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I Went Totem Hunting at Electric Forest

Got one!
July 7, 2014, 7:46pm

We all live in a…

Our parents might have paraded around Woodstock smelling of Patchouli, and with less possesions than the dude from Into The Wild, but in today's age of festival culture, amidst a diminishing hue of neon—we have the totem. What is a totem you may ask?

 totto·tem noun ˈtō-təm

: something (such as an animal or plant) that is the symbol for a family, tribe, etc., especially among Native Americans


: a usually carved or painted figure that represents such a symbol

: a person or thing that represents an idea

While you aren't very likely to come across an expertely widdled stack of wood containing indigenous symbols at your average summer fest, they are a staple at Electric Forest. Totems are used for a) finding your friends and keeping your crew together, b) adorning the crowd with wacky visuals, c) conveying some sort of deep cultural messege or nodding to hot social trends or d) finding security and comfort when you are teetering on the edge of an acid trip. The creativity, care, and bizzare thought processes that goes into the crafting of the modern totem are impressive.

This year Electric Forest was a mecca of totems and I went to do a little hunting. Here's what I caught:

This whole crew was all Emoji'd out. Something tells me everytime a filthy bass drop was riddled through the forest—this guy was there to express a feeling which can't be explained in words. That's what emojis are for, right?

THUMP: What the hell is going on?
Shirtless dude: So actually my girlfriend is the one responsible for this.

(To girlfriend) So…
Girlfriend: I really love totems for their practicality—it's the best way to find your friends and they're so fun to dance with. I also really love puns and the only word I could think of that rhymes with totem, is scrotum. So yeah, this thing was born.


Many totems pertained to some weird obessions with buttholes, dicks, flashing tits and all sorts of other bodily tidbits. While I was gazing out at the giant remote controlled blimp during String Cheese Incident's Saturday night mind orgy, I saw this one out of the corner of my eye. No wonder it smelled so weird around there…


Many totems were remarkably detailed. Seeing the massive LED spotlights richochet off of the fishie's sparkling glitter had me feeling… some kind of way. I saw a lobster somewhere around here but he crawled away before I could adjust my flash. Sneaky bugger.

This is not the first festival appearance for an "if you're lost, dance with us" type of sign. It makes sense: you get lost, see these people, and dance with them. Then when your friends finally realize you never came back from the bathroom, and they come across this totem, maybe you'll be dancing under it? Chances are you're probably having an in-depth coversation with a guy in a squirrel suit about about sustainable treehouse architecture, but you never know!

Throughout the weekend were references to the Cartoon Network show, Adventure Time. I gathered it's about a young boy and his dog who travel around going on psychedelic adventures. But, it's for children, apparently. The dudes with this totem told me it was a reference to Adventure Time and that they wrote "soon" on it because it was something open-ended, and they wanted to confuse people. Well done guys.

As I was reminded by the Scrotum Totem, totems really are an amazing way to keep your group together or find people. You can be like "come to the stage with the flying ladybug in the front" or "I'm right next to the guy with the hairy balls on his totem." It really works like a charm. When I was in my car on line getting into the festival on Day One, we started window-chatting with a car that also was donning some New Jersey plates. They told us to find them during the festvial and that they would have a Reddit totem. Done.


At Electric Forest everything feels a bit like fantasy. Call it hedonism, call it escape, call it a massive fucking party—all I know is this guy nailed it.

I was mainly interested in how this person choosed to organize the various Game of Thrones characters on his totem. Putting Hodor on the top notch? Questionable.  I would have asked, but by the time I got close to snap a pic he darted off into the woods like some sort of possessed direwolf. Damn those mofos are fast.

I know this isn't actually a totem, but more a stack of hippies in hammocks—if you squint your eyes it kind of looks like one. Mainly I felt obliged to include this because the top guy noticed me taking his picture and was big cheesin'.

Rob Ford totems were inevitable. If you look closely at this one you will notice Ford's tweaked out noggin rests on a large staff that reminds one of yes—a candy cane. Often people refer to the crystalline substance Robbie is fond of as—candy. Add it all together and Mr. Ford is indeed being held up by a giant stick of crack.

The sun was in my eyes when I took this so I thought the sign said "Please moon me." Sorry, lady.

THUMP: Why Rice Krispies?
Rice Krispie dude: We were really baked at the campsite and got the munchies and my friend whipped out this box of Rice Krispie Treats and we totally demolished them. It's also a really great way to get joints through the security line. We have like eight inside the box. People are gonna be getting a bit crispy tonight!


"Only a few find the way, some don't recognize it when they do. Some… don't ever want to."
―The Cheshire Cat

Again with the buttholes!

THUMP: How did you guys choose who would be who?    
George/Yellow shirt girl: Well I had to be George because he's my favorite, and the rest just fell into line.

Something told me that this Jim Carrey totem may very well have been made of acid.

"Churn down for what" was another big hit in the totemsphere of Electric Forest. These people would have been really killing it if they actually dressed up like Pilgrims.

Ready for lift off.

For such an inspirational totem this guy looked kind of sad. Maybe he was dreaming? Maybe he was sleeping with his eyes open? Maybe he just watched The Notebook? My money's on all three.

As I said before, totems are a great way to keep you grounded, and bring your mind back to earth when it's um—going places. This chick seemed to take that ethos to the next level with her very supportive totem. It really is something that is at the backbone of the festival itself; everyone has each other's backs and everyone wants to be your friend. Look at that smile :)

The Fun Police: the only type of copper I look forward to seeing.

THUMP: Is that a picture of your actual dog?
Girl: No, but his name is Sheldon if you were wondering. I saw him on a meme that said "Girls at festivals be like…" It just felt right.


Who wants a mustache ride??


Last year, during my first journey into the festival, my friends and I rocked a totem that we simply reffered to as "The Orb." It was covered in shiny wrapping paper, glitter, glow-sticks and solar powered light blubs. It held our group together and provided us endless hours of entertainment as its long bamboo pole made for a flexible staff that I found enjoyment spinning around like a tripped out baton. At the end of our four days we made our final homage out of the forest and I decided to leave the Orb in the trees, amidst the leaves, critters and woodchips. Just like that—it was gone. It seemed like the perfect (and only) resting place.

Fast forward to the first day of Electric Forest 2014. I found myself back in the woods, wandering the forest looking for a quiet place to film before the gates had officially opened and thousands of revelers stormed the grounds, I looked to the floor and couldn't believe my eyes. Right where I had left it, nearly 365 days prior, through not one but two Michigan polar vortexes—was The Orb. Sitting there. Untouched.

I think that's what it's all about with totems. They become your running buddy, an integral part of your festival experience, and even a small part of yourself. As it had a year prior, The Orb made it all the way to the last set where Moby doing his thing—the orb flew off it's stick and hit my friend in the head. Luckily he was ok. Now it acts as my Yellow Lab's newest dog toy.

Take my advice—make your way to Electric Forest in 2015 with a fresh new totem. Just be careful, because I'll be there to do a little more hunting, and I never miss.

No totems were harmed in the making of this post. @DLGarber

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