Lithuanian Burners at Renegade 2021
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Dominyka: Let's go, we're rolling. Good day to you, Lina, nice to meet you. It'd be nice if you could tell us about Renegade. Where did you poop?
Lina: We named the camp KISS—Keep It Simple Sexy—because we only decided to go and make a camp just a month before the event. Keep it simple, bitches. You know? “Don't overthink this”. So first and foremost, our 60ish-man camp brought 8 or 10 magnificent portapotties that were so nice, running water, which really made it the most luxurious Burn I've been to, in terms of toilets, ha ha. Cause you know, everyone was saying before the event, “No, I don't wanna go, it's going to be a shit show, you know, a 'shit show.'“ But, it was very comfortable. I heard there were 10-15,000, maybe even 20,000 people there. It was a different kind of burn, and this was surely one for history books. The best part was that so many OG BM folks were there, the oldies, the seasoned burners, Burning Man CEO herself, everyone was there to observe this social experiment. Because this time there were different rules - no rules, and certain type of rules - people could come from Gerlach, sleep over in the dust, have some coffee someplace else and come back, so it was a totally different feeling. People who typically wouldn’t go to the Burn could check it out this year. You could just come for a few days with your truck and your tent. And the camping feeling was different: it was like the camps were villages—there is a cluster there, there's another camp over there, there’s another tribe—far enough away from each other that it's not organized as a big bustling city with programming, but rather this conglomerate of villages. It was a new and interesting experience: I would say back to the essentials of what makes playa magical. For example, Robot Heart was probably the only sound camp with that quality of sound, so everyone kept saying, ”Where are you going?” “Robot Heart.” “See you at Robot Heart!”—and you could meet all of your friends there, because it was one of the few musical spots. People drove there to dance with their RVs, because you could drive anything on the playa this time, walking over there in their socks to dance, and then driving back to their own camps. There was way more moving around, lots of motorbikes, few ATVs, e-bikes, buses...there was also no speed limit this time, no regulations, no Burning Man DMV to decide what is an appropriate art car. Another interesting thing was that the center of town this time was a fully closed off circle, not a semi-circle as the usual city design goes, and it was smaller in perimeter, so you could go through the playa to the other much easier. And the playa discoveries were fewer this time: there were people Pho serving, you know Pho, this Vietnamese soup, so everyone back at our camp would be like, “Did you discover the Pho soup camp???” “Yeah we did!” “We did too!” There weren't fifty points of interest, just a few. So imagine, everybody's in little groups, more cozy, and because there was no booklet, no official programming, there was more time spent intimately in the camp. We sat around braiding each other's hair, lying in hammocks, discussing...it felt very old school—perhaps that’s what the first burns used to be. There wasn't too much stuff going on that made us say, “Oh we gotta be there, there’s a conference at Ideate, or in fifteen minutes we gotta run catch this DJ...” It really felt like back to the basics, back to the roots. I didn’t see any photo shoots going on either, ha ha.
At first there wasn't any art in the city, maybe just a couple of funky looking art cars. You could show up with a fur-covered Volkswagen and say, “Yup, that's my art car,” or you know, just throw something on your vehicle and call that art. But at the end of the week the art started popping up. In the playa center, somebody made a burning man, but he was only four inches tall, put on some wooden boxes. So there was indeed a burning man in the middle as usual, just a weeny little one. The temple was erected as well. But the most interesting is that there was a drone show. You might have heard there was a drone show in 2019, right? This year, they showed up and did drone shows at different times, different nights, different camps. One night we made a camp dinner for a hundred people, including for a bunch of strangers that showed up, and low and behold—drones started dancing above and circling the playa making hearts and other shapes. They’re truly fascinating to watch. On the night of the burn the drones formed a massive Burning Man figure. People created their own versions of the typical representations of Burning Man culture, and that’s what the BM spirit is all about—initiative, do-it-yourself and radical self reliance.
