A tale of two burns: Lucidity Festival vs. Disorient Country Club

This August, approximately 60,000 people will descend on the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, Nevada, for Burning Man. Not surprisingly for something now in its 29th year, Burning Man has given birth to multiple smaller festivals, some of which consider themselves regional Burns, others which have simply taken the Burning Man ethos as a starting point for their own festivities. By coincidence rather than design – or rather, by ill-planned design, which is more in the Burning Man spirit – I pitched tent at two such events this spring: the third Lucidity Festival, held in southern California the weekend before Easter, and the fifth “Country Club” as hosted by the Disorient Camp of regular Burners, in the Catskills over Memorial Day weekend. (My younger son Noel joined me at both; the whole family made it to the Catskills camp.) The two events were different in size, exclusivity, and commerce, but they especially exemplified the existing differences in America’s coastal cultures. To wit:

Lucidity: Three days and nights at an official campground in Santa Barbara County, CA..
Disorient: Three days and nights on private property in the Catskills, NY.

Lucidity describes itself as: “an open-source transformational arts and music festival.”
Disorient describes itself as: “a camp at Burning Man.”

Lucidity’s mission: “Begun in 2012 with Lucidity’s first incarnation, over the course of the next few years, we will explore, in total, six major chapters of the mythic journey.
Disorient’s mission: “At the crossroads of reality and possibility, Country Club is blissful self-reliance meets interactive participation on a massive natural 3d scale. Let go of expectation and shift into the elements.”

Lucidity: Eight villages.
Disorient: Three camping areas. Or just pitch tent wherever.

Lucidity: Four large performance stages, multiple smaller ones.
Disorient: One major DJ set-up, one minor.

Lucidity natural habitat: Oak trees, surrounding mountain ranges, dried-up rivers. Gorgeous.
Disorient natural habitat: Various trees and fauna, pond, surrounding mountains, creeks. Beautiful.

Lucidity: 5,000 attendees.
Disorient: 150 attendees.

Lucidity ticket price: $180
Disorient ticket price: $50-$70

Lucidity food vendors: 12. And none of them cheap.
Disorient food vendors: None. We practice gifting.

Lucidity shopping opportunities: Ponchos a plenty from 25 different merchants.
Disorient shopping opportunities: The wallet stayed in the car all weekend.

Lucidity live music theme: World, roots, Americana, modern retro, singer-songwriter, etc. I enjoyed sets by Poor Man’s Whiskey, El Radio Fantastique, and Masood Ali Khan.
Disorient live music theme: There’s some drums by the fire pit if you’re interested.

Lucidity photo album: Click on photo below to start slide show.

Lucidity map: Printed on a souvenir bandana gifted on entry.
Disorient map: If you found your way to the location, you can certainly find your way around it.

Lucidity line-up. Check the detailed schedule on the Guidebook app you should have downloaded to your iPhone. (Good luck the keeping iPhone charged, though.)
Disorient line-up. All DJs operate on Burning Man time. And by the way, there’s no cell coverage.

Lucidity clothing theme: Woodstock 1969. (Ha!) Colored ponchos. Tie-dye shirts. Baggy cotton pants. Sandals.
Disorient clothing theme. Burning Man 2014. Pink or orange everything. Say it loud. You’re a Burner and Proud.

Lucidity weather: Surprisingly cold overnight and when foggy. Which was all day Saturday.
Disorient weather. It’s the Catskills. Showers all days Saturday, uninterrupted sun Sunday and Monday. And so bitterly cold on Friday night that an impromptu fire pit was built on the dancefloor.

Lucidity police presence: Minor but on-site.
Disorient police presence: The cops responded to a noise complaint, but remained off-site.

Lucidity sound curfew: Midnight. It’s a State campground.
Disorient sound curfew: Are you fucking kidding me? This is our weekend away.

Lucidity at midnight: Time to put on those cool wireless DJ headphones to keep dancing. (For a fee.) Or to go to sleep; it’s nice and quiet.
Disorient at midnight: Time to crank up the volume and start dancing. Good luck trying to sleep; it ain’t exactly quiet.

Lucidity sunrise activity. Yoga.
Disorient sunrise activity. Dancing.

Lucidity: Headlining performer: Nahko. Like Michael Franti, but Hawaiian. And beloved by Californians.
Disorient: Headlining performer. That couple that DJ’d from midnight till six.

Lucidity: Headlining DJ: Tipper.
Disorient: Headlining DJ: That couple that DJ’d from midnight till six.

Lucidity fave DJs: GRiDWORK, Sex Pixels and Bird of Prey.
Disorient fave DJs: John Tingee, Nick Montgomery, and Ed.

Lucidity dance music theme. Bass.
Disorient live music theme. House.

