How Censorship at Burning Man Affects All of Us
Burning Man’s Department of Mutant Vehicles has banned the Dancetronauts’ Bass Station and Strip Ship from this year’s Burn. Despite an underwhelming amount of evidence, Captain Philthy Phil and the Dancetronauts were cited in violation of two infractions.
As vigilant contributors to the event, the Dancetronauts are concerned that in a scene dominated by underground artists, their sound has been deemed too “mainstream” by the BMO, and that the infractions may really be thinly veiled attempts at exclusion based on the type of music Dancetronauts plays from its vehicles. Electronic Dance Music is an ever evolving genre and as a growing population, Burning Man currently brings in nearly 70,000 participants. For an art & music event that lives by Larry Harvey’s 10 Principles of Burning Man, Radical Inclusion has manifested into the Radical Exclusion of an entire group of dedicated artists who devote their time and energy into bringing one of a kind creations loved throughout the Playa.
Dancetronauts made numerous apologies for the complaints and offered the resolution that no microphones be allowed for DJs and that sound be turned down or off during art burns and live performances. However, Burning Man responded by refusing participation for 2015 and publically shamed Dancetronauts on their official blog. After 6 years as a registered theme camp and art car operators with a flawless safety record, Dancetronauts are alarmed that their “Civic Responsibility” is now in question. Their concerns reflect a potentially alarming path toward censorship, and the Dancetronauts invite the Burning Man community to join in a critical dialogue on how to ensure this is not the case.
As pioneers of two of Burning Man’s most popular art cars, the Dancetronauts’ vehicles have been home to a multitude of unforgettable dance parties. Spanning 70’ in length with 80,000 watts of custom hand built sound, the Sound Cars are an audiovisual feast and vibrant homage to Burning Man and have been featured at prominent national events, proudly embodying the spirit of Burning Man. Almost all funding acquired throughout the year is reintegrated into the production their art pieces provide the Playa.
In 2014, the Dancetronauts worked hand in hand with creators of the Embrace sculpture to organize a synchronized celebration involving over 30 different art cars with sound systems that linked together in synchronization, while thousands of excited Burners danced excitedly for hours, culminating in an unforgettable sunrise DJ set by Diplo and Skrillex. However, on the night the Man burned, BMO singled out the Dancetronauts – contending that only the live music coming from the Dancetronauts’ Sound Cars was interfering with live drummers and other entertainment arranged by the BMO. Given the size and sound amplitude of the Strip-Ship and Bass Station, their Sound Cars fall into the Level 2 Car Class only capable of providing 79 dBa of continuous sound, much lower than the maximum of 90.
The Dancetronauts consider themselves ambassadors of artistry at Burning Man and did not intend to offend or displace other musicians for whom they have the utmost respect. Since last August, they have attempted to apologize to those they offended on an individual basis. In addition, BMO has neglected to present the complaints to the Dancetronauts in a timely manner, which kept both the Strip Ship and Bass Station first from participating in last year’s San Francisco’s Decompression, and now the 2015 Burn.
At another point throughout the week, during one of 40+ hours of scheduled music throughout the week, one of the 40+ artists performing for free on the Bass Station used the mic to announce that the current track was from an upcoming album and available for free download. While digital items are shunned for tactile ones on the Playa, this act is, at most, guilty of being out of taste rather than deserving of an infraction. Moreover – do these two independent events add up to revoking their Sound Car privileges? In 2013, the Dancetronauts recieved a sound complaint and during the 2014 Burn, there was only a short window of time where sound complaints had been reported – however, BMO Officials did not relay the complaints to the Dancetronauts at the time. Compared to other egregious violations of the decommodification rule, like Pay to Play camps, artists that have signed copies of materials, or the monetization of Spark the Burning Man movie, the ban laid against the Dancetronauts does not seem fair and comes off as less than objective.
With the Dancetronauts at the helm of the Strip Ship and Bass Station, it’s common to see consistent crowds gathered in front, full of thousands of happy, dancing burners enjoying themselves, before, during and after, the entirety of the alleged incident, which leaves Dancetronauts and its supporters puzzled as to the BMO’s unfair exclusion. With all growth comes challenges and as part of the Burning Man family, the Dancetronauts only seek to reconcile two opposing accounts of the facts. Apologetic since the start, they have been more than willing to find common ground while offering peacekeeping solutions via email, contrary to erroneous reports from the Burning Man Organization. In a dense email thread dating back to September 2014, Dancetronauts members Captain Phil and TravNasty have apologized multiple times, for the actions on their Sound Cars while pushing for a resolution.
Last October, TravNasty wrote to the BMO DMV “Whatever you guys decide, let it be across the board, not just singling us out… We get it! And we do and always will work with you guys to improve and role model things the right way.” Yet, there was no response from BMO until April, over six months later; a portion of Captain Phil’s response to the April email is below:
“I am humbly asking if you will please take this apology and understanding letter from me into account and please grant us the ability to bring our art vehicle to the most important event in our lives. We live and breathe Burning Man and have been positive participants for over a decade please allow us to continue to grow and be a part!
We are only human, mistakes are inevitable, it’s what we do to correct them that matters. Let us show you this year please allow us to attend with our car we have so much invested in.”
This is not just an issue about Dancetronauts, it is about all of us. No matter your taste in music, your taste in clothing, your taste in partners, the Dancetronauts have always been accepting and loyal contributors to the Playa and their loss of rights is a loss for all of us. Please let the community know we all deserve fairness and due process.
For more on the Dancetronauts, head to their social media profiles: