A desert is not a place where you want to spend much time. Nevada even, is not a place where you want to spend much time. Surprising then that despite being deep in the Black Rock desert Burning Man, a week-long experience that's part art festival, part utopian society and part REALLY BIG party, gains in population every year (and we won’t even try to explain it more than that).

With a few members of Substantial contributing to Black Rock City's rise in population, here are our design, art, and music highlights that made this year's Burning Man memorable.


A brilliant ode to classic Greek mythology, Charon was the boatman on the river Styx, carrying newly deceased souls into the depths of Hades. At Burning Man, Charon was artist Peter Hudson's large-scale three-dimensional stroboscopic zoetrope (essentially a real-life "flip book" that animates via perfectly calibrated strobe lights) commemorating one of the great rites of human passage, the one from life to death. It was a favorite piece of art at Burning Man; sadly human and moving, surreal and beautiful.

Slowpøke DJs at Sunset

Slowpøke is our own Jeremy, Shawn and Donte: Substantialites by day, (mostly) electronic music DJs by night. With two-thirds of Slowpøke on the playa, Jeremy and Shawn played a Slowpøke set on the USB art car. From Shawn: "Watching the sunset, surrounded by people smiling and dancing while the USB crew handed out cereal was something I could do over & over."

TEDx at Black Rock City

Someone once remarked that "Burning Man could only happen in America." They argued that the US is the only country that could provide such a rich and balanced pool of intelligent and serious thinkers, doers and participants to make Burning Man happen. We're not sure if that's true, but we were glad to see some of those thinkers and doers at Black Rock City's first TEDx event. With more than 20 talks centered on the core principles of Burning Man, Creativity and Community, TEDx was an intellectual highlight of the Burn.

La Mort

As soon as we arrived at Black Rock City we heard rumors of a movie theater deep in the desert. A few days later, cold and tired and late into the night, we finally found La Mort. Constructed by a team of LA-based producers and directors to look like a classic, American theater from the '50s, La Mort was a piece of art as well as an operational movie theater, complete with old theater seats, a projector, and multiple daily screenings of such classics as Stagecoach and Forever Yours. Classic and dreamlike.

The Temple

The Temple at Burning Man is a true place of worship. Set against a backdrop of mountains and art cars the Temple is a de facto center of Burning Man, a sacred place where thousands come to sit still and pray, write their deepest regrets on the wall, or wake up to the sunrise. A quiet place where you move away from the noise and crowds and the parties. Always architecturally impressive, this year's Temple was more complex than years past as a robotic orchestra of antique gongs and cymbals were installed in the inner walls of the Temple, providing "a site-specific sound installation & kenetic sculpture, a sacred-sound environment unlike anything ever experienced in the western world." Walking into the inner core of the temple at sunrise, surrounded by a hundred people sleeping and meditating, enveloped in this amazing space and invisible, unknown music, was more than a highlight.

The Soundcamps

The music at Burning Man is an essential part of the experience. But as Burning Man takes pains to positon itself as an arts & culture festival and not an actual music festival, that relationship can get complicated. In effect, the Soundcamps provide the soundtrack to Burning Man. Whether it’s at 7pm or 7am, you’re going to hear music and it’s going to centered around a party. It’s going to have a lot of bass. And it’s going to be electronic music, so you better start liking electronic music.

The Trojan Horse

Another ode to classic Greek mythology, the legendary Trojan Horse. Constructed by the "Troy" Camp, the Trojan Horse was a "A 28-ton horse, dark and menacing, its head nearly 50' above the playa." The Horse was then dragged through the desert by hundreds of "Roman Slaves," then shot with flaming arrows. Watching the Trojan Horse burn and explode was amazing; at that scale it was like watching a building burn.

With so many amazing moments at Burning Man, it's almost impossible to describe it in words, making a post like this one seem woefully incomplete at best, almost pointless at worst. All we know is that we left Burning Man inspired by the experience, and we're ready to be blown away again next year.

Intro photo by Jenny Sherman.
TEDx photo by Nic Anderson.
La Mort photo by Alice Howell.
Temple photo by Diana Blank.
Soundcamp & Trojan Horse photos by Ryan Espegard.