An Oasis in the Electronic Music Scene
Desert Hearts began as a 200-person gathering in the Mojave Desert in 2012, and has since grown into an awesome label, righteously groovy traveling party crew, enlivening dance culture movement, and magical boutique desert festival. However, they’re kind of an acquired taste, one you discover after evolving on your electronic music journey for a while and come to appreciate for the wonderfully different kind of experience they create with audiences.
As house and techno have moved much closer to the front of mainstream EDM popularity in the U.S. over the last three years or so, there’s no denying that Dirtybird Records has played a major part in that shift. Serving as an entry point to more advanced electronic music beyond boring build-up/bass drop and pop-influenced tracks, they’ve essentially become the EDM equivalent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Their high-energy hits, appealing array of personalities and consistent quality across the label exemplify this – but an excess of superhero blockbusters gets a bit tiring over time.
So eventually you switch things up and go to the arthouse theater to see the cool indie film from that eccentric, up-and-coming director with a cult following. That’s what getting into Desert Hearts is like, opening your tastes to a different kind of dance music that plays a little more chill, artistic and less booming than stuff like Dirtybird, but sustains a more communally engaging, higher vibrational frequency. Desert Hearts touts love as the special ingredient infusion elevating their house and techno parties, which might come off as hokey marketing from a distance, but becomes highly palpable upon actual immersion into one of their events.
I’ve considered myself a techno and house fiend for a few years now, but only became vaguely aware of Desert Hearts when I caught a brief yet rousing glimpse of their label takeover of the Forest Stage at Electric Forest last year. By the time Decadence Colorado rolled around, I’d heard enough high praise that I knew I had to catch the b2b set between label boss Mikey Lion and joyous patriarch of the crew Lee Reynolds. Despite a smaller crowd than expected, most there knew what was up with Desert Hearts. And like me, they utilized the more open space to maximize their grooves, flourishing amidst the immensely savory, roving beats. The earworm tunes and exceptionally fervent energy during that set officially made a Desert Hearts convert out of me.
Let the Music Ride and the Fashion Fly High in the Desert
So after researching the Desert Hearts Festival and realizing what a truly extraordinary event it is, I knew I would have to be a part of that bohemian mania this year. Drawing inspiration from Burning Man, it motivates self-reliance and self-discovery alongside the community outpouring of love and creative vibes that give such effervescent life to the festival. This is a place where all attendees are encouraged to participate with their own imaginative self-expression, free-thinking individuality, most magical dance moves and letting their freak flags fly.
Vivid costumes, wacky outfits and outstanding adornments populate the dancefloor in fantastical fashion, including all manner of furry coats, shiny sequins, sexy straps, kooky glasses, crazy hats and technicolor dream jackets. The Los Coyotes Indian Reservation combines high desert and serene forest into one environment, ranging in temperature from the 70s in daytime to 30s at night. So anything in your festival wardrobe, from scantily-clad to sweat-inducing attire, can comfortably find use in these conditions. There’s even a fashion show highlighting some of the dopest digs!
Between noon Friday and 4 p.m. Monday, the quintessential quad of Mikey, Lee, Marbs and Porky officiate the ceremonies, while a roster of most Desert Hearts artists plus friends of the label keep the rager thriving continuously. The music never stops, blasting from the singular, magnificently crafted stage (which attendees can even dance on, partying with the DJs). The “One Stage, One Vibe” way of operating breeds thorough familiarity and friendship between the intimate crowd of 3,500, forging a collective consciousness riding the same wavelength in beautiful harmony.
A Balance of Both the Sacred and the Temporal
A bewitching spectrum of art can also be found throughout the grounds, from the various theme camps and art installations to psychedelic live-paintings, face and body painters, interactive pieces, and live performers like fire twirlers. The Heartspace hosts workshops and classes, supplies art materials and provides a place for attendees to make their own creations. And when you need some R&R, the Healing Sanctuary offers sound baths, crystal healing, reiki, energy work, and a communion of sharing worldly wisdom and mind-expanding knowledge between community healers and the Desert Hearts family.
Like Burning Man, this is a Leave No Trace event, where you pack everything in and pack everything out – including all trash. The same respect shown for fellow attendees is also given to the sacred land where the festival is held. The special energy here flows in unison with the love generated by the Desert Hearts community. Tickets are sold out for the festival, but even the touring takeovers from the main Desert Hearts crew, as well as the other zesty label parties, instigate a soulful, uniquely spirited spectacle that stands apart in the house and techno scene.
A Night of House, Techno and Love
At their recent Denver show, I finally came to understand the hype and connected to the Desert Hearts vibe on a deep level. Iconic looks including big-ass hats, faux fur jackets, bejeweled foreheads and even a furry wolf mask greeted my own lit-up persona from the get-go. I linked up with my techno tribe at the front and immediately started making new friends welcoming me to the Desert Hearts Family. The rolling rhythms of this revolutionary party posse resonate on a special frequency, like a spell of synchronicity, to bring people together. This was most evident for me as they united my birthday twin and I, born the same day and year with so many freaky similarities between us that we became instant friends for life.
There’s a familial kind of rapport between the Desert Hearts crew, and not just because Porky is Mikey’s younger brother. Porky contributes a dynamically idiosyncratic range of beats and goofy sweetness to the group, but he wasn’t with them this evening. Marbs feels like the edgier favorite cousin, and he initiated the festivities with his brand of thumping techno and sci-fi spacey, yet worldly grounded, house.
“Papa” Lee Reynolds, who’s been expanding his mystical command of the dancefloor since the early ‘90s, came next to spin the audience into a hypnotic reverie of wondrously winding tech house delight. At the after party he served up old-school, acid and deep house psychedelia for several more hours, while radiating with the positive energy of the coolest, kindest, hardest-partying grandpa imaginable. As daylight streamed through the warehouse windows upon a thinned-out crowd, Lee stepped out from behind the decks to enthusiastically dance with us, fully revealing his presence as the Merlin of house music.
The Mad Hatter Mikey Lion rounded out the official show, weaving luscious house and techno tunes with some tribal influences into a spiritually empowering set, surging through the crowd in outbreaks of groovy movement. The three DJs joined together onstage for the conclusion, closing out this boisterous shindig with the rambunctious charge-up of “Digitalism in Cairo” to send the Desert Hearts family off with open hearts and feel-good, loving vibes.
*Featured image via Galen Oakes*