Twilight over Tioga Lake

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Future's All Right

Where around here can you hug an airplane, dance to sweet beats, get chased by a robot, and play on a giant Light Brite? What type of event would appeal to retired Air Force pilots, Deadheads, club kids, science students, and my dad? That would be Yuri's night, which happened this past April 12th.

My room mate told me about Yuri's night about a month ago. We often fill each other in about upcoming shows. He said, "There's this thing coming up called Yurni or Yuri's night or something like that. It's put on by NASA and is at their field down in Mountain View. There will be space and science stuff, but also art and music."

I was intrigued. I didn't even know NASA had something here. "What music?" I asked.
"Phil Lesh from the Dead, Particle, Amon Tobin, a bunch of electronic stuff..."
"Whoa...Amon Tobin! Dude, I've seen him like four times! Love him!"

Turns out another electronic act I really like, Tycho, would be there too. I was sold, and bought my ticket shortly. Pictures from last year showed large and complex art installations. There would be all sorts of talks, exhibits, and demonstrations about space stuff. While I wouldn't call myself a science geek, I do love learning and thinking about space.

I told various friends about this. They love Amon as well, and usually don't miss a festival. Burning Man, Coachella, Love Parade, Bluegrass, High Sierra, Gay Pride--someone I know is always at one of these.

But for this eclectic event? No one! Various excuses/reasons unfolded, and I found myself going alone. I was fine with this, and actually looked forward to the solo adventure. However, I am carless and getting to Mountain View (about 45 minutes south of SF on the peninsula) sans car is not easy. I turned to trusty Craigslist to see if anyone was offering rides, and sure enough some dude named Chris was. I prayed he wasn't a pyschotic killer and accepted.

As I am still alive to write this, he obviously was not. And I was not the only one in his aging Volvo. Our carpool perfectly demonstrated on a small scale the population of Yuri's night.

Chris was in his later 30's, ponytailed and skirt wearing. He was a Burning Man goer grown up, but not quite ready to let it all go. We picked up Ariana next. Not to typecast people (it really is hard not to sometimes), but she was one of those "Yeah, man!" hippie chicks. She had flowy, sparkly clothes on and carried juggling sticks. Next was Daisuke, a young man from Japan studying astral physics at Berkeley. Finally Andre joined us, who was quite a character. He did something in the courts helping people get rid of driving tickets, and also worked security at a lot of shows. Andre had several missing teeth, had met Jerry Garcia back in the day, knew a lot about many things and talked about all of them non-stop. But seemed like a truly nice person. Finding all this entertaining in itself, I had pretty high expectations for the event.

At this point you're probably wondering Who or what the hell is Yuri, and why does he have a night? On April 12th 1961, Yuri Gagarin was a Russian man who was the very first person into space. Twenty years later the first Yuri's Night happened, and now happens in 30 countries. Yuri's Night is about celebrating achievements in space exploration, and with some art and music thrown in.

Now I'm not super crazy about everything NASA does, and don't think we should spend trillions of dollars on space when we could use the money here and now on much more pressing issues. (Though I would rather spend money on space than invading countries.) But you what? Space really is cool! It is so big--or maybe infinite--we can't begin to imagine it. I love thinking about the possibility of worm holes, anti-matter, the space time continuum and all that. So maybe I watched Star Trek growing up. We are floating in space, no matter how you look at it, and there is no harm in learning a little more about what it all is. Or means.

Yuri's Night Bay Area went from 2pm to 2am. Besides Chris and myself, everyone in the car was volunteering so they had to be there around 1. And Chris said he wanted to stay until 2. And it was about 85 degrees. I am not the partier I used to be, and hoped I could last.

Entering into Moffett's field was quite surreal. Neutral colored buildings, menacing barbed wire, and bizarre domes and structures line the landscape. It is all dominated by this monstrous dirigible hangar. “Hangar One,” as it is called, housed a zeppelin during WW II. I remember seeing that thing when I was working on the peninsula for a while, and starting having dreams about finding hot air balloons and other flying devices inside it. Chris us that it was converted into offices for a while. But all the people breathing caused condensation to form on the ceiling, and it started raining inside! Sadly that hangar was off limits at the festival, and my dreams were not to come true this time.

My start to Yuri's was a bit dubious. The others were allowed in since they were volunteers, but I had to wait an hour under the solar broiler. I had smartly dressed for warm weather, but not so smartly lacked water. It is not advisable to begin a 12+ hour festival adventure dehydrated. I just sat and watched last minute preparations and contemplated life (one of my favorite activities.)

When I was let in and had watered myself, I took a look at this unusual set up. It was pretty random. A big hangar with a smaller one attached to it stood at one end. A decent sized plane was at the other. The main stage was across the field (it's called a field, but it was really concrete.) Banners with famous space people formed two lines in the center. The rest of the area was dotted with smaller planes, cars, robots, and bizarre art stuff. Fascinating.

