The Music of Cargo Cult - Burning Man 2013

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By Kari Hendrick, Nissa Rhodes, and Dersu Rhodes

It’s as if those sacred moments we experienced in the desert will be diminished by each word that we speak outside of it all. Also knowing that these memories, now clear in our minds, will fade into the distance as they all do with passing time. It is only through the music that we have been able to revisit that perfect state of being that we now constantly crave.

Each dj set takes you on a journey, unable to reach the next part without having passed through the others. With each transition, you become more a part of their world and of the world of those around you. Much as a magician carries out his final reveal, the audience becomes as much a part of the process. 

Here are accounts of some of our favorite sets. It was impossible to feature every bit of music that moved us, but these ones stood out and will never be forgotten. The sets from Burning Man 2013 have yet to be released, so in the mean time we’ve added our favorite past sets from each artist for your listening pleasure. We promise you as soon as the sets we have written about are released, you will be the first to know and we’ll feature each and every one of them.


Atish Mehta ~

As the sun was setting and our art car was taking off for her religious sunset cruise around the playa, we looked at each other and shook our heads no. No way. No way were we going to leave. Not this time, this place, these beautiful people, and this music.  I closed my eyes and smiled. When I opened them, the bright orange halo of the afternoon sun hung above DJ Atish Mehta’s head.  Enjoying the dancing crowd as much as we were enjoying him, he put both his hands in the air, smiled wide, and threw a big ass ball of funky rhythm at us.

Atish said it well. “Burning Man isn’t a music festival. It’s a gathering of people focused on community, participation, creativity, and survival. It just happens to have music.” I completely agree, and laugh a little, because this evening, and like many other moments of Burning Man, the music is so critical, and compliments every moment.  Atish’s set was a perfect mirror of its surroundings.  Delicate paper lanterns hung above us as the soft, trans-like, ambient beat became louder, deeper, and more tribal just as the sun started painting fiery colors across the sky. Atish’s style is expressive and melodic. It brings out feelings and energy, and transforms them into soulful dance moves.

As the art car returned, one by one, newcomers would dance their way to the platform, intrigued by not only the music but Atish’s contagious energy. There’s a unique playfulness to his music, yet composed and very thoughtful. Atish takes you on a journey, and that night was a true musical experience of tech, synth, melodic deep house, and nu-disco. It’s incredible how personal this experience was. In fact, how personal they all are. There’s no back door for the DJ to sneak through, no security to monitor how close you are, no wristbands, and no backstage. This evening, we were all friends, “a community,” like Atish said, enjoying the sunset, the moment, the music, and each other.

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Philipp from M.A.N.D.Y ~

There are seven of us as we make our way across the long stretch of compact dirt separating us and the pulsing gathering of lights that make up the largest mobile soundstage on earth, Robot Heart. Locking our bikes together and weaving our way into the crowd, I can’t help but notice the stillness. The sounds that drift into the night are eerie and lost. A strange ambient whirring and clicking seems to animate the narrative of a robot’s broken heart. A speaker chord rattles loose and lets out an aggressive hum as the sound of a large truck engine trying to start permeates across the playa. The crowd stands, some swaying back and forth, mesmerized by the unconventional beginning to Philipp’s deep set.

I spent 5 months in Berlin in the darkest clubs and venues, listening to what I thought was house music at its deepest darkest level, but on this special night in the desert I was shown true electronic music drama, orchestrated by a dj from that same city. Philipp’s set builds slowly, a low shuddering synth pattern layered over the initial heartbeat until it finally erupted into a captivating progression of body-entrancing music. The set was moving yet tranquilizing, feeling heavy and uplifting at the same time. As the sun began to rise over the mountains, and the nights dark black whisking clouds seemed to evaporate into the warm glow of morning, so did the set, gaining momentum and finishing the story of the night, darkness to light.

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Damian Lazarus ~

Damian Lazurus is entranced in his set and his presence is powerful. His head remains down through its entirety- he is focused and diligent while brilliantly executing powerful arrangements, distinct beats and daring transitions. He pulls from all angles of the music spectrum, incorporates global genres and mashes them together always followed or preceded by a massive beat. Lazarus is well known for his ability to seamlessly infiltrate main-stream beats with unique sounds very much his own. Lazarus’s set is dark and eerie and only fitting as the twilight hour comes in and the long awaited sun begins to rise.  Just as the desert sun first begins to peek through the clouds, Lazarus leads in with Radiohead’s ‘Everything in its right Place.’ Everyone is basked in an orange glow, a new energy settles in on the crowd as if the essence buried within each element of this particular track was created exactly for this moment.

Twelve and a half hours later, only willed back to camp by the heat of the quickly rising desert sun – exhausted and inspired, I throw a tired leg over my bicycle, ignite new muscle groups in my tired legs and embark one last long solo ride deep into the playa.

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Lee Burridge ~

The alarm sounds, it’s 3:30 am on our last morning. I quickly throw on my silver spandex, my gold cape and a mask. I find the others outside, puffy-eyed and smiling, eager to head out for a ride. We meander through the playa passing familiar landmarks, hearing the sounds coming from each and every corner of the desert floor. As we get closer to the sunrise stage of Robot Heart and away from the chaos of the city center, the hum of many melodies becomes one. One, powerful melody of Lee Burridge in his true form.

His energy is contagious, his smile emanates.  He looks rejuvenated, and alive, and feeds energy and life into all of us.  This is a moment that people look forward to, and have been year after year.  “I actually set an intention before we threw our first party – and it was simply to make people smile,” stated Burridge last year. This intention flourishes, as the smiles that morning were as vast white as the playa behind us.  It was as though every person that morning had a history, or relationship with Burridge. There was a respect and acknowledgment for what he had created and was sharing with all of us. These were people who believed in his music, dreamed of this moment, and lived to enjoy  the depth of it.

We all look around at each other, no glance too long, no stare made uncomfortable yet simply the act of acknowledging the unique and beautiful faces that have surrounded us in the dark for hours preceding the light. There is an intense sense of connection as the energy of the night gives way to a serene, peaceful morning on the playa. Excited to be sharing our last morning together, we smile at each other, knowing no words will ever do it justice.

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