Dec. 24, 2022

153 Syd Gris: Burning Man, Opulent Temple, & Leadership Lessons

My next guest is Syd Gris. He is one of the longest-running fun creators in the Bay Area music and underground arts scene, Syd is known as a Renaissance man of the West Coast burner scene, and with good reason. Not only is he the co-founder (in 2003) of the legendary Opulent Temple collective (best known for their premiere sound stage at Burning Man), he is also the founder of Opel Productions, (2002) which has been consistently throwing club events and parties with purpose in San Francisco for 20 years.  

He also is a child psychologist with a Doctorate in transpersonal psychology, an outspoken promoter on social issues.


We talked about:

(0:48) What is transformation?

(02:42) What is our eternal nature? How do we connect to it

(05:30) What did you learn from interviewing Jack Kornfield and Ram Dass?

(22:31) How do the stories we tell ourselves impact our life?

(24:10) How do you infuse your philosophy into Opulent Temple experiences?

(30:45) What do you hope to accomplish in sharing the various aspect of your own consciousness?

(34:49) How do you find the line between lecturing at others and curing the space?

(38:16) What do you say to the naysayers?

(42:04) What does it take to bring Opulent Temple to the playa?

(53:58) What is a notable low moment for Opulent Temple

(56:25) What are the top lessons from running Opulent Temple?

(58:32) How do you learn to surrender?

(61:23) What'd you say to the younger version of yourself 20 years ago?

(67:08) What do you do to ensure that people bring the right energy to build?

(71:18) What's one thing you wished you had known

(76:31) After 20 years, what are you excited about?

(81:15) The 4 recipes for a quiet desperate life

(82:11) Burning Man is a great opportunity to deepen your bonds



Spin article about Syd's role in sound at BM -


Interview about sound camp history and related topics on -


Copy of a 2009 article that appeared in DJ Mag, an international publication on dance music and its culture, written by the Editor in Chief at the time-

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[00:00:00] CK: My next guest is the co-founder of the opulent temple burning man theme camp, who was hosted Carl Armen TTO Gordon city hot since 82 and Diplo these big name DJs.

He's also the founder of Opal productions, which has been throwing parties with purpose in San Francisco for the last 20 years.

He's also a child psychologist for kids in a foster care system for the last 27 years.

If you're interested in what he's up to go to opulent, please welcome Sid Chris.

Hello. Thank you so much for being here. SI.

[00:00:38] Syd: Yeah, thanks for the invite

[00:00:39] CK: to chat. Yep. So as a psychologist, as a DJ who host parties with a purpose, what does the word transformation mean for you? Hmm,

[00:00:54] Syd: transformation. Well, I certainly see [00:01:00] development as an intentional, slow moving transformation. Um, ideally mm-hmm , um, which means that, of course we evolve physically and to varying degrees emotionally, um, kind of just on the, the auto clock that our own humanity is on.

And then there's a very wide range of transformation that only happens with certain kinds of effort.

And, you know, that effort being mental, physical, spiritual, uh, depending on where you're putting your focus. And so, um, I think that, um, you know, if we want to like jump right into big thoughts, um, our, our evolution is very much in my opinion, connected to [00:02:00] transcendence in terms of our mission as humans, uh, in part being to like really get in touch with our eternal nature.

And, um, there are varying ways to do that in my opinion and that in doing so, um, there is transformation and, you know, obviously the extent to which one wants to do that, um, varies widely. Okay.

[00:02:31] CK: Perfect. I love that. Within two minutes, we're going to big topics like this. this is why noble warrior is about. Fantastic.

No small talk. Let's jump right into it. Okay. Yeah. So, so you had talked about various modalities to help us get in touch with that eternal nature. Um, you know, so what is your preferred modality? And maybe we


[00:02:56] Syd: start there. Sure. Uh, well, just to set a little [00:03:00] context mm-hmm my interest in psychology, um, was definitely along two paths.

One being that I felt called to be a person who helped other people within the frame of their mental and emotional world, and always was a good listener and feeling like. I wanted to be in service in that way. Um, but also it was definitely also tied to my interest in, um, spirituality and higher purpose.

And why are we here and what are we doing? And so, as I proceeded through college and graduate school, my two tracks were learning how to be a therapist, but also studying, um, the world's philosophies and religions through a [00:04:00] psychological development lens. Mm-hmm , which, um, really, uh, I think was best encapsulated during my days of studying by transpersonal psychology and the work of Ken Wilbur mm-hmm , who's a transpersonal philosopher.

And so in reading a lot of his work, I was inspired to do my dissertation around. The real life lived experience of long term spiritual practitioners. Mm-hmm um, and so I interviewed, and I don't know if these names will mean anything to you, but Jack cornfield mm-hmm, who's a well known teacher, RO dos who oh,

[00:04:48] CK: you interview them.

That's amazing.

[00:04:49] Syd: Yeah. Be here now. That's awesome. Uh, hu Houston Smith, who was a, a Christian, uh, historical philosopher writer, [00:05:00] um, a Zen Buddhist who worked out at the Zen center, um, people that had really been living the life and so could speak to what was their spiritual transformation like over time.

And then I compared their, um, kind of life stories, uh, and tried to kind of compare it to Ken Wilber's model of transpersonal development.

[00:05:24] CK: Okay. I mean, that's super awesome. By the way. I love that. I didn't know about that. that's amazing. That's great. Yeah. So what did you find, uh, you know, in terms of the, the model versus the lived life, right?

Yeah. The different biographies. What did you find?

[00:05:40] Syd: Well, Wilbur definitely has the, has been oriented to trying to develop an integrative theory of everything mm-hmm in, in which like every historical trend in science philosophy, religion and psychology [00:06:00] can kind of be embedded into an integral theory.

Mm-hmm and of course the success at that, you know, is, uh, a matter of debate amongst the people that, that read him. I, I found it to be very interesting and I think there's something to the kind of generalizing orientations that he put forth in his models. but he was also definitely very criticized for trying to, um, lay down a model of predictability in a very idiosyncratic reality of development.

Mm-hmm . And so what I found was the reports from these folks and granted there was, I think, just six or seven of them. Um, so obviously a small sample size, but, um, certainly people that had been living a pretty focused and dedicated spiritual practice for a long time, which [00:07:00] was kind of like, um, the requirement for me to, you know, I want to interview them and they certainly, um, had a life course that, you know, in some ways did, and in some ways didn't match up with what, uh, Wilbur would, would have sort of put forth as a model of development.

Um, and in the way the study was made, I didn't necessarily, and, and I would love to go back, uh, if I was ever able, uh, to actually speak more directly to them about various acts aspects of, um, in, in this case Wilber's model of development. Um, but I guess I would say like in broad strokes, you know, some, some things lined up and, and some things didn't, which is kind of what you would expect.

Yeah. I

[00:07:55] CK: mean, anytime we try to generalize something, you know, [00:08:00] overall framework, you know, you can track the trend line, but to tie it to specific person's preference personification it's, uh, nearly impossible. Yeah. So understandably of course. Yeah. Um, so I'm curious, now that you mentioned that, uh, as a seeker myself, a slash finder, Uh, now that you have this framework, you, you have, you have inner view in extensive, um, amount of time with the extraordinary human beings that really dedicated themselves.

How do you match up to your own model? You know, I must, you probably that thought probably have crossed your mind.

[00:08:42] Syd: No. Sure. In, in other words, like how do I apply what was learned into my own, like life practice and orientation? Yeah. Your

[00:08:51] CK: own psychological development, your development of your consciousness, you know, tours, this horizon as we call it the [00:09:00] eternal nature of who we are.


