The Desert Hearts Festival Tenth-Anniversary Reminded Us Why 'We Are All Desert Hearts'
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The Desert Hearts crew have been vanguards of the transformational festival movement since throwing their first renegade bacchanal in the Mojave back in 2012. So it’s only fitting that transformation was the defining theme of their 10th-anniversary celebration. Featuring underground heavyweights like DJ Harvey, Carl Craig, Omar-S, Danny Daze, Township Rebellion, and Atish, alongside festival co-founders Mikey Lion, Marbs, Porky, and Lee Reynolds, the Desert Hearts family reunited to celebrate a decade of parties from April 29 - May 1 at their new venue in Lake Perris, California.
The sprawling waterfront space was a change for veteran Desert Hearts fam after spending years at their more intimate home of Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. But the Desert Hearts family has expanded since their last edition in 2019.
The San Diego-based party-starters lovingly spent six years cultivating a tight-knit community of revelers at their former off-the-grid venue, purveying the mantra of “House, Techno, Love – We Are All Desert Hearts.” The homegrown festival united attendees under the “One Stage, One Vibe” ethos, showcasing over 72 hours of nonstop underground music while fostering a judgment-free playground helmed by creative self-expression.
In a scene often saturated by high-brow techno snobs donning all-black attire and an air of elitism, Desert Hearts carved out a kaleidoscopic sonic cathedral where a few thousand lucky freaks could get as unabashedly weird as they wanted.
But a festival as uniquely welcoming as Desert Hearts couldn’t be confined to Los Coyotes’ meager plot of land forever. From its humble beginnings as a modest, 200-person gathering, Desert Hearts evolved into a multi-faceted ecosystem, including the flagship annual festival, two taste-making record labels, and a breakneck, international touring schedule of club and festival appearances. As word of Desert Hearts’ effervescent magic spread across the globe, the festival continued to sell out year after year until Covid forced the festival to take a two-year hiatus.
After canceling the festival in spring 2020, Desert Hearts’ ringleaders knew they had to keep their community connected somehow. So they swiftly launched the DHtv Twitch channel and broadcasted various weekly programming, including marathon DJ sets, variety shows, crate-digging sessions, yoga, and meditation. They eventually racked up 127,000 followers worldwide, cementing themselves as a dance music institution.
With a more significant worldwide following to accommodate at the forthcoming festival, Desert Hearts ultimately outgrew their beloved, original space where thousands of strangers had coalesced into family.
The relocation to Lake Perris marked a new chapter for the independent festival that could. And for the first time in its history, they hosted 6,000 attendees. The festival certainly isn’t the cozy outing that veterans will fondly remember. Still, a musical experience as purely healing as Desert Hearts should be accessible to anyone ready to buy the ticket and take the ride.
To celebrate the festival’s decade milestone, we counted down our top ten reasons to love Desert Hearts.
Two stages, one vibe
While maintaining three unrelenting days of house and techno tuneage, “One Stage, One Vibe” transformed into “Two Stages, One Vibe.” By day, the breezy, beachfront Desert Stage invited attendees to undulate in the sand or splash around on colorful floats in the lake.
At dusk, patrons migrated to the festival’s original Heart Stage, where they grooved until sunrise on the dance floor illuminated by glimmering totems.
Desert Hearts architect Mikey Lion’s Saturday sunset session was a tour de force three years in the making. The San Diego-based beatmaker enveloped listeners into his signature rave jungle world, opening with his dreamy, deeply personal single “Above The Clouds” off his 2021 debut album For The Love as inflatable palm trees popped up across the sand. After bringing DJ-guitarist Ofier up to shred their collaboration “The Way You’re Wrong,” Lion fired off shimmering songs like DJ Tennis’ “Atlanta” and Jesper Ryom’s “Ada” before dropping into Fred Again and The Blessed Madonna’s ubiquitous “Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing).” The shrewd selector closed his set with LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” as the crowd erupted into a boisterous singalong to celebrate his long-overdue reunion with the Desert Hearts family.
