Fleeting pleasure citadels of the imagination, desert festivals are becoming more popular than ever. Why are so many of us following the sun every year?
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people escape everyday life for music and art festivals hosted in some of the most barren and forbidding places on earth. Rising out of the plains of Nevada, Colorado and Monegros, temporary, pleasure-seeking citadels are formed.
The phenomenon has grown to such a point that much smaller replicas are now popping up all over the world. And while these gatherings might vary slightly from their prehistoric, sun-worshiping forbearers, the purpose is still largely the same. Sure, the bearskins have been replaced with pasties, and Druids swapped for Drizzy, but for the thousands who congregate in these desert oases, the objective is still to seek out ceremonial displays of love, peace, gratitude and (mild) madness.
“The bearskins have been replaced with
pasties, and Druids swapped for Drizzy,
but for thousands in these desert oases,
the objective is still to seek out love,
peace, gratitude and (mild) madness.”
As anyone who has rattled their skull in a five-day continuous pulsating rhythm with a bunch of faceless strangers will attest, the desert festival is as much about the imaginative space one enters, as it is about being slap bang in the middle of nowhere, myriad colours and sounds vying for the attention of our senses. It’s about who we become as much as where we go, as school teachers and office clerks transform into fawns, fairies and fire-eaters in a collective dance that is not so much an act of make-believe, as a return to selves lost under the burden of adult responsibility.
It’s a trip into the hippiest regions of the soul, but it’s also undeniable that festivals in the desert offer some of the most blog-worthy photo ops imaginable. Which explains why those who once documented “sausage legs” on golden sands are choosing to document naked torsos baked in sand instead – hair thick from wind, eyes squinting through sun and glitter.
If utopias are impossibility, then perhaps it is the temporary nature of desert festivals that comes closest to achieving it. Battling against the harsh elements alongside a hundred thousand other humanoid sand-creatures, it’s startling how quickly we succumb to the collective sway of the mass. While no one quite remembers who they met or what they did, one thing is for sure – three days later, we are altered, staring at ourselves in the mirror with only a goofy smile and a dim recollection of the person we once were.
“THE MOST WILD EVENT ON EARTH”
“A 30-foot high temple burning in the
Nevada night surrounded by hundreds
of fire dancers? It's hard to describe.
It is rather like being on some kind of
disco ball swirling across the vastness
of space, while you drink tequila with
a man in a lizard costume, on a double-decker
pirate ship that is wheeling into a vast
and starry oblivion…"
JOHN-PAUL PRYOR, Author & Musician
“Since when did hedonism get such a bad
name anyway? In the dictionary it’s defined
as, ‘the belief that pleasure or happiness
is the most important goal in life.’
The fact that people will go to so much
effort in the pursuit of this ideal, suggests
to me a serious pleasure-happiness-imbalance
in our daily lives. And being happy means
being better equipped to want to contribute
to other people’s happiness.”
RUBY WARRINGTON, Writer & Astrologist
“A night gathering of 150 people. Giant
boulders stretching across the plain all
the way to ghostly shadows of mountain
ranges on the horizon. Reddish-brown dust
of the Californian desert and bent shadows
of Joshua trees. Analogue synths and laser
oscilloscopes. The glow of the moon, a
vast carpet of stars, and euphoric union
with all existence, everywhere and ever…
That’s what you can find in the desert.”
MR LEONARD IZZARD, Photographer