‘Burning Man for the 1%’: the desert party for the tech elite, with Eric Schmidt in a top hat
Further Future is the tech-centric, unapologetically luxurious alternative to Burning Man, complete with personal assistants, spa treatments and fine dining
By Nellie Bowles
May 2 2016
A red Ferrari with the top down swerved past on the winding dirt road, heading to what looked like a small Mars encampment. Helicopters landed on the side of the road and greeters darted across. At a farmers’ market with overflowing baskets full of raspberries, watermelons, and focaccia, I asked for a mango, and the farmer started cutting it in half for me: “That’ll be $7.”
This weekend, outside Las Vegas, a group of Burning Man veterans put on a festival called Further Future, now in its second year. Across 49 acres of Native American land over three days, with around 5,000 attendees, the event was the epitome of a new trend of so-called “transformational festivals” that are drawing technologists for what’s billed as a mix of fun and education. While tickets started at $350, many attendees opted for upgrades to fully staffed accommodation and fine dining.
While Burning Man’s hidden luxury camps on the edge of town are criticized by old time Burners who value labor on the desert, Further Future is a splinter group that’s unapologetic about wanting a good, hard-labor-free time. “Unabashed luxury”, the website reads. Burners are judged for using Wi-Fi or having private chefs; Further Future advertises its connectivity and personal festival assistant service. Nobu hosted a $250-a-seat dinner on the first night of the festival. Partiers included Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet; Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman; and top Facebook executive Stan Chudnovsky.
“It’s the Burning Man 1%,” said Charles, a documentary filmmaker with spikes pierced through his ears and a brainwave meditation startup. “It’s curated.”
Eric Schmidt was backstage leaning against a tower of pallets and wearing an ornate top hat and a vest made of mirrors. He said he was at Further Future mostly because these were his friends.
“It’s well documented that I go to Burning Man. The future’s driven by people with an alternative world view. You never know where you’ll find ideas. ”
This was the cream of the Burning Man crop, he said.
“This is a high percentage of San Francisco entrepreneurs, and they tend to be winners. It’s a curated, self-selected group of adults who have jobs,” Schmidt said. “You can tell by the percentage of trailers.”
Did they provide the costume for him?
“My own, of course. What do you think of it?” he pressed the glass panels and smiled.
Party planners at Burning Man are careful to hide their luxury dwellings behind large walls dressed as art projects, but Further Future had no such pretension. Behind a chain-link fence was the VIP neighborhood with airstreams ($5,000) and Lunar Palaces ($7,500) – 200 sq ft, 9ft high, custom-made luxury domes with wooden flooring and furnished to sleep four. These included something called an entourage concierge – “a personal, dedicated lifestyle manager and assistant ready to help you with any requirements or desires you may have. No request is ever unattainable.” The lifestyle assistant, who makes sure you have the soap you like, will work with you on everything “from the green juice you enjoy every morning to the old-fashioned cocktail you sip on in the evenings”.
In a shipping container converted to control room, I found Russell Ward, the general show runner and publicist who’s the mastermind behind the most popular “transformational festivals”.
“This is top-league networking and business folks are all here in the guise of having fun. It’s designed around the music, but it’s about the business,” Ward said. “A ton of business will get done here. Entrepreneurswill get funded, investors will find their trajectories, service companies will meet and mix it up.”