“House, techno, & love” was the mantra on the minds of 3,000 people as they began their trek to Los Coyotes Indian Reservation for the 2017 iteration of Desert Hearts.
It’d been a full year since the last edition, a change from its usual semi-annual occurrence, and levels of fervor had reached an all-time high among its community. Finally, the much-awaited weekend of unplugging and basking in the vibrancy and creativity fostered by their other peers had arrived.
Entering the sacred grounds on Friday morning, the collective joy among those trickling in was palpable. This type of weekend felt particularly needed, given the past twelve months had witnessed a wave of local and international sociopolitical turmoil which which were made virtually inescapable thanks to an endless barrage of sensationalized coverage proliferated through social and mass media.
Going completely off-grid for 80 hours with like-minded people who wish simply to connect with one another and find joy through art and music suddenly becomes even more appealing under these circumstances.
Desert Hearts during the day
Indeed, the Desert Hearts crew are experts at building a temporary utopian society for their guests. They care not so much about material gain and maximizing profit, but rather creating an intimate and authentic transformational experience with each gathering. Having found a home in Los Coyotes and its sacred atmosphere, they adhere to a staunch limit of 3,000 attendees in order to stay there and to promote intense bonding by way of constant interaction. Such a small venue size and crowd translates to different paths crossing multiple times throughout the weekend and an overall familial sentiment as they’re left with only each other to socialize with.
A singular stage, the brand’s trademark, is the nucleus of it all. Renegade camps are not allowed as everyone is encouraged to immerse themselves completely in the “one stage, one vibe” aesthetic. That said, there is little room for objection to this rule as music quite literally doesn’t stop until the marathon party has finished. The dance-floor’s modest size makes meeting up with friends an overwhelmingly easy task, while areas like the cushion-filled Pile Palace and other rest zones surrounding it made it easy to stay there for hours on end.
Christian & Justin Martin throw down as Super Bash Bros.
The musical programming this year was nothing short of excellent; DJs’ strengths were carefully taken into account, with each one being placed in a slot which would optimize their individual impacts. Friday, for example, was filled with party-starters like Detlef and Pawsa, whose smooth yet pumping tech house vibes helped kick the weekend off on an energized note. Dirtybird regulars Justin and Christian Martin also brought their booty-shaking brand of house onto the stage Saturday night, rejuvenating guests so that they could pass into the morning with ease. Meanwhile, Sunday featured a bevy of artists like Marques Wyatt and Monolink whose mellower, ethnocentric beats were perfect for beginning to come down from the mayhem of the first and second days.
Early morning hours were, as always, an especially enchanting time at Desert Hearts this year; Edu Imbernon and Tara Brooks brought a spot of melodic, yet driving progressive and techno to their 4AM slots on Saturday and Monday. Sunday morning witnessed one of the most incredible combinations of the festival, beginning with a 4AM Dave Seaman set which took listeners on an enthralling journey through classic and contemporary progressive with hints of trance, leading into an unforgettable sunrise sermon by Öona Dahl. Michael Rosa & Ben Seagren brought an ethereal, lush soundtrack to sunrise hours on Monday morning.
Dave Seaman pulling off an impeccable mesh of progressive & techno with perfect precision.
Creativity was hardly limited to the music throughout this festival. Adding to the dynamic atmosphere of Desert Hearts were its slew of visual artists whose attention-grabbing paintings and sculptures proved just as awe-inspiring as lasers and LED screens. Performers on stilts could be seen at various points during the festival, while the West Coast Eclectic Arts group drew attention to their incredible flow art and fire performances.
Meanwhile, the guests themselves added a whole other layer of artfulness to the affair. Heeding the suggestion of letting their inner freak flags fly, many went all-out in their creative outfit planning. A man dressed as a unicorn breezed through the grounds on a segway, fur coats and steampunk gear added eccentricity to the mix, while others rocked their favorite animal onesies at night to defend against the chilling temperatures.
An exhilarated Desert Hearts attendee, captured while horsing around.
Mikey Lion, Porkchop, Lee Reynolds, and Marbs are undoubtedly the main conduits of the utopian ideals manifested at Desert Hearts. By opening their own hearts and minds to their followers and spreading their infectious, loving energy, the beloved founders in turn attract an equally amazing crowd. Their emphasis on equality and human connection affects every participant in the festivities, fostering a safe, trustful environment where everyone feels free to be themselves without judgement.
Though the event is essentially lawless, and attendees may go and do whatever they please, respect and order fall naturally into place as everyone ultimately comes to the festival with the intention of creating a joyful and carefree time for themselves and others. Paired with the intimate setting and lack of contact with the outside world, by the end of the weekend, complete strangers found themselves feeling like close friends with everyone they had met.
Festival founders Lee Reynolds and Marbs share a moment onstage.
By the time festivities wind down on Monday, an overwhelming sense of rejuvenation is present despite heavy physical fatigue from four days of marathon partying. Friendships have been cultivated, passionate musical moments have been shared, and being immersed in such high levels of creativity and positive energy for this concentrated period of time has left revelers with an afterglow that will carry them gracefully into the real world. With yet another unforgettable festival experience in the books, it’s no wonder Desert Hearts has grown at such a rate to become a veritable jewel of the West Coast transformational scene.
Photos by Michael Drummond.