Burning Man Live | Episode 76 | 12|13|2023

L’Osti Québec! The 11th Principle of Poutine

Guests: Arno Robin, kbot, Stuart Mangrum

Have you stumbled upon Midnight Poutine in Black Rock City? Maybe you listened to Québecois rock as you waited for some of that crispy, cheesy goodness? As with many camps on playa, Midnight Poutine is the cultural tip of the iceberg of a vast community of creativity and goings-on; this one in Montréal, Québec. 

Arno Robin, one of Montréal’s cultural instigators, spoke with Stuart and kbot about his nine-year journey from Midnight Poutine, to co-creating Montréal’s Burning Man Regional Event, to developing a bustling makerspace.

It’s one of those stories we love — one that travels through Black Rock City and then keeps on going — carrying the Burning Man ethos back home to take root and sprout local mutations.

Plus… Stuart learns to swear in Québecois!





KBOT: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own community project?

ARNO: Don’t look too far. I feel it’s cool to get a vision, but the important things are the small steps. Then things are just slowly taking place. Mistakes are part of it, and I love mistakes because it’s so important in the process. At some point you look back and you say “Oh my gosh, how much energy we’ve been investing in this path.” You would never do this if you had any idea. We did it because we had no idea. We’re not in full control of all the steps and that was okay.

STUART: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Burning Man Live. I’m Stuart Mangrum and my friend Kbot and I are here today with a very interesting character. This gentleman is a Montréal-based Burner who has been bringing the culture of Québec to Burning Man and vice versa for years in some really interesting ways.

He is one of the organizers of Montréal’s Regional Burn, L’Osstidburn, and also a pretty cool new Makerspace in the city called LESPACEMAKER. You guys can beat up my French pronunciation anytime.

ARNO: That’s perfect.

STUART: Okay. And he’s also, if that isn’t enough, he’s also one of the people behind everyone’s favorite food-themed theme camp in Black Rock City. Yeah, I’m talking about Midnight Poutine. Welcome and bienvenue, Arno Robin.

ARNO: C’est un plaisir. My pleasure to be with you.

STUART: Did I say your name right? Let me try that again. Arno Robin.

ARNO: Arno Robin. That’s right on.

STUART: Okay, great. Let’s start with where you are in the world. You are calling in from Québec, and I know a lot of our listeners are not familiar with Québecois culture. Tell us a little bit about what makes it unique and different from just, say, the rest of Canadia, or maybe that other French-speaking country over in Europe.

ARNO: That’s definitely a good question.

I will talk for Montréal, I’ve been living in Montréal for my whole life. I feel there’s something like a mixture of languages and also this warm way of connecting with each other, I don’t know. There’s something warm about Montréal, I feel. There’s also something that has been important for me about being francophone in my different projects.

STUART: Now is the French spoken in Montréal, is that significantly different from the French spoken in Paris? Or is it pretty much everybody can understand everybody just fine?

ARNO: Oh no, you’re right. There’s a big accent in Montréal and Québec and even if it’s easy for us to understand like French from France or Africa, Montréalers are like kind of squeezing the words, compressing everything. There’s definitely a big accent and you can hear it with mine. That’s pretty obvious. Also like in Montréal, that’s something interesting about pretty much all of the city is like English speaking and the other half is French speaking. So there’s also this mixture inside the city that makes it like really kind of embracing each other.

KBOT: But the language of business in Québec and in Montréal is French. That’s the dominant language. If you’re working and living in the city for the most part. So it’s not like just a French flavored environment, it is French. You’re going into another language and another culture when you say cross from Toronto to Montréal. Very different.

STUART: And I imagine it is the language of food culture as well. Let’s talk about poutine.

ARNO: Alright.

STUART: So, I’m a huge fan. I’m a huge fan of your camp. I’ve seen lines there starting around noon for Midnight Poutine and wrapping most of the way around the city. I heard that to get over that, is it true that this year you built a mobile poutine delivery vehicle, on a bicycle? Tell me about that and how that worked out.

ARNO: Yeah. The Flying Fryer. That was a really nice project.

STUART: What’d you call it?

ARNO: It’s the Flying Fryer. So it’s literally like a fryer on the back of a trike with no motor and engine, just the propane fryer that we built by our own with an old keg. So it’s a big keg with three baskets and we’re able to do frying pretty much everywhere.

