Photography by Bianka Bee
Still in his Casual Friday office attire, a man in a Tommy Hilfiger button up approaches my evening cohort and cavalierly says, “I just saw sideshow Bob. You know from the Simpsons in the 80’s? Thanks man.” Without the slightest response from either of us, he casually saunters off. Both of us break down laughing, not because of the nonsensical string of words that just dribbled down this strange man’s chin, but the fact that such ridiculousness came out of what looked like a never-before-Burned, cog in the machine. This, my friends, exemplifies my first Bay area Burner party-experience perfectly: absurdity masked by the conservative.
Burnal Equinox is the annual celebration of the halfway point-halfway home, halfway recovered, put on by the Black Rock City LLC in association with various Bay area theme camps. For 7 years now, Burnal Equinox has been changing-up venues, selling out tickets and creating a reputation for itself as the Bay area party.. This year, Burnal ended up at Public Works a venue known for it’s state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, nestled in the Mission- a breeding ground for the hip and a vessel for the accessible arts. Tickets were a seemingly typical SF $20 a head, but Black Rock City LLC collaborated with Hospitality House to bring ticket prices down to $15 with the donation of art supplies that go to homeless and low-income artists.
As outwardly excited as one prideful Gemini can get, I approached Burnal Equinox with anticipation and optimism. Having moved from the East Coast mere months before, I was curious to see if I’d encounter the same grimy underground oasis vibe that I’d often find at typical Philadelphia warehouse parties. I imagined my days spent partying as an East Coast Burner- the epic decorations that went into shifting a space into a fantastical playground, the drawn out ritual that culminated in the perfect costume, and I wondered how the West Coast would wow me.
Heels high, legs flashing, red hair afire, I saunter up to the front door of Public Works and am instantly greeted by hundreds of smiling patrons pushing back and forth…and this is just the beginning. Its 11pm, the party has been underway for 4 hours and, although you can definitely smell it on the breath of the random girl with her skirt tucked into her underwear, you wouldn’t guess it. There’s no music within earshot, only the buzz of the busy Burnal bees running from bar to yet-undiscovered locations. I slowly make my way further into the packed first floor and, almost as if it were timed, Big Band Jazz starts thumping away on the main stage. Brass swinging, strings humming and handsome crooner at the microphone, the crowd stops buzzing and starts dancing. A little relieved to see that something is actually happening, I take a look around and notice that not only is the venue gorgeous (brand-new hard wood floors, attractive and well-stocked bar) but it’s completely devoid of any decorations. Crisp, light projections flash abstract shapes on the clean white walls but the room around me is virtually neon/fur/el wire-less. This also goes for the patrons that bump past me, I see the occasional neon Little Bo Bleep or steampunk locomotive conductor but I am entirely underwhelmed by the amount of imagination and creativity that I feel surrounding me. Ever hopeful, I make my way up the safely well-lit hallway (Heartburn: 2011 anyone?) and find the funk. A small room so incredibly soundproofed that despite it’s sardine tin packed qualities complete with booty shaking fish and screaming
DJ barely any sound can be heard from the floor below. Hot, sweaty and Break Beat filled, I can’t stand to leave this room without partaking wholeheartedly in the debauchery. I go into a dance trance listening to New York DJ alum, DK, and a multitude of other fresh DJ’s including Dioskouri, NeonBunny and DJ Zero One and after a few shots the room doesn’t feel so small any more. Every so often, the whiskey and newfound friends sweep me downstairs to the main stage where I’m consistently enamored with the style melded, bass heavy, almost non-existent dubstep that greets me.
I pull myself away after ample dancing to explore the rest of the venue. Slipping past the swaying masses, I wonder why such a spectacularly billed event has only one more activity space to be discovered. I walk in, pupils constricting from the light change and hope to be dazzled. Instead what I find is the gleaming eyes of dedicated Burners and their simple, yet intentional tables set up with information about their camp or art project.This area is small but saturated with the love of long-time Burners hoping to get and give support, all in the name of self-expression and participation. I prompt dialogue with the rosy-cheeked, American Apparel crowd on the other side of the tables and although I snottily guessed that in such boring attire they were non-Burners, found that many of them were in-fact long time Burners and avid participators. It is while I’m grilling yet another fresh-faced San Francisco cutie that my sidekick receives that odd comment about Sideshow Bob and suddenly it all floods over me. Being a ‘Burner’ isn’t only about massive, theatrical party themes and decorations. It’s not about simply having a costume that you spend your entire rent money on but only wear once every couple of months. It’s something that you carry in your heart- on the subway or sitting in your lame office job or while you’re packing up 100 gallons of Thyme Lemonade to gift on Playa. It’s something that the Bay Area Burners have found a way to embrace in an understated and self-assured way, where they can party like Burnstars whether they’re wearing fur or not. It is obvious to me that they do not lack the absurdity, crazy creativity or motivation that I may be used to; they just seem to express it in very different ways. Whether it is intentional or not, this has opened up the Bay Area Burn community and party scene to mainstream participation which is why they can, so seemingly effortlessly, pack houses and incite a raucous good time.
Still packed until the very last synth-infused house track, I walk out of Public Works to see utterly satisfied Bay Area Burners and their less dusty counterparts. Most importantly, I see my ruddy-faced, Tommy Hilfiger-wearing muse who, although he looks like he may have lost his friends, also seems to be exactly where he needs to be.
Check back for coverage of the next San Francisco based Burner event Under One Roof: Hookahdome Meets Non-Stop Bhangara held this Saturday, April 14th, at Public Works.