Needing to get away from the sun, I first headed to the big hangar. The first thing I noticed there was an actual airplane in there--and the "Chill Lounge," complete with cushions, was under it! Sweet.

A robot/space/geeky science loving person would cry from happiness in this place. And that wasn't even all there was. I did some silk screen art that had something to do with geothermal activity (I'm sure it made sense if I bothered to read the panels.) I played with a giant Lite Brite that was part of an inventor's table. There were intricate Star Wars Lego creations, and very cute robots that worked. There was a lot of information pertaining to technology that can benefit the earth, like LED lighting and using algae as a food source. Of course there was plenty of opportunities to learn about how things happen in space and new space exploration technology. Some were a little on the fringe, like an invention that converts urine into sports drinks for astronauts. Thank goodness there were no samples.

After an easy hour of that, I found myself with a handful of stickers, a NASA pencil, a robot t-shirt I suckered myself into buying, and a bit of sensory overload. I did NOT have a glow in the dark necklace, though I wasn't sure if I could hold out all night without one. I was surprised at how fun and accessible everything was. Already I knew my friends--even non-science people--were missing out.

At 3:30, I headed over to the Annex, the smaller hangar where the electronic music was playing. Tycho, also known as Scott Hansen, also known as my boyfriend, would be on shortly. Scott Hansen is one talented guy. He does incredible prints and t-shirts in this 60's print type style, and also has a couple of electronic music albums out. Scott happens to be very cute, and my friend and I sort of stalked him one night. We went to one of his shows and then approached him afterwards. I purposefully wore a Boards of Canada (music that is similar to his) t-shirt so he would know I'm into that type of music. And he noticed! So no, Scott Hansen really isn't my boyfriend, though he will be someday.

The Annex was almost empty, so I could get pretty close without seeming like I was truly stalking him. We were both wearing the same t-shirt--one of his! If that isn't fate telling us we should be together, I don't know what is. Anyway, his music--how to describe it but as simple happiness? It is somehow both mellow and cheerful, evocative of childhood memories. Tycho mainly uses a computer to create his music, and a friend I ran into said, "This type of music isn't really that much better live." I agreed that it wasn't hugely different. Still, I responded, "Yeah, but when do you get to hear this kind of music in an airplane hangar?"

Even early on during Yuri's Night, the people watching was prime. Typical rave dancers and hippie twirlers moved in and out of a marshmallow scented fog. Stilt walkers in spacey costumes joined them. The vibe was very chill, everyone united in this unusual experience. Colored lights began swirling over the ceiling, and a freaky strobe light landed on me. The Annex would be sweet at night.

Since there was no music or acts I needed to see for the next hour, I walked around checking out the outdoor installations and exhibits. There were three very sleek and sexy cars that happened to be hybrids or electric. The theme of this Yuri's Night was "Radical Technology for a Sustainable Future." It is certainly encouraging to see an enormous and influential corporation such as NASA thinking about making the future better.

There was no shortage of robots at this event, and at first my favorites were these cool spheres of metal that you controlled with a remote. That is until one of them chased me and came close to slicing my legs with its giant cheese grater-like exterior. There was also a menacing fire breathing monster robot, that you wisely could not get close to. A giant revolving eye with three legs greeting everyone at the entrance. I wondered if it was secretly taking everybody's picture.

My favorite installation was very un-tech and un-futuristic. It resembled a pagoda, and was made of all recycled materials. This included wood, glass panels, bottle caps, aluminum cans, and brass cookware. On each side there was a Chinese Dragon type face. It was big enough to go inside, and had a very peaceful feel to it. I visited it several times, enjoying how it changed with the light.

Besides music, there were several interesting performances. These including Miguel Angelo, two guys doing crazy strong-man type stunts. There was also a dance troupe called Capacitor that used a spinning globe and humans dangling from it, inside of it, or on top of it. The weirdest act was this group called Bad Uncle Sista, who go under that dangerously nebulous category of "performance art." I should have known to steer clear. They came out on stage wearing incredible costumes of varied materials and colors, and strange props like a decapitated doll or a telephone attached to someone's head. There was no speaking, just weird slow-mo movements. I think there may have been a plot, but it was hard to tell. It was kind of like stumbling into a funeral on a Doctor Who episode, and then having a nightmare about it. What entertained me more was looking at the faces of drugged up people trying to make sense of it. I held back laughter.

The sun started to disappear behind the hangar, bringing with it more people and more of them on drugs. Personally I don't know how people could have the balls to do drugs on fed property with so many cops around. I was talking to someone about that, and got nervous just saying "ecstasy." Still, the vibe was very chill and friendly, and people kept smiling at me. I suspect it that had something to do with the Beaker from the Muppets t-shirt I was wearing.

