The Opulent Temple was started by 3 different strands of the SF underground community. In 2000 Syd Gris started volunteering with Raise the Frequency, at first a hodge podge of people from an underground collective called ‘The Community,’ as well as from Red Melon Records who threw a party called Radiance. Originally attracted to their integration of ceremony into dance events, Syd was on their core team and then later started his own incarnation Opel Productions. Opel was intended to fuse the values of the underground intentional parties such as Radiance, with the ‘over-ground’ talent of parties like Spundae. (Spundae was another crew Syd got involved with throwing parties, in this case benefit charity events for the likes of Greenpeace, the Bay Area Girls Center, Seneca Center, and the September 11th Children’s Fund.) In 2002 Syd Gris met Rich Martin and Chris Sia. Chris was the leader (of sorts) of the Infinite Kaos (IK) performance and music collective when they still had their space on Taylor St. Rich, a fabricator and general mad scientist, worked with IK on their camp in 2002 building a huge steel pyramid and doing sound for them. Rich wanted to work on a new and bigger project for 2003 and approached Syd to get involved on the production and fundraising end to make it a proper sound camp on 10:00 along with Infinite Kaos. Syd had previously helped fund and build the Garage Mahal’s double decker party bus that debuted in 2002. He had also been inspired from such past camps as Lush, Space Lounge and IllumiNaughty, and wanted to take on the grand task of bringing sound to the playa at a higher level than the art car afforded. The theme of BM in 2003 was ‘Beyond Belief’, so to reflect the theme and the communities we called it the Opulent Temple (to reflect the spiritual implications of the Beyond Belief Theme) of Kaos (IK).
We were located at 10:00 and Creed and built a huge open air steel tension dome (aka the Synergy Dome), as well as other art projects for the camp such as paper mache statues, a stage that never made it up, and fire lanterns that leaked kerosene. The Infinite Kaos crew lived up to their name (though we still love them dearly!), and we had a great time. Our guests included dj’s such as Sandra Collins, Tipper, Josh Gabriel (from Gabriel & Dresden), Bassnectar, An-ten-ae, Syd Gris, John Schiffer, Jeff Richmond, IKarus, Geeno, Andres, IKAmy, etc. It was the beginning.
IK disbanded, and Chris Sia went on to join El Circo. Syd and Rich teamed up with Damien and Jillian (who went on to start the Raw Love parties) who wanted to head up a new concept, the Temple of Venus, where the goddesses of the playa can come and get nurtured and serviced in a number of ways – body, sensually, emotionally, spiritually, etc. We put our visions together, and thus we became the Opulent Temple of Venus. We were located on 2:00 and Venus. That was the first year for the ‘O’Pod, our enclosed DJ booth conceptualized by Syd & Rich to protect the gear from the elements and be an artisitc show piece for the dance floor. Rich led the design and fabrication team that summer out at the Box Shop in Hunter’s Point. We also had large tall fabric columns, a flaming arch known as ‘The Gate’ borrowed from the Flaming Lotus Girls, a lit dj schedule, visual screens on a stage you could dance behind, and a decadent chill dome. Guests that year included Hybrid, D:Fuse, The Scumfrog, Stu Bradley, Syd Gris, Damien, Kramer, Tamo, Nathan Vain, Jeffrey Allen, Hoj, Adam Ohana, Spivak, Kevin Knapp, and many others.
We were up for it again, once again with the Temple of Venus, though they were led by different people than the year prior. That year the Opulent Temple of Venus moved over to the high profile spot that is the 2:00 corner. We added a flame throwing effect to the O Pod, (controlled by the DJ), built visual screens no one could see cause they were too low to the ground, and another chill dome way too close behind the bass bins. Our big art project of that year was the Eye of God Wall, 2 long beautiful string art walls that were black light reactive. Concept by Andres Amador (Analogia) & Syd Gris. Andres led the building and execution along with Isabel Santis. We drilled literally 15,000 holes into which we screwed 15,000 screws into the PVC pipe that framed the string. Wow! Through Syd’s efforts and some luck, our guests that year included 2 of the biggest names in global dance culture, both Tiesto & Paul Oakenfold, along with Lee Coombs, The Scumfrog, Bassnectar, Michelle Bass, Syd Gris, Smoove, Murphstar, Donna Matrix, Chris Sia, Clarkie, Layne Loomis, Jeffrey Allen, Nathan Vain, and many others. Certain segments of the BM community slammed us for having Tiesto and Paul because by virtue of being popular they are too commercial. We don’t see it in that way. Being popular should not exclude one from participating at BM, as long as that participation is in the spirit of the event. Which -of course- it was, (ie., no one gets paid and they participate in the project in some way.) Given that the OT also exists to be a vehicle for a message, we see things that elevate the platform of the message (within reason) to be in line with our vision. Anyway, most of that comes from trance haters anyway so we take it with a big fat grain of salt.