[00:09:02] Syd: Well, I certainly wish I could report that. I was, uh, an disciplined and dedicated practitioner of any particular spiritual practice. Um, because certainly to me, one of the lessons of all of it was. Of course, it kind of matters, um, where you put your time and energy, but, you know, within a certain framework, what really matters is having some form of practice, right.

Some form of yoga. So that could be Christian mysticism. That could be Buddhism. That could be sophism, you know, maybe it's, um, atheism with, uh, you know, really dedicated, uh, holistic approach to the good of humanity. Like, you know, there's, there's all kinds of things. So I guess, uh, [00:10:00] to answer your question though, where I have been most influenced is definitely Buddhi psychology and the benefits of mindfulness, um, and one's relationship with their self concept and their ego.

um, being a functional necessity, but not something that really has what I would consider actual form. Um, meaning like, like there's this idea that we're a ghost in the machine, meaning that we have consciousness, but the, the self right. Who is CK, who is Sid, like, that's a very, um, almost like, uh, ephemeral, if I'm saying that.

Right. Um, you know, malleable idea. And at the same time, we can recognize that aspect that, you know, in so many words, like being too attached to your self concept is a recipe for suffering. Mm. Um, certainly [00:11:00] my work in psychology and work with trauma and work with mental illness. Certainly also illustrates that you need a ego and self-concept to operate in the world.

And if it is too fluid and fragile or damaged, you're gonna have all kinds of functional problems. Mm. And so like living within that paradox is important. Um, I also have certainly been influenced by my Christian upbringing. Like I was, um, on the one, on one aspect of my upbringing, you know, influenced by, you know, I was baptized and we went to church and, you know, you learned about Jesus and everything.

And, uh, of course that en large part has been a very mixed bag in terms of its impact on society and the world. There is I think, some value in, um, the, the teachings on love and, and service, uh, because [00:12:00]I would see that certainly as, um, Super important to both happiness and purpose.

[00:12:08] CK: Mm. How would you characterize, uh, spirituality today?

[00:12:15] Syd: Boy, I don't know. You know, it's, there's so many places to, um, put one's orientation. If you're looking for a spiritual life and on the one hand, it feels very, um, fractured and splintered. And I would say it's probably hard for what I would lump in a very, you know, general fashion, you know, the, the educated 30, 40, 50 something person who of course believes in science, but also believes in some kind of spirit God and purpose to like find a [00:13:00] niche of.

Both community and philosophy that, that holds them together in any kind of way beyond their own maybe solitary pursuits. Mm. Maybe there's cool. Progressive Christian churches out there that would be aligned with that sort of approach. I don't know. I, I haven't spent the time to go look, um, in other, in other ways I think it's, you know, probably easier if you're gonna plug yourself into some kind of spiritual community or, or Songa, so to speak that, um, I think Buddhist, um, retreats and meditation sittings are probably the most accessible because they seem less dogmatic and more about like, just doing the practice, doing the practice of quieting the mind and opening the heart in order to.

You know, develop one's compassion [00:14:00] and, um, and develop one's mind and hopefully develop one's ability to, uh, not be so attached to like who you are in the world while you're still operating in the world.

[00:14:18] CK: So, so here here's something that I grapple with personally, and I love that I'm talking to a professional psychologist so I wasn't thinking about asking you this question before this, I was gonna ask you about op and temple, all these things, but since we're here yeah.

We can get there. Yeah. Yeah. Since we're talking about this, let's go there now. So one thing that I grapple with, if you think about a spectrum, obviously this is an arbitrary spectrum. I, I made it up a spectrum of agency self-determination, you know, exerting your will to the universe, kind of, you know, way of living.

The other side is surrender to the flow of the universe and whatever [00:15:00] happens, you know, it's to the inservice of your own growth and development. So I am Chinese. I am a PhD, biomedical engineer. So I was raised in this spectrum data driven, you know, self-determination individualistic, all those things.

Right. Then I have my, uh, spiritual awakening. Then I'm open now more towards the, the general spirituality realm, the, the surrenders of the universe. And I'm also influenced by books like the surrender experiment, where he talks about, he made a decision to just let the external reality be his guru and trust, whatever happens and just go with that.

So I don't know. I, I don't think the answer for me is here deterministic or here. Totally surrender without agency, so to speak it's somewhere, somewhere in the middle. So I'm curious from your perspective, as someone who [00:16:00] is a professional psychologist, who helps people finding a healthy middle, as you mentioned earlier, what's your take on articulating this healthy middle,

[00:16:11] Syd: right.

And, and the tension that's in there. Mm-hmm yeah. Um, I mean, just to cut to the chase, I don't know.

[00:16:20] CK: great.

[00:16:23] Syd: and I think there's certainly value in being comfortable with not knowing. Um, I certainly believe in and like, who knows? Right? Like we have all these concepts that maybe they're just really functional self delusions, or really they are something.

So for example, intuition. um, I was gonna say, I believe, you know, there's something to intuition, which, you know, at its simplest to me is like, you have a gut feeling about something and you follow it. Um, [00:17:00] and are you following it because you're intuiting that it would be good for you or are you following it because there's some divine plan for you and now you're doing that thing.

Like, I don't know. Um, but, and, and this at least ties into opulent temple in as much as I certainly had a feeling that I should go do this thing. And like at whatever level that exists. Meaning like, oh, it's a surface level. That that would be cool. Or it's a deeper level of, oh, this is part of my life's calling.

This is part of my purpose. This is part of why I'm here. This is what I'm supposed to do. Like, I don't know. Um, I do think there's something to, and again, I could categorize this as this is [00:18:00] comfort food thought, or maybe it's actually something and that is Joseph Campbell's, uh, idea that if you follow your bliss, then the universe will open doors for you.

And that, um, that resonates. And one of those things that I, I don't pretend to know that if that's really a thing or not, but I know I like it. And I feel like it has mostly happened in my own life, meaning that. There have been occasions that I, you know, followed a path, followed an intuition, followed a spark and doors opened up.

Mm. Now there are certainly times that they haven't that I thought like, wow, man, this is like one of those feelings right now. And so I like, you know, put all kinds of time and energy into it and the door slammed shut. And it's like, well, who knows? Maybe there's a lesson there. Maybe I was diluting myself.

Maybe that, uh, effort will [00:19:00] bear fruits in other ways down the road I haven't even seen yet. And then 10 years from now, I'll be like, wow, I was right. And that was just part of the path to get there.

[00:19:10] CK: I dunno, what, what you're pointing to. Is something that I, the ego, my ego struggles with, which is I'm very attached to data driven, right.

Scientists and all these things. And, but the, the realm that you're speaking about is faith. Like trust that is gonna turn out, even though there's no quote unquote evidence around it, no data around it. Yeah. So, so my ego really struggles with that. yeah.

[00:19:35] Syd: Well, and this whole idea of purpose, meaning like, is there a plan, like, is it all laid out for us?

Is it utter chaos? Is there order? I, I don't pretend to know. I, um, really don't like this overly new age, uh, idea that everything happens for a reason. Mm. Like that makes me [00:20:00] gag a little bit because okay. It suggests that like everything's been planned out. and there's like divine order to all of it. And everything happens for a reason and like, no, actually, well maybe, okay.

Everything could happen for a reason. It doesn't mean it's a divine reason. Right. All right. If I trip on the sidewalk, when I leave here today, um, did that happen for a reason? Well, maybe it's just because I wasn't paying attention. Right. As opposed to some greater purpose. And, and so I would like to think there's both order and chaos, you know, I would like to think there is some purpose and there's a whole lot of, um, room for maneuvering.

