Forgive me. I haven't been to Burning Man, nor have I partied for three days straight. I don't believe in ghosts or spirits or crystal energy. I am, for all intents and purposes, the last person that should have been invited to transcribe the implications and experiences of the one-stage one-vibe community driven shitshow that was the Desert Hearts Two Year Anniversary gathering. Curious from all the good things I'd heard about the DH family, I bought a tent, packed up some shit, and hoisted myself aboard a van with a crew of nine we haphazardly dubbed the #contentmafia.
Don't get me wrong. I've been to plenty of festivals, shows, and weird gatherings in my life. I once played an electro house set to a crowd of rowdy Juggalos in the middle of the California forest. I've traversed the bro-y landscape of New York's Electric Zoo with a hungry pride of Persians. All of it seemed natural at the time—adventures that simply fell into place. The same went for this past weekend. Save for a minor slope-triggered van accident and a tedious hunt for the most suspect Wal-Mart in California set to the sounds of Eurythmics and Steely Dan, everything was perfect.
[Note: please take the following loosely constructed timeline with a eucalyptus-scented grain of salt]
It was around 5 o'clock Saturday morning when we arrived at the Los Coyotes reservation dust storm. The music of Shaun Reeves was permeating through the sea of yurts, tents, and arduino-driven LED tree structures. We abandoned all attempts at setting up our own dwellings in the 50°F forest chills. Instead, we dove head first into the house and techno heaven we'd been pining for since we left Los Angeles.
The great holy deity of true deep house, Deep Jesus, officially welcomed us with his super lowkey morning set. His set drifted from the incredibly deep Hands Free to the ultra-mellow dark techno musings of Lake People and Ted Alexander. For the first time in a long time I didn't know 95% of the tunes. Usually that disappoints me, but this time was different. At that moment I realized I was in an entirely different place. A place I had heard of and seen, but didn't completely understand. With four full stacks of Funktion-One speakers and enough natural acoustic treatment to pacify Quincy Jones, I realized that the forest is the best place to listen to house music.
Our chemically stabilized wakefulness paired nicely with the UK "kick in the arse" of Desert Hearts Records' debut artist, Jonjo Williams. With only a few handfuls of grooving bodies on the dancefloor, we decided to explore the clandestine campgrounds. From the expertly constructed four-dimensional jungle gyms to the Adult Playground, an exhilarating safety hazard and pillow fighter's dream headquarters, the Desert Hearts created a safe haven for DIY art projects and limitless inebriation. Worlds apart from their first year anniversary, which garnered unwanted attention from San Bernardino helicopter pilots and police cruisers, Mikey Lion and his motley crew had finally reached a happy medium within organized lawlessness.
"Pfffft. I don't know anybody on that lineup. Good luck with that!" my basic friends proclaimed in the weeks leading up to the festival. "Foolish blasphemers to the Good Word of music!" I would respond, "How can you be so close-minded!"
They were wrong and I was right. So right, in fact, that I can now officially boast my love for Atish and Nikita & Patrick Gil. Both of their sets took me from nostalgia with a tune from Four Tet's FABRICLIVE.59 mix and falsely perceived teases of "The Safety Dance" to pure elation with Cevin Fisher's NYC Peak mix of Arthur Baker's "The Break 98". After six straight hours in the dusty tundra and a pristine set from David Scuba, the #contentmafia and I felt it necessary to wander the grounds once more.
At some point in the day I found a tea guy. No joke, this dude had really dank tea. The kind of tea you sip while sitting in a circle discussing your chakra to hyper-spiritual strangers. I revisited Tea Guy several times throughout the weekend, subsequently becoming a Tea Guy myself. This was perfect because tea is the only thing you need for the comedown off the purest MDMA and 5-MeO-MiPT ("moxy" in the science community) the world has to offer. Gladly sharing the wealth, I became a crucial member of the dancefloor. I even have the Flower of Life sticker to prove it.
One thing to understand about the Desert Hearts is their firm anti-marketing anti-corporation stance on music. They are the anomaly of successful festival planning. The little anti-thirst engine that could and did. This past weekend was the culmination of everything they believe in.
Free food, free bars, free hangout spots. Besides a handful of self-run shops from third-party DH family members, everything was essentially free (read: services were requited with good vibes, tips, and trades). To see this was refreshing in the wake of all the money hungry and sponsor thirsty festivals running rampant over the past decade. From a crew that takes so little and gives an exorbitant amount back to its own close-knit community, the entire weekend was something straight out of a utopian novel. The true ideological teachings of Communism are alive and well in San Diego.
I awoke at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning. As the music raged on, my head was pounding from the decisions of the prior day-and-a-half. Thankfully, the dampened roar of Amirali and Dink's 123 BPM morning deep and tech house sets put me at ease. I gathered my wits yet again, grabbed a round of bananas and vitamins, and prepared myself for more of what I came for.
Keffiyeh wrapped tightly around my face, I moved into the ever-welcoming crowd fusing once more with the sites and sounds. Lonely Boy was easing the masses awake with some atmospheric funk-heavy tribal house. Picture the soundtrack to Cotard's syndrome pacified by ketamine and calming Sub-Saharan percussion. Everybody was grooving in the exact positions I left them at 11:30 the night before. Fluid, unwavering movements from a man donned with more scarves than a gypsy's caravan. Feeling, grooving to the sounds of progressive dialed in bass lines like a monarch at the end of its life picking at the last bits of the colorful landscape it was birthed into.
Never have I been so enthralled by a group of festivalgoers. Not a bro in sight, with the outfits tastefully handmade by those in it for the love of the craft. I had free range to express myself in a judgment free zone—nay—in an encouraging landscape of cast inhibitions and free emotions. My Jewish white boy dancing varied from funky arm-heavy cybergoth undulations to soft-necked infant head wobbling. If any Dancing With The Stars producers are reading this, HOLLA ATCHA BOY! I got them future moves to spice up your show.
Of all the sets we caught this weekend, the Desert Hearts core crew singlehandedly took me by the auditory cortex, shook it violently, then replaced me gently in the center of my own heart and soul. From Kevin Anderson to Lee Reynolds to Mikey Lion to Francesca Lombardo, I didn't leave the dancefloor once. Mikey's philosophy of non-competition between DJs rung true. One after the other in seamless fashion, San Diego's finest soothed and played to our every whim.
[above: the song that defined my weekend]
From the pimped-out granola tramp sprawled out horizontally gripping a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's, to the cousin duo resembling the girls from The Shining dancing side-by-side with what can only be described as Trippi Longstocking. A cargo net filled with a million pillows suspended between three fractal-laden pillars. The feeling that everybody and everything was there for a combination of hedonistic entertainment and community involvement. For 70 non-stop hours and with 100% positive vibes strictly enforced, the next level community blowout Mikey Lion and the Desert Hearts call a party defined a reversion back to the 60s mentality of music, love, and community. One stage, one gathering, a bounty of good vibes.
As I sit in my Los Feliz apartment, both elated and drained from a life-changing weekend, all I can think about is the lingering smell of peppermint essential oils in my beard, how the hell I'm supposed to clean all the shit I brought, and what I need to start preparing for Burning Man 2015. Thank you Mikey, Lee, and the rest of you crazy Desert Hearts. You've opened my eyes to a whole new world of music festivals. A place where community comes first and safety comes fifth.
House, Techno & Love.
- Desert Hearts Official Website
- Desert Hearts on Facebook
- Desert Hearts Records on SoundCloud
- Mikey Lion on SoundCloud
- Lee Reynolds on SoundCloud
[photo credit: Galen Oakes]