The Desert Hearts signature disco ball
Desert Hearts’ dance floor is an aurora borealis of lights and lasers, and the heart-shaped disco ball serves as the guiding North Star.
LA-bred creative polymath Lubelski delivered a two-hour masterclass on tension and release during his Sunday noontime performance. The Percomaniacs co-founder hypnotized the swelling crowd with a medley of original productions, including his rapturous edit of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and his unreleased record “Synth City.” As his collaborator Wyatt Marshall yelled into the crowd, “he’s so good, it’s not even fair!”
So much room for activities
Lake Perris’ larger canvas spurred Desert Hearts’ most extensive programming to date, complete with interactive art installations, roaming art cars, the bartering ‘Frick Frack Black Jack’ table, cheeky theme camps, a kitschy, karaoke-fueled ‘Tonight’s Tavern,’ live painting, fire performances, health and wellness workshops, and so much more.
It’s no surprise that Desert Hearts Black stalwart Rinzen was selected to open the Heart Stage on Friday night. The cinematic techno specialist put his mystic multiverse of sounds on full display, showcasing the left-field atmospherics and slick basslines that have cemented Rinzen as a curatorial force.
The LA-based artist left onlookers slack-jawed as he dropped his own productions, including his 2020 Desert Hearts Black single “Resonate” and an unreleased record, alongside crowd-pleasers like Bicep’s remix of Isaac Tichauer’s “Higher Level” and Sasha’s remix of Rufus Du Sol’s ‘Innerbloom,” before wrapping with Gabriel Ananda’s remix of Hans Zimmer’s “Interstellar.”
Sombrero Salsa Saturday
Desert Hearts is an oasis for hedonistic silliness and communal sharing, evidenced by this sombrero-sporting fellow who doled out chips and salsa from his hat during Mikey Lion’s sunset session.
For early entry ticket holders, Desert Hearts kicked off on Thursday with a stacked roster of performances anchored by LA-based artist Wyatt Marshall’s 11 p.m. set on the Desert Stage. The underground maestro set the tone for a galvanizing weekend of musical exploration, serving up a smattering of synth-fueled records like Lvca & Marlon’s “Hang Out With Your Computer” and Sweely’s “Only If Ur Happy.” Having released across notable labels including Moscow, Do Not Sleep, Percomaniacs, and Desert Hearts. Marshall showcased an arsenal of original material, including his percussive groove “Distant Traveller,” his ‘1-2 Step Edit’ of Beedeebeedee’s “The Return,” and his forthcoming, unreleased collaboration with Matt Egbert “Take Two.”
When Desert Hearts launched their DHtv Twitch channel during lockdown, DJs rushed to assemble new streaming setups. Many decorated their desks with plants and lamps, and the channel’s chat room participants coined the cheeky portmanteau’ plamp.’ The chat became a platform for strangers from around the world to bond, joke, and escape solitude (if only digitally). The new internet friends collectively started their own dedicated Camp Plamp Discord forum, organized daily Zoom hangouts, and streamed the DHtv sets together. Camp Plamp hosted their own popup at the festival, where many online cohorts connected face-to-face for the first time and recounted their years spent distracting each other from isolation insanity.
Desert Hearts flagbearer Tara Brooks opened the Heart Stage on Sunday, soundtracking the festival’s final evening of festivities with her experimental, cerebral soundscapes. The venerable DJ channeled her 15-year career into a sublime set that cascaded from minimal grooves like Aiden Francis’ “Revolver” into gritty, vocal-forward numbers like Ben Balance’s “Sneakbass,” and percussive jams like Franky Rizardo’s “Use Me, Not Abuse Me.”
Eric Allen Photo
Honorary mention: A special shoutout to the California Ground Squirrels, who scurried across the festival grounds and became Desert Hearts’ unofficial mascots.