After the great success of 2005, for a minute we thought we were done. We were spent, crispy, and tired. As the months went on, as it happens, the pain subsides and the joy remains. We decided we still had some juice in us, made easier by the joining of the camp by Thump Radio’s Dutch and Jason Teplitsky (also the owner of Blowfish Sushi), who brought with them other production vets with skills and experience such as Coz, Atum, Little B and later Jeff Taisch. We decided just to be simply the Opulent Temple and not team up with another community.
We moved the dance floor on the 2:00 corner across the street onto the open playa to open up the dance floor. We used portions of our string art structures to form them into cubes we hung off geometric towers built by Dutch. Syd asked for better, more visible visuals screens, that Rich went over the top on and built us some new huge circular screens ala’ Pink Floyd with a playa twist, with dramatic tall spiked towers to hold them up. We also brought in a new sound set up, by Showtech Productions out of Texas, who had never even been to Burning Man but were brave enough to bring their system, a sweet sounding line-array set up with the tops up on scaffold, 2 lasers, and just for fun, a 40′ foot pyramid with a viewing platform. It sounded incredible, among the best systems to ever grace the playa. Guests included Stanton Warriors, DJ Dan, Freq Nasty, Lee Coombs, D:Fuse, The Scumfrog, Bassnectar, Syd Gris, Nathan Vain, Dutch, Sentient, Dulce Vita, Cosmic Selector, Atum, Smoove, Murphstar, Aaron Pope, Tamo, ViaJay, Jive, Jeffrey Allen, Hoj, and others. Up to that point it was our best year to date.
We had two projects to choose from to add to the production. One was a bigger version of the Synergy Dome we erected in 2003, and the other was an elevated stage that Rich had designed. Feeling that we wanted to push ourselves hard this year, and take 2008 off from any projects, we decided to do both.
The stage was conceived of back in May, 2006. The idea began as a gift that could be given to a large group of performers, as it provides, in many ways, an ultimate performance venue because it sits 10 feet above the crowd. It would be largely self funded by Rich (taking loans from anyone that would help, parents included), with about 25% of the costs shared by the camp. It was a massive team effort to get it done, with key help by Vinkalmann, and a range of awesome OT women who learned to weld and generally kick ass to get this project done. Out on the playa, due to a design snag, Rich decided to ‘open’ the stage and not enclose the star, though it was delayed getting up because of the problems with the Synergy Dome…
The dome, this time made out of bamboo instead of steel, was supposed to be about a 100 feet in diameter. Syd and Dutch led the construction following the same design plans Rich devised in 2003, modified for the bigger size, at a warehouse in West Oakland. Simultaneously while one team was working at the Box Shop on the Star Stage, another dedicated team busted ass to get the dome pieces done, complete with a hellish night of loading the 50 foot truss pieces onto a flat bed semi trailer right before we left for the playa. Our original plan on playa was blessed with a brilliant, on the spot better idea from Greg Briggs of the new Idaho contingent, for how to join the truss pieces together (it’s a long story…). Just when we thought we’d have to scrap it due to running out of time, we were ready to lift. We used 2 patient cranes from Art Services, and our own forklift to bring it in the air. We were almost there…..
The Bamboo Dome was one of the all time great failed projects in BM history. During lifting, a rope got caught under a tire, a key truss broke, and the project was still possible but not safe so we had to choose to scrap it. It was not, as had been rumored due to design failure (not directly anyway…)
Despite all that pain and drama, there was still beauty and epic moments as the music line up included new guests Christopher Lawrence, Dylan Rhymes, Tim Healey, Bunny (from Rabbit in the Moon), Fort Knox 5 & Ali B, as well as returning friends Paul Oakenfold, DJ Dan, The Scumfrog, Lee Coombs, and Bassnectar., as well as of course the camp residents such as Syd Gris, Dutch, Vinkalmann, Cosmic Selector, Dex Stakker, Drew Drop, Icon, Nathan Vain, Billy Casazza, etc. As it is every year, none of these dj’s were paid a dime, and all paid their own way to Burning Man.