And, uh, I don't know if we're living out a divine plan or, or if there's absolutely nothing. I don't know. Like you almost gotta, you know, go with the mental constructs and concepts that, that work for you in your life. [00:21:00] And. I think it's really hard to exist and keep your chin up, thinking that there's no point to anything

[00:21:07] CK: mm-hmm

And to that point, if you think about again, right. Totally material, totally supernatural. Uh, I personally don't subscribe. I mean, I, on the macro as you know, there's God. Yes. All that stuff. But on the micro day to day, I'm more about the narratives, you know, what is the narrative that empowers me? Yeah. So the narrative of, Hey, there's a lesson in my tripping over the sidewalk here that makes me feel better ultimately versus like, oh, there's no reason.

Or, uh, you know, God wants you to trip and fall like, uh so, so, so on the micro I'm all about extracting what is the lesson? What's the insight. So that way I can. Be more functional in the world by, in terms of the [00:22:00] supernatural, how it impacts my life, making certain decisions or here's the divine download for CK on the day to day.

That's not the world that I live in. So I don't know if there's a way to articulate that school thought, but that's the best of my ability to articulate that.

[00:22:17] Syd: Yeah. I don't know either, but I like it and it, uh, reminds me of certain feedback that I'll give clients in, in the context of therapy. Um, because we're all cursed to make meaning, you know, we're all telling ourselves stories about what happened and why we did something and why someone did something to us.

And that's not to say there's not, again, there's not some objective truths in those things. There are, but there's also a lot of subjectivity that we bring to our narratives and our storytelling. And so. um, when you tell yourself certain stories, be, be careful of what story you're [00:23:00] telling yourself. Mm-hmm because you don't always know that that's totally true.

Mm-hmm and it matters the words that you think to yourself, it matters the belief system that you automatically subscribe to without some perhaps healthy skepticism and, and self questioning mm-hmm and of course, that can all be taken way too far, right? Yeah. And have like paralysis by analysis.

[00:23:29] CK: That's right.

Uh, re um, what is it? The Turkish coffee residues and trying to, you know, make something work like, oh, this Turkish coffee stain means whatever else in my life. Right. Anyways, no judge. There no judgment there. If that's how, if that's what people believe. That's cool. I do want to bring it back to opulent temple.

So. I read somewhere on your blog or, you know, the interviews that has been done with you, um, [00:24:00] that your original intention is to, uh, make parties with purpose or, uh, ceremonial spaces, whether you were inspired to do that. Uh, how do you bring this, uh, scholarly, uh, approach to psychology that you have to, how you run opulent, temple slash parties,

[00:24:23] Syd: right?

Yeah. And, and that's, uh, an evolving tale for sure. When I first started participating in the dance music, culture and scene, um, it was late 98. I had been living in San Francisco for a few years. I was going to grad school. I was not connected to that scene at all. I was much more of a, a rocker mm-hmm , but some friends took me to a club and, um, Had some great experiences in that, in that scene and culture and, and, and kept going.

So if you're [00:25:00] going to underground parties long enough in San Francisco, you're certainly gonna hear about burning man. And you meet people that say, Hey, you should go. And so I finally did in 2001, and during that time, I would say it was a particular kind of golden age of San Francisco dance culture in as much as it was like during the boom, there was a lot of fresh energy in the city.

Um, there was a lot of like a wave of people moving to the city. Um, a lot of people doing ecstasy at the time. And so that like collective happy vibe happening at a mass scale, you know, had a certain, um, value. And I. Wanted to sort of harness what I thought was like really positive [00:26:00] energy, um, being created in those spaces towards some intentional like purpose.

And so for me, that looked two different ways. One was a tangible way of using a party as a fundraiser for a cause mm-hmm . And so that is how I've got involved in throwing parties. The first party I ever threw was a benefit for the group home I worked for at the time, uh, which was a nonprofit. Out of San Francisco general for kids, um, you know, who had just been the like quintessential tales of urban trauma.

And so they were in residential care because they had no parents who could care for them, or they were too out of control at home to be cared for by parents. And so I wanted to fundraise using, using events for good causes. And we continued for a bit doing a series of events called raise up. And they were for a different [00:27:00] charity every time.

Uh, and so there was, there was kind of that effort to channel it towards something good. But I also, uh, tried. And, and trieds a tricky word cuz I did it, but I rarely was I ever satisfied with the outcome. And that is to basically do a midnight ceremony and that, that used to be a much bigger part of my events back in the day where we would stop the music, uh, get everyone in the main room of the dance floor to try to have this intentional moment where you do some like grounding exercise or guided meditation or like group O or you know, part performance, part ceremony.

And, um, and I did that in settings that it was just straight, like ridiculous that I was even trying it. Like I tried it at a, at a, at a rave in Fresno called cyber Fest, um, which is just not the scene to try and do that. But I was so idealistic slash naive [00:28:00] slash stupid slash brave. Uh, I, I, you know, was trying to do it anyways.

and that was just my effort to, you know, raise the frequency, so to speak. Um, that was a crew I actually used to be associated with. They were called raise the frequency and was very much aligned with that idea to try to use those, uh, elevated party moments, to have a higher level of shared consciousness take place, then just was already happening with the music.

And as time has gone on, I have shied away from that because why is that? Um, I mean, honestly, like from one perspective, I just chickened out it's, it's hard to do and have it feel like everyone's with you. Mm. Um, and maybe another perspective would be I got wise right. Uh, [00:29:00] and. I still do take the mic at certain parties and try to have a certain moment.

But, uh, most cases these days, that's in the form of some, some very brief words of like setting the intention. Hey, this is why we're here. Um, you know, even just a couple weeks ago, playing at burning man for our, our Wednesday night annual white party that we call sacred dance. Mm-hmm , uh, because that is a big part of the purpose.

You know, you can hear me on the recording saying, Hey, we're here with a purpose. The purpose is to be a mass joy generator in the hopes that you will take that joy back into the rest of your life and spread some light and, and just kind of like that's about it in terms of trying to, uh, set a higher intention with the moment.

Um, now I've also. Tried [00:30:00] to, and, and, and again, I, I shouldn't say try cuz I have, but it's always a varying degree of effectiveness, um, to use the social capital that comes with a large email list. Mm-hmm and a website that people are looking at and a Facebook page that people are looking at, um, to, especially in my weekly newsletter on my emails, I'll talk about all kinds of stuff that has nothing to do with parties.

And some of that's about politics, um, national events, you know, uh, themes of consciousness and relationship to oneself that, um, you, I know people respond to, to varying degrees of like ignore it or, oh my God, you're brilliant. You know, or, well,

[00:30:44] CK: well, actually on that note, what do you hope to accomplish in, in sharing the various aspect of your, your own consciousness?

I hope

[00:30:51] Syd: to accomplish anything you, what I hope to accomplish, anything, anything. Yeah. Like, I [00:31:00] don't know if any of this has a lasting effect on someone's life path and consciousness and flow of ideas. I would like to think it does. I certainly would like to think that it does more than if I didn't do it at all.

Mm. I, I certainly, um, think it's fair to say I'm the only promoter slash DJ slash, um, camp organizer using his platform for any discussion of anything. Um, let alone consciousness, um, politics and, you know, some attempt at right living. Um, but I, you know, also as you can probably tell don't totally feel satisfied with, um, The extent to which I've, um, used the platform for that, but it's a really fine line, you [00:32:00] know, it's easy to get turned off by someone like yapping at you.

Right. Talking about this stuff.

