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Desert Hearts: The Story of the West Coast's Fastest Rising Party Squad

Nothin' grows but house and techno in the Mojave.

by Jemayel Khawaja
Jul 18 2014, 1:28am

In less than two years, Desert Hearts has gone from an upstart renegade desert party crew to a bonafide player on the alternative festival circuit. They keep the concept simple: One stage, non-stop house and techno, somewhere out in the boonies of Southern California. Even more remarkable is that the crew is an indicative of a growing trend - The emerging generation is rejecting EDM and all its trappings in favor of something deeper.

Mikey Lion is the DJ, producer, and all-round rabble-rouser at the center of the whole story. It started at the mother of all desert parties: "Burning Man has this huge influence on everything that we're doing," Lion tells THUMP. "I went to Coachella for six years, from when I was 17 to 22. I was always like 'Oh, Coachella, best weekend of the year!' and then my friend finally dragged me to Lightning in a Bottle and it was just this major eye opening. I had never been to a party like that before. I'd never seen Burner culture where everyone's in costume, everyone's contributing, everything's so open. So i'm like freaking out at LiB and my friend's like "Dude. You need to go to Burning Man.' Our whole crew bought Burning Man tickets that weekend. We went out there, came home and were like 'holy shit, we need to do something, we need to get involved this community.'

Their first foray into party starting wasn't ideal. Mikey explains, "We went out to throw our first party. It's a total renegade campout, with 200 people or so, but our sound guy just goes off the deep end - We didn't have any music because he just disappeared. It was 20 degree lows at night, everybody there was huddled around the fire in survival mode."

It was an inauspicious start if there ever was one, but it set off a definitive chain of events. "…That ended up being this total blessing," says Lion. "It brought this crew of relative strangers together. It was the very beginning of our Desert Hearts family. The music finally gets on at 6AM on Saturday morning, and from then on it was perfect."

Mikey Lion on the decks

It's been a tale of exponential growth for the bi-annual event - They've featured DJs like Noir, Thugfucker, Christian Martin and Droog. But it hasn't been without trying moments. Mikey recounts, "We had our one year anniversary in November (2013) at an Indian reservation with 1500 people. And then this last one we did in April, that was our most insane party yet. A day before it went down, we get this document in the mail, it's an inch thick, from the city of San Bernadino. It basically outlined every violation we were about to make and said they were gonna shut us down."

Desert Hearts stood their ground: "We had too much to lose to just shut it down, so we called every lawyer in town. We had our own stack of documents saying why we were exempt from all these violations. Sure enough, 15 minutes after the music started, a helicopter and nine police SUV's roll up to the party. We're like 'holy shit, it's D-Day right now'. We stopped the music and were like 'everyone…get in your fucking tents right now!' It's mayhem, everyone's scrambling, hiding behind anything they can. We went up to the police, stood out there with our stack of documents, said, 'you guys can fine us, whatever you want, but you cannot shut us down.' They read it over, front to back, and were like 'this is okay…I guess'."

They survived the weekend and all signs indicate that the two year anniversary in November will continue the growth. "I think it's fucking amazing!' Lion exclaims. "People don't wanna be associated with this rave, cake-in-your-face type music and the scene's growing here more and more, previously EDM was underground, but now that's the mainstream, people are looking for something deeper."

"I wouldn't have it any other way," Lion goes on. "I think that's what really sets us apart from other festivals. One stage, one vibe. We're all house and techno heads. We want everyone at our party to be on the same wave-length. It just created this atmosphere that is better than anything we've seen before."

This all led to the question: "If someone plays a breakbeat, do they get kicked off stage?"

"We don't book any breakbeat people," Mikey laughs.

Desert Hearts is launching a label wing, with initial releases from Mikey and Kevin Anderson. Clock this recording of Mikey's set at the April gathering and start making plans for November. Bring a sweater, though, just in case.

Check out Desert Hearts on FB and Desert Hearts Records on Soundcloud.

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