receive and send electrical signals to get stuff done, and run tasks through pre-programmed processes (learned through repetition, the same way all of the programs on our computer were created). A common criticism of "laptop" music is that it requires no real instrumental talent, but once you realize that our minds work just like macs anyway, there's not much of a difference between learning the ins and outs of a computer program, and developing guitar or piano skills. The line is especially blurred when, all around us, technology is increasingly becoming extensions of ourselves. All too often, the phrase, "I feel naked without my cell phone," flutters above crowds, as if these mobile devices were appendages of ours. We interact with each other more and more each day through the internet, filling out Facebook profiles and pimping out webpages and blogs as if they were integral parts of our identities.

Artists like Neurodriver create music that reminds us of how we have helped technology evolve and how technology has influenced the way we are evolving, which is often a huge underlying theme of many Burning Man events and tents. This is the sort of electro-thrash that should be played while reading cyberpunk novels and pondering how much longer before cyborgs take over; think Amon Tobin reading a ton of Ghost in The Shell and then going to the clubs. Dancing may appear to be a human trait, but Neurodriver's plunging lockstep grooves and glitchy breakdowns make the mechanical nature of your body's movements and responses difficult to ignore. The same can be said of most Electronic music.

The entire Burning Man 2010 stage guide can be downloaded in pdf format from Rock Star Librarian’s awesomely useful website.

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