That’s pretty much like the revolution of Midnight Poutine. If I can come back from the beginning: My first burn was 10 years ago and when I came I was not eating poutine so much, I was not a big fan of poutine. I joined because it was important to me to bring something back out of Burning Man, so I joined Midnight Poutine at that point. And it becomes something really important in my way of burning, just because of the family that was created.

This year instead of people waiting in line for getting served, Flying Fryer is like going somewhere and offering poutine with people that have no idea what it is, and maybe have no idea what it tastes. And then we can just decide, “Hey, you want to just try this new thing?”

That was something really refreshing. So instead of offering gift to the people that were definitely waiting for this gift, just getting a new kind of connection and relation with people. So yeah, we’ve been serving deep playa, some crews, like building art cars; some friends at DPW; right after the Man Burn. Big crowd. Big service. So we did like shit ton of poutine behind, just right after behind the Man.

KBOT: So how many poutines can you serve from the Flying Fryer in one shot?

ARNO: The Man Burn, that was on Monday right, this year. We had some leftover, some Midnight Poutine of pretty much everything. I think we serve like pretty much 300 poutine. And since we had leftovers from the camp, but not enough potatoes, we’d been asking everybody for potatoes all around. So that was a joke. We were just scavenging all the camps for potatoes, going in the bar, like, “Hey, can you ask on the mic if there’s any people with russet potatoes?” We had two potatoes at a time. So that was really intense. Just taking one by one, we’ve been able to serve like 200 poutine, the night of the Man Burn. That was the intense night for sure.

STUART: For anyone listening, by the way, who’s never had the poutine experience, my understanding is that it’s a basic treat with three ingredients, right? French fried potatoes (fried chips), a lovely beef gravy — and a cheese curd, which I’m still not sure exactly what it is. I have some friends from the southern Canadian states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, who make this. They talk about cheese curd. What exactly is a cheese curd and how do you get it in the wilds of Nevada?

ARNO: Yeah. At some point we were like importing the curds because we had no proper supplier, but we found near Yosemite a cheese maker. It’s pretty much like a really really young cheddar that you just cut in the process of aging it. Now we found a place that is doing the right recipe and the right saltiness. We have an agreement with this cheese-making company now.

KBOT: And you drive up to Yosemite to get your cheese, right? Someone has to make that trip or does someone bring it to you? How does that work?

ARNO: Yeah, we do the round trip. But before then it was like in Arizona. Before then it was from like north side, so that was intense. We always had to make a detour to pick up cheese. And that was something huge to keep frozen, keeping the freezing chain proper. That was a huge challenge for a small team, just getting like, “Oh, we need 300 pounds.” So now it’s just saving our time. And going to Yosemite is cool.

But you were skipping like the French potatoes. I really want to insist on that because I feel this is definitely what makes the poutine different. I don’t want to just honor Midnight Poutine over like many other poutine makers, but I feel the recipe we do is like something different. It’s all about the crispiness of the fries. People are just asking why it takes so long just to fry and everything. Yeah,  it’s passionate, for sure. Like, I have a personal relationship with those potatoes.

STUART: Do you double fry them? Do you fry them and then rest them and fry them a second time?

ARNO: Four times!

STUART: Four times? Okay.

KBOT: Four!

ARNO: Just to make it really crispy on the outside. So yeah, this is something special.

KBOT: That’s hardcore.

STUART: Not even the Belgians, who actually invented French Fries, not even the Belgians do that.

ARNO: Yeah, that’s hardcore Belgium. Yes.

KBOT: They do it twice. Yeah.

STUART: So four times crisped up fries (Oh my god, that’s great.), embryonic cheese; it’s kind of like the veal of cheese, right?

ARNO: Exact.

STUART: And the gravy, and the gravy. Yes. Well, cool.

ARNO: And this is the proper recipe from Québec. There was definitely variation but just doing it from stash, it’s the original like OG poutine.

KBOT: You mean that brown powder and you just add water and you whisk it, right?

ARNO: Yeah, the brown powder. So fancy!

KBOT: And I only know that because I went to a Regional with Midnight Poutine and I got to do the gravy. So that’s the real way they do it in Québec?

ARNO: Yes, it is.

KBOT: It’s yummy, it’s salty.

STUART: It’s so delicious. I think about all the time I’ve wasted making gravy from scratch.

