11 ways Symbiosis Gathering ruined my life

Uninhibited self-expression, existential discourse, and a shit ton of Kombucha.

  /  10.04.2016

As a haze of dust sweeps across the horizon line at sunset, blanketing a sea of cars, trucks and RVs stacked like Brazilian favelas across camping fields, thousands of ravers suit up in a mix of unicorn onesies and steampunk attire (probably) straight from the playa art cars of Burning Man. Champagne bottles uncork, beer cans crack, the earth swallows the cotton candy sky and regurgitates a confetti of stars around a fairytale crescent moon – each barely brighter than the enlarged pupils admiring them from below.

While it took nearly half a day in line to enter the campsite, time is an illegitimate construct at Symbiosis Gathering, located about 100 miles east of San Francisco on peninsulas of dry farm land known as Woodward Reservoir.

In its eleventh reincarnation, the internationally heralded gathering is a beacon for the ever-growing “transformational” festival scene, although deeming it such feels unfair since it clearly supersedes the herd. “We’re shooting to gain Burning Man dropouts over EDC graduates,” affirms Kevin KoChen, co-founder of Symbiosis Gathering. “This isn’t a festival but simply a gathering of people from all walks of life to come together and celebrate a collective consciousness.”

While the 15,000-person attendee size–the largest crowd since its inception–certainly puts the event on the major festival radar, the foundational intimacy of the acres-long oasis carves out an experiential niche all its own. Daily constructs and burdens like age, time and technology are replaced with uninhibited self-expression, existential discourse, and a shit ton of Kombucha. As I continue to clear my nose and throat of all the dust that managed to make a home in my lungs over the four-day affair, here are 11 ways Symbiosis ruined my life…

Juliana Bernstein // Get Tiny Photography

1. My black techno heart (kind of) likes psytrance

House and tech house heroes like Lee Foss, Seth Troxler and Pan-Pot were an immediate draw upon first seeing the event’s music lineup but I felt guilty not exploring the array of genre-benders – certainly one of the most diverse and elemental rosters frequent festival-goers will encounter. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not one for the overdose-y BPM of psytrance but acts like Ace Ventura, Perfect Stranger, Earthling and Evil Oil Man had me feeling like Terry Crews in White Chicks.


2. I now require a Swimbiosis stage at every festival

Juliana Bernstein // Get Tiny Photography

I’d read that Symbiosis is like Burning Man on spring break and it wasn’t until Friday afternoon looking out over the Swimbiosis stage as the Desert Hearts crew’s electrifying day-long set provided the soundtrack to a legion of fashionable (sometimes naked) party-goers splashing atop oversized inflatable flamingos and swans that it hit me. Glittery sequined mu mu’s, witty totems and a carefree consciousness fueled a funky house sanctuary that dreams aren’t even capable of producing.

3. I almost became vegan.

I had an affair with Tom. Tom Kha (soup). Gluten kicked me out of the house. But my side chick-en is helping me through it.

4. Music brought us together but the water stations bonded us.

It’s when the libations wear off that we realize how much we take water for granted, clutching an empty canteen as the sun dehydrates our pruned lips. Hoards of thirsty party-goers crowd around water spigots like walkers from The Walking Dead, CamelBaks and leftover In-N-Out cups in tow.

5. Surface conversations are impossible to have.

Monday morning back in the office was unbearable. All I could hear was Worthy’s set. All I could see was art boats. All I could smell was dust and rose hip tea. I catch my boss in the elevator where she asks, “How was your trip?” Um, Which one?

6. Thanks to the Android Jones’ Full Dome Lab, looking up will never be the same.

Just do yourself a favor and watch the video above. Straight from the Playa of Burning Man, Android Jones brought his Full Dome Lab experience that teleports spectators to the educational star domes experienced in grade school. Except this is the psychedelic acid trip version.

7. Santigold is a thief who won’t give my heart back.

Juliana Bernstein // Get Tiny Photography

The Philadelphia-bred indie darling seduced a legion of totem-bearers to succumb to her sultry hypnosis performing records off her latest LP 99¢. But it was when she sampled Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” that she had me doing just that.

8. Kidzbiosis made me want kids and a (rave) family.

Juliana Bernstein // Get Tiny Photography

Just look at that heart-melting photo – #FamilyGoals AF – the little girl and her dad even have matching eyebrows! If I could redo my childhood, I would totally skip all those birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s or the bowling alley and take advantage of Kidzbiosis. From circus performer workshops to survival skills bootcamps and drum circle training, these techno tots and their proud parents are surely living hippie-ly ever after.

9. Claude VonStroke and the Dirtybird crew owe me a new onesie.

Juliana Bernstein // Get Tiny Photography

Anybody else split the ass part of their onesie dancing to those funky Dirtybird basslines at the Grotto Saturday night?

Dear Claude: Walmart. $17.99. Get to it.

10. Nothing will ever make me as happy as Jive Joint can.

“Excuse me, sir. You dropped your chakra,” a fashionable Burner sarcastically iterates pointing to the floor as we make our way into Jive Joint – an outdoor living room equipped with a standup comedy and performance stage for patrons and booked acts alike to put aside their dignity and serve up their best satirical improv.

A subsequent nauseating waft from the port-o-potties (you’d think vegan excrement would smell better) incites the lad on stage to drop this gem: “Yuck! This smell is hurting my ‘turd’ eye.” (A clever reference to the “third eye” chakra, an esoteric concept referring to an invisible eye that is responsible for intuition and foresight.) These pun prophets get me. I’ll stay here for a while.

Juliana Bernstein // Get Tiny Photography

11. There’s a whole year until the next Symbiosis.

So I’ll be over here waiting in the burrito line. From the bottom of my now softened heart and enlightened mind, thank you Symbiosis. You are truly one of a kind.



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