Thumping EDM? Check. Lasers? Check. Fishnets and booty shorts? Check.
Now that we've got that out of the way, we can get on with what the more ambitious scope of the L.A. Burning Man community's goals, achieved through its big fat Decompression event, which was held at Los Angeles State Historic Park on Saturday.
The wildly overgrown desert rave that is Burning Man runs on a philosophy that could be described as “principled partying.” Sure, there are plenty of Burners that are there just for the wild bacchanal, plenty that are there for the art, but in the more high-minded corners of the event, taking a piece of the more transcendent aspects of the experience home with you is the crucial goal.
In that spirit, Decompression is a one-night slice of Burning Man, minus the 12-hour drive and the $390 entry ticket. Originally designed as a chance for Burners to “decompress” — to more slowly ease their way back into the default world after a week at the all-encompassing desert fest — the Los Angeles event now is well on its way to becoming an end in itself.
No mere mini do-over of the big Nevada burn, L.A.'s event, while informed by the main event's welcoming, low-attitude feel, has a character of its own — most obviously marked by far greater diversity. On the playa, the high ticket price has heavily skewed attendance toward somewhat older, highly whiter population, but in L.A., the event looked more like the city itself.
“Decom is usually a family reunion,” says Tom LaPorte, one of the event's organizers, describing the former in-group feel of the annual gathering. “But we figured, why not reach out to the local community?'” So the outreach committee began building bridges with organizations like the Chinatown Business Improvement District and homeless advocacy organization Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) in the interest in expanding their reach.
The organization also invited kids from the Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club, Belmont High School's Aztecs Rising and the LeRoy Haynes Center for the Development of Children to come and participate in pre-event art activities, providing all supplies for kids to make art to take home as well as to leave on display.
The youth organizations also participated in a drum circle during their visit — and while drum circles may raise images of the hippie-est of hippie pursuits, there's no denying that when kids jump on percussion and experience the speeding, slowing, crescendoing, and coming to a finale on an uncued common impulse, there's no more fitting an introduction to the magic of shared experience.
This year's Decom also served as a fundraiser, with event proceeds going toward the construction of a garden at an area high school. So whether attendees were there to enact Burning Man's rather self-important sounding “Ten Principles” or just to party, it mattered little to Athena Demos, L.A. co-regional coordinator, who was eager to see event entry fees to be put to good use. “I just want more people to keep coming through that gate,” she said.
Once night fell, the earnest partiers arrived, and twirling, flashing lights, fire spinners, and the more distant lights of City Hall and the Los Angeles skyline started illuminating the park, revelers skipped over gopher holes, sat under trees, lounged in chill tents and pulsated to DJs, stumbling and strolling from one art exhibit to the next and enjoying the mild October night. And organizers took satisfaction in bringing not just the party, but the more admirable virtues of Burning Man's emphasis on the ability of the arts to bring communities together.
Said LaPorte, “The ability to gift art is the future of Burning Man being civically engaged — taking the values of the playa and bringing them back to the city.”