[00:32:08] CK: Yeah. It's um, I think the, the, the best teacher that I have come to appreciate are people who live it. Yeah. Instead of just lecturing at me. Yeah, for sure. So, so I think if you live this lifestyle, if you truly embody it, you don't just pontificate on social media and your newsletters.

I think that is the greatest inspiration of all. And another reason why I wanna talk to you, right. I try a psychologist and a burning man organizer, because I know I actually, I don't know, but I recently found out that. Most camp organizers lose money. when they run camps, rarely they're black. Uh, so it's a, it is a labor of love that you are trying to gift to the [00:33:00] playa, you know?

[00:33:00] Syd: Yes. So, yeah. Yeah. I, I mean, in the quotient of time is money. I've certainly lost a lot of money by how much time I have spent on it. And no doubt it is a labor of love. And as you mentioned, like I have my other production wing, Opal productions, mm-hmm and, and Opal, uh, existed a little bit longer than opulent temple and is my vehicle to throw parties in San Francisco.

I still consider them parties with purpose, um, because. There is a certain intention that I bring to the kind of vibe that we want to create, uh, with the crowd. And I do still use messaging on visuals and, um, the platform of my social media assets, you know, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, what have you, as well as my newsletter, uh, to talk about things beyond [00:34:00] parties, but if an Opal party makes money, I make money.

If an Opal party loses money, I lose money. Whereas any opulent temple event is a fundraiser for the camp mm-hmm and, um, if it loses money, that's not my money. That's the camp's money. Yeah. Which does, which does happen. Not very often. Thank goodness, but it does happen. Yeah.

[00:34:20] CK: Yeah. Um, on that note, some people may consider.

uh, these type of events to be churches or church que, right? Yeah. It's a very, uh, cathartic experience when they dance all night. So it's it's, as, as you said, it's a fine balance between lecturing at someone. Yeah. Versus just giving them the space to have their own cathartic experience, whatever that may be.

How do you find that line? Because, uh, yeah. I, I, I, I don't know if you noticed already, I like to emphasize certain things. I like to make things [00:35:00] very explicit versus letting things go into the subtle nuance, understanding, wink. I think you got it, right? Yeah. So, so I tend to be a little bit more heavy handed.

Anyways. I'm curious to know your thoughts about, you know, creating a container of transformation while providing the entertaining value that brought people to your event.

[00:35:22] Syd: Right. Yeah. That's certainly evolved over time. In, in my early days of throwing events, my Opal parties, almost every party would have some kind of midnight moment.

Um, and now it's definitely more limited to a few special events and, you know, some are very tailor made for that. Like our opulent temple event called sacred dance mm-hmm , which is like a, a white costume party. Mm-hmm , you know, with a burner twist that we do in various cities every year, LA SF, Seattle and Denver.

[00:35:59] CK: Oh, [00:36:00] great. Yeah. Let me know in LA next time I definitely will be

[00:36:03] Syd: there. Yeah. Yeah, I will. And that part has a very explicit intention. It is sacred dance. It is to, you know, create this magic looking magic feeling vibe, um, in which people can hopefully. Um, touch a part of their spirit and their heart within the context of community and dance to kind of have a peak experience.

A and so having, um, some words, moments or extras around that stuff is like, well, within the frame of the event. Um, but then there's other events I do that really it's just a party and, and that's not to like, you know, diminish it because I absolutely feel that there's value in community and fun and connection in music.

And [00:37:00] certainly for a lot of regular clubbers, like that is the closest thing they get to church. Cause I think a big reason people go to church is to feel community and uh, you know, feel their heart, feel their spirit within the teachings of whatever that spiritual approach might be. and even without, you know, the explicit words connected to it, I think just having that shared musical experience, um, within the, you know, kind of universal beat of dance music is definitely, um, as close to church as a lot of people get.

[00:37:35] CK: Actually, if you don't mind, I wanna double click on that real quick. Cuz your overall goal is to you personal is to tap into the eternal nature of being a human right. And, and some, so the monastics, uh, type people will say, uh, parties it's too, I don't know, materialistic too common ground. You need to do the monastic approach to yeah.[00:38:00]

Reach that entire state. And some people may say, well, no, as you said earlier, this is the closest they're gonna get that communal feel vibes as a gateway to their spiritual awakening, whatever. So. How do you, um, say to the, what do you say to the naysayers? The critics of like, ah, this is too, I don't know too much fun.


[00:38:26] Syd: yeah. I would say a few things. Um, number one, I would say often they're right. I mean, there no doubt. There are a lot of parties that look like what I would call like a cheeseball Fest of ego driven nonsense. And you, um, you know, if you go out on a regular basis, you can certainly start to tell the difference between the cheeseball stuff.

Um, and the more, what I would consider, you know, materialistic, uh, and unconscious [00:39:00] party people. Uh, compared to what I think can fairly be considered, um, a more friendly down to earth, stripped down vibe that isn't there, uh, for all those same reasons. Now, of course, you know, I'm not trying to paint a picture of, um, some kind of elitism within dance music, um, parties, because, you know, even at, at what I would consider those more stripped down, um, just about the music events, you know, there's, I'm sure a majority of people that are just there to drink and party and have a good time.

But I do think, um, being around, if you wanna call it like enough other quality people, like of a certain mindset and orientation in terms of how they treat each other, uh, that you have. [00:40:00] Uh, a better opportunity to have that kind of good vibe experience that you would hope to have. And, um, I certainly would also advocate, there has to be balance too, you know, like you definitely still need your quiet contemplative, uh, outlets.

However you find those, you know, walking, reading, meditating, yoga, um, exercise. What have you, you know, I would certainly, um, not advocate anyone to just try clubbing as their spiritual outlet that

[00:40:42] CK: I think that could be a, a tagline in itself, you know, clubbing is a clubbing is a spiritual path, right. As a t-shirt I'm sure it was, it's gonna

[00:40:50] Syd: sell a lot.

Right, right. But not too much of it. uh,

[00:40:54] CK: um, well, one actually, I, I have a moment I wanted to share with you. Um, [00:41:00] so there I was out in NEP, Playa, and I'm walking by myself, right. Doing the contemplative mode. And then all of a sudden it hears music with a human voice. You know, that was chanting. I believe it was Friday night.

I don't remember who it was doing this. And, and I walk over and it was opulent temple. I was like, oh, this is my kind of music. This is my vibe right now being contemplative. But at the same time, I wanna celebrate life as well. So I just wanted to share that moment with you.

[00:41:29] Syd: Nice, nice.

[00:41:32] CK: So when you do these type of camps, you a heroic effort to fundraise, to organize operations, to, you know, recruit top DJ talents.

You know, each one, uh, I assume is. Takes something. So, uh, how many people are at camp and if you don't mind characterized, it is a working camp, you do this out of a [00:42:00] community effort. It's not a plug and play camp. So just describe, yeah. Describe a little bit of what is opulent temple and what did it take to actually bring forth this gift to the Playa?

[00:42:12] Syd: Yeah, right on, um, it certainly exists solely because of the awesome team that has grown with our, uh, camp over time. And, you know, I'm the chief cat herder, if you want to call it that. And I'm the primary, um, you know, vision holder and, and fundraiser and make the lineup. But, um, I don't luckily do a lot of the.

Doing that has to be done to make our production as awesome as it is. You know, we, we have a core team that has been with us for years and years, and everyone has a certain skill set, you know, [00:43:00] people that fabricate like our visual screens this year, um, our DJ booth another year, our fire effects and their ongoing maintenance year after year.

