[Photo Credit (all images): Jess Bernstein Photography]
From what started out as a small renegade gathering in the Mojave Desert has expanded into one of the most vibrant communities on the West Coast Festival Circuit. Since November 2012, Desert Hearts founding fathers Mikey Lion, Lee Reynolds, Porkchop, Marbs, and Kristoff McKay have put their blood, sweat and tears into curating this event. The San Diego-based party crew barely survived extreme weather conditions and other unfortunate circumstances in those first few parties. However, it was that very first trek to the desert with 50 of their close friends that sparked the inspiration for what is now an incredible community based in the mutual love of House and Techno.
Rewind to Lighting in a Bottle 2011, where Mikey Lion and the boys went to their first burner festival. Mikey says, “I’ve always been a house-head, so when we went to LIB, the Woogie Stage became our home and I was like ‘oh my god this is the best stage I’ve ever seen in my life.’ We ended up camping right across from the stage and we were there from as soon as music started until it ended every day. To me it was just like the best thing in the world having non-stop good house music and right as I was having this epiphany that I was at the best party in the world.” Lightning in a Bottle was a huge springboard for inspiration as they launched into their esteemed one-stage, one-love event. They continued to expand their scope by actually traveling to Burning Man—an experience that cemented their love for House music and a connection to community that is a hallmark of the Desert Hearts experience today.
Desert Hearts has always been driven by the love for their attendees. The solidarity of the scene permeates from the Desert Hearts boys which are more than just a crew, but a family. When festival-goers hit the DH dancefloor, it’s all love, comradery, and thick vibes. Highlights from this past spring include playing Connect Four with Atish during his set, grubbing on Wine & Cheese on Saturday, and participating in the Glitter Spies’ curated fashion show on Sunday, all three of which are now longstanding Desert Hearts traditions. Self-expression is in full swing over the course of the weekend where anyone can peacock free from judgement.
Desert Hearts has a liberating effect on people, whether it’s through the quirky fashion senses or the musical curation of the weekend. Many young DJs and artists have visited the house haven and developed their sounds and productions around ideas that were introduced and discovered at Desert Hearts. Young powerhouses like Los Angeles’ Fritz Carlton and Lubelski, who now hold down headlining slots at the event have been attendees for years and are now part of the crew; using the event to showcase fresh productions and mind melting tracks every year. Other burgeoning music collectives like the San Diego and San Francisco based Reptile Society, have said, “Desert Hearts is where it all started from.” They now throw their own renegades in Golden Gate Park and aspire to host their own festival one day. The community is more than just a party, it’s an inspirational movement.
Very few festivals curate vibes like Desert Hearts. The event has honed in on an energy of unapologetic self-expression and music taste. It’s a safe place for artists, healers and attendees to party and exist on a level playing field without social stratification. Walking around the venue, everyone is smiling, trading stories and trying to brighten each other up. Everyone leaves the weekend feeling enlightened and empowered with a new lease on life. It’s no surprise that Desert Hearts has spawned a national movement, that leaves most dates on their City Hearts Tour sold out. Their meteoric rise is a testament to their authenticity and solidarity as a family. You can always find the core members of the DH crew taking time out of their day to connect with their fans. Those interactions spread throughout everyone they meet and perform with.
Over the past few years, Desert Hearts has become a cultural phenomenon evolving from a renegade party with a fold up table and close friends in Southern California to a powerhouse event in the House and Techno scene. Sold out shows and global recognition have not changed the atmosphere and the community-first ethos that Desert Hearts has been known for either. The intimate festival, which everyone calls a family reunion, reinforces love, self-exploration and expression. It is no mystery as to why Desert Hearts has become one of the most sought after events in the West Coast festival circuit.
Words by John Akbari
Photo Credit: Jess Bernstein Photography