ARNO: It’s starch, yeah.

STUART: I think there is something in the packaged gravy aisle called “brown gravy mix” that’s probably pretty much the same thing. What flavor is it? It’s brown flavor!

So, okay, well back up a little bit, Arno. I want to know about how you got to Burning Man in the first place, and how your experience has changed over time.

ARNO: From the beginning, 10 years ago, pretty much. The first year was ‘14, and I do remember a friend just was talking to me about what it was. And like at that point I was doing creative stuff for my own living. So I was an artist, creating art installations, and I was definitely looking for freedom of creation. So that’s how I’ve been like, “Yeah, Burning Man sounds definitely like a place I need to visit.” So, I did.

And just for the context, I was definitely not speaking English. You listen to my accent right now, that was really worse than this. So, yeah, that was my first year, 10 years ago. And I’ve been there with no affiliation. And I was just looking to understand a bit more.

And at that moment I came, of course like everybody knows, you just realize how powerful it is. Just experimenting, like those kind of connections. I did realize that I want to bring something back in Montréal out of this. So that’s how I decided to try to find a camp from Montréal. And I joined — I “joined” — I forced myself into Midnight Poutine that year, convincing them to “Yeah, yeah. You need me with you.”

There’s so many things to learn, so many things, so many humans to connect with. So I was definitely super engaged in the Burner scene. Then few, I’m not saying many, Regional Burns around, doing Regional Burns bring me to co-create a new one in Québec.

At that point, the community in Montréal was really young, not that young, but small, and I was joining something that definitely was looking for a lot of energy and that had a lot of potential. Myself, I’ve been joining people that were doing like the original Decomp. We just talked about doing a Regional burn, so that’s what we did with L’Osstidburn.

We created L’Osstidburn in ‘16. And then it became something small that we really wanted to just take care of really step by step. From my first time I came, to creating a Regional Burn, and we were like 250 the first year and then 300, this is how we’ve been looking at it, just to just go small, and just to learn how this community will take the culture and maybe propose something that is definitely influenced by the Montréal, our way of doing it. So that was really rad, I would say.

Yeah. We were looking for something that is about expressing the best out of the DIY scene, doing a lot with the resources we have, respecting the resources. That’s how we did. That’s the process we had in mind. And now we are doing the seventh edition this year. So that’s going well.

STUART: Can you clarify the name? It sounded a bit to me like “Lusty Burn.”

ARNO: So “Osstid” is a swear word. L’Osstidburn is also a reference to a show that was created by like great artists in the seventies. So that was for us a way to make a shout to another period of time when Montréal was just expanding their opening for West Coast New York and everything. That’s a cultural reference from Québec that is really difficult to pronounce and that was kind of funny for us to listen to this in English.

Can you pronounce it?

KBOT: L’Osstidburn

ARNO: Yeah.

KBOT: Say it again Arno.

ARNO: L’Osstidburn

KBOT: L’Osstidburn

ARNO: It’s just unpronounceable in English.

STUART: L’Osstidburn. Oh yeah, it is lusty!

ARNO: Yeah.

KBOT: So, Arno, tell us, what does Osstid mean? Why is that a swear word? Can you go into that a little bit?

ARNO: I think the second year I was involved with Midnight Poutine we did an open mic and one of the members decided to, “Hey, I’m gonna just teach the swearing in French and in Québecer.”

Osstid is one of those words, but there’s so many swear words in the Québecer culture. So like Osstid is kind of “the fucking burn” or something like that in a like proper way, but like Osstid it’s the Body of the Christ when you go to the church, like it’s just like referring to all…

KBOT: So you call it the host. The host is what the Catholics refer to it in English.

ARNO: Thanks.

STUART: It literally means “sacred cracker,” but in practice it means Fuckin’ 

KBOT: Yeah. Can you give us a bunch..?

STUART: I want to spend the rest of our time together… Teach me more Québecois swear words, please. That’s the most important part of any cultural exchange.

KBOT: Yeah, I want to hear a chain. There’s a way you guys do it that’s like a chain where you start with one swear word, and then you kind of roll into like five or six swear words at once. I want to hear that.

ARNO: Yes, for sure. L’osti de crisse, calisse de tabarnak. It’s like four swear words in a row that means piling up like the expression and exaggerating, like it’s frustration, happiness, it can go like many, many ways. You can put it that way, like it’s going, be really frustrated, l’osti de crisse, calisse de tabarnak. It can be positive also. It refers to so many ways of expressing. It’s like punctuation in Québec for sure.

