Between the austere atonement of Yom Kippur and the wicked debauchery of Halloween, there's a new fall holiday tradition in town: Decompression. Now in its eighth year in Los Angeles, Saturday's day-to-eve gala is set up in Los Angeles Historic State Park (previously known as "the Cornfield") and is an after-party of sorts for the yearly Burning Man Festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
But for a certain party populace who may have packed their glow-gear and energy drinks in preparation for a mega rave-like experience, Decom director Athena Demos wants to be clear: "This is definitely not a rave. We don't even allow glow sticks!"
The event does, however, promise a taste of Burning Man culture; large-scale sculptures, wildly decked-out "art cars," interactive "theme camp" environments, and performances by bands, fire-arts troupes, clowns, aerialists and more. Of course, the fete encourages outrageous costumery – or, as burners call it, "radical self-expression" – and incorporates gobs of black-light décor and multiple stages set up for both live acts (like L.A.'s Mutaytor and San Francisco's Vau De Vire) and DJs a-plenty.
The idea of Decompression is participation. The event is open to anyone who wants to show their art or participate in experiences such as costume swaps, tea salons, jewelry-making, and group bike rides (courtesy of Midnight Ridazz). These happen alongside dozens of interactive art projects, such as roving cupcakes, solar-paneled foliage and a 40- foot praying mantis.
One piece premiering this year brings "pyro" and "participation" together in a whole new way: "4pyre²," constructed by Christopher Schardt, allows people to maneuver a 12-foot pipe fitted with a propane burner and controlled by a manual throttle – somewhat like playing a video game, only in real life … with real fire.
Pretty risky stuff for a public gathering, especially considering the trouble that has come to big dance parties this summer in L.A., including the death of one attendee at the Electric Daisy Carnival in June.
"It has definitely been a rough year to pull this event off," says Demos, talking on the phone from the event site early on Friday morning while wrangling a contractor delivering porta-potties. "There have been a lot of regulation changes. Plus, the city's broke. They love this event, but they have to charge us for permits that they haven't in the past. Decom costs $70,000 to produce, and we just break even. No one gets paid; we are 100% volunteer-run. We work ourselves silly."
Despite hard economic times, Demos is still expecting a crowd of about 5,000 attendees. She and her team of producers are dedicated to facilitating boundary-breaking events and artwork.
"We don't turn anyone away here who wants to show their art," she adds. "We're burners, we make it work."
Los Angeles Decompression
Where: L.A. State Historical Park, 1245 N. Spring St., L.A.
When: Saturday, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Price: $20. Children 12 and under are free.