LET ME ELABORATE on the Lucidity dance music theme:
There were a few reasons that I felt old at Lucidity. Throwing my back out on the first morning, to the point that I couldn’t walk, was one of them. Being around so many people of college age was another. But not being able to identify (with) their dance music was the most prominent. Although there was some variety around the various Lucidity stages, the vast percentage of DJ music was what the Californians call “bass,” a music so popular that there are outdoor DJ festivals dedicated to it almost every single weekend. (Check the poster here for “Emissions,” sub-titled “West Coast Bass Culture,” with a line-up of DJs that was entirely alien to me.)
I understand the 30-year journey that took us from house to techno to rave to jungle to dubstep and on to bass; I have enough remixes from Lucidity’s British headlining performer Tipper, dating back to the 1990s, to identify with his roots. But having abandoned that journey with jungle, I now feel like a stranger. Put simply, Californian bass with its jerky, spastic, glitchy rhythms, its deep but unsettled sine waves, and its purposeful lack of grooves, melodies and vocals, doesn’t speak to me in any way, shape or wave form. (Visit Tipper’s SoundCloud page for an idea of how he DJ’d at Lucidity.) At Lucidity, this disconnect went beyond personal taste; given the extent to which the outdoor dancefloors were filled with young West Coast hippies, all clearly devoted to the music (despite the incongruity between their laid-back daytime nature and the full-on nighttime rhythms), it felt generational.

Disorient live music theme:
House is too simple a word to describe the dance music that dominated at Country Club; it bore little resemblance to the piano-driven classics of the late 1980s. But the word techno, for me, has tighter parameters still, and there wasn’t much by way of those endlessly acidic grooves with their repetitive hi-hats and thumping 909s. The DJs at Disorient Country Club positioned themselves mostly in the middle, locking into the high 120s bpm rhythms that percolate and flex, that wibble and wobble, that get inside your skin and play havoc with your neurons, but which are generally upbeat and evoke good vibes. (Visit the Disorient Country Club page and listen to the audio feed for an idea of the dominant groove.) Could I name much of what I heard? No, my trainspotter days are far behind me. But it was the kind of groove that I could listen to all day and all night long – which was just as well, as it went on for 48 hours almost uninterrupted!
Posie particularly enjoyed Saturday afternoon, when we sheltered from steady spring showers in our tent, catching up on reading as would never happen back at home, grooving to the steady soundtrack that emanated from the decks down by the pond (and which took a welcome diversion into dub courtesy of one of the camp organizers who looked a few years older than my good 50-something self). I especially enjoyed Sunday afternoon, when a morning spent reading by pond-side (while Posie sneaked home for a shower!) dissolved perfectly into a lunch-time set of wonderful Ibiza-style grooves courtesy of a DJ who’d come of age back on the east coast rave scene of the 90s. The dance music picked up tempo each night once the sun went down, and we – Posie especially – made the most of it. But while the younger crowd kept going long after we’d returned to our tents, neither of us felt out of touch, or even old, as a result. In short, these were my people, and this was my music, and it was reassuring to realize that, at Lucidity, it hadn’t been about age. It was indeed just all a matter of taste.

Disorient photo album: Click on photo below to start slide show

Lucidity: Most common reference to Burning Man: “Like Burning Man, Lucidity is a transformational festival.”
Disorient: Most common reference to Burning Man: “Burning Man changed my life.”

Lucidity favorite sound installation: The vibrating speaker that caused water atop of it to dance to the beat.
Disorient: favorite sound installation: The vibrating speaker that caused fire atop of it to dance to the beat.

Lucidity food experience: The Yoga of Cooking. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a beautiful Hare Krishna chick in a sarong explain curry cooking to a group of 5-year olds.
Disorient food experience: The Tea Room, hosted by Londoner Conrad.

Lucidity Art cars: Many. Though the only one that appeared to be mobile was the one with the propane pipes.
Disorient art cars: Two. Space Pirates and the Ky Hole, each of which did their best to make out like they were at Burning Man.

Lucidity: Art Installations. Many and varied. Love the Big TV Set. Thanks for hosting me.
Disorient Art Installations. Sporadic and groovy. Love the Golfzilla. Thanks to Dave Channon for bringing it.

Lucidity Art Galleries: One. Top quality, courtesy of Branches mobile gallery. DJ Dalai Lama in the house! And plenty of people painting, on site, even if all of them were seemingly competing for the most lifelike Roger Dean tribute album cover.
Disorient Art Galleries. None.

Lucidity. Organized Burns: None.
Disorient: Organized Burns. One. Complete with a rope perimeter and volunteer fire marshalls.

Lucidity Ponds or Lakes: None. And the river was all but dry. That is some serious drought the Californians got going.
Disorient: Ponds or Lakes: One. Complete with paddle boat.

Lucidity facilities: Portapotties cleaned daily.
Disorient facilities: Portapotties will hopefully hold out till Monday.

Lucidity showers: Yes. But $3 a pop for mostly cold water.
Disorient showers. No. But the pond was free. And freezing.

