By Randall Roberts

If it's true, as many haggard hipsters have dismissively opined, that 'Nobody goes to Burning Man anymore,' then who the hell are all these people? The unofficial verdict among many regular burners is that this year is going to be huge, and although population estimates are notoriously inaccurate, last year's tally of 40,000 seems likely to be trumped.

Photos by Charlie Evans

Predicting turnout is a fool's game, but looking at the crowds both last night and Monday night, it's easy to see that there are a lot of damn people here already, more so than this time in 2006, which was enormous. Black Rock City is more built out on a Tuesday night — more flashing lights, more structures, more unsolicited hoots and hollers, more bike thieves (fuckers snagged mine!) — than it was on a Thursday in 2006. And on the sound systems strapped to art cars, trucks and buses, they're listening to the Stooges (Funhouse at 3 a.m. real loud will rock your world), Tracy Chapman (no shit, “Fast Cars” cranked to eleven) and Pharoah Sanders' massive “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” Each song seems to ring true on some metaphoric level, seems to snap into place the moment you hear it (if you're really high, even “Fast Cars”).”Wild in the Country,” by Bow Wow Wow, “Your Own Private Idaho” by the B-52's. And always, of course, a lot of bullshit, lowest-common-denominator trance and progressive house. At night, the throngs race the city looking for adventure, which is everywhere.

Many head to the Esplanade, the boulevard closest to the Burning Man at the center of the city. The biggest, loudest and most ambitious projects are located here.

So you think you can dance? Prove it. Dance Dance Immolation, located on the Esplanade, is a riff on the popular participatory video dance game, Dance Dance Revolution. In the original game, players stand on a pressure-sensitive pad and replicate dance moves that are dictated by a video screen in front of them. They bounce in rhythm, legs stepping side-to-side, up and back, down and up, to songs selected from the catalog.

The computer keeps tally of your success rate, and the challenge is to rack up points by not messing up. It's fun.

Dance Dance Immolation is set on a big sound-stage with a jumbo video screen. Contestants compete with one another in front of big crowds. There's one catch: Players are outfitted in full-body silver fireproof suits and head gear, and flame throwers are aimed at their faces. The music starts, the contestants begin moving while ominous burning guns look to singe some head. It's a blast to watch, mainly because there are some frighteningly great DDR players on the playa, and maybe they'll get burned. As they perform their expert moves (and look a little like they're doing an Irish jig), the flames flicker from the barrel of the guns and an emcee taunts and ridicules the players. The crowd, of course, wants to see some burning flesh, or at least imagine some, and hope that a player stumbles. Because when one does, as happened during a wicked competition between two players dancing to the Darkness's “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” a big, Gene Simmons-like fireburst blows and roars. Last night, the players reflexively stepped back, therefore dooming his (her? It's hard to tell) next couple moves, and spawning more fire. The crowds rejoiced at the dancer's misfortune. They always do.

All photos by Charlie Evans.

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