Robert Stone Nadel Photography

Robert Stone Nadel Photography

As the majority of the music world headed down to Miami for its annual Winter Music Conference, notorious for $30 drinks, a heavy corporate influence, and occasionally horrendous venues, a band of iconoclast rebels were having a party of their own on an Indian Reservation outside of San Diego. Pushing a “One stage. One vibe. One love.” mentality, the best way to describe Desert Hearts would be a ‘utopian party of epic proportions,’ though I’m afraid that doesn’t really seem to do it justice. I typically try to stay away from using superlatives, but featuring 72 straight hours of intoxicating deep house and techno, insanely creative art installations strewn throughout the campgrounds, and the nicest, most beautiful people everywhere you turned, Desert Hearts was truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

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*This was hands-down the hardest event review I’ve ever had to write. It is truly impossible to convey how amazing this party was in just words. Thankfully, some extremely talented photographers were on-site to make my job exponentially easier. Check out their photos above, and if you like what you see, be sure to check out their websites: Skyler Greene PhotographyRobert Stone Nadel Photography, Emma Trim PhotographyDaniel Leist Photography, Cerebral Clique PhotographyWobsarazzi Photography*

“Desert Hearts was frankly love in its purest form.”

When I arrived at Los Coyotes Indian Reservation and received absolutely no resistance whatsoever upon entrance to the ‘festival,’ I knew that this was a special event. When it comes down to it, ‘events’ can really be broken down into three categories: club nights, festivals, and parties. ‘Club nights’ are your typical night out on the town with expensive drinks, snobby people, and if you’re lucky, maybe a cool afterparty. ‘Festivals’ are grand-scale operations where, if you lose a friend, you may never see them again. These are the types of events that typically throw a ton of money into production, and don’t really give much of a shit about the quality of music as long as the bottom line is taken care of. Then there are parties. Parties are few and far between, but you always know when you’re at one. Parties are intimate events where no one is in a sour mood, and everyone is either an old friend or a soon-to-be new one. Desert Hearts is simply the epitome of what a party could possibly be. Don’t just take my word for it though, Rodriguez Jr. has said that “In many respects, [Desert Hearts was] one of the best parties I ever did,” James Teej has called it “mind blowing,” and Noir has said “RESPECT to everyone at Desert Hearts. What a great initiative and party.” Throughout the party, I had dozens of people I’ve never met before embrace me like a long-lost friend for no reason, out of the blue. I saw revelers, overcome with joy, break down into tears on the dance floor, only to be subsumed into love-laden huddles by neighboring partiers. Not to mention, the music was downright phenomenal the entire weekend.

Photograph by Skyler Greene

One of the most unique aspects of Desert Hearts was the fact that they had continuous music playing on one stage for 72+ straight hours. The idea seemed pretty cool in theory, but was utterly divine in practice. Being the literal and figurative ‘heart’ of the party, it was surprisingly reassuring knowing that no matter what you did, you could always head back to the main stage to meet some new friends, or to see some old ones. It blew me away how consistent the quality of music was the entire weekend. Every single person who played brought the heat as relative unknowns and international superstars alike shared the stage over the course of the multi-day party. Some highlights for me included: M.A.N.F.L.Y.‘s brain-twisting techno, which set the stage for sunrise the first night, the Desert Heart crew’s sunset-into-sunrise marathon (Deep Jesus -> Marbs -> Porkchop -> Mikey Lion -> Lee Reynolds -> Shaded -> Atish, f*%$ing wow), and Justin Jay‘s disco-infused booty-tech that gave way to Monkey Safari‘s emotional roller coaster of a ride, followed promptly by Rodriguez Jr.‘s frenzied live set (complete with his stunning piano renditions of personal favorites from his impressively deep catalog). Arguably the most talked-about set of the weekend though, goes to Desert Hearts crew-member Evan Casey, who laid down a funky tech-house set that had the entire dance floor convulsing in euphoria. Everyone was buzzing as Casey’s energetic vibe set the stage perfectly for the legendary DJ Brad Moontribe (of the infamous Moontribe Collective) to take the reins. The best news for all you readers at home who unfortunately missed out? Every set from the weekend was recorded, and will be released over the next few months on the Desert Hearts’ SoundCloud page (along with a slew of free tunes being released almost monthly by the crew).

Desert Hearts Crew Closing Desert Hearts Spring Festival 2015

The Desert Hearts crew should seriously consider running a consulting service to help larger festivals figure their shit out.

The stage itself was a sight to behold: an angelic, yet diabolical dichotomy of twisted twine, expertly crafted wood detail, and a gleaming heart-shaped disco-ball to top it all off. Highlighted by the Funkworks-provided sound (a crisp Funktion-One stack that stayed properly tuned the entire party), the Desert Heart stage wasn’t a VIP-only hyper-exclusive area, but instead an extension of the dance floor, opened to anyone and everyone. The dance floor, shaded through the scorching desert days by a canopy of surrounding trees, also continued right into the Pile Palace, a heavenly collection of plush pillows where exhausted attendees could rest their tired legs in an optimum position to hear the music. It didn’t really matter where you looked, people were dancing on speakers, in trees, on hammocks, writhing on the ground; it was utter chaos in the best of ways.


Monkey Safari’s set was off the bananas!

The music was stellar, but the organization for this event was entirely mind-blowing. The Desert Hearts crew should seriously consider running a consulting service to help larger festivals figure their shit out. From the ease of entry, to the expertly-curated set times, to the flawless layout of the campground, no one could have guessed that this was only the third year of event coordination for the Desert Hearts clan. Building on a 300-person rogue party in the Mojave back in 2012, the Desert Hearts crew have cultivated a full-blown countercultural movement, always sticking to its core values of friendship, love, and providing quality techno. For one reason or another, whenever people used to describe an event as a “transformational festival,” it always left me rolling my eyes. But Desert Hearts, my friends, is a transformational festival if I’ve ever been to one. It truly transformed every attendee’s life for the better. With how genuinely happy and affectionate the people were around you, it was impossible not to be smiling ear-to-ear the entire time. I know that I, for one, have seen a noticeable improvement in everyday happiness, and I already considered myself a super cheerful person before heading into the desert. Yoga, sound healing, crystal healing, Reiki, energy work, and massages were available daily, just a short walk from the stage, adding a level of depth to this party that really took it to the next level. It’s