We ended 31k in debt from all our projects and poor turn out at some of our fundraisers. As costs had escalated with our projects, as they inevitably do, and fundraisers didn’t make as much money as they could have / should have, in our minds there was no turning back as we had come too far along in our projects. Twelve different camp members payed for things on their credit cards and hoped to be paid back some day. We had again elevated what a sound camp at BM could be. We asked BM for some forms of support that would help (not money of course) Read about that here if you want to know that whole story. The answer was an all around no. Never hurts to ask. (Actually, it did hurt a little.)
Luckily, after lots of support from the community post BM, and dj’s that have played for us, we came back from this deep ’07 debt to show up again for 2008, an American Dream. Look HERE if you want to know how we did that. We built a new DJ Booth called the Avesta, aka ‘O’ Pod 2.0, because the original O Pod was irrevocably damaged on the way back from SF LoveFest where it was on the Opel float. It hit a low hanging construction overpass, and the concrete won (though not without a fight…). Despite our hopes to have no new projects in 2008, we built a new booth from scratch, as well as added new flame effects to the Star Stage (designed by Greg and Byron of Idaho) for a 360 degree fire effect, all controlled by the DJ.
Our line up included new guests of the OT Carl Cox, Adam Freeland, Tom Real, Mark Lewis, and Ed Real joined by OT alum Lee Coombs, Dylan Rhymes, DJ Dan, the Scumfrog, Tim Healey, Ali B, and Josh Gabriel, and of course the Opulent Temple residents and SF locals guests who helped us fund raise.
A year of evolution, (we hoped), our presence at Burning Man was unclear. Given the state of the economy, how hard we’d been at it for 6 years straight, our deep frustration with the BM’s org’s total lack of support, and not being willing to go into debt anymore, for the first time since our incarnation we were willing to take a year off, or more. We told all the DJ’s that have ever played for us, if you want us to be at BM, and if you want to play OT, you need to help us. The call was answered. Making good on a promise to help, Carl Cox played a benefit for us on Treasure Island in March that did well enough we were able to go out again. Other benefits happened in London, New York, Boise and more in SF.
Our big project of the year was a new way to support the stage platforms of the Star Stage. Previously all five were supported 10 feet up on the towers. We wanted a different effect with varying levels so Vinkalmann and Drew led a team to build new tripod legs of various heights so that the platforms were easier to access and a shorter fall if something happened. Dutch also built a new VJ booth with nice design aesthetics and was weather proof, as well as other tinkerings we did with flame effects mechanics, etc. Our line up included new mega guests Armin Van Buuren, Infected Mushroom playing live, Sharam, Meat Katie and Elite Force. The Thursday night Armin and Infected played was all time playa legendary vibe of amazing electricity of people and music. It was a great culmination of why we do what we do. Returning friends and guests included Carl Cox, DJ Dan, Christopher Lawrence, Dylan Rhymes, Ali B, Tim Healey + our solid OT crew.
Some of us thought that after 7 straight years of going big, it was time to take a break and focus on taking the OT production into settings outside the Burning Man event. This sentiment was partly fueled by the continued frustration with the BM organizer’s difficult relationship with sound camps. (Being treated as second class citizen artists, being taken for granted, given minimal support despite significantly driving ticket sales, etc.) Despite this inclination, there were also other talented leaders in the camp who wanted to go and don’t mind being used by Burning Man. We also got great support from the artists who play for us and want to see us there. We decided to slightly scale back certain aspects of the production to make it more labor and financially friendly. To that end we did parties all over the place to make it happen including London, NYC, L.A., Portland, Boise, Tahoe, and Reno. We also did like 9 events in S.F. It’s a lot to generate and keep going on top of the camp production itself but the support of the community makes it possible.
We got moved by the BM Org off the 2:00 corner because they wanted to switch things up a bit and so were located at 2:00 and ‘C’. Fine by us, it made little difference in our nights and it was another fantastic year of parties and music. Rich built a new structure called the ‘North Star’ off which aerialists could perform that was a great new addition. We had new artwork from ‘Debi Danger’ for a nice feminine touch, and have continued to work with the Texas boyz on sound, a world class visual team out of LA (Eye Vapor) and Chicago (Stop Time), and Skippy of UV99 on lasers. As we focused the line up on keeping it in the family, the only new additions to the line up were drum n bass legend Aphrodite, one of the original UK house and tech house dj’s Seb Fontaine, Aussie breaks djNick Thayer, and Myagi, joining returners such as DJ Dan, Elite Force, Dylan Rhymes, the Scumfrog, Donald Glaude, Ali B, Bunny (from Rabbit in the Moon), and the growing family of OT residents.
We also debuted the ‘Queen Beast’ a fire truck turned Art Car we share with another camp, the OK Corall.
Was year #9 for the Opulent Temple. Stay tuned for our recap….