Um, the big stage platforms that are out in the crowd that kind of give us that little amphitheater effect, you know, all those things, all those things were made by our team members and continue, uh, to kind of be held by different people as the ones that make it happen. And without them, you know, opulent temple wouldn't happen.

You take one or two people off that, uh, team and our camp does not look the same. It's not as cool. It's not, uh, it doesn't have as much to offer. So, uh, our team is amazing and. we're really lucky to have, uh, you know, this almost kind of family, tribal vibe amongst us, of people that still wanna keep doing it.

[00:43:57] CK: How many people is that core team?

[00:43:59] Syd: Yeah, that [00:44:00] core team. I think we are 13 on the core team and then there's kind of another tier of, you know, essential people. That's probably another 10 to 15, and then we have a certain amount of just what we call kind of worker bees that, that show up. And we absolutely need them to make it happen, but they're a bit more diverse in terms.

Their skill sets and we can tell them, you know, to go move one pile from one place to another, which is something we do a lot at burning man.

[00:44:37] CK: so 13, 13, 13, roughly 25. And then how many others, the worker bees you

[00:44:44] Syd: said? Right. So then we'll probably have around 60 working members, Uhhuh who also help with setup.

Yeah. And then we have another, you know, around 50 people who don't help with set up, but do help with strike. [00:45:00] And then we have another group, um, that isn't committed to help with setup or strike, but they still have to plug themselves in, in some kind of part participatory fashion, uh, with, uh, what the nightly dance parties every night and like hosting and keeping an eye on things and other ways that they can support the

[00:45:21] CK: effort.

So about 150 people to put the production together. Yeah. Wow. Uh, I mean, do you track how many people have gone through or flow through

[00:45:33] Syd: the, I, I could go back and figure it out, but I couldn't tell you what that number is offhand. No, I mean,

[00:45:40] CK: visitors, I don't mean the, oh,

[00:45:41] Syd: I see. Like visitors, uh, on a nightly basis.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Also don't have much of an idea. I mean, this past year, which was a really, you know, great year for us in terms of our nights, um, you know, Wednesday and Friday were probably the biggest though every night had a great crowd [00:46:00] and, you know, five to 7,000 at one time, but a little hard to tell, you know, because the sound system really travels and mm-hmm, people are hanging out like enjoying what's happening without being right in that inner circle.

[00:46:15] CK: Like, or, or people like me who hear the sound and then follow the sound and found opulent temple. Right, right. Uh, So what's the dream though. What, you know, you have 150 people, you got thousands of people coming to Alin, temple, enjoying this music, and maybe heard a little bit of the crypted message that's you know, of the high vibes that you embedded, you know, through your chants.

Right? What, uh, what's the

[00:46:44] Syd: dream. Yeah. Um, I mean, the dream really is kind of what I mentioned earlier to provide, um, you know, whether you want to call it peak experience or mass joy generation, [00:47:00] or, um, real bonded happiness, you know, with your, with your peeps or people, you just meet on the dance floor and that.

I really hope that those peak experiences are taken back to their life and they have more to give, um, whether it be to their friends, family, or community that something, you know, good comes out of all of our effort to put on this party. Other than just the fun in that moment.

[00:47:38] CK: Do you, you've been doing this for 20 some years, right?

20 years. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So with 20 years, thousands of people every night, really that's a lot of people. Um, do you collect transformational stories or moments that people email you or videos or testimonials? I don't know. These type [00:48:00] of moments. So then. When the org is giving you hassle or when certain things didn't really pan out, you can, or we just step in it.

Yeah. Or you can look at your file and say, mm, yeah, yeah. That's why I'm doing this, you know? Yeah.

[00:48:16] Syd: Uh, that is a very good idea. I, I have not, um, coalesced, um, stuff like that, uh, in a way that I could easily reference, but, um, the recent drama that we had that I, I shared with you mm-hmm um, certainly it was heartening to read all the positive feedback in some of those threads, um, alongside some of the negative feedback and certainly the positive by far outnumbered the negative mm-hmm

Um, but yeah, as we are human, it's hard not to focus on that negative stuff and get stuck there, you know, rather than, uh, let it be balanced or even overwhelmed by all the positive stuff, but. [00:49:00] Um, certainly, um, there's been a lot more positive than negative.

[00:49:06] CK: So 20 years of history doing this through the highs and lows of dealing with burning man, also the attendees also behind the scenes, also the DJs, what would you maybe share with us?

Some of the, the highlights, the greatest, the moments of your greatest joy, like, oh, this is worth all the effort, all the headache, right? All the heartache. Yes. The, these two stories is why I do this. Is there anything like that?

[00:49:36] Syd: Hmm. I don't know that I have a really great illustrative story in the way that I think you're asking, but I certainly do find myself before burning man at the peak moments of stress thinking.

And I'll tell my wife this, like. Man, I hope there's that moment where it all comes together and that I feel [00:50:00] like this was worth all the shit that it took. And honestly, there was, uh, this year and it was Wednesday night, which is to me our most important night because of the kind of increased intentionality around the sacred dance angle.

And it has been an annual event that we've done at OT since our very first, uh, camp in 2003, um, in which I was standing on one of the side stages and just taking it all in and, you know, everything was just popping off in the way you hoped it would, you know, with the four visual screens and the four lasers and the 23 fire effects and the really great sound system and, you know, Carl Cox and then John summited in the booth and just packed house and surrounded by our cars and just like so many happy people, you know, like.

So many smiles and, um, just that really like [00:51:00] tangible wave of positivity, uh, that are the kind of moments that definitely feed me. And I know feed our team, uh, to make it feel like it's worth it. And certainly you'll hear stories down the road like, oh, I met my husband at opulent temple, or, you know, people come to get married on our stages at sunset because they have some connection to us.

Um, and those are really lovely and, and those feel really good. And certainly like, I feel like they're the sort of feedback loop with the community is such that, you know, we have to raise all of our own money and if people don't come to our fundraisers, there is no camp. There is, you know, no stage and the feedback loop that we get just through the attendance of our events.

Often many of which are not headliner driven, some of them are, but a lot of 'em aren't um, that continued level of support with people coming to [00:52:00] our fundraisers definitely, uh, makes you feel like, okay, you know, we're doing something right. The people continue to be with us. Um, our success from their participation can continue to be channeled into this effort.

[00:52:17] CK: So a side question as a psychologist who is all about the self-perception, right? Optimizing that, do you, uh, then teach your, you know, core 25 to anchor those moments when they're there. So then they're more anti fragile for the more difficult moments.

[00:52:38] Syd: Um, you know, honestly, most of them don't need the reminder.

Mm. Um, Which is not to say I don't do it anyways. Um, because I know that I do, you know, give them that, you know, big man hug usually, and be like, dude, take this in, you know, look around, [00:53:00] you made this happen. There's a lot of happy people here. Just take it in. And I know it's hard for me and I know it's hard for a lot of people to allow yourself those moments, um, because that's just kind of the, the overall style of a lot of our team, uh, to really soak it in and, and bask for a second.


[00:53:26] CK: Mm. Were there any moments in the 20 years history where you seriously questioned yourself? Why. Or, or even maybe your wife will remind you why are you doing this all this time, all this money, all this stress time away from our family or any, any, any low moments where you seriously question like, man, I don't know if you wanna do this

[00:53:53] Syd: anymore.

Well, the, the obvious one is a project we did in 2007 [00:54:00] in which, um, myself and our crew, um, spent all summer working on this thing that was supposed to be this big bamboo dome. And then we got out to burning man and structurally, it just failed. It didn't work. And so a whole summer's worth of work and a whole lot of money was basically for not, um, And so that was pretty heartbreaking.

