Illustrations by Howl
Burning Man is the festival you attend when you want a transformative experience and an escape from mundane life. The goal of your nine-day utopian journey is to gracefully exit The Playa, leaving no trace, with an altered perception of reality. In simpler terms, it's an activated charcoal, gluten-free, frequently chemically enhanced juice cleanse for your soul.For people like me, Burning Man would most likely result in death. The thought of biking through a blinding dust storm to encounter a hippie using a hula-hoop as a weapon against a child who dared to use shampoo would give me an aneurism. I once flushed an entire family of goldfish down the toilet to avoid cleaning their tank—relying solely on transmitting vibes and trading dream catchers for a can of lima beans just wouldn't work in my favor.
But at its dust-ridden core, Burning Man is a melting pot of demographics, subcultures, and psychedelic minds—each more annoying than the next. Still, the most humanizing aspect of this often-contentious festival is its array of people from every economic class: sinister tech geniuses like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg and eccentric celebrities like P. Diddy and his famous pink umbrella brush shoulders with folks who think healing crystals and olive oil will cure fibromyalgia.Below, we made you a handy reference guide for the many types of mind-numbingly annoying people you will come across during your stay in Black Rock City.
1. The Sparkle Ponies
"The Sparkle Ponies," also known as the models, spend the majority of their days fine-tuning their bindis, pouring water on the ground to create a puddle where they can admire their own reflection, and figuring out how to helicopter in Annie Liebovitz for a joint photo shoot with a half-naked Jamie Jones atop art installations.If the Sparkle Ponies are not being coddled and worshipped by their pack of Instagram followers, they can be seen wandering through The Deep Playa without a cause, often trailing closely behind the one-percenters like a bunch of selfie stick-wielding dementia patients. As they meander through the rough terrains of Black Rock City in skin-tight latex, their million-dollar bombshell bras and six-pack abs glisten in the sunlight. The male models trade their protein shakes for mushrooms and GHB, and the female models swap cigarettes for a trendy snakeskin choker, all while desperately trying to catch a ride on Katy Perry's segway or finagle their way into a venture capitalist's pop-up fast food joint, "Burner King." After a day of social climbing, they get bored and leave.
The Techno Snobs only come to Burning Man because they caught a glimpse of a flyer in a techno Facebook group and are under the impression that Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann will be playing back-to-back for days on end in the middle of a desolate dungeon. They all know each other from the deranged YouTube comment sections where they spend days rummaging through Marco Carola videos trying to score the track IDs. They blacklist anyone who has Shazam or any other iPhone besides the space grey 6+ (no case).
2. The Techno Snobs
They hail primarily from New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, but swear that "Berghain is home." Although he has been studying the German Rosetta Stone for approximately one day, at any given moment, Leo, from Miami, can be heard asking, "Wo ist die techno?" To which Jerry, from the Bronx, replies, "You gotta stop with the fucking German techno, bro! I told you I only know how to say 'Romanian DJ' and 'warehouse.'"They don't bring bicycles because they think the desert has Uber Black readily available to take them from camp to camp. They can be seen miserably moping around their camping grounds, trying to locate Chris Liebing's bald head in a sea of colorful galactic unicorns. They attend the Lee Burridge sunrise set at Robot Heart, only to fall asleep on the ground, saying, "It put me to sleep, dude. Where's Function or Anthony Parasole when you need them?"
3. The One-Percenters
When they're not preoccupied with hogging 99 percent of the world's wealth, the one percenters flee to Black Rock City to seek solitude from their butlers and assistants. Their festival entry methods include flying in a TAO Group investor's chartered private jet and hogging the Nevada freeways in RVs equipped with reverse-osmosis Fiji water showers and Egyptian cotton mattresses. Their favorite DJs include former Miami Heat star turned DJ Rony Seikaly, Behrouz, and Guy Gerber. Their attire entails baseball caps stitched with "Mykonos fucks Ibiza" slogans, hooded Louis Vuitton scarves embroidered with llama fur, and body suits with matching moon boots spraypainted by Mr. Brainwash and Alec Monopoly.During the day, you can find these one-percenters carrying around the ashes of Albert Hofmann in a Cartier vial, and mating with each other to conceive a dust-fund baby. At night, they'll either be gleefully swinging off the Robot Heart bus (which is like a Greyhound bus that experimented with acid in art school)—or riding their bikes, yelling, "This is what it feels like to have nothing!"You know when a superstar DJ is sometimes forced to fly commercial, but knows in the back of their minds that it's temporary? That's how the one-percenters feel about hanging out with the plebs at Burning Man.
