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Burning Man Meets Berlin in Bushwick

Saying goodbye to summer the Brooklyn way, at the Elements Music and Art Festival.
Photos by Steven Cuartas

The agenda for the final month of summer freedom included Caribou for Summerstage and Jamie XX for Verboten: two events that took place in the perpetually too-cool Lower East Side and the relatively too-cool Williamsburg, respectively, providing endless hours, in both cases, of blaring music and East River vistas. But in a Brooklyn far deeper, another group of kids bid farewell to the season far differently: the Elements Music and Art Festival, presented by Bang On! NYC.


It sounded like editorial overreach when I read how Eventbrite described it: “Burning Man meets Berlin meets Bushwick.” It was not.

A school bus straight out of The Simpsons takes you from the Smith Street stop to an industrial no man's land in Gowanus. I’m still on the waterfront and already feeling like there's something in the water.

The location is an abandoned factory where thousands have come out to play. They disperse into different stages, each represented by an element—earth, wind, water, fire, and a "fifth element." The music ranges from minimal noise to full-on hardcore techno. The artists listed rotate every hour on every stage from 1 PM to 10 PM. To name but a few: Shpongle, XXYYXX, Paper Diamond, Nora En Pure, Anna Lunoe, and Amtrac.

I end up wearing a lot of my over-priced booze, bought with “cash only” (don’t worry, there’s always an ATM in the middle of nowhere), dancing at the fire stage, which is hosted by Girls & Boys, GBH, and Webster Hall. I’m uninhibited amid the music and magic: it’s like Brooklyn and Berlin—and, supposedly, Burning Man—have gathered somewhere far-removed from the borough. The factory is falling to pieces and it towers down on us like the Domino Sugar Factory used to. Here, down-low in a castle of iron, it feels like We the People having fun.

I am lost in this ecstatic freedom. Near the stage, BMXers come down on a trick park constructed around one of the decrepit buildings. Acrobats dance around the neverending walls of the factory. As the sun sets, fire-eaters breathe as the BMXers taste air, and once the sun is down, projections map the walls and stages, and lights resonate from the kids dancing with fluorescent hula hoops (this is a thing now). In every direction, you can see what they mean when they talk about Brooklyn: it’s not in the real estate speculation but in the ways we dress up undressed, the ways we dance, paint our bodies, and shave our heads. It’s not about showing off to the world at all, it’s about having a place of freedom for ideas, all-embracing lifestyles, the rejection of labels, and gender-fluidity: artists, musicians, designers, pansexuals, creators, revolutionaries, and weirdos, alike. Most of all, this Brooklyn is for lovers.


Click here to learn more about Bang On! NYC.


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