Put on Your Fancies and Join Us for the Cacophony Society Cocktail Party in Center Camp

“It would not be a stretch to say the first Burning Man was a cacophony cocktail party featuring the burning of a wooden effigy.” – Trippingly.net

That’s right, we are resurrecting one of the traditional events that was popular in the 90s as a way to get some super crusty aging hipster Burners together and to help educate folks on some important historical facts about how Burning Man came to the Black Rock Desert in 1990. It is listed as The Cacophony Society Cocktail Party, where drinks and all kinds of snarky banter will be served.

Join a coterie of dashingly attired pranksters late Wednesday, August 30, 6 pm – 7 pm in Center Camp for the Cacophony Society’s cocktail party. Formal attire de rigeur — wear your tuxes and tails, ball gowns, vintage wedding dresses and fancy things. Bring libations and drinking accessories to share, and while away the last daylight hours with the best company in town. (Paraphrased from P Segal’s original early 1990s invitation.)

For more background on the significance of this event, read on for hot takes from Cacophony Society instigators P. Segal, Stuart Mangrum, Michael Mikel, and Candace Locklear (many of whom will be in attendance). 

How was the Cacophony Society instrumental in Burning Man’s origin story?

Candace Locklear: I think the main thing to understand is really why Cacophony is important at all, within the history of Burning Man.. In 1990, after building this wooden structure on Baker Beach for five years, the crowd kept getting bigger and bigger around the solstice when the Man would be burned. 

And in 1990 the police said, “You stop. You can’t burn the Man.” And so they had to drag the Man unburned off the beach up the hill, and everybody was pissed. “We have this thing, what are we going to do?” And someone in Cacophony suggested, “Well, why don’t you take it out to the Black Rock?” There were other things going on out there, big croquet games, all kinds of activities… And it was just a brilliant stroke of genius that these things got married together to bring Burning Man out to the Black Rock Desert.

The Man on Baker Beach, the year the police prevented it from being burned, 1990 (Photo by Stewart Harvey)
Participants raise the man for the first time in the Black Rock Desert, 1990 (Photo by Stewart Harvey)

What was the Cacophony Society Cocktail Party?

P Segal: The cocktail party was a frequent part of a Cacophony event. That’s how we celebrated whatever outrageous thing we did that day. And of course, because Cacophony was all about adult play, the cocktail party enabled us to play at being high society — men all in tuxedos, and the women wore glamorous attire even though, of course we all got them at thrift stores. The costumery was really all about the celebratory spirit of Cacophony adventures. So when we were heading out to the playa the first time, of course we were going to host a cocktail party.

P Segal catering the first playa Cocktail Party, 1990 (Photo courtesy of P Segal)

Harley K. Dubois dressed in her finery, 1995 (Photo by George Post)

Michael Mikel: We did a lot of events in formal clothing because when we wore our formal clothing in a place where you wouldn’t normally see formal clothing, it fell into the realm of the absurd. 

Like the sewer tours, we would go through these underground storm drain tunnels in the Bay Area, and we would be wearing formal clothes, tuxedos, top hats, evening gowns, tiaras. Nothing is so fun as to emerge out of a manhole cover. And somebody is there on the street and they’re watching. First one person gets out, and then another, pretty soon there’s a dozen people coming out of a hole in the ground. 

So when we went to the desert, it was a perfect fit for that. During the very early days, there was a formal cocktail party at the beginning of Burn Night. It was a tradition for many years.

Michael Mikel at the first Cacophony Cocktail Party, 1990 (Photo courtesy of Michael Mikel)

P Segal: And the idea was to have it just as late afternoon was becoming evening, and we were preparing to head out for the burn. We just all met in Center Camp for the celebratory, self-congratulatory glasses of champagne.

Stuart Mangrum: When I started going, Burning Man was a Cacophony event, and that was the context of Burning Man for me at least, for everybody from 1990 through the early nineties. Which meant that it set a certain expectation that if it was a Cacophony event, we were going to not be boring.

But read the writeup of the first Zone Trip and the list of events is pretty scraggly. It’s like: we’re going to bake bread and we’re going to burn a Man. And I think very shortly thereafter, it says: when we burn the Man, we should put on all of our fancies. 

You see photos back then, and it was a lot of very unfashionable people. But we loved our fancies. So we’d put on our best clothes for Burn Night and have a drink together. My favorite was to drink champagne out of the bottle, just because it’s so photogenic. 