Around 6, there was the Vintage Aircraft show. I'm not too into this type of thing, but was persuaded by all the people looking up to join. It was terrifying. I don't even like to fly in airplanes, and didn't really like seeing tiny, old (but cool looking) planes do tailspins towards the ground and pull up and the last second. But when I got a little closer and heard Van Halen's "Right Now" being played along with it, I felt much better. How can you not get into the spirit with that?

I headed back into the Annex around 8, and now it was the real deal. Full on lasers slicing the air, disco ball overhead, lights playing across the people and ceiling, hula hoopers, stilt dancers, more marshmallow smelling fog, and fantastic DJ Tipper pounding away--it was sensorial candy. Now I admitted being a little jealous of people on drugs. But dancing along side of them, I had a great time.

The only problem was I was getting hungry. Some people can skip meals with little impact on their physical and emotional being. Not me. I'll turn into a major crankyness. Unfortunately the lines for food were "out of this world." (Ha ha--yes, that was terrible.) I sucked it up, got in line, and luckily could still hear Tipper. It took about 40 minutes. Oh well, no festival is perfect. There were never any lines for the bathrooms, at least.

Now that is was completely dark, I couldn't resist any longer--I needed a glow in the dark necklace. Sadly, I went too late and they only had silly glow sticks. I made the best of it and put two in my pigtails. I'm sure I looked ridiculous. But when I saw a guy dressed as Data from Star Trek and a bunch of guys with balloon animal hats, I couldn't really care.

By the way, I was having such a good time on my own. In some ways, it is almost preferable to come to these things by oneself. There was no worry of losing people, missing things you wanted to see, trying to coordinate bathroom runs. Sure, it would have been nice to have my good friends here. And I ran into several friends of friends and former room mates and coworkers. But I wasn't just fine by myself--I was actually enjoying it! There is something to be said for solo adventures.

Finally it was time for what I had been waiting for--Amon Tobin. It was 10:30 at this point. I was covered in a cakey mixture of sweat and sunscreen, and my legs were giving out. But nothing could keep me from dancing to this guy. Who is Amon Tobin? Imagine if Phillip Glass decided to become a dj. Amon's music is brilliant and beautiful instrumentals laced with hip hop and breaks. There was no sign of weariness in the crowd as he came on. I couldn't stop smiling, and neither could anyone around me. Straddling my backpack and smashed in with people reeking of chemicals, I danced non-stop for a perfect hour.

When Amon finished, I was feeling pretty finished as well. But Chris said he wanted to stay until 2! I toddled over to the Chill Lounge/plane, but saw the people curled up on cushions and realized most of them would be possessed by amphetamines. As I didn't feel like being groped by strangers, I avoided it. I wandered around taking in the vastness of the hangar, when thank god, Chris called and said he was ready to go.

My fellow Yuri commuters and I walked out under the ghostly mountain of the dirigible hangar, rehashing our very different but all positive takes on our times. I came away feeling good from the fun and unusual experience, but I was also feeling pretty good about the world. We cannot argue that technology has done much harm to people and the world--and yet there is no going back. Technology is not going to go away, but it can be made better. And even beneficial. Yuri's night presented a sort of vision of the future--one where cars and even spaceships can run on materials other than oil, one where unusual organic compounds (algae and urine) can be made consumable, and one where art and music is still highly valued. While not everything might be fixable, anything is possible.

I'll definitely visit Yuri's Night again. I'm bringing all my friends. And maybe even my dad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your thoughts and observations match mine almost exactly!! I had an amazing time at Yuri's night.

There were a couple of things you mentioned that I would disagree with though. from mwhat I saw, I think you're jumping to conclusions that people who look like they're having fun should be referred to as "drugged up people".

I think that assumptions like this are very damaging to our community (as electronic music enthusiasts, that is).

If people there were on drugs, I couldn't tell. Sure, sometimes walking into the chill space looked like a mid-nineties rave. The difference I noticed was that when I sat down in the middle of the chill space, instead of being met with glassy eyes and groping, I heard coherent tales of speakers I'd missed and performances that I didn't even know were going on!

I'd like it if more parties in the Bay Area could bring out all those wonderful people who can handle having a good time without turning into a mob of cheek-chewers by the end of the night.

Your post does a great job of reminding me of that surreal magic that overwhelmed me at Yuri's night. Thanks for sharing your experience.

About Me

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San Francisco, CA
Elissa is an east coast transplant making her way through life by way of San Francisco. This amazing city provides lots of fodder for writers of all types. I find inspiration for writing through life's little and bizarre events, such as grocery shopping for dog treats, salamander hunting, and insomnia. I am a preschool teacher in "real life."