The Barkinator — Testing the Limits of Radical Inclusion

[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]

Someone once said to me that every year San Francisco builds a city in the desert and it’s called Burning Man. Hearing that made me think about why I came to SF in the first place 36 years ago. My mother called it a “push and a pole”. The “push” was getting out of the small town mindset that I had grown up in, and the “pole” was the fantastic “city of permission” that sat at the end of the wagon trail where all the whack-minded odd birds migrated to. I was certain that I, too, was a whack-minded odd bird. I was a starless-bellied Sneetch that had been shunned from the boat parties of the snobs and the too cool cruel schools.

I had a hunch that a more permissive place lay to the west where the radically minded set the stage, not the fad followers. On one of the first nights that I had landed in the city by the Bay in ‘79, I went to the midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show on Market Street, and just like that, I had stepped into an entire nation of whacky birds and they all seemed to be crammed into one maniacal theatre! Still a small town pup, it was the most outrageous thing I had ever seen – right down to the six-foot drag queen sitting next to me handing me a lit joint. It was radical, and I was included!

DPW Parade and Green Man, 2002. Photo by Steve Saroff.
DPW Parade and Green Man, 2002. Photo by Steve Saroff.

Radical Inclusion sits at the cornerstone of the Ten Principles. It assembles the community in the first place where the other principles direct it. It’s also one of the tougher ones to hold to. Allegiances can be challenged when Techno Surf Camp, for instance, find themselves parked next to Camp Carp’s Black Sabbath Pancakes. Seems that putting up with our radical differences takes work. Wouldn’t it be easier to just surround ourselves with all things familiar so we never have to stray from our well-worn color wheels? But that’s when treasures of life start slipping by unseen – camouflaged by the shroud of unfamiliarity. We become imprisoned by our own opinions – by what we might consider to be in good or poor taste. Pablo Picasso once said that taste was the enemy of creativity. Taste forms a boundary that excludes.

Photo by Mark Peterson, 2011
Photo by Mark Peterson, 2011

Black Rock City was challenged with radical inclusion early on. Back when the Department of Public Works (DPW) of BRC was still newly forming, many of our first generation crews were members of the Black Label Bike Club. They were a brazen bunch that had the rough-and-tumble it took to pound those early cities into the summer playa with broken trucks and tools. They also knew the meaning of a good prank and had the brass to pull ‘em off. The Bike Club was pretty specific in its view of the world and every year their irritation would grow along with the swelling presence of rave and techno music at our event. They were fine with radical inclusion, as long as it didn’t include rave and techno music.

I would explain to them that all-inclusive meant just that and that rave camps were here to stay, but their irritation continued to grow nonetheless. That’s when they decided to create “The Barkinator!” They took one of the road warrior junker cars we always seemed to have on hand and loaded it up with this pretty massive sound system. Then they made a tape loop of vicious dogs barking – at ear-bleed volume – and blasted it as they drove around Black Rock City. It was the most obnoxious thing I have ever encountered out there. The complaints started flooding in.

“That’s not art!”
“That’s ugly and annoying and should be kicked off the playa!”
“It’s too loud!” (Actually, it was nowhere near as loud as a rave camp.)
“There’s nothing interactive about that horrid thing!” – and so on.

DPW Rolling in the Gremlin, 2004
DPW Rolling in the Gremlin, 2004

But the Bike Club held fast and flipped the pointing finger around back to them. “Your rave camps annoy us as much as our Barkinator annoys you! This just happens to be our form of expression.” Long story short, the court battle went up the food chain until a senior decision was handed down saying that the Barkinator had as much a place in our city as any. You can’t get kicked off the playa simply for being horrid. And so, the Barkinator barked on, wreaking havoc like a three-headed Cerberus in the night – that is until the third night when not even the Bike Club could stand it anymore and dismantled it the next day. But the point had been made!

The more mindsets we welcome, the more facets on our sparkling gem. A city that encourages a radically inclusive philosophy also encourages an environment of discovery. When you shine your one-sided beam through the prism of another’s perspective, who knows what kind of spectrums will be splashed before you.

Black Rock City – the bastard child of San Francisco – the runaway teenager that started their own production company while still grasping to the core values of their parent, which was to be a permissive city– to open their gates to any who have something to offer and to open their minds to the fanatical quirks they may bring. Black Rock City – where the Playa’s vacuum acts as the great equalizer sucking away even the biggest of egos – where dubstep can go on a blind date with gypsy music – where a billionaire’s next door neighbor is a guy in a tent – where failed art can receive just as much encouragement – where a grilled hot dog can taste as good as a filet mignon.

