Interview a Burner – JohnJohn

Every week BurnerLove interviews one awesome Burner – this week it’s JOHNJOHN


Playa Name: The Oracle called JOHNJOHN

# of Burns: 6

20011 Camp: Rocktard Poop Smear Magical Wizard Camp (Charon Build Crew)

2012 Burner Project: Kate Raudenbush Star Seed Build Crew @ Garage Mahal

Past Burner Projects/Events: Kalamitee’s Kabaret and Bistro, Bootie Mashup @ Fandango, Bootie Mashup @ AutoSub, Piss Clear, BRC Weekly, Kate Raudenbush Future’s Past Build,  and Peter Hudson Charon build.


Burner Love (BL): You’ve worked on some big art pieces on the playa.  Is it hard to put that much time, sweat and tears into what is essentially someone else’s artistic vision?  How much ‘buy in’ do you need with the artist and/or his vision/concept/philosophy before you commit to a project like Charon?

JOHNJOHN: It isn’t hard at all because I work with not only the best artists but also some of my best friends. Everyone in Our Community has amazing and unique talents. I’m not a contractor, welder, or carpenter, so I let those who are make those contributions. On build crews, I work my ass off doing the things I’m good at which usually includes a sort of PR Role: intercepting the incessantly curious public and giving them details about the theme, process, and progress so that they buzz off and let the artist actually work. Setting up camp, shade, cooking, bartending, and keeping everyone from going grumpy is a lot of work too! My art comes in the form of stage shenanigans, DJ journeys, costumery & tom-foolery, so that’s what I provide for my Playa Art Crew, as well.

At this time I am not a Sculpture Artist, so I am more than happy to help exact one of my genius sculptor friends’ visions… especially if that vision includes a stroboscopic zoetrope skeleton ferris wheel to the underworld. Yeah, Charon was a no-brainer and I felt SO privileged to be brought aboard that boat! Truly a dream-team of Playa Professionals involved with that piece, many of whom are in Europe touring with it right now.

Also, working to bring to life Kate Raudenbush’s truly transformational and beautiful laser-cut steel Art is an honor as well. This year’s Star Seed will raise the bar even higher for light portals on the Playa.

I am more than happy to help exact one of my genius sculptor friends’ visions… especially if that vision includes a stroboscopic zoetrope skeleton ferris wheel to the underworld.

BL: So an artist this year is building her first big piece on the playa this year.  Any advice on what her and her crew can do to make the process as fun and healthy as possible – to help make sure the people involved don’t end up in tears and fights and resentment at the end?

JOHNJOHN: ASSEMBLE AS MUCH OF YOUR ART OFF-PLAYA AS POSSIBLE! If you think money is tight building at home, just wait until you run into a shit-storm out there and hafta order parts or run to Reno. You want to be DAYS ahead of your detailed work schedule in the desert as to be as relaxed as possible… Because when that 3 day white-out hits and snaps the poles of half your camp’s tents, tosses your shade-structure an hour and a half across the Playa, and has you reading your ticket nervously, the LAST thing you wanna be thinking about is whether the damn 3″ (not 3.2″) chrome bolts will be arriving on time!

ALSO VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure at least one Crew Member is partially devoted to Sanity and Comfort Control, aka: The Fluffer! Not just sunscreen, massages, gator aid powder, and constant coddling/compliments for your Artist.  I’m talking cold beer, enormous cocktails waiting in the wings for the moment work is finished, bite-sized deliciousness to feed directly into a work-a-holic artist’s mouth on-site; ALWAYS ANTICIPATE HOW TO KEEP THE ARTIST FOCUSED AND SANE… And if that involves finding a hot Playa hook-up for said artist, DO IT! If they ask you to play The Cure Anthology on a slide whistle, YA DO IT! People act irrationally when they’re not getting what makes them happy, even though most of us weirdos don’t even know what that is! That’s where the Village comes in.

Lastly, I know most Artists are horrible at allocating responsibilities and bringing in specialists to pitch in, but PLEASE, ya gotta have a separate Project Manager (esp. for big pieces) who creates a plan of action and divides up the work. You picked your crew because they are badasses (hopefully) who can contribute and sometimes significantly enhance your vision. Let others into your process!

BL: Favorite art piece on the playa you weren’t personally involved with?

JOHNJOHN: That distinction always has to go to The Belgian Waffle (not Euchronium, sorry Belgians) because it was the cherry popper of my year 1, monumentally mind-blowing ARTGASM! On Sunday, The Do-Lab Flower and Venus Fly Trap started to battle with some sort of ballet/opera happening beneath, then the huge wooden rollercoaster cave was set on fire, resembling an Inuit polar bear with just his ass ablaze at first. Then tornadoes of flame and smoke came out of nowhere and enveloped the Beast. Oh! And Folks were throwing huge jugs of maple syrup at the thing! Oh, and I was wearing a turban and kaftan (OG Oracle) giving a full play-by-play report in a british accent to a 1920’s style French Filmmaker for hours! (still haven’t found that footage. Anyone?) Oh and it was by far the biggest and hottest fire I’ve ever seen. The whole Playa went APESHIT… in a really good way.

Of course I have to shout out Guardian of Eden, Homoroborous, Temple of Flux, Wedge Slide (aka Human Cheese Grater), Big Rig Jig, Bliss Dance, of course, and SO MANY MORE. I have the most talented friends on the Planet.