And then having to strike, um, at the end of that week, after a very hard week. And it was one of those white out strike days where you're just getting beaten down, you know, by a white out where you're having to muster the energy to clean up a project that didn't even work in the first place. . Mm. Cause there's certainly moments where you're like, fuck this shit fuck this.

Yep. Yeah. Let's burn this. Yeah. Yeah. Um, but I think our powers of repression work pretty well because we tend to [00:55:00] forget, um, the, the worst memories, but honestly, like even last week with some of the criticism that we were taking, that I felt, um, some of which was really low and unfair, um, there were certainly moments where you think to yourself, you know, like I don't need this shit.

This is, uh, not even worth. um, and I think those are normal responses to, um, taking some punches, um, that, you know, most likely will go away. I

[00:55:32] CK: think, meditate enough, doing yoga enough or watch a ceremony enough, then

[00:55:39] Syd: happiness is short memory

[00:55:41] CK: yeah. Yeah. I mean, it, it is a service position. I mean, if I'm, I'm just reading the stuff and then I'm reading some of the articles and, you know, I can tell that this is, is really is a labor of love.

So it is when, when you try your best to give your best [00:56:00] and other people still criticize, which comes with a territory, right? Yeah.

[00:56:04] Syd: Yeah. And, and, and in, in the case of last week, some of it we deserved, which is fine, but some of it was taken to a level that we did not deserve.

[00:56:12] CK: Yeah. Yeah. Um, so, well, you are a psychologist.

You are. An entrepreneur, you run Opal productions and you, you, you do this service projects. So what are some of the top lessons that you have, uh, learned from running opulent temple? Hmm.

[00:56:33] Syd: Well, I, I don't know if it's chicken or egg in terms of philosophy, verse lessons learned. Um, but one of the things I definitely come back to, um, is what I would consider the central teaching of the BOGO Vata, the Hindu fable text mm-hmm , which is, um, do what you love and do it your [00:57:00] best, but then give it to God, which I think a simpler way of saying it is don't be attached to the outcome mm-hmm , which is the ultimate difficulty.

Because the more you invest your time, energy and spirit in something, of course you're gonna be attached to the outcome. Mm-hmm, , it's, um, a really, really difficult thing not to do, but I really have come to, um, I come back to that all the time, um, because we are doing what we love and we have to do it, uh, for the reasons that, um, feed our heart.

And of course we care about what happens, but there's absolutely a, a point that you really have to just let it go. You, you just have to, or you're gonna drive yourself crazy.

[00:57:53] CK: Okay. So on that note, on that note, that lesson, right. You could really teach the younger Sid or the [00:58:00] younger CK or the current CK, even I would just be honest.

Right? how, uh, how do you do that? Because it's easier to say. And then I've seen that lesson over and over again. Yeah. But in the moment of stress, right. You put your, you pour your heart into a thing. Yeah. And, and cross a fingers for the best outcome. Yeah. Yeah. May maybe in the early, you know, few hours or even a few minutes, there's like that angst of like, I wonder if, right.

So how do you learn to just surrender and let go?

[00:58:36] Syd: Well, I think your suffering has to teach you something your suffering has to light your way because pain is a messenger. You cut your hand, cutting carrots, it hurts your body's telling you yo you know, put a bandaid on it, whatever, you know, psychic pain and emotional pain, uh, is [00:59:00] often the same general idea.

Uh, you're suffering because you're too attached to something. uh, you're suffering because your relationship to it is unhealthy and there has to be lessons in the suffering and let the suffering teach you something. And, and often in this case, you know, in this example, it's that you're too wrapped up in this thing that you put your time and energy into.

And, and again, obviously that isn't is totally inevitable, but there are levels to this, right? There are healthy levels and there are unhealthy levels.

[00:59:36] CK: What's the distinction healthy versus unhealthy.

[00:59:40] Syd: I, I think only the individual can answer that for themselves. And that's, you know, just based on where you at, you know, are you happy?

Are you sad? Are you full of angst? Are you satisfied unsatisfied? Like, I, I think those would be just like the loose barometer [01:00:00] that I would ask someone to look at. If, you know, if they're going through it.

[01:00:05] CK: Uh, one thing that I talk about with my audience is the persistence of it. Cause the emotions positive or negative washes over us, like waves of the ocean is normal to have not only positive or negative.

I don't want just one or the other. I want everything. Right. Cuz I'm a full human being. But if I start to relive certain, uh, emotions, positive or negative, typically negative over and over again, that's a red flag for me to like, oh, okay. There's probably some attachment that I'm holding onto too tight.

[01:00:44] Syd: That's right. No, that's a, that's a good one. Yeah. If it keeps popping up for you in all kinds of situations outside the one that you happen to be in, then certainly it's lingering.

[01:00:57] CK: How so for aspirational camp [01:01:00] organizers, they look at opulent temple. And say, wow. They, I really admire them. They, they set the standards for me for some camps or any camps at all.

Cuz you enroll top, you know, talents to come on your stage. Uh, um, and then like how do they get that? Get, get those top talents for, for free mm-hmm um, how do you, what would you say to the younger camp organizers who look at you guys as the standard?

[01:01:30] Syd: Hmm, that's a good question. Well, I would probably impart, emphasize the need to play the long game in the sense of it has to be grown.

You know, you can't just, um, try to be where we are that took us, you know, 19, 20 years mm-hmm , you know, in just a few years, [01:02:00] um, It takes time and, uh, consistency and patience. And certainly it absolutely matters who you surround yourself with. And

[01:02:15] CK: you, so on that note, is there any tactical advice about like, Hey, here's a task that I give to someone who may potentially be a teammate that I trust versus not.

Is there anything tactical you can give? Well, we,

[01:02:32] Syd: we've certainly gone through iterations of our team and of course there's been periods of internal conflict and drama. Um, but, uh, especially early, I would be willing to put up with a toxic person who had a lot of talents. Mm-hmm because talent's hard to come by within.

Uh, a volunteer scenario of a very difficult venture of [01:03:00] going out to the desert and building shit, and then taking away and having to deal with it all year long. Mm-hmm . Uh, but I would not make that trade off anymore. Mm-hmm um, because a, a few toxic people can blow up the whole thing and their talents are not worth it.

If they're gonna blow up your whole crew,

[01:03:19] CK: how do you test that before you arrive to the very harsh environment that is the playa?

[01:03:24] Syd: And I don't know that there is any tester besides, uh, but I think there's something to the adage that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Right? Mm-hmm so that if you go to one burning man and there's, uh, drama and stupidity, uh, don't trick yourself that that's just an anomaly, uh, And it might be right.

There's always a, but there's always an exception, but, uh, in my experience, it's usually, um, gonna rear its [01:04:00] head again in some fashion. And don't just, uh, try to talk yourself out of it because they're good at this one thing that every camp might really need, because again, it's not worth it. Go find someone else.

That's good at that thing that doesn't have all the personal drama.

[01:04:17] CK: Mm-hmm what, what other things would you say to aspirational camp organizers? So long game select your team? Yeah. carefully cautiously and look at their past. What else?

[01:04:30] Syd: Yeah. Well, leadership is tricky because, um, it's a leader's duty to get out in front and.

Uh, set the pace and to motivate, and it's also a leader's responsibility to get out of the way and, and let people do the things that they're good at and that they want to do. And that's certainly, um, an area of lesson and development that I continue to, I'm sure [01:05:00] not be perfect at, of course, but I'm certainly oriented to, um, trying to set the stage for people to like, do the thing that fulfills them and, and, but then get out of their way and just let them do it and, you know, not be all micromanaging about it.

