A Recon of the Decoms Around the World

Burning Man has ended, which means SF Decom is hot hot hot on its heels, but the Heat the Street FaIRE is just a pilot light for the international Decom season.

Join Misa Rygrova, a Burning Man Project Fellow, as she gives you a tiny taste of our big wide Decom world — from a haunted castle in Ireland to an abandoned university department in the Netherlands and an old factory in Russia.

Dutch Decom: a Study in the Surreal

I have just arrived after 16 hours on the bus from Prague. (I could have taken an hour and half flight, but that wouldn’t be fun, right?!) It’s 3 pm on a Saturday as I step off the bus and collect all my things — my old suitcase, costumes and headpiece. Dutch Decompression has started.

Dutch Decom Pic Jildo's Planet
Creature feature in the Radion courtyard (Photo by Jildo)

I arrive at the Radion Club where the Greeters are ON: there are lots of smiley faces looking out from under furry hats; “welcome home” greetings, hugs and a little dot sticker to put on a map so everyone can see where we come from.

I have to say that this little census right at the start is a good idea. Seeing the map dotted with stickers so early in the afternoon predicts this event will be special.

The Radion Club is the old Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Amsterdam but was turned into a cultural venue after it was abandoned four years ago. On the ground floor there’s a restaurant, which later at nights turns into a stage, and upstairs there’s another big stage where statues and video projections are placed. Next to the restaurant is Centre Camp.

And it’s a real Centre camp.

Dutch Decom junk monster pic Huybert van de Stadt and Brenda van der Meulen
A monster mash of art (Photo by Huybert van de Stadt and Brenda van der Meulen)

There’s a stage, lots of big pillows, pictures, an exhibition, a light dome, costume racks, face painting, and the kind of maker devices that catch your attention for a long time as you spin the handle over and over again while wildly laughing. Rods welded together, springs, bike chains, handles… the more furiously you spin, the more bubbles you have.

There is also a small paper dome, which is a mystery to me. I have a suspicion that it is a Tardis in disguise as during the night it travels around the room. Too many body parts stick out of it — five legs, an arm, a head — so it definitely seems to be bigger on the inside. Mystery!

A university dorm rises above the garden behind the venue’s fence, and what a view that has to be for its residents!

Dutch Decom the man pic Huybert van de Stadt and Brenda van der Meulen
A shipping container transforms into the man (Photo by Huybert van de Stadt and Brenda van der Meulen)

Can you imagine you are studying in your room, and one moment you look outside and there is a not very interesting garden?

A few pages later you look outside and there is a giant robot made out of washing machines, a blinky dome, a huge fish on wheels, furry bikes, an inflatable octopus wildly waving at you with its tentacles, burn barrels, a dragon-looking vehicle and many weirdos with extraordinary make-up and costumes?

I imagine that the students think they must be over-studying and it is all just hallucination. But I am sure they are persuaded it is all real when the music starts and the tunes start shaking their windows.

After dark, a big red container in the garden turns out to be a transformer. This red metal box transforms into the Man and shoots flames!!!

Dutch Decom people pic Jildo's planet
Bubble bubble toil and trouble (Photo by Jildo)

A bunch of drummers, fire spinners and a crowd of cheering, costumed people means there is no chance of studying anymore.

Almost all of the dorm windows are now full of curious heads looking down at the craziness. The only thing these students have to do is come down and join us, as the event is open to anyone for free until 10pm and it’s family friendly.

After 10pm the program moves inside, and it probably would not be a Burner event if there was no queue. (Judging by the steady, non-moving queue, it is a 100% Burner event!)

For an hour and half, the queue is probably balancing the forces in the universe: as steady as the queue is outside, the crowd is dancing and cheering inside the Radion club. The whole building is alive.

Irish Decom: Hoedown With Harriet the Ghost

Irish Burners have been bringing the playa to Ireland for many years and one of their biggest gathering is the Irish Decompression, also called Smokin’ Craic. As the dictionary says, “craic” means “enjoyable social activity, a good time” in Irish … and craic it was!