Center Camp is the playa’s living room. And yes, it started out that way… Let’s go back for a minute and talk about the origin of Center Camp. In that first year, 1990, was there a Center Camp?

Michael Mikel: Yes. But the whole camp was Center Camp. We started out with just 89 people at the first burn, so we were not very spread out. But the Center Camp gradually coalesced. But the whole camp was the Center Camp in the early few years. Center Camp was a parachute, which we sometimes met friends under. And it was shade. 

The first thing we learned about being in the desert was shade, because when we came out there, we were all used to camping in the forest. So we brought our tents and our worst camping gear. And of course, at about two o’clock in the afternoon, you cannot be in a tent. So too hot and the sun bearing down. So we crawled under our cars and trucks like lizards during the midday sun to escape the heat. 

Oh, that’s terrible. 

Michael Mikel: It was wonderful. It was pretty cool under there, but it was the only shade we had the first couple of years till we learned how to start bringing out and making shade structures. The first parachute, I guess it was the first year, it was more of a symbolic thing. It was only about 10 feet across, so you couldn’t get very many people under there. We raised the Jolly Roger above the little parachute there as a symbol of our rebelliousness. 

Center Camp, 1990 (Photo by Nick Lynch and Julia Wharton)

And then after the first year under the parachute, what were the decisions behind making center camp better or more useful? 

Michael Mikel: I think if we were into maybe three, four years before Center Camp really became a thing as we began to put activities around it and art emerged around that time. It wasn’t until, I think, 1997 that there was an official structure that was constructed out of wood and shade materials. And that was the first time that the No Spectators sign popped up in front of it.

Center Camp, 1997 (Photo by George Post)

I hear that you and Candace are planning to revive the Cacophony Society Cocktail Party this year. 

Michael Mikel: Yes. Going to throw a cocktail party on Wednesday at six sharp and The Cacophony Society Cocktail Party is what we’re going to label it as. 

Candace Locklear: It’s a chance to talk about the lore of Cacophony Society during this party for anyone who’s interested. And the cool part about Cacophony is that the tagline has always been “You may already be a member.” So it’s not an exclusive bullshit event. It’s actually people who’ve participated in or know about Cacophony, who just might be curious about the history of Cacophony. So anybody’s invited. And if you have been to a Santacon or Bride’s of March in San Francisco, you know what to do.

Candace Locklear: I’m going to find people to help me shake martinis and we’ll have the mint daiquiris served by Pepper Mouser who had one of the first art cars out there called the “Motorized Living Room” and we’ll talk shit with each other about the good ole days

It will be an incredible reunion of some of the very old school Burners, too.

Santa Ouchy and Evil Pippi, back in the Cacophony days (Photo courtesy of Candace Locklear)

What are you looking forward to?

Michael Mikel: I think it will be a great party. Right. And I am sure that there will be people and lots of interesting outfits and variations on formal wear. 

Burning Man has grown so large now, but so many people who attend know little about the history of Cacophony. 

Stuart Mangrum: For me and for many people [BRC] has had the aspect of a family reunion. A lot of years, I knew that some of my old partners in crime were out there, but I didn’t actually get a chance to see them. So this would be great if I can get together with some of my old cronies and, who knows, maybe do something silly. I am going to have to pack a better outfit. And stay up past 7:00 pm.

Stuart Mangrum arrives at the Cacophony Society Cocktail Party surrounded by a coterie of bunnies, 1995 (Photo courtesy of Stuart Mangrum)

And how many do you expect of the original Cacophony Society folks from the 1990s, if you could hazard a guess? 

Michael Mikel: Guess? I can’t even answer that. Wouldn’t venture to say. 

With all the different chapters, it’s anyone’s guess, right? The Stockholm Cacophony Society might show up. You never know. 

Cover image of Harley K. Dubois, P Segal, and Dawn Stott dressed for the cocktail party, 1991 (Photo by George Post)

About the author: Evil Pippi

Evil Pippi

Candace Locklear (aka Evil Pippi) helped form the Arts non-profit We Are From Dust (WAFD) with founder Yomi Ayeni, both former Media Mecca volunteers. WAFD is dedicating its time and resources to supporting BIPOC crews behind "Farmer the Rigger" and the Alebrijes art car by fundraising, volunteer coordination, promotion, and assisting with the build. Evil Pippi has been attending Burning Man on and off since 1996, and has remained deeply connected to the staff and various organizations within the Burning Man community. She has been known to perform as both a Santa and a Klown—in the dust and the default world.

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