The interesting thing is that there were a lot of people that that wouldn't normally go to Burning Man— “Hey, we heard it was free this year.” That was really cool. Real Americans, the America-Free-Forever kind of people. Because let’s face it, it’s an exclusive event because of the $400 ticket price, because of how fast they sell out, and because of how peculiar the culture is. So now you could just show up, and just for a day or two even, so people were there probably thinking, “Wow this is weird, never seen shit like this before!” So, again, seems to me it was a perfect opportunity for people to check out the Burner culture.
Povilas: What about Leave No Trace?
Lina: Leave No Trace was pretty bad. First of all, there was no orange fence catching flying nonsense, trash. That fence is there to catch shit the wind is carrying off. Second of all, there was all sorts of little trash that you normally don't see, garbage, that was all over that usually gets caught. Piss puddles all over...I really missed the organized culture for keeping the playa clean this time.
One cool thing that I'd never seen before was that someone came by and offered us a playa gift. This girl asked if she could take our trash for us. She took a bag of garbage out of our kitchen! Can you imagine that as a gift? Brilliant. Another thing I saw was, somebody put a bucket with a toilet seat on top of it and a sign that said “Please Use.” Boom. Useful playa gifts for those in need! Because we're all in this shit together, you know?
Dominyka: Here's a question. I've heard that, like, there's police patrols around, were there this year?
Lina: Yes, of course.
Dominyka: But they didn't tell you to get out of there? Cause you had no tickets or permits, right?
Lina: No, they have no right to, because it's public camp grounds, so there's no limit to people being there.
Povilas: But there are police.
Lina: There definitely were police: we saw them and heard the sirens. They were telling some people to slow down, and that was great, cause everybody was speeding around. I won’t lie I tested some speed driving too! I mean, imagine entering the playa, and there is nothing, no flags, no greeters, and you go for five minutes, ten minutes, and there's no signs that You Have Arrived, Welcome Home, nothing. It was kind of hard to find everyone. We all used an app WhatThreeWords to find the camp. It works to locate exact spots in remote areas, so it could get you precisely to your camp. Without that it would have been really hard. After the build, people started putting up neon signs and it got easier to orient, but still, imagine the city without the man, the streets, the temple, the Central camp, the gas lamps, the usual stuff. This really helped us all to see the the invisible hand of the org, all of the little things that make the city easy to navigate and how we couldn't really get by without it. First there's usually that orange fence collecting trash and helping people not to get lost in the wide open desert. There are rangers. Medics. Ice. Zendo for all of those bad drug trips. There are water trucks driving around spraying water, which is super useful, because boy did the roads get dusty this year, instantly. It turned into this powder. And on and on and forth—the organization really makes the city function.
Povilas: Interesting, some people even decided to be rangers
Lina: Yeah, there were two ambulances this year.
Dominyka: Who organized those?
Lina: Old school Burners organized themselves—there was a Facebook group “burning man plan B” with makeshift placement and services like emergency, for this year, where people posted information, plans, and jokes. I didn't see any rangers. But I saw some people with radios, people keeping an eye on people. Maybe responsible burners who work in Gerlach, or from the 360 Burning Man project which is right there by the playa.
Povilas: the 360 project, the self sustained city?
Lina: They've been hosting weekends during the summer there. I think they are planning sustainable initiatives, artists retreats, permaculture stuff—building the Burning Man presence all year round.
Povilas: What do you think, Lina, is there going to be an official Burn next year or a Renegade Burn?
Lina: Who knows! But the org is really interested to learn from how things went down this year, what's new, what worked, what's a more effective way of building the city. This year was a super experiment for everyone, that proved that Burning Man principles and culture are alive and well, and people do implement them themselves, organically, which is fantastic to see. We can’t, however, say “well, we don’t need the org anymore”: it is because of the principles that Burning Man puts in place every year that this year we were able to self-organize and create a fun and safe event ourselves. If it's going to be eighty thousand people event again, you're not going to pull it off without an organization. I am super curious to see how this evolves.