STUART: That is so interesting.

KBOT: So it goes: Host, Christ, chalice, tabernacle, is the English translation. Say it again in French?

ARNO: L’osti de crisse, calisse de tabarnak. Is it? Thanks, K. I was not even sure about the translation.

STUART: I am learning how to swear in Mexican Spanish right now, and it’s curious how much of that comes from the church also, right? You don’t tell somebody to fuck off, you send them to the devil, right?

I want to hear about this makerspace. I think I can pronounce this, LESPACEMAKER. Is that close enough?

ARNO: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Really? LESPACEMAKER? But like, it’s pronounced, like, LESPACEMAKER, The Space Maker, it can be many ways also.

STUART: So you do call it the Space Maker?

ARNO: Yeah.

STUART: This was an idea that came to you after going to Burning Man and I want to know how you did it. That sounds like something really expensive. Do you have a trust fund, Arno? Are you independently wealthy?

ARNO: I’m wealthy? We have, like we had so many people like believing in the project. Myself. Let’s come back from the beginning. You were asking where it’s coming from and that’s definitely something interesting. Since we’re doing a Regional burn, we were connecting with so many new people. At this point Montréal Burners was in a renaissance mode, like so many new person coming in. The place was made of so much people with a lot of energy. And we were looking, yeah, for a way to express Burning Man culture on the east coast in Canada and also maybe to connect with each other, to bond with each other more often.

So it comes to us like, yeah, a workshop. So myself, an example, I had my workshop doing my art installation with like my collective and blah, blah, blah. But that was small and I was definitely digging to just do those creative projects. And maybe I was not doing those creative more than just sufficient projects to make it work.

So of course like when we were looking to create a new place, it was about like materiality. It was really important for us just to be connected to the objects. And also, we were just creating things. We were just building things. So like the best products was to create a workshop.

So we’ve been looking at, yeah, there’s definitely different models. We were like about 30 Burners. Some of them were not Burners, but vibing for something about, “Let’s do this together. Let’s engage ourselves to create a community-oriented makerspace.” Lots of people around have been helping us, learning from others, like from other makerspaces, like Boston have the Artisan’s Asylum. So we learn a lot from that makerspace and we’re like “We can create something like this that’s gonna offer freedom and connections.”

Montréal is another city. This is definitely not Somerville, Boston, and Massachusetts, but we have access to a cheap lease, so we had an old building, and it took us seven months to clean that up, put things in function, and we’re doing it only by our own.

That’s something that was really impressive to me when I first joined the Burner scene so many people had different professional backgrounds. I just felt it was a really great opportunity to put like our expertise in common. So we had a really proper board of members: Architect, engineer, accountant, myself as an entrepreneurial artist. So we were ready to go.

So we rented a place for 20 years and we’ve been renovating. And now, yeah, there’s 250 members. There’s about 12 shops, wood shop, metal shop, lots of communal; some artists, artisans, who have their own private place. And yeah, once a year, we do a big, big, fundraiser event for Halloween, Pandemonium (talking about the devil).

STUART: Yeah. Let’s hear more about that because how you fund these things is a big question for a lot of people. A lot of people just say, “Well, I could never do that because I could never raise the money for it.” Tell us about Pandemonium.

ARNO: Yeah, exactly. That’s the other question we’re asking: How? How to start this? So there’s the money for sure. I talked about the social engagement, participation. That was definitely like a good momentum. And then we had to prove that we were able to ran that space and make something out of it. For the first step, that was, yeah, we have a lot of human resources, human power, let’s clean that place out, and let’s do a huge party that’s gonna be a fundraiser. So Pandemonium 1 was the first event we did in this building. 750 person, about 20,000 of benefit. And right now this year is going to be 1,000 people. We’re aiming for 50,000 of benefit too. 300 volunteers. So this is definitely something that was important to us to take the things by our own, create our own way. And doing this, we had more people joining and willing to help for financial aspects, by example. Some people have been just offering to lend some money, or just to offer some money, to the project just to start.