I was wearing a turban and kaftan (OG Oracle) giving a full play-by-play report in a British accent to a 1920’s style French Filmmaker for hours! (still haven’t found that footage. Anyone?)

BL: Among many talents you are a DJ on and off the playa.  Do you have any thoughts on how the world of electronic music has been affected by Burning Man?  Is there such a thing as a Burning Man sound?

JOHNJOHN: I remember having three MAJOR musical paradigm shifts (among many other shifts) at my first Burn.

The first came when my future camp-mate Kalamitee Jain played a Bootie Mashup CD she’d gotten from Adrian and D in LA. I went to Bootie BRC that Thursday night and I think the rest is history. Yeah I started stalking A&D from my home in CO, then was living in SF and working the Bootie stage a year and a half later. The idea of creating a collage (or a Sandwich!) out of music was enthralling for me, and I think the party’s vibe speaks for itself. Has Bootie changed the world of electronic music 7 years later?  You be the judge.

The other lifting of the musical curtain was hearing the Space Cowboys brand of funky-ass breakbeats via Mancub (boxing gloves and EVERYTHING) on the Esplanade that year. This sound would come to define my taste in all dance music. Bouncy breaks with dirty vocals: SIGN ME UP!

And third, on Playa my first year, I turn around to find an art car posted up with The Fungineers freestyling & beatboxing, uber-silly style with Reggie Watts. These acts have become hilarious heroes for me. Fungineers were amazeballs 5000 at Lightning in a Bottle last month. Reggie Watts, whom I got the privilege of meeting and DJing after in Austin, is cracking the whole Planet up on tour now. I love these acts (along with Lafa Taylor) for keeping it light while conveying a wonderfully thought-provoking message that this Planet must hear right now.

BL: DJ or Band you’d love to see perform on the playa but will probably never happen?

JOHNJOHN: I’ve always been dreaming about seeing Fat Freddy’s Drop from New Zealand on Playa, sunset or sunrise. Their brassey, dub-reggae (not dubstep, don’t twist it), big-band, word class sound is some of my original Playa music thanks to DJ Good from CO. I saw their first US performance in SF a couple years ago where they got into this wonderful deep house groove late-night and I closed my eyes and could see it all playing out in grand desert fashion. Hook it up, big sound camps who want credentials!

BL: What are the ingredients that make a camp a great place to live for a week or two at Burning Man?

JOHNJOHN: ABOVE ALL – Folks who know what to expect from themselves in extreme, uncomfortable, cracked out, and completely abnormal conditions! I don’t care if they’re jaded old Burnier than Thou types, Playa Princesses, or complete Noobies, HANDLE YOUR SHIT, HONEY!

Last year at the Rocktard Poop Smear Magical Wizard Camp, for instance, we had every type of PoopStar imaginable, some REAL gems of Your Playa Experience Past & Present, but

I gotta hand it to Our Requisite Noobie, Marky Ray, for taking to the Playa like a seasoned vet and THRIVING in a Survivalist Desert Non-Stop Party Campout.

Ya gotta have a mix of Folks’ levels of excitement and enthusiasm to be living in the most badass City on the Planet for a week or a month.

There is nothing worse than a bunch of jaded, age-old Burners sitting around a nitrous tank all week talking shit about how it all used to be so much more “REAL, MAN…” Meanwhile the one new person at camp’s experience is smothered by a Tecate soaked blanket. Go camping somewhere else!

A technique I’ve used with great success has been to shove those ear plugs in and sleep from 10pm- 2am or so. It’s nice and cool, you’re exhausted from dancing at Distrikt all day, you’ve had some food, now clean yourself up, get dressed for the night even, and SLEEP for a bit. Set an alarm and get out there for the pre-sunrise experience when the yahoos are passing out. Stay up through the day. The morning is the BEST time to find your kinda dance floor. You DO NOT want to try to sleep during the heat of the day!

The morning is the BEST time to find your kinda dance floor. You DO NOT want to try to sleep during the heat of the day!

Also, go ahead and set up your own sound system and a sanctuary for Your People if you can. DON’T PLAY DARK MUSIC IN CAMP.

  • Camp morale relies on daily check-ins and ritual dining experiences/ extracurricular experiences.
  • Rotate ice run responsibilities, having people get like 15 bags, playing the ice fairy in everyone’s coolers in camp.
  • Put weird art up in camp!
  • Contingents from different cities: The most gratitude I feel when leaving the Playa is for new Family.
  • Notice when someone is withdrawing and do something spontaneous to make them happy.
  • Allow yourself to have at least one controlled emotional breakdown per week on Playa. Create space for others to do the same.
  • At least 10 types of whiskey.
  • Bike Decoration Day!
  • Also- Unlimited neon zip ties, duct tape, Vanilla Ensure, and unscented natural aloe baby wipes.
  • Let’s be honest, at least one RV.

HUMOR & LIGHTNESS! BM’s too short for your bad time/trip to infect and haunt all of camp like an awkward demon that nobody has the balls to exorcise.

Watch out for each other and use your intuition to guide you on Playa and your camp will be EVERYTHING.

May the Cosmic Giggle be with you this year at THE BIG BM!

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