Charleville Castle ready and waiting for the hordes to arrive (Photo by Misa Rygrova)

The Decom is held in a castle — Charleville Castle in Tullamore. And it’s not only an old castle — with the first mansion built on the site in 17th century — but also a haunted one.

I am informed about this fact right after my arrival… just so I know and am not surprised. The ghost sharing the space with us (or us with her) is Harriet, a little girl who once lived here, fell down the staircase and died. Spooky, isn’t it?

I get a tour around the castle, expecting the little ghost girl to appear in every dark corner and preparing to not scream when I see her.

I am amazed by the venue, and by the fact someone let us organise the Decompression here. We have three enormous rooms, cellar, courtyard and the outdoors for our use.

It’s 7 pm on Saturday and Decom has started. Even though it is quite chilly at times, and wet (yup, Ireland, go figure), the courtyard is jumping. From what in the morning looked like ugly, dirty storage, the space is now full of music and lights and people dancing (everywhere, on anything) and drinking, joking.

Misa clowns around with her furry friends

One of the rooms is a big ballroom with a wooden stage almost like an altar, and a breathtaking ceiling. Mad architecture with the combination of music and lights is very trippy.

To the right of the Ballroom is the chill-out zone and DJ… nothing like chill out I’ve ever experienced before. There’s a nice cozy corner with pillows and blankets and the rest dancing, dancing, dancing – this place doesn’t stand still until the morning.

To the left of the Ballroom is the Crazy Room, a kind of transformational room. Half of it is Costume Camp. People keep coming to change all night long, even the shy ones. Civilians turn into amazing personas within minutes. On their way out they can be face painted to complete their new identity; on the right they can be spanked and photographed.

In the opposite corner is a music workshop with Mr. Skeleton playing guitar and people jamming with him on a theremin or on a very complicated looking device and mics. It was everything from messy sound to pretty interesting music.

A bird-nest thingy burns in the castle courtyard (Photo by Misa Rygrova)

Oh, did I mention there are fireplaces in each room? Yes, there are! Talking about fire: an installation grows during the day in front of the castle entrance door. Some say temple, some say lamp. It is sitting in the middle of a huge bird nest.

Fire spinners are around it most of the evening with pois, sticks, lassos, balls on ropes, swords (we are at a castle) and fans. Graceful movements and fire: what to want more when your background is an old stone castle.

At midnight they light it and it is one of the most impressive and most beautiful fires I‘ve ever seen. Never would I imagine this not-so-big wooden something would burn so much and so long.

Bar. Of course there IS a bar! A volunteer-run, donation bar, which is hardly ever only with the bartenders behind it. It is amazingly messy and friendly. At one point I count 17 people behind the bar, plus two in the freezer. The courtyard where the bar is placed is unstoppable, bursting with joy, no matter the cold or rain.

And let’s not forget the food people. By law there needs to be food at an event like this in Ireland. The choice of food vendor is epic: a red double-decker bus with a café on the top floor and a delicious kitchen with falafels, steaks, chilli and curry.

Around 6:30 am, one of the food ladies appears at the courtyard with a drum in her hands and kind of blasts through the dancing crowd, drumming and “jump-dancing”. She is saying something or singing. It’s hard to tell as there is too much laughter all around me.

Decom finally ends at 7 am when everyone has to leave the castle. Many move the party to the courtyard and the outside stage area with its couches. On Sunday afternoon you can still meet smiling and tired faces there.

PS: I don’t believe there can be too much laughter.

PPS: I never saw Harriet.

Moscow Decom: Go Big and Go Home

Just a week before the Decomp the organizing team lost their venue. Anyone who’s organized such an event knows how much this sucks. Something similar happened to them last year, too. In both cases, they ended up with an even better venue with the help of the local community.

Art detail (Photo by Svetlana Selezneva)

This year’s venue was a huge empty factory, which will be completely reconstructed in the near future, so they could do whatever they wanted with it.

Moscow Decompression was full of surprises. I don’t know how I missed the memo, but it was planned from 9pm till 9pm next day – a full 24 hours!

I didn’t make it all way, through, because in the morning all the music turned into hard-core techno (not my cup of tea) and I preferred to go have pancakes for breakfast and to get some sleep.