And we’re starting like really small steps by small steps. And doing everything by our own was also the cheapest way to do, and yeah, maybe the more sustainable way also. And finally, we’re asking for public funding, and this is something important in Québec, Canada, like yeah, for those projects and social economy, there’s like funding that can be accorded to different step of your project. So at that point we had some public funding, private funding, and lots of events, we were doing events as fundraiser. So that was our own way to just to keep the things rolling, do things simple, step by step, and five years after this first beginning, it’s now, like, totally self-autonomous, and we are looking to expand the project for a bigger phase.

And maybe buy the building if we are capable of.

KBOT: But that building, I mean, when you moved in there it was a mess. You and your friends summoned an army of people to rehabilitate that building. I remember the photos of when they poured the concrete floor. And it was just a group of what, like, five or six people leveling out the floor on their own. It’s just incredible.

ARNO: When you put brilliant humans together, I’m not talking about myself, when you put those people together, they are able to fix pretty much everything. For the context at that point, that was pushing ourselves. By example like, I was chatting with Aléric, one of the co-founders, and we were remembering why we did this. For Aléric, that was clear. He was involved in a really big project from Montréal, Fire Tetris, that is an old project that was happening at Burning Man, 20 (I think it was) ‘16. Kirsten, can you help me?

KBOT: I think it was ‘15. It was the year that everything was really, really cold outside.

ARNO: Yes, you’re right. Gosh. That was a huge, huge project for Montréal. And Jody Mac was leading the project and they had no place to build that up. And they were building during the Spring. It was cold outside and the only place they had to build that up was in the parking lot next to Jody’s place. That was making no sense to create a large scale project. And they were definitely looking for other place, other way to do it, but that is huge. So that’s how we decided, “Yeah, we need to do this.”

And Aléric, by example, is an engineer. So: “We have this old building, what should we do? Let’s redo the floor, that’s the best way to do, there’s nothing.” We had an army and, Mat Bas, also part of the Flying Fryer, we had been coordinating the session. So that was always kind of a game. Okay, we have this kind of crazy project, that is not so crazy, that’s renovation. We can ask for somebody to do it or we can do it by our own.

So we did step by step by our own, and that was always so much things to learn. It took us one year just to renovate and be sure the building was like, ready to accept the phase A of LESPACEMAKER. So that was lots of hours.. and pizza!

KBOT: And now the building is half kind of done, and half habitable. And then the other half of the building is kind of derelict, and you have just managed to secure funding and you have a plan and you’re actually going to rehabilitate the second half of the building.

ARNO: Yeah. There’s something important in this way of doing, I feel. We were creating a communal shop for artists and artisans, and we are still. It was important for those artists to, not important, but really beneficial for keeping their expenses low. So my point of view as, like I was doing art for my own living, if you keep it low, maybe you have more freedom of choosing what you’re going to create, what you’re going to do.

For the cultural development, that’s the thing we are proposing. If we are putting more things in common, it will definitely create more affordable spaces for artists, artisans, and also maybe create many other aspects, other impacts about engagement between different field of work, different people from different backgrounds, and engaging ourselves also in the neighborhood we’re living in. So there’s so many aspects we are like experimenting right now. And the next phases are really made of like creating more affordable spaces for artists and artisans. And plus, plus, plus…

STUART: Arno, I’d like to hear more about how you find and work with all these smart people that you’ve found. I mean, are these just people that you knew from Burning Man? Do you meet them through local regional events and groups? And is it very much self organizing or? What’s the style involved in trying to, as we say, herd all those cats — all those smart, smart cats?

ARNO: That’s a good question. All those answers. Yeah, that’s people, we met each other at Burning Man. We met at the a Regional Burns or like events. And then finally, we’ve been like creating a space that is also inviting more people to join.

So the way we do, for managing the space, is really self manage. So there’s a lot of project upcoming: committees, we have opening discussion or working tables, and sometimes it becomes permanent, some other times it’s not. For example, all those shops, the permanent shops, we have committees of volunteers that is organizing the space, keeping the safety proper, be sure that they are offering classes and managing their finances. There’s about 12 committees like this.

Example: There’s a new project upcoming. So we are looking to make a Recupératüm, it’s a repair center for materials. So there’s a new committee that is gonna be built, and we’re gonna look at how we can do it by our own. So that’s really oriented for volunteer-based engagement, and that’s what we did since the beginning. Like at the moment we have an idea that should become real or like that should be discussed. Let’s put it on a table and we see where it goes.