The Jaded and Afraid are the veterans of Burning Man. Horrified about Burning Man's growing popularity, they will incessantly tell you that 1996 was the year "everything ended." They regularly gripe in the Burning Man Facebook community groups that the quality of people continues to get worse, and the culture has been ruined by the arrival of "the kids," "the rich," and Skrillex.
4. The Jaded and Afraid
These disgruntled men and women drag in their own generators and pink flamingos from their homes in Reno, Nevada, and spend their days on the Playa stationed near their 1976 Volvo wagon, sipping on lukewarm beer and puffing on spliffs. They hate house and techno, sneer at groups of costumed partiers running to the Maceo Plex set, and fervently believe that songs without guitars don't qualify as "real" music. "Show me somebody who can play an instrument, on a stage, live—that's what I call talent," they growl whenever they hear someone playing anything by The Chainsmokers.
5. The Stardust Vagabonds
These non-GMO, organic raw vegan souls make it to Burning Man because the universe guided them there. Constellations served as their Google Maps, and the moons of Saturn sent their brains pulsating cosmic signals to head in the direction of Nevada. They call Burning Man the only place they belong, forgetting that just a few months before, they claimed a tree hammock at Electric Forest as their real home.These nonconformist dust-dwellers are what would happen if a Carl Sagan quote came to life, destroyed all their neurotransmitters by doing too much ayahuasca, and mutated. The Stardust Vagabonds don't believe in soap, footwear, or basic hygiene, but they do believe that the dandruff from their unwashed scalps yields healing properties more effective than modern medicine. They will try to convince you that your third eye caught conjunctivitis after you touched the railings at Flosstradamus' last set, and that you should say "almond milk" three times in the mirror for a cure.
Starlight Vagabonds single-handedly keep rave toy companies in business, and can be seen flashing their light-up respirator masks and LED batons while hula-hooping to a Bassnectar or Infected Mushroom set played out of their hemp seed speakers. They spend their days at the festival practicing sun salutations, masturbating with coconut oil, and warning about the health hazards of drinking from plastic water bottles—but will cheerfully snort ketamine off shit-stained portapotties when the feeling strikes them. They bring their children to orgy domes on the Playa to expand their minds, and will whip anyone with an incense stick for disobeying any of the ten principles of Burning Man. Oh, and they call orgasming on The Playa "dusting a nut."
These adventurous Europeans somehow score a Burning Man ticket through a friend of an Ibiza dealer's girlfriend's buddy who runs a nightclub deep in Italy. On their magical journey to the Playa, they take seventeen buses, a boat, a taxi, and Noah's Arc, but once they get there, they have no idea what to do and end up more confused than Ten Walls' agent after he somehow manages to book his client a gig. Completely unprepared, they show up with a bag the size of a pre-schooler's lunch box and forget to pack a toothbrush and toilet paper. A bright-eyed family from a commune in Seattle may end up "adopting" them, letting them mooch off their food, drinks, and shelter. But the Euros will inevitably leave their cigarettes and trash lying around, which will result in an attack from The Stardust Vagabonds, who bum-rush the Europeans in order to take revenge, brandishing their light-up toys, beaded dreadlocks violently flopping in the wind.The Flummoxed Europeans aren't happy with Burning Man's current DJ lineup, which includes parties and stages with names like Intergalactic Sasquatch and the Automatic Subconscious. If it were up to them, they'd be chain smoking Marlboro Lights as Jamie XX or James Blake floats down from the sky with another cigarette or a nutella croissant.Follow Austin Gebbia on Twitter