[01:05:17] CK: Okay.

[01:05:18] Syd: And what else? Yeah, I feel like there's so many, um, well also certainly believe in the, um, Uh, the, uh, I guess what's that, um, that saying enthusiasm is contagious, meaning like your vibe as a leader is contagious. And so what kind of vibe are you putting forth is really gonna attract certain kinds of people to you and repel other kinds of people.

And of course, you know, there's lots of different leadership styles and there's lots of different, uh, things that people are attracted to. Um, [01:06:00] but it's certainly, I think is in terms of group dynamics, uh, it's really helpful to have someone who's, um, you know, willing to set a certain kind of tone that makes it fun for people to be there again, especially in the context of everyone's working for free in a very harsh environment with questionable returns.

[01:06:20] CK: Do you have anyone who's around you? So when you get into a grumpy mode, they can like knock, knock a, uh, you're being a little grumpy. Is there anyone like that? Do you think that's that's my wife. Is that your wife? Oh yeah. Okay. awesome. So she's part of the

[01:06:39] Syd: core team? No, she's not, but she, um, has to live it anyways.

[01:06:45] CK: she is the, uh, on, on, uh, oh man. What's the word I'm looking for? She didn't volunteer herself. yeah, exactly.

[01:06:53] Syd: You volunteer her. Yeah. Got it. But there's certainly people within the core team that, that I lean on, [01:07:00] um, when I'm reaching my limits. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And other times I just need to be a good actor.

[01:07:06] CK: Oh, okay.

So, okay. So actually on that note real quick, um, part of building an intentional camp, the idea is everything you touch is a amplifier of how you experience in this moment. Right. That's sort of the idea, right. So if you're pissed off right now, you've built the thing, the thing is gonna reverberate that energy outward.

But most camp leads wanted just to build a thing. They don't really care about how it's built. They just wanted to build a thing. Right. So how do you, you know, for your own leadership style, uh, encourage people to maintain that, right? That joy. Yeah. When they build the infrastructure of massive joy machine.

[01:07:53] Syd: Yeah. And honestly, this particular point I'm super keen on this point, [01:08:00] because to me it absolutely matters, um, the vibe under which something is done. And there was a time in our history that I wanted to step away a little bit because I was getting a little burnt out and the people that wanted to step up, um, Although they were effective doers, the manner in which they did their doing was contrary to the kind of vibe that's important to me.

You know, they were a little too harsh, impatient yelling at people. Um, and you might at the end of your build have exactly the same looking camp, but the experience to get there was miserable for way more people. Like I, I'm not down with that. And, and that particular example, I, I stepped back in to an extent that I didn't want to, because I was just feeling like the [01:09:00] vibe that was, um, permeating the effort mm-hmm was, um, not one of fun and joy mm-hmm and, um, I don't want to be involved with, you know, like an effort that, that doesn't have that.

[01:09:15] CK: So. I'm the person who like to make things very explicit. Like I said, perhaps a little too over heavy-handed and then in, in the way my men's group, we do this is we call this context, right? So we, I will actually make the context very explicit. And this is meant to be a place of joy. For example, I'll say that loud to everyone.

So that way it's clear, like this is the intention that we're the vibe, the intention, the way of being that we are doing to infuse this infrastructure all around. How do you, do you just keep it in your head? Do you make it very explicit to everyone or just to your wife? Like, how do you manage that vibe?

[01:09:59] Syd: I [01:10:00] feel like I make it explicit. Uh, I'm notoriously long winded in my email communications uh, because I have so much to say. And, um, part of that is definitely built around trying to set the frame of the. like, why are we here? What are we doing? And how are we trying to do it? Mm. And I definitely, um, use, you know, word time and air time to try and set that intention in the same way that like, it sounds like you do in your men's group.

Yeah, yeah.

[01:10:34] CK: Yeah. Cool. Um, last question is, um, so one thing, when I was speaking to the architect of the temple, uh, this year mm-hmm , who told me that, Hey, most people don't know the amount of financial resources to bring a massive architecture like that to the Playa. You know, you said it cost about $600,000 [01:11:00] to actually make that happen.

So what are some of the other challenges? Right. If you can advise the younger, Sid, the CK who aspired, who you know, is inspired by opulent tempo, say, I really want to do. I have a camp that's, you know, aspirationally do something similar. What is something that you wish you had known 20 years ago? mm,

[01:11:28] Syd: well, I could take this in a few directions, but the first thing that comes to mind is I at certain points in my younger development as a burning man camp organizer did think that the burning men org would at some point care about what we did enough to help us mm-hmm . And there was one point in which we got together a few sound camps, and we [01:12:00] kind of formally went to burning man with some requested changes, uh, to how they, um, interfaced with theme camps, uh, and not just sound camps, but theme camps, because.

Uh, if you know the event, you know, that they have tried to frame what they're doing as an arts festival and a, you know, to a lesser degree of community experience, they absolutely don't want it associated with a music festival. And that will take pains to tell you it is not a music festival. Um, even though I think it's fair to say a lot of people go to burning man, because they love and anticipate there being, uh, all kinds of amazing musical experiences to be had, you know, whether that's from certain theme, camp, art car or whatever.

Um, but I certainly used to think that, um, we would, uh, essentially change their minds, uh, about their lack of support, um, that did not [01:13:00] happen. And, uh, they've been pretty consistent in that regard. And that's been, uh, you know, Understandable and still unfortunate because, uh, there are some things that I think they could do that wouldn't be that hard that would, um, make our lives a little bit easier.

Like what,

[01:13:21] CK: like

[01:13:22] Syd: what, well, for example, any person who wants to bring an art piece can apply for a grant to get some financial help with the construction and related costs to bring that art, uh, to the playa. Um, if it's on the open play, if we, as a theme camp, uh, make a new art piece, we cannot apply for an art grant because the art is in the theme camp and not on the open playa.

It's a very small distinction. And so for example, we've asked for the ability to apply for art grants and be judged on the same merits of the art [01:14:00] as other artists are. But with the understanding the art is gonna be in our theme camp. And this is theme camp that's, you know, on the frontage of either esplan or 10 and two, right.

It's still very much in my mind in the public domain. Uh, that seems like a pretty straightforward thing to allow us to apply for art grants. And, you know, the answer has been no, mm there's. Other logistical things that they could do to make our lives easier with vendors and deliveries and, um, logistics support that we, uh, need to operate.

And that hasn't, um, gone in the direction we hoped it would. Um, and that's not to say they don't do anything. Um, but there's certainly more they could do if they chose to, uh, I think in their mind, it's, you know, very much a, I guess you would say it's a, it's a seller's market. Meaning if we don't like it, we don't have to be there.

They would [01:15:00] probably say thank you for your service, opulent temple, have a nice day knowing that, you know, there's gonna be plenty of other sound camps out there, um, providing a place for people to dance and so they could take it or leave it.

[01:15:14] CK: Are there such a demand to become sound camps? I, I don't know, you know, 150 people at a time willing to take on the, the responsibility, the labor, the time the fundraising to, I mean, I don't know of any, so yeah.

Are there lots of sound camps that wanted to

[01:15:37] Syd: there's enough dance music out there? Right. I mean, I think that's fair to say if you walked around 10 and two and saw the other camps, mm-hmm , um, be it, you know, camp question, mark or playground or Alchemist or SBA, or of course, you know, the upteen art cars that have really good sound on them now.

yeah, they're not hurting [01:16:00] for dance music, if anything, I'm sure they, they think there's too much of it and they wish there was less Thum out there, which in some ways I can relate to because, um, you know, the theme camp stayed put, and everyone knows that they're out on that outer rim pointing their sound at the open playa for a reason.