KBOT: I’m not very handy. I always have ideas and you know, sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t, but I did go to the maker space and I did the basic woodworking course.

As a woman who is a little bit clumsy, this can be very intimidating. And it was very empowering and very refreshing to work with people who were going to work with you at your own level. And that’s something that was quite new to me. And I think, that’s really a powerful thing that makerspaces can do, especially Burner makerspaces where it’s like, “Oh, you have an idea or you want to do a thing? Great. Do it.”

Well, how? A lot of those kinds of projects can be very intimidating: Welding, woodworking, ceramics, all that kind of work. I was just, I was kind of enamored with how the Makerspace community let you in and just let you do your thing without any judgment.

ARNO: It sometimes, by my perspective, feels a bit kind of intimidating. Like you say, like a Makerspace, like a lot of people knows, and it’s really, like, technical oriented. And for us, it was important to keep a fun, funny moment when we can just learn, play and create things. This is easy to say, like many other makerspace are saying the same, but I feel for us that was creating events.

Doing an event is like getting the pressure really lower to create some new things and try some new things.

Last winter we did Insomnia. We never did any overnight event for Nuit Blanche, so it’s a night in Montréal, all the shops — the workshops, the artists — are opening their door to give access and express culture for everybody passing by.

KBOT: Nuit Blanche means ‘white night’. And it means that the entire city, the entire sort of cultural mechanism of the city, opens for the entire night. The museums are open. All the artist studios are open. There are parties and gatherings and Makerspace, LESPACEMAKER, has done that twice now where you participate and you open your doors for the whole night.

ARNO: Thank you so much for the precision. So yeah, last year, it was the first  time we did Insomnia. Insomnia was an event we were creating to propose a place to try to create new things. So, like, Many artists have been invited, and they were like, “Okay, this is an open field. So you do have like all this space.”

So this is a space we are not occupying in the building right now. And we are, we’re just taking and expanding another space. So they just decided like, “Hey, we’re gonna create a labyrinth.” And people will pass by and it’s going to be also an exhibition. So like, so many people have been joining just flowing in and like trying things they will never try and they’re like other context. So that’s important for us to keep that product like that perspective or that moment possible.

I feel events are like just getting the stress lower to try new things and give ourselves the right for failure, that was so important from the beginning and still. That was the case for Insomnia, it was really oriented for like creating new things, but also for Pandemonium, inviting so many artists to join and maybe try some new stuff.

We are together. We are just like between us, yeah, 1000 of us, but like it’s an important moment just to express what we want to do, what we want to be. That’s a freedom gesture of like creation in my perspective.

KBOT: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own community project?

ARNO: Don’t look too far. I feel it’s cool to get objective and like a vision, but the important things are the small steps. Just looking at what you can do to create one step and the other, and then things are just slowly taking place. Mistakes are part of it, for myself, and I love mistakes because it’s so important in the process. It’s really impressive at some point you look back and you say “Oh my gosh how much energy we’ve been investing in this path,” but you would never do this if you had any idea. We did it because we had no idea. We’re not in the full control of all the steps and that was okay; it’s still part of how I like I love to do this.

KBOT: What would you warn them against apart from not looking too far ahead? Are there any other things that you would not want people to repeat? Mistakes that you don’t want people to make? Or are all mistakes valid at this point?

ARNO: I would say something I learned in the beginning was the rhythm. Sometime when you become really impatient, like the excitation, the passion, brings things really, really clear and you want to go fast. But when you’re creating that kind of project, I feel it’s really important for all of us to just understand it’s going to take time, and creating the right rhythm to be sure it’s respectful, sustainable and healthy. This is something that was a really important learning for me in the first year, for myself, for my friends, for many of my friends that I’ve been like close to the burnout or burning out, literally. We need to be careful.

STUART: Arno, whenever I talk with people, who, like yourself, are taking this culture of Burning Man out into the world, I’m always curious to see how it fits or doesn’t fit in different cultures, different languages and all that. I know, linguistically, I’ve seen this before, words like decommodification — that’s not even really a word in English. But, I’m curious what you feel about the 10 Principles in your work, and if there are any that particularly speak to you, or any that you just kind of go, “Eh, whatever.” I think that’s always instructive to all of us to see how the culture is spreading out in the world.

