A friend of Goa Gil, the man labelled the godfather of trance, has uploaded a 75-minute film onto YouTube to celebrate the birthday of one of rave’s most influential pioneers. It begins with footage from the 1992 instalment of Burning Man, taking us back to a time when the gathering — initiated by a young Californian hippy community — is celebrating its 7th birthday and has been squatting the Black Rock desert for two years. A collection of only 600 festival-goers, all amateurs in the realms of psychedelic music and other-worldly experiences, congregate around a small lineup featuring B.R.A.D, Goa Gil, Synthesis, and “Niles”. Today, the festival welcomes some 70,000 participants each year.
The footage reveals an image quite different to the one that Burning Man carries with it today. Firstly, we’re in an era when entry to the festival was free. The Black Rock City town is home to no Boeing 747, no VIP areas dedicated to Silicon Valley millionaires, not even the perfectly arranged, enormous arc of a circle that we have come to know. There are no bizarre vehicles that look like they’ve come straight out of Mad Max, nor bikes by the thousand. Only a desert and a very small community of honoured attendees including Goa Gil, ever the innovator.
1992 Burning Man with Goa Gil & friends
The documentary invites us to follow his journey at Burning Man, from his arrival until his departure. A chance to (re)discover the legendary warmth of a musician who was at the heart of the first sounds of trance. Always by his side, we also find Ariane McAvoy, French musician and Gil’s travel companion.
To put it bluntly, in 1992 Burning Man resembled a basic free party in the middle of the desert with a strong dose of psytrance culture. We find the same characters, the same energy, and the same intimate relationship between the festival-goers and the environment as one would expect to find in a field just outside England’s M25 in 1992. At the 34th minute, we see Goa Gil playing at sunset. With acid sounds and relentless, pounding rhythms, we’re really listening to goa trance, on the frontier between psychedelic and acid house.
What follows is the ritualistic lighting of the Burning Man: a euphoric moment soundtracked by cries and African drums. The tribal and familial energy that oozes out of this footage makes you slowly regret the change in direction that the festival has taken. The fault of the organisers, the public, or a fast-moving world? It’s hard to say, but it seems that Burning Man has, little by little, traded its authenticity for something more hippy-chic, more commercial. And the ticket price, risen up to $390, is of course all part of this new formula.
This shift doesn’t sit well with all of the festival’s attendees. This year, some revellers didn’t hesitate to vandalise a group of motor homes in the VIP area. That said, it’s understandable that you might see red after having spotted Paris Hilton bandying around with braided hair on the festival’s hallowed sand.
Such an unusual mix of events reveals the ideological battle that takes place at Burning Man today. A battle between those who are passionate about the party — determined not to let their paradise be invaded by a system that they’re trying to escape — and the well-off festival-goers, who come to search for an experience that’s totally different to their daily lives.