“We’re house and techno heads. This is the most die hard house and techno festival, and we want it for the die hards.”
This is Mikey Lion, the eccentric leader behind Desert Hearts: a group of friends who have taken their love of dance music and transformed it into a burgeoning West Coast community of house and techno faithful. The crew is best known for their eponymous bi-annual festival, which takes place at Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in Northern San Diego county. From Nov. 5-9, the group celebrated their three-year anniversary by expanding their event to 100 continuous hours.
The festival is anchored by its singular stage: a fantasy-like construction of wood, wire, and art, powered by a top-of-the-line Funktion-One sound system. Over the course of the weekend, the stage would play host to international dance music talent such as Claude VonStroke, Olivier Giacomotto, Marc Houle, Doc Martin, Jozif and more.
On the Desert Hearts dancefloor, time does not exist. The music carries on, unabridged, for four continuous days. The transitions between DJs are nearly inconspicuous. The only cue to suggest a new performer is the changing tide of the music. Naturally, the hours slip away. And therein lies the beauty of Desert Hearts’ mission. They’ve created a house and techno sanctuary of sorts — a place where genre zealots can come enjoy a no-frills dance music experience without the stress of multiple stages, overbearing security, or early sound curfews. A place where things like bringing a mattress pad to the dancefloor or staying up all night are regular occurrences.
The concept of 100 continuous hours may seem a bit ludicrous from an outsider’s perspective (and frankly, it is), yet Desert Hearts have taken a narrowly defined idea — one stage, one vibe — and run with it. The response thus far has been overwhelming. Their spring edition sold out, while their three-year anniversary party brought nearly 3,000 people off the grid.
Perhaps most telling, however, is the enthusiasm of the attendees. Upon arriving on Saturday, for instance, I was greeted by a wine and cheese party on the dancefloor. Aged Gouda was served on crackers while boxed wine was liberally poured into strangers’ cups. It’s this kind of quirky community involvement that makes the festival so unique. Mikey Lion aptly described the phenomenon as “the more you put in, the more you get out.”
The success of Desert Hearts’ vision is due partly to the careful planning that goes into the order of performers. “We spend days thinking of the best possible flow of the DJs,” Lion says. “It’s like planning a DJ set for the entire weekend.” The diligent programming pays off in the form of a wholly consistent dancefloor experience. While the vibe never changes too radically, teetering primarily between deep house, tech house, and techno, the subtle shades of each genre become magnified over the course of multiple days.
The three-year anniversary festival proved particularly special for Mikey Lion and crew. Aside from curating their most diverse lineup yet — everyone from dirtybird’s J.Phlip to Berliner Andreas Henneberg played — Lion’s entire family was out for the occasion. “My grandparents came out here yesterday,” Lion said. “Honestly, it was one of the coolest moments of my life. Being able to show them what we’re doing for a living… it’s completely different than anything they’ve ever experienced.”
The feeling of family at Desert Hearts is ubiquitous. Strangers become dancefloor compatriots, while camp neighbors are quick to lend a helping hand. One can’t help but be swept up in the general sense of community. Ultimately, this infectious sense of positivity is exactly what Desert Hearts is trying to foster. “If everyone comes to our festival and feels that love and energy, and they take that with them as they leave, that’s our goal,” Lion says. “We plan on taking this vibe and sharing it with the rest of the world.”