All Photos by Juliana Bernstein
If you're relatively ingrained in Southern California's vibrant music scene, you're probably friends with someone, or have come across an acquaintance, who makes the bi-annual journey to the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation for the one-of-a-kind Desert Hearts. Started by a group of friends inspired by the grand-daddy festival of them all, Burning Man, Desert Hearts has quickly danced its way into the hearts of loyal house-heads and techno lovers, offering a festival with three, non-stop days of some of the best house and techno in the world. And these aren't the house and techno artists of the big-buck festivals – people like John Digweed, Dusky, Carl Cox, amongst other names that typically populate Insomniac and SFX lineups – rather, these are the artists that live and die by the funkiest bassline they can find and the grooviest beat they can craft.
As Friday, April 1st rolled around, nearly 3,500 loyal festival-goers slowly made their way from all over the world to the modest mountain range behind Oceanside and south of Temecula – more specifically, the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. After a long drive through California's rolling hills, lush meadows, and scenic lakes, we slowly pulled towards the festival entrance only to be greeted by…a line. Now, I'm usually one to hate lines, and make sure everyone around me knows about it, but the line into Desert Hearts was noticeably different than one at Coachella or Bonarroo.
Nearly a mile before we even got into the venue, people were out of their cars and making friends with their neighbors already, offering beer, snacks, and good conversation to help pass the time. One kind soul even walked along the entirety of the line – almost a mile long by the time we got there, and easily over a mile by the time he was making the trek – offering everyone tangerines, and letting us know that his camp would be providing free tangerines and watermelon all weekend. It was at this moment that we knew. We were home at Desert Hearts.
On the surface, there's no doubt that Desert Hearts seems a tad daunting. Once the music begins at noon on Friday, the relentless mix of banging tech-house, space-y electronic soundscapes, tribal drum arrangements, and pulsing basslines continues without regard for anyone, and anything, until Monday at 4 pm. There is no rest or reprieve back home after the festival ends each night, rather everyone is “encouraged” (required) to camp on-site, which helps contribute to the unparalleled vibe at Desert Hearts.
By the time we had made it into the festival, unpacked our car, and set up camp, we hurriedly made our way to the single dance floor of the stage. There, we were greeted with a shining, disco-ball heart adorned on top of a wooden structure and flanked by towering stacks of Funktion 1 speakers providing clear, crisp sound and the perfect cadence of bass to rattle you to your core. A stroll through Desert Hearts is an all-out assault on your senses – fur-clad festival-goers exchanging warm hugs like long lost best friends, colors splashed nearly every angle, fire dancers twisted and twirled surrounded by a big crowd – it was like a trip into the deepest corners of your imagination.
While Friday featured sets by the legendary German techno luminary, Latmun, Saturday was the real highlight of the weekend because of a ten-hour block of grooving house, ambient electronic, and banging techno from our favorite Desert Hearts crew. Mikey delivered a set for the ages, turning the dance floor into an absolute party, before fellow Desert Hearts member, Deep Jesus, took over the decks to usher in the sunset with his spiritual, burner vibes.
Papa Lee Reynolds, the oldest member of Desert Hearts, showed us why he's still at the top of his game, delivering deep, dark house cuts interspersed between heady soundscapes, before passing the torch to Marbs, who took the crowd into the deepest depths of tech-house. Last up on the Desert Hearts block was Pork Chop, and he showed why he was given the honor of closing the ten-hour session, as he masterfully manipulated the crowd with a mix of weirdo house and dark techno that was easily my favorite set of the weekend.
By the time the group's ringleader, Mikey Lion, took the stage at 4 pm, the dance floor had been worked to a frenzy thanks to a couple of renegade events held by courageous festival-goers. A Desert Hearts Fashion Show strutting some of the best the festival had to offer paved the way for the return of the infamous wine and cheese party on the dance floor. This time around, the grapes, crackers, wine, and cheese found some new additions, and the classy affair came complete with a keg of beer and a weed salad bar. Now tell me, where else are you going to find something like that?
Now in its 4th year, Desert Hearts has continued to deliver the magic elixir that makes it so special for those that attend. Sure, the music is phenomenal and the Funktion 1 soundsystem is top-notch, but Desert Hearts continues to prove that its worth isn't in what it does, rather it is in the people that come.
Mikey, Pork Chop, Marbs, and Lee Reynolds all work tirelessly to curate the best musical lineup possible for 72 hours of non-stop house and techno, but they work even harder to ensure that their “We Are All Desert Hearts” and “One Stage, One Vibe” ethos is ingrained in each festival-goer once they leave the festival. Desert Hearts – you're always great to me, and I can't wait until we can all meet on the dance floor once again. 243 days to go…
Words by Tommy Tsao