Ezra Li Eismont, or DJ Darkat, helps run the trash-collection circuit for the DPW in Black Rock City, with a stellar team of dumpster freaks who help reduce our waste by literal tons. Ezra also runs Chickenfish FM, a most eclectic radio station just about everyone on the DPW listens to during their workdays on playa. Ezra also DJs parties throughout the year, where even the non-dancers in the DPW find themselves dancing and having a good time. Ezra’s sets keep the woo flowing.
Last year in 2014, the Thursday before Last Supper, the event had ended and the DPW Ghetto threw a smooth-rock party to celebrate. Of course Ezra was to headline the DJs, so he ramped us up for the occasion by playing soft-rock hits from the 70s all day on Chickenfish radio.
For this writer, that era represents a small childhood surrounded by musician family and friends who paid a whole hell of a lot of attention to those songs. And that day, when the event had ended and the Chickenfish-listening DPW needed sonic support for strike, everyone on the desert had no choice but to pay full attention to the smooth rock hits.
Literally growing up learning to sing by singing these songs means feeling trapped in the past when the soft rock comes at you from every direction on an ancient lakebed which last week was filled with a cornucopia-cophony of music. The soft rock took over, knocking every other thought out. Childhood memories attacked — good and bad, one right after the other.
We tried to go to the smooth-rock party that night, but were already feeling queasy from having been forced to reminisce seemingly every aspect of our early years for a solid 24 hours.
We went to bed early, too exhausted to be irritained, but the party raged. Then, the smooth-rock hits continued on Chickenfish into the next morning and afternoon.
So, this writer left the playa, one full day early, to get away from it.
Not sure that classifies as a meltdown music event, but it was real. Still love that Chickenfish radio tho, every day. We just cringe at Lionel Ritchie now.
It all started with Metric’s now-defunct radio station, KDPW. Early days out here during cleanup, Metric curated the pre-Chickenfish airwave of choice for the workers. One day, when we were all already about to snap from the heat and exhaustion and starvation and dehydration and broken hearts, he played every version of “Moon River” he could find to download.
“Moon River” all day. All day. So many versions, so many genres. We had no idea.
Who needs drugs when you’re walking on an ancient lakebed in the searing heat and sun, picking up tiny bits of trash and listening to “Moon River” in almost all the ways humanity has ever interpreted rhythm and the holy twelve notes?
It was kiiiind of torture while we were in it, but now the old-schoolers who were there remember it fondly. We all passed the time that day stooping and MOOPing while Metric and KDPW dragged us on a sonic journey through time and space, via music.
Then came Thirteen’s Sexy Back. This was the beginning of the one-song-on-repeat meltdown-music phenomenon. Basically, she had a boom box she never put down for all of 2008 season, from setup to Playa Restoration. Thirteen would work and MOOP with it on her shoulder. At first, you knew she was coming, because you’d hear Sexy Back.
But then, many of the rest of us grew … attached to the song, particularly for its ability to drown out and psychically replace the repetitive techno music which happens everywhere when the gates open. Soon, one could hear Sexy Back several to dozens of times per day coming out of the sound systems everywhere Gate and DPW were working. We (some of us) still love that song.
Other meltdown tracks since then: Get Lucky, Taco Bell Pizza Hut (third original meltdown song after Moon River and Sexy Back), The Bird, Ghostbusters, I Get Around, Everything Is Awesome, 9 to 5, Happy Days, Disney lullabies, Hit Me Baby One More Time, I’m Blue (dabba da dabba doo), Rocky Horror soundtrack songs, the Star Wars Imperial March, and this one huarache song Booyah can’t remember the name of.
Booyah often instigates the Meltdown Music, when it happens. The first incident was “I Get Around.” At the behest of Spring Chicken, who was having a bad day, Booyah and Spring Chicken rolled around in the oscillator truck blasting the Beach Boys track over and over.
D.A., head of Playa Restoration, finally jumped on Booyah’s truck and pulled the audio wire out.
“It’s tradition,” Booyah says, “kinda like how people in offices do pools, or … similar to the military — they harden you by putting you through these things. It’s never the intention to have someone actually melt down.”
He points out that oscillators take care of the crew far more than they irritain them. “When I started being oscillator, one thing I did others weren’t doing, I watched out for people on the lines. The medics aren’t always on the line — they’re ahead. Now sometimes we catch the people about to go down from dehydration, because we can see them, see how they’re acting. I also made sure the oscillating rigs always had water. Not a full-on fluffer break, but … all the managers and assistant managers out here are responsible for everyone else.”
We spend the rest of the interview talking about how music is indeed sacred, and how we can’t imagine someone not liking the Clash or Wu-Tang Clan.
“But they don’t,” Booyah says. “Someone doesn’t.”
“I like to live between two lines so I can hear more than one song at a time,” Beartrap says. “That way I get to choose what to listen to, and tune the other stuff out.”
As she’s saying this, during lunch break on line sweeps with fluffer trucks and buses circled up, we can hear four or five different songs from our shady perch. That’s not meltdown music though, that’s festival life.
At wider / earlier / current Cacophony events, sound terrorism has always been a part of the TAZ. Sound can be a delightful room or a prison, particularly for sensitive-artist types who can’t help but pay an inordinate amount of attention to whatever is happening around them, audio-wise.
We get into a discussion about which meltdown music song is best. I realize I maintain Sexy Back is the best meltdown song because that’s the one I’m Stockholm-bonded to. How hellish the line sweeps or setup can be anyway … hard labor while a glowing death-orb in the sky blazes down and turns everything white-hot and surreal; even the healthiest of us end up shouting mad into the otherwise thoughtful and intense silence of the desert itself.
We are still descendants of Project Mayhem, still punching ourselves in the face to feel alive and learn to exist in the present moment. And then to rise above the present moment if it’s annoying.
It’s almost as if the DPW naturally tends toward drilling people on dogma-less versions of culty things, with no intent in mind other than to train the crew with hardship, kung-fu-style, until we become immune to the tactic itself.
In other words, pure Cacophony.Most photos by @JHFearless.
UPDATE: Dobbs Jr. found the huarache song:
Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter.