Photography by Lara Schoenhals

‘We Are Not That Impossible, Wonderful City on the Playa’

At the Burning Man alternative Further Future, luxury amenities were no match for the elements (or the moonrocks)

Close your eyes. Imagine yourself surrounded by the people who inspire you the most: great friends, artists both new and established, musicians and performers, futurists and technologists; esteemed entrepreneurs, visionaries and thought leaders, all of you awash with new ideas and insights.

—From the website for Further Future, a “transformational festival” in its second year of existence.

Close your eyes. Imagine yourself careening down a desert highway on a shuttle bus driven by an incredibly angry woman with a mullet. It’s 1:15 a.m. You’re surrounded by close friends: writers, a few music industry/film people, a real estate investor and others whose jobs are truly a mystery. Honestly, they’re probably unemployed. Everyone is decked out in ravewear, kind of drunk, very high and mildly hallucinating on mushrooms.

You are dancing together deep in a remote desert; you are on the sands of a distant and untouched beach; you are on a mountain top looking across endless snow-capped peaks.

You arrive together at the Moapa Indian Reservation at 1:30 a.m, about an hour outside of Las Vegas proper, in what feels like a literal interpretation of the middle of nowhere. The shuttle driver gets into a loud, verbal altercation with the Further Future staff at the festival check-in point, which is two miles down the road from the festival itself. Will she agree to drive the bus the additional two miles or won’t she? The tension is palpable and tempers are flaring but she relents and minutes later, you are dancing in front of the main stage while Caribou plays to a crowd of 200–300 people who don’t give a fuck that they’re suddenly getting rained on.

Extraordinary music and stunning art blend with and enhance the land around you. The world of limitations is far away, judgments irrelevant and anything is possible.

Extraordinary capsules of moonrocks that were expensive (but worth every penny) and delicious mushroom chocolates blend together and enhance Caribou’s intimate set. As the band reaches a crescendo, the combination of the music, the lights and the cold desert rain creates a feeling of accomplishment and awe. Like, we fucking did it, man. We drove six or so hours from LA in rush hour traffic and boarded the shuttle bus of death with a Vegas townie at the helm and now it’s 2am and we’re fucking here in the middle of the desert, tripping balls and raving. What a life!

This is Further Future. It is an untethered home for a newly forming and borderless society carrying a shared vision of the world we are making together.

This is Further Future. It is a curated music and lifestyle festival “for the Burning Man 1 percent” that consists of musical acts, a speaker series, spa treatments and luxury camping and culinary experiences. Basically, you can pay anywhere from $350 for basic festival access to $7500 for a chic as fuck tent with a personal concierge who brings you green juice every morning. The festival is the brainchild of Robot Heart, which, according to their Facebook page is “a collective of doers and dreamers, artists and entrepreneurs.” Robot Heart started on the playa at Burning Man as a massive bus decked out with an insane sound system, LED screen and DJ booth, that has a massive metal cage heart on top of that sexy women dance on/in. It’s a rave-mobile that’s infamous for its sunrise dance parties. And now its popularity has allowed the Robot Heart collective to branch out and create a festival of its own.

We aspire to be… an enlightened community connected through magical, beautiful and amazing experiences around the Universe, fostering a culture of mindful optimism, wonder and exploration.

A random festival-goer clocks my concern about the rain and offers me a hug, which I gladly accept.

“My god, you have amazing energy!” he remarks, then turns to the dude standing next to him. “You’ve got to give this girl a hug, her energy is incredible. Do you do energy work?”

Bolstered by their hugs, I harness my chill, and my friends and I make our way to The Void, a tented area where everyone is gathering to escape the rain. Inside, the festival staff set up a makeshift DJ booth. There are stacks of wooden crates and heaps of mattresses and pillows that are only slightly damp. Paper lanterns dangle from the ceiling. We find a mattress to recline on and cuddle together for warmth, waiting for something to happen.

Robert Scott, a co-founder of Further Future, told The Guardian, “There’s a lot of ways to find an epiphany. Being in the desert under hard conditions is one way to bring yourself into a receptive state, I suppose, but here, all these things are putting you in the same place gently.”

To be kind and generous; to be passionate. To be innovative and not afraid to believe.

Electrical issues get sorted out and we dance in The Void until 6 a.m., then make our way through the freezing rain to the shuttle pick-up area, where we discover a number of other people waiting. One bored staffer refusing to look up from his phone remarks, “There hasn’t been a shuttle in hours. Honestly I’d be surprised if one ever shows up.”

Because I’m still on a high from the amazing four-hour dance party, the lack of shuttles is only minorly disheartening. There’s a guy in a van idling in front of the shuttle tent who says he’ll take us all back to Vegas for $700. This driver is clearly one of the many entrepreneurial spirits who’s come to the desert on a journey of his own.

To welcome a range of amazing and inspiring people to share our journey, past the future and beyond the horizon.

Further Future’s publicist, Russell Ward, told the Guardian, “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. A ton of business will get done here.”

He’s right. When the van driver refuses to budge on his price point, my friend, Chase, notices an Uber driver sitting in a nearby minivan, and negotiates for him to take six of us and two strangers back to our Vegas hotel for $140. By the time we arrive back at the MGM Grand, my other friend, Max has made friends with the stranger riding in the trunk of the minivan. Before heading up to our room to catch some Zzzz’s, Chase and Max take a brief detour to the stranger’s hotel room so that he can sell them some Ketamine.