Lucidity moment of participation: Being interviewed about and reading from Boy About Town on the Big TV Set.
Disorient moment of participation: The wife fetching a box of old cassette tapes from home for us to blast on the Ky Hole Art Car stereo.

Lucidity Noel’s moment of participation: Playing ‘Pinball Wizard’ on the Big TV Set.
Disorient Noel’s moment of participation: Jamming on ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ in the campground with another dad.

Lucidity low moment: Throwing my back out big time getting food out of the cooler on the Saturday morning.
Disorient low moment: Having to go home.

Lucidity redemption from low moment: The Healing Sanctuary being full of volunteer massage therapists, as I sorely needed after throwing my back out. And Reiko specialists. And Qijong specialists. And self-styled shaman, past life regression specialists, crystal specialists and more.
Disorient redemption from low moment: Being there for 48 hours.

Lucidity kids activities: Various climbing frames, a DJ set up in the Family Garden tent, and an organized “sleep over.”
Disorient kids activities: A trampoline.

Lucidity political rallying issue: Fracking.
Disorient political rallying issue: Hmmm…

Lucidity highest ranking politician present: Das Williams, CA State Assemblyman. Kudos for participating in workshops and talking about attendance at Burning Man.
Disorient highest ranking politician present: Not sure politicians were looking at this as somewhere to be seen.

Lucidity aggravation factor: Zero.
Disorient aggravation factor: Zero.

Lucidity arguments observed: Zero.
Disorient arguments observed: Zero.

Lucidity most common point of origination: Santa Barbara/Ventura Counties.
Disorient most common point of origination: Brooklyn in the house!

Lucidity community involvement: Participation in an Isla Vista post-atrocity healing event.
Disorient community involvement: Hosts pre- and post-Burning Man events from California to New York and beyond.

Lucidity over-riding observation: California. Where the hippy movement is alive and well.
Disorient over-riding observation: New York. Where the people party hard.

Lucidity over-riding conclusion: Peace and love is not a cliché. As long as you can dance to it.
Disorient: over-riding conclusion: Peace and love is not a cliché. As long as you can dance to it.

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4 Comment(s)

  1. 18 June, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    LOVE your review and comparison. also interested in things you feel we can do to improve our reach and appeal…. this was our first year charging for showers (which was to compensate the cleaning and management of said zone.) we are looking to refocus on live music and different electronica. my favorite local DJ is Sinapz! ( and i am excited you went to the Healing Sanctuary after your back was thrown out, hopefully it made a difference!

  2. 18 June, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Tony!
    I used to be in an industrial band in the 1990’s called “Virus23” and we played a bunch at your “Communion” night at Limelight. I’ve met you a few times, but not sure if you remember me. Anyhows, I moved to LA back in 2002 and have been going to Burning Man since 2006, and I love reading your stuff.
    It makes me happy to see people from my NYC days get festival culture in the way that you do, thank you for writing this piece. I was at Lucidity too and have to agree with most of what you wrote. I too don’t get this “Bass” thing, it must be a generational thing, but I do appreciate that tempos have stayed out of the speedy late 1990’s/early 2000’s for a while now. There is still some modern sexy house being played out there, it’s just a little harder to find, and possibly it can mean that you may have to skip out on the main stage performers and find that awesome camp that is blowing people’s mind without a “big name” DJ. :)
    Will make sure to keep my Fletcher radar on at festivals from now on. :)

  3. 19 June, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Hi Leo, I remember the band very well, and if you were the front man, remember you well enough too. Shame we weren’t able to hook when I was in LA, over at Book Soup. But good to hear from you. We’re not sure about our plans for Burning Man for this year (it’s not quite as “short” a distance as for you) but keep your eyes out at iJamming! etc in case we end up going. Are you still making music?

  4. 19 June, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Hi Metratron, I appreciate your sharing the post and putting in your own comment. In summary, to your question for possible improvements on reach and appeal, I think the festival is what it is to a large degree, and if some of it does not entirely fit with my own tastes, it’s entirely my choice if I want to attend to be exposed to new sounds and sights, or not. The pro-actively peaceful and pleasant vibe was truly wonderful. (And yes, I was helped out at the Healing Sanctuary, big time.) My main observation is that I was ambivalent, at best, about the commerce. I love Burning Man for its lack of commerce and would be totally happy if it did away with the coffee bar as well; that said, I recognize that most people at Lucidity were hauling gear in to their camp and adding stoves and food supplies would only have made that difficult procedure more so. But then I’d like to see real caps on what people charge for food and drink; it was Festival prices, not ‘Lucidity festival’ prices. So while I’m happy to see the Ojai Food Co-Op selling fresh carrots and apples and the like, for example, they should really be at a regular retail price, not a Festival price. I think that applies to the showers, the coffee stand, the vegan food stands etc. I think that paying attention to this would help distinguish you from other ‘Festivals’ and maintain the Burner vibe. I can’t imagine these merchants wouldn’t still make money by reducing their prices a good 25-33%. But other than that, kudos and thanks and gratitude.

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