The night, though, was mind blowing in every aspect.

Not drowning, waving (Photo by Galagena Telepatova)

The whole space turned into an art gallery with graffiti on the walls, paintings, live painting, sculptures, installations, projections… you name it.

The live performances were everywhere and all the time. No matter where or when you walked, there was something going on — a secret chamber, dancers, live water installation, a dancing trash fence (yes, this really happened), people on stilts and so many costumes.

If anything has ever been done under the motto “Go big or go home,” the hundreds of costumes and masks were. You could do nothing but sit on your ass, and you would still enjoy the whole night just watching the beauty pageant.

Moscow Decom angel pic by Dmitry Chuntul
A good or bad angel? (Photo by Dmitry Chuntul)

Not even at Black Rock City have I seen such a big concentration of brilliant costumes: from very complicated costumes that looked like they came from outer space to very simple ones made of isolation foam and string; from big metal wings hanging in the air to people turning into angels (some of them evil).

The Russian Burner community is growing and in full swing of creation. One can only wonder what will happen next and how amazed we will all be at it.

Go big or go home. Actually, go big and go Home. That was the Moscow Decompression.

London Decom: the It Factor

Sometimes it is very hard to put down in words what you so clearly know.

“Do you actually have the time to decompress?” asked my friend after I took part in four Decompressions in four countries in one month.

Ubertown, a Theme Camp found at Nowhere, a European Burn (Photo by Hannah Ormsby)

I am happy to say, NO. Why should I even wanted to decompress? Burning Man culture is amazing, and it is truly astounding to witness it around the world and see its shapes and colours interact with local flavours.

If I wanted to find an ultimate source of energy, I would say this is it. But how do I describe what exactly IT is?! London Decompression is a great example.

IT is…

… a great party

Many DJs play the best sets, live musicians rock the stage and people do not have to be encouraged to move. Their body parts just float on the tunes and the invisible force of music is simply overpowering the free will of staying still. Nobody stays still.

…the art and the creativity

The Lost Portrait Society (Photo by Hannah Ormsby)

As small kids, we knew how to make art, and we were all artists. We made it from anything — mud, leaves, rocks, paper, blanket, anything we found in our mom’s purse. Growing up some of us lost this ability, maybe because we were told how art was supposed to look, or maybe because we thought it was not as important as other things in life.

And now we encounter that art again. Art that can be produced by anyone who once again finds the kid inside them. There is no rule how big it should be or what materials we have to use. It is what we want.

Small paintings on the wall, balloon decorations, a snail sculpture that comes alive if you climb inside of it, a theatre auditorium that turns into an electric factory room with the smallest details, a grey corner that turns into a shiny palace, and a side room that turns into beach bar or tea room. It’s the art we make from ourselves.

London Decom 2015
Lights, art, action! (Photo by Hannah Ormsby)

…the humans

All shapes and sizes. Every piece is original.

…the inspiration

Aww, aha, oho, haha every moment.

… the behind-the-scenes

To make all of the beauty happen, there needs to be the behind-the-scenes part: the shadows that make the light shine bright. Hours and hours of work — spreadsheets, herding cats, building, moving, running around, forgetting to eat because this and this needs to be perfect. Leaving no trace on the surroundings, just on the souls of others.

…the crazy 

All sorts of crazy, including the crazy love we have for all of the above. You can find information on this year’s London Decompression here.

And to find out more about this year’s Regional Decompressions (and events), visit our Regional event page.

(Top photo by Svetlana Selezneva)

About the author: Misa Rygrova

Misa Rygrova

Misa has been burning since 2010. She learned about Burning Man by accident on internet and is dust addict ever since she stepped on playa. She started to volunteer as Regional Contact for Czech Republic and Eastern Europe, is helping the Regional Network and in 2015 became the first Burning Man Project Fellow. She is based in Prague in Europe and makes sure Europe keeps Burning. Misa also loves to wear black and volunteer with Gate, Perimeter & Exodus. Her name should be written with diacritics, but it usually breaks computers...let's try it... Míša (pronounced as Misha or Meesha).

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