Coyote Nose

About the author: Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet

Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet

Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet has been coming to the desert to build and strike Black Rock City since 1996. A professional musician for over twenty years, Burning Man culture was an easy shift for him. He co-founded the Department of Public Works of BRC in 1998 and has been the City Superintendent ever since. Known as the “Bard of the Desert”, telling stories around the campfire is among the things he does best. He has been blogging under the moniker of “Coyote Nose” for many years, and he is Burning Man’s first Storytelling Fellow.

16 Comments on “The Barkinator — Testing the Limits of Radical Inclusion

  • Rusty says:

    I enjoyed this read very much. Haven’t been back to BRC since 2005 (was in 01-05). This year was my year of triumphant return. My wife, who came along for 4of my 5 yrs, has sadly retired and not onboard w/ my plan. Ill be blue each Labor Day until I can again roam the playa. Reading prices like this & listening to BM Radio ease the pain some but also make me long for the experience:( To all burners…cherish your time there. You never know when the rug will be pulled.

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  • sK says:

    do you mean “push and a pull” ?

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  • Jeff Bees says:

    So, you’re radically inclusive as long as someone’s from San Francisco?

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  • This is why I love Black Rock City. While not everyone is on board with everything, it’s wonderful that things like the Barkinator or people doling out bogus information after hours in the Playa Information booth (whilst sitting next to the “closed” sign) is not only tolerated, but wildly encouraged.

    I missed last year, but I’m going this year and can’t wait.

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  • Fluffybunny says:

    It’s not the noise DPW makes that’s offensive, and it’s not their smell either. It’s their spreading of staph infections and pink eye.

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  • tito says:

    It was an original idea in 2004 when BMorg banned dogs. DPW ghetto blasted sounds of dogs barking all week. It was a protest.

    Today’s DPW are mostly poseurs pretending to be hard-core. I doubt that any of them were in DPW back in 2004. They just heard about the dog barking and decided to co-opt that protest like a bunch of hipsters, and make it into something meaningless.

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  • Coyote says:

    Tito makes a pretty misguided comment here – I’ve been DPW since it’s inception in ’98, and there are quite a few ten plus year alumni on our staff. As far as us not being “hard core” – I welcome you, Tito, to come and swing a sledge next to me for just one day and see if you can keep up. And I’m the old guy! But then again, you might contract pink eye…

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  • tito says:


    Oh, well since you built the City I should grovel at your feet. I should thank your ilk when they steel our beer and generally act like a bunch of demented narcissistic Mad Max wannabes. Oh, but you built the City… I’m sooo grateful. What would I ever do on the playa without DPW first hammering a bunch of nails into worthless shit, I mean art? Oh, but you map out the City… don’t worry, Coyote, I know where I’m at, and don’t need your assistance.

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  • jason says:

    tito – coyote was coming off cool and friendly, your coming off wounded and reactive

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  • disgruntled says:

    that’s all in the past

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  • tito says:


    You clearly don’t have enough experience with DPW douchbags to know the difference.

    The good thing is that 40% of the BM population will be 1st year newbies, which means DPW will have plenty of Kid’s Camp runaways to make friends with. It’s one of the perks of the job.

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  • toddball says:

    I’d like to radically include Jason’s skinny neck around my axle…. Nice, that you paint your world with such a ridiculously wide brush, like there’s not enough of that going on in the default world.

    While some DPW have taken the “fuck you, we built this city” a bit far, the vast majority of them are amazing folks. I’ve met Coyote and he’s the fuckin’ dust of the playa.

    Fuck yer day, Jason. But you are welcome to spew your venom, because you are also radically included.

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  • Spike says:

    Yeah that’s what I’m talking about ba–bynice work!

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  • Haterade says:

    I love how a conversation about inclusivity in the face of disagreement has a ton of comments basically circle jerking the burnier than thou ethos of “I’m a veteran so I know better than you and my opinion matters” underneath. This is hilarious. Tito and Jason and toddball should probably all just jerk each other off.

    Anyway, this article is great! We’re having a discussion around a piece of performance art at a regional I attend and this article came up. Thanks for a good read, Coyote.

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  • wobble man says:

    GREAT story! Your writing is FANTASTIC!!!

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