Dispatches from Burning Man: Pierre Robert Talks Mud and the Orgy Dome

We talked to the legendary WMMR DJ just after he made it out of the ill-fated fest.

WMMR DJ Pierre Robert at the ill-fated 2023 Burning Man festival (photo courtesy of Pierre Robert)

WMMR DJ Pierre Robert at the ill-fated 2023 Burning Man festival (photo courtesy of Pierre Robert)

I’ve interviewed legendary WMMR DJ Pierre Robert many times before. But this is the first time I had the opportunity to talk to him just after he made a long, long exit from the 2023 Burning Man festival, which has been the subject of no shortage of media coverage thanks to torrential downpours, massive mud piles, and horror stories about trying to get out. Here’s what he had to say from his family vacation home in Lake Tahoe, just hours after finally escaping.

Hi, Pierre. Earlier, you texted me about the “madness and chaos” trying to get out of Burning Man. I’m glad to hear you finally got out unscathed.
I’m great. Uh, God. I’m still processing how to process it. I went to Woodstock ’99 with the fires and Woodstock ’94 with the rain and mud. But something about Burning Man was just so fucking surreal, Victor.

Are you a Burning Man veteran?
No! I had never been to Burning Man. I have a family house in Lake Tahoe, and I figured I would check it out sometime. You know, I just had all these pictures in my head. We develop these pictures in our heads from the stories we hear. I learned a long time ago this phrase “It doesn’t meet my pictures.” And this didn’t meet my pictures. But there are all these fucking things people create that are just so magical, and I wanted to see it. And Nick from Preston & Steve knew somebody who had tickets. So an old buddy of mine filled a truck and a trailer and picked me up in Reno. And off we went!

Were you there for the whole thing?
No. We got there on Friday. We were one of the last they let in. And then we’re trying to find a place to park and camp. Then there were all these messages coming over Burning Man Radio to hunker down. That brought back memories of COVID to me. We thought this would end quickly, the rain and such. But it didn’t. And they stopped letting people in and out.

Did you actually get to have any fun?
They give you this book of maybe 1,000 events. Yoga. A crystal workshop. Reiki. A sensual massage. Clay sculptures. I said I wanna do that and that and that. There was a coffee bar I wanted to try. And there was a martini bar I really wanted to try. But so much got shut down. Again, it was really a slight shade of a COVID shutdown nightmare.

Sounds like not a great first Burning Man experience.
It was unpleasant and bizarre and not fun. But it certainly wasn’t the disaster that I gather the media is making it out to be. I actually haven’t had a chance to read the media accounts. But people have told me. Is that how they’re making it out?

For sure, some media outlets are using the opportunity to call it a disaster and to make fun of an event they make fun of every year.
I would hasten to say it was not a disaster. It was a bizarre twist of Mother Nature’s fate. But it was wild. People who were there earlier in the week told us it was really fun until Thursday night. We brought bicycles out there to get around, but they wouldn’t work due to the mud. So we got around the grounds as best we could. We found all kinds of spots. There was a polka bar with a guy with a tuba with flames coming out of it. It was a flaming tuba! The wildest thing you could ever imagine.

I’ve heard people at Burning Man are super nice. True, even in these circumstances?
Yes! People just invite you into their space. We were clomping around in our boots through this liquid cement. It was basically quicksand. This lady saw us and said, “You look a little forlorn! Would you like to come in and get something to eat and drink?” We said yes.

Did you actually get to see any of the amazing art I’ve heard about that people create for Burning Man?
There were so many fucking cool things. It blew me away. A giant aluminum shark driving around. There was a giant Volkswagen on top of a fire engine that lit up at night and made funny noises. I saw a giant Pegasus. We were tromping along in the desert, and wow, here’s a giant fish popping up out of the sand!

Everybody I know who has been to Burning Man has stories about the nudity.
There was this hug booth. It was called the Hug Deli. A naked man and a naked woman. Do you want a hug? Do you want a back scratch? We saw this couple jogging, completely naked. They looked great!

Okay, Pierre. I think what everybody wants to know is, did Pierre Robert make it into the much-talked-about Orgy Dome?
It was closed! I completely wanted to go there. Anyway, the sensuality and sexuality are omnipresent.

Based on what you texted me in the early morning hours of Tuesday, I’m guessing you didn’t make it out with Chris Rock and Diplo?
There was this rumor that Chris Rock walked eight miles to the main road. Nobody knew. Sure, all right, maybe. It’s entirely possible. There was also a rumor of an Ebola outbreak. Somebody said they were calling the National Guard in for an Ebola outbreak! Helicopters were going to descend shortly! Like many other such rumors, completely untrue.

With all these horror stories out there about Burning Man exits, I’m wondering about yours.
We heard about six-hour delays. We got in line at 11 on Monday night and didn’t get to the main road until seven on Tuesday morning. Worst traffic jam ever. On the way in, very well orchestrated. On the way out, given the circumstances, they did what they could. Thousands and thousands of big cars and trucks moving an inch at a time. It was maddening and massively frustrating. Miserable. It became a surreal, psychic, spiritual nightmare revelation — though I don’t know exactly what was revealed.

I’m glad you don’t have to be back at work this week!
Me too. I’ll see you at the MMRBQ.