Whereas, you know, our car of course might drive anywhere and blast things in various directions that people don't really like, you know, which I understand.

[01:16:31] CK: Well, what, what are you excited about? You know, since you've been there for 20 years, I know that you self describe as a what'd you call yourself the jaded, uh, burning man, right?

You self describe the jaded burner. Yes. The J the jaded burner, correct? Absolutely jaded. So as a, as a self describe jaded burn. What are you excited about in the upcoming great question in the future? Cause I mean, I would say this is year three for me, the novelty. I mean, I [01:17:00] still love burning man. I get me wrong.

The novelty has gone down. Sure. What has gone up is the potentiality of serendipities and the human connections, the human content. I'm more excited about. So that's me. Yeah. One year veteran who's being, you know, around the, you know, conscious party scenes for a long time. What are you excited about? What are you looking forward to?

[01:17:22] Syd: Yeah, I mean, no doubt. There's less burning mans ahead of us than behind us. You know, we can only, um, keep up this effort for so long. I don't know how long it certainly won't be another 20 years and it's not that we've seen it all, but you don't think it's

[01:17:39] CK: gonna be another 20. I do not. Oh, wow. So you see, I don't oh, you personally.

Yeah. Got

[01:17:48] Syd: it. Okay. Just, I mean, like in terms of opulent, temple, showing up and doing its thing, which is not to say that we, um, you know, as our present generation of team couldn't slowly but surely hand it off to [01:18:00] other folks who take it over. That's not out of the question. Um, but yeah, I wouldn't have, you know, so much hubris to say we've seen it all, you know, there's always, of course, um, more things to see and get excited about, but the, um, things that I still do get excited about, uh, are certainly down to, uh, a smaller list of things that sustain and those, uh, really special nights, um, full of thousands of happy people.

You know, dancing to a, you know, a unified moment that still excites me, even if it's redundant to, you know, what has taken place year after year, it's still exciting. And, you know, I suppose in a, in a offshoot way, um, I'm excited at the prospect of what other cool live acts we could have. Um, [01:19:00] because we've been DJ driven 99.9% of the time.

Uh, but this year we had our first actual rock band, which was, uh, a band out of, uh, Rochester, New York called king Buffalo. Um, and they're, they're the like not dance music oriented at all. They are like a bluesy sludgy, heavy rock band. Um, but I totally love them. Um, and they played Tuesday night and they sounded phenomenal.

And it definitely got me thinking, like, wouldn't that be fun to, um, go after other live acts in the same way I have gone out and tried to recruit DJs, um, under the freedom that exists when you don't pay them, you know, like when there's no money, you can ask anyone because you know, the works still. Okay.


[01:19:54] CK: Right. No, so, right, right. So on that note, who like the, the [01:20:00] artists that, you know, today who would be like, I would love to have this artist on my stage next year. Sure.

[01:20:06] Syd: Well, I, I asked tool, um, but uh, the manager, I was emailing. Ignored my many emails, which obviously him saying, oh my God, you know, piss off.

Uh, so that would be great. Um, Metallica Jane's addiction, uh, nine inch nails. Um, you know, I, I suppose, you know, bands from my, uh, my older rocker days that are, that are still added. That that would be very exciting. I mean, there's, there's a lot, uh, in that realm, but those, those are the ones that, uh, off the top of my head would, would be extra fun to at least ask

[01:20:52] CK: one, actually, on that note, one key lesson that I learned this year for me personally, is, you know, how Henry thoro [01:21:00] American, uh, writer, he said, that's right.

He said, most people live in the world, live in a life, a quiet desperation. Hmm. And on the way to burning man, I, uh, discern with my friend. Uh, if you are unclear about your desires, if you don't express your desires, if you, um, don't take action around your desires, if you are attached to your desires, these four things are recipes to a life of quiet desperation.

So to your point earlier that if you don't ask, you don't get yeah. So since this is decommodified what's the damage. So ask exactly. Yeah. That's a recipe for a life of fulfillment.

[01:21:48] Syd: That's true. Yeah. Yeah. You lose nothing by asking. Yeah.

[01:21:54] CK: Is there anything else you wanted to say about the lessons that you've learned that cross over to the [01:22:00] default world, to your practice, to your marriage?

Anything you wanted to highlight? Mm.

[01:22:09] Syd: I mean, the bonds that have been made over time within the co-creation of opulent temple year after year has definitely been special. And, you know, my crew, our team, you know, they're like family and we've gone through stuff together that, you know, you pretty irreplaceable and, um, um, I just, I guess, you know, want to say, I really appreciate them and love them.

[01:22:45] CK: Mm. And would you have been able to establish that bond had it not for, uh, been for opulent temple?

[01:22:56] Syd: Yeah, I don't think so. You know, it's, it's like being in a foxhole with [01:23:00] someone, you know, going through. Really difficult times and really joyous times. Um, definitely, um, the kind of situation that, uh, is pretty limited in its possibilities of, of happening in the way that it has happened.

[01:23:17] CK: Hmm. That's a beautiful way to end it. Uh, any last words you wanna say to the younger Sid or CK

[01:23:25] Syd: get more sleep

[01:23:27] CK: just in general or on the ?

[01:23:31] Syd: Oh, I don't know. Uh, I, I actually have like a complicated relationship with sleep only because I'm so dang busy, you know, between all the things. Um, but I like just in

[01:23:43] CK: general, in general or at burning man only,

[01:23:45] Syd: uh, just in general.

Yeah, Uhhuh just in general. Um, but, uh, there are certainly times that, uh, it's time to just put it down and get some rest.

[01:23:57] CK: Yeah. Get more sleep. [01:24:00] Yeah, Sid. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective. We win places that I wasn't expecting at all, but I so appreciate you bringing your spirituality to burning man camps, operations, and yeah.

The lessons that you have garnered and give it to future camp organizers. Thank you so much for your

[01:24:22] Syd: time. Thanks for the opportunity to talk all kinds of interesting shop with you. some of my favorite topics.

Syd GrisProfile Photo

Syd Gris


One of the longest running fun creators in the Bay Area music and underground arts scene, Syd is known as a Renaissance man of the West Coast burner scene, and with good reason. Not only is he the co-founder (in 2003) of the legendary Opulent Temple collective (best known for their premiere sound stage at Burning Man), he is also founder of Opel Productions, (2002) which has been consistently throwing club events and parties with purpose in San Francisco for 20 years.

He also is a child psychologist with a Doctorate in transpersonal psychology, outspoken promoter on social issues, and of course - a DJ.
On the DJ tip, Syd is known one of the West Coast's top talents with years of quality sets and vibes under his belt. You’ve seen him at Burning Man (of course), but also Lightning in a Bottle, Outside Lands, Bottlerock, Wakarusa, WTFestival, Fabric London, Love Parade and countless more. From Carl, Armin and Tiesto to Gorgon City, Hot Since 82 and Diplo, he's played with everyone and knows what to do with a wide range of dance floor moments.

In his day job, he helps run a mental health clinic in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco that focuses on assessment and treatment of kids in the foster care system, and keeps a part time private practice. He's also a husband and dad with 2 kids in SF public schools.

Spin article about Syd's role in sound at BM -

Interview about sound camp history and related topics on -

Copy of a 2009 article that appeared in DJ Mag, an international publication on dance music and it's culture, written by the Editor in Chief at the time-