I have come to the realization that what I love most about Burning Man is those enormous, obnoxiously loud art cars with 43 subwoofers and enough LEDs to light up a small city.
Seriously, you see praise of the amazing art cars out there... the smaller ones shaped like praying mantises, or skeletal mastodons, or giant flaming octopuses
. But when it comes to the big ones with sound systems -- the two-story birthday cake, the Dancetronauts cube, Flying Heart, some of the others I can't name but
hear every year -- you hear people bitching about how loud they are and, sometimes, how unimaginative. (I would like to point out here that, so long as they turn their systems down in the city and near the Temple, judging what people choose to do with their $150,000 mutant vehicle isn't really in keeping with Burning Man's principles... but I digress.)
But I love them.
My favorite thing out there, hands-down, is going out at night on my bike (which is kitted out as a hippocampus) and finding an art car which is playing decent music -- usually some form of house or trance, but sometimes general electronica or disco -- and shadowing it. I play pilot-fish as it cruises at 5-10mph across the open playa, listen to the music, try to steer around dust patches, and generally relax. You'll find me mounted up for 2-3 hours at a time most nights, sometimes longer.
There are several advantages to this practice: some of the cars have great music, on amazing sound systems (I like to feel the bass); being next to an art car means I'm less likely to get hit by some other bicyclist or vehicle, which is a real hazard given how badly lit some of the bicyclists are (light yourselves, darkwads, it's so that you can be seen!); and the cars have better lighting than I can manage on my bike, so I can see the dust snakes and obstacles before I run into them. They also choose a destination, when I don't really have one in mind... I'll attach myself to a car and take a tour of the playa, and often I get to visit things I didn't know were out there. There's a lot of art and a lot of attractions in mid- to deep playa that you don't see from the city.
So I come up to the mutant vehicle, settle myself out of the cone of the loudest speakers, and ride along. I try to stay well back of the front wheels, so that if they need to turn, I'm not in the way or making the driver nervous (we had an art car fatality this year, so they were really twitchy by the end of the week). Beyond that, I just have to avoid the exhaust and whatever engine or generator is riding on the back, and stay 8-12 feet to one side. Easy, on a good bike that coasts well. The passengers often call out when they see my hippocampus, and enjoy sharing the trip.
There's something comforting about having that slow-moving bulk at one hand, wheels turning steadily as the music thrums. I was watching the LED outlines on the Space Shuttle dim slightly as it did bass drops this year; apparently they don't have a separate power source for the amps. Kalliope does, but none of the VW camp's cars (Kalliope/Vanguard included) do cruising, they just park and set up shop. Quite a shame. I just stood and took in a Kalliope set this year, with the VW bus (Walter), VW bug (Big Red), and Vanguard providing a wall of lights... it was a Serious Experience. But I prefer to be in motion.
I fondly remember the first art car I did this with, in 2009: the Reel Mobile, with its giant tape deck reels rotating endlessly, taking me on a tour of deep playa in the wee small hours of the morning, playing an odd mix of German industrial and Russian techno. It's been gone these last several years, and the birthday cake seems to have joined it, but I found several newer ones this year that filled the gap. And there's always Soul Train to offer my daily requirement of funk.
Keep cruising, sound-system art cars. I look forward to pilot-fishing with you.