We aspire to help seed the discovery of new knowledge and technologies to protect and heal our planet, our societies and one another, and to help us reach the next stage in our collective evolution.

We sleep the entire day, only waking up to order a terrifying amount of room service and watch San Andreas, then nap until 8 p.m., when we start getting ready to head back out to the festival. Our late arrival time means we’ll miss out on the speaker series, spa treatments, wellness events and the 45-minute long line for lavender lattes.

We arrive back at the festival at 9:30, just in time to catch the end of the Pharcyde’s set on the main stage. Since it’s no longer raining, the festival actually looks like a festival instead of a post-apocalyptic hellscape. All the art installations are up and running, including a hub of lasers and a robot head called “Rockit” that’s lit up with various spacescapes. The four of us wander around the festival grounds, taking photos, eating mushrooms and exploring all the areas we hadn’t gotten to see the night before, like a “Discovery Yurt” that’s being used for pop-up dinners starting at $150 a plate.

To constantly strive to improve; to become leaders in sustainability and resource efficiency, and in all that we do.

Before we make our way over to Robot Heart, Max gets mistaken for one of the speakers from Further Future’s “Speaker Series,” by a bearded guy wearing a floor length fur coat who is high on 2CB, a drug I have never heard of until this weekend, but is supposed to feel like mixing MDMA and LSD. Max plays along, and asks the guy if there was anything he disliked about his talk.

“You really need to work on your stage presence,” the guy replies. “Maybe take some acting classes or something.”

In an effort to figure out which speaker Max was getting mistaken for, he asked the guy what he learned from the talk.

“Honestly I can’t really say. I got there kind of late, so I missed most of it.”

Max continues getting approached by various festival attendees at Robot Heart, who “loved his talk,” and want to thank him for speaking, but whenever he prompts anyone to clarify what they liked about it, the general consensus is similar to that of the bearded guy’s. They were late to the speech and can’t really answer the question. Someone mentions something about “brain mapping” but it’s ultimately unclear.

We aspire to inspire.

We venture away from Robot Heart and walked back over to the Discovery Yurt to discover that it’s turned into some sort of science fiction storytelling session. A very serious man is sternly reading aloud from his cell phone to a small but rapt audience.

“The universe is getting less infinite all the time, considering 20,000 years ago mankind first solved the problem of utilizing stellar energy, and a few centuries later interstellar travel would be possible–guys…?” He stops reading to chastise a group of friends tending to a girl who’s passed out in the corner. He glares at them and continues. “It took mankind a million years to build one small world and then only 15,000 years for the rest of the galaxy. And now the population doubles every 10 years.”

My friend, Kelly, looks at me, concerned. “Is he even speaking English?” The reader’s energy has proved too intense, so we leave. When we dip back into the Discovery Yurt a little later, the story telling hour has been replaced by two girls who are out of their minds on drugs performing a stand up comedy act, complete with two microphones and an amplifier. They scream jokes without punchlines at each other while using the cadence of their voices to make it seem like the sentences they’re screaming end in punchlines. It freaks my friends out, but I kind of love it.

We are not… another music festival. We are not that impossible, wonderful city on the Playa. We are not looking anywhere but forwards. We are not going to tell you who to be.

Chase wants to get on top of the bus to watch the sunrise, so he goes up there and motions to us to come join him. Though it seems like there are no real rules when it comes to who is allowed to get on the bus, a bouncer is standing at the entrance, letting certain people on and turning certain people away. It seems like the unspoken rule is, be chill and you can pass through, so we act chill and are allowed to board.

We’re settling into a corner to the right of the DJ booth when a guy in sunglasses and a scarf reaches over to Max and shakes his hand.

“Hey man. I just wanted you to know that I really enjoyed your speech earlier.”

Because it’s supposed to be a “safe and feminine space” the rule of Robot Heart is that only women are allowed to dance on the actual caged heart on top of the bus. Whenever a man tries to climb onto the heart to dance, a guy in a silk kimono and sunglasses who is part of the Robot Heart community orders them to get down, and the push-pull of this scenario is super entertaining to watch. An overweight guy in a turtleneck and jeans climbs onto the heart and starts humping it. He’s quickly removed. I later hear the kimono guy talking to some girls about how he had to pull a guy off the heart by his balls.

You… are the hero.

We dance on Robot Heart for the next three hours, and as the sun slowly rises over the desert mountains, I realize that I love it here. I love myself, I love my friends, I love to lol and I love to rave. The curve balls thrown at me over the weekend could have caused me to have the worst time of my life, but instead I chose to lean into the unknown and go with the flow. Yes, drugs had been helpful in this scenario, but mostly I have my own adventurous spirit to thank.

I am the fucking hero.

8 a.m. rolls around, and it’s time to go back to Vegas for another day of room service and sleep. We fly out that evening and arrive back in LA tired, but ultimately invigorated and inspired, just like Further Future claimed we’d be.

Lara Marie Schoenhals is a contributing writer at MEL. She last wrote about getting stoned and working out.