Californians have a long history of dragging large sound systems deep into the mountains and canyons of the state’s most remote corners to throw some truly epic, off-the-grid events. In recent years, no crew has done more to keep that tradition alive than Desert Hearts. Started in true renegade fashion in 2012 with just 200 attendees, Desert Hearts has grown into a legit mini-festival of 5,000, with highly regarded headliners like Damian Lazarus, Dave Seaman and DJ Harvey — though it maintains its “one stage, one vibe” focus and the strong sense of community that engenders.
“The festival has stayed the same size over the past couple years, but the Desert Hearts family continues to grow at an exponential rate,” says Mikey Lion, who together with partners Lee Reynolds, Marbs and Porkchop both organizes the festival and plays its signature tag-team closing set. “Our message of house, techno, and love is spreading far and wide.”
Desert Hearts’ current home, Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, is more forest than desert, an oasis of pine trees tucked in the mountains of North San Diego County. Overnight temperatures can plummet, but that just inspires more creative (and fuzzier) festival attire in the wee hours. Don’t expect typical festival amenities — yes, there are porta-potties, yoga classes and a vendor village, but it’s a DIY, leave-no-trace camping event at which attendees are expected to pack in and pack out all their necessities. But as anyone who’s been to such events can tell you, that emphasis on self-reliance actually enhances the vibe. There are no looky-loos at Desert Hearts, only participants — and most are there to let their freak flags fly.
Among the growing list of annual Desert Hearts traditions are a wine and cheese party and a Connect 4 tournament — both of which take place right on the dancefloor, giving the proceedings a welcome, irreverent twist. But it’s the music at Desert Hearts that remains the star attraction. As practiced by the Desert Hearts crew and their most frequent return guests — a list that includes Doc Martin, Tara Brooks and Sacha Robotti — that means a deep, funky mix of no-bullshit house and techno that keeps the beats coming with minimum. With urban sister events, City Hearts, now rolling out in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Desert Hearts continues to prove that “one stage, one vibe” is all you need to throw a memorable music festival.
WORDS: ANDY HERMANN