As the bright orange, open-top Land Rover I’m travelling in hurtles across the moon-like terrain of the desert, my sleep-deprived body seems to be absorbing every contour of the uneven ground. The straps of my music-laden backpack are digging into my shoulders. My hands are aching from gripping the cold steel of the vehicle’s roll bar so tightly.
In front of me, but still some distance away, I can see flames roaring out of what looks like two giant steel flowers silhouetted against the night sky. I can hear the faint din of people cheering and the muffled thump of music and gradually as we draw closer I can see flickering specks of brightly coloured lights and start to make out the shapes of an assortment of tents and vehicles.
At last the Land Rover comes to a halt allowing me to flip the tailgate down and leap out the back. I head towards a stage swarming with people dressed in all sorts of crazy outfits; animals, aliens, fairies and others who wear nothing at all. Although I’ve been here before and know it’s very real, AfrikaBurn’s temporary town of Tankwa, deep in South Africa’s Karoo desert, seems more like a surreal mirage.
Now into its 5th year, AfrikaBurn is the official African outpost of the world-famous Burning Man, the art and music event based on radical self expression and self-reliance held annually in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, US. It’s smaller than its American counterpart, attracting a temporary community of 5,000, compared with Burning Man’s 50,000, but for me, it’s one of the greatest parties on earth. It follows the same principles as its American counterpart, so once there, no money changes hands, aside from the price of your ticket, with the bulk of this revenue going towards grants to fund the many mind-bending art installations, along with a basic infrastructure of on site medics, toilets etc. The rest of your needs are up to you or your fellow burners to provide for each other. And at the end of the five-day party, everything is meticulously packed up and taken away leaving no trace that this event ever existed.
I went to AfrikaBurn 2011 to DJ but some of my favourite moments were the chill-out times between sets when we gathered under our camp’s Bedouin tent to avoid the Karoo desert’s blazing midday heat. We acted as a sort of drop-in shelter for paper umbrella wielding hippies and butch looking South African guys in women’s dresses and mirror ball earrings, desperate to get out of the sun to mentally re-group.