ARNO: Yeah, I love to do this, and go in to other Regionals to understand their perspective and their local understanding of what it can be. For me, the context of the engagement, the participation, that was so impressive to me. So powerful. That’s definitely something that we’ve been embracing since the beginning.

And at the moment, the invitation is open, the transparency is there. There’s so many people that are willing to offer and give so much. This is something definitely so important in my perspective at what Burning Man has been in our project in Montréal, in the Burner city, Montréal. I really see the principles as a balance of things, and perspective about the balance is really important.

So yeah, for me, that was looking to engage myself, creating impacts and maybe bringing back what is a really huge shortcut, to create like a collective bondness that was the best way to do. There are so many recipes. Doing like those fundraisers we do, it’s so inspired by things we saw around the Burning Man culture.

Why? So much people have been trying to create new ideas that of course there’s good ideas in the process. So when we are trying new things, there’s so many things we get inspired by. At the moment you offer a proper way to engage and be collectively associated. People are still really willing to join.

It’s also something missing sometimes in our cities. I will talk with Montréal. I mean, it’s a small city. I think we know each other by two persons or something like that. It’s like a huge village. And even there, we are not so close to each other. We live in our neighborhood without talking to the neighbors. This is something really common, I think in big cities anywhere. And just creating pretext for bonding is really important, that are not intrusive.

So creating a space that is chosen at a specific moment in your living time in your living schedule, and then you can kind of engage yourself and take yourself out of your loneliness. This is also a good and important context to create in the cities. And at the moment you offer this and you offer it to all the people from any scenes, not only the Burner scene, a way to be bigger than themselves, they are so passionate about it. They are so engaged. This is impressive.

KBOT: So you’re talking about the creation of third spaces.

ARNO: Yeah, totally.

KBOT: Creating a third space that’s not your home, that’s not your work, that’s a collective, shared space where people can come together.

ARNO: Exact. And that is not definitely religion, that is like affiliated to some other the values that are maybe more independent, or maybe more locally affiliated. So this is something important. Like those third places, I feel there’s a missing connection there and yeah, a community workshop is one way, but like, there’s so many other circumstances we can create and generate. It’s infinite.

STUART: Yeah, it sounds like, to me, you’re talking about belonging, too, which is definitely in short supply in our world. Even before the pandemic there was a lot of alienation and isolation and so many societal forces driving us apart from each other. I hear you, that having a force in the world that brings us together, to do things together, it’s a pretty powerful thing, right? And there’s not a lot of it, not enough of it in the world.

KBOT: And places where you can both work and play, and they’re kind of intermingled. So yeah, maybe you’re creating something together, maybe you’re building a project or creating an event, but you’re also playing and building social connections that are, you know, curious, and experimental, but also educational.

STUART: Did you just drop, did you just drop the theme there, Kbot? Did you just say Curiouser? No, you just said curious.

KBOT: I might have…

STUART: We’ll come back to that. So, speaking of the future, Arno, what’s next for you? What do you got coming up in the year ahead?

ARNO: That’s a great question. We do have Pandemonium. We haven’t talked about it so much, but, huge event, lots of people, lots of energy.

STUART: Tell us more about Pandemonium. If I go to Pandemonium, what am I going to experience?

ARNO: It’s a big chaotic space, with so many creative humans that are just digging to create something by their own. So it’s like an old garage and then lots of new flavors. There’s a roller disco. There’s many thematic sounds scenic. There’s a performance, vaudeville performance theater. There’s so many things at the same place. So yeah, that’s 20,000 square feet, huge party that is happening only once a year in Montréal.

KBOT: So Stuart, we can’t explain it. It’s just like Burning Man. You have to just go.

STUART: It sounds a lot like Burning Man. I’m just saying. I know it’s not, but it sounds like Burning Man in a warehouse.

ARNO: But you’re right. What’s impressive to me about the Pandemonium? Of course, it’s really like Burning Man flavored. Lots of us are calling ourselves Burners and we are coordinating and doing the organization of the place. This is all about engagement, participation, inclusion, transparency.

What was impressive to me, so many other scenes have been like, yeah, we are digging into this. We do understand and we want to help  creating that space that is like building crazy project, LESPACEMAKER. But also be part of this whole thing together.

So there’s people from Rainbow Gatherings or like, side scenes, like more musical scenes, and many collectives are doing their own projects. So this is something kind of really local, bringing so many other people at the same, so much passion, many ways to do it. And we’re learning how to coexist in this specific event.

STUART: Sounds really great.

KBOT: And it results in amazing cross pollinations, yeah.

STUART: Your community for the space. That’s wonderful.

So. Next year, in Black Rock City, will there be poutine again?

ARNO: Yeah, it’s like this year was kind of funny, that I was kind of looking for my base, and I feel there’s still something I want to come back to. So yeah, next year I bet I’ll be around. Bringing the Flying Fryer was intense, but like so magical connections.

So yeah, the next year will be made of definitely preparing to come back to Burning Man again and also lots of new things. We are looking to buy the building, the makerspace, there’s many challenges with the Regional Burn. And I would love to create a bit more since like I’m more coordinating things right now I would love to go back about creations and doing things, out of my head for the fun of doing it.

And this is something important also, like, Kirsten, you were asking, ways to maybe don’t lose yourself in a way. That’s good. That’s the way I’m looking at it. So, yeah, just… kind of like, still remembering and respecting why you did it in the first place. So that’s what I’m looking for right now, just to be sure I’m like, still having fun and still doing the things that are important about creating, and doing new things. Flying Fryer was a good example at Burning Man, that was nice.

STUART: Next year, maybe put some pontoons on the Flying Fryer. Or make it into an airboat. I want an airboat. Of course, it won’t rain again, but I’ll have an airboat.

ARNO: That’s funny, though.

STUART: The Floating Fryer, I think.

ARNO: That could work. The Floating Fryer, yeah. That would be nice.

KBOT: The Flying Floater.

STUART: Well, Arno, is there anything else you want to tell us?

ARNO: Mmm…

KBOT: No pressure.

ARNO: But that’s an important question. I was trying not to over-prepare for this discussion, but I feel this is something important for me. What’s about Burning Man? I mean, I’ve been investing a lot of my energy in the last nine years learning a lot from Burning Man culture and also trying to engage myself in impacts related to this. And I do feel this is something that is so important in our way of creating great local, like my perspective is just like, I feel local solutions can definitely help finding the right impacts and also like creating engagement.

I really would love to connect this more with BRC that I was like in the five last years. I feel there’s something still so interesting about going at BRC. And I remembered this going back, trying things, and set yourself for like just playing. I love this and I love the way it’s so needed in the Burner scene. You can ask anything, everybody will say yes if there’s fun involved in the process. This is really meshing in the culture, and this is something important to remember. Otherwise, like, you’re gonna lose it.

KBOT: That’s fundamental.

ARNO: That’s my thinking out of my Burning Man this year, yeah.

KBOT: I love that: ask anything and they’ll say yes if there’s fun involved in the process. That kind of sums it up.

ARNO: Yeah.

STUART: We call it the Tom Sawyer approach to organizing here. Would you like to whitewash a fence? Anyway, it’s great talking to you. Our guest is the exceptionally lusty Arno Robbins of Montréal.

Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot for coming on the show, my friend.

ARNO: Thank you so much.

STUART: Okay. Consider, I don’t know, I don’t want to mess with the time-tested recipe but a little bit of crumbled bacon on it. Just sayin’. Bacon never made anything worse.

ARNO: Maybe smoked meat is the best addition on it. Yeah, I’ll bring some then. 

STUART: Bacon makes everything better.

ARNO: What was really special about the Flying Fryer, we added some green onions topping on the top. It looks so great, and a little more vegetable.

STUART: Beautiful.

ARNO: Yeah, more healthy.

KBOT: Healthy, exactly.

STUART: Less brown.

ARNO: Yes.

STUART: All right, thanks a lot.

KBOT: Thank you all.

ARNO: My pleasure. Ciao.

KBOT: Bye!


KBOT: And as they say in Québec, merci tout le monde. It’s a wrap.

You have been listening to Burning Man Live, which is, was, and will hopefully always be a non-profit production brought to you commercial-free by Burning Man Project.

Thank you to everyone who listened.

Merci to everyone who tells a friend.

Thanks to all of you who send us email at live@burningman.org.

And thanks to all of you who put a tax-deductible donation, into the coin slot at donate.burningman.org

I want to thank everyone who made this episode possible. Thank you to my friends Vav, Stuart, Rocky, Actiongrl, Tyler, Allie, Deets, Kristy, the entire Communications team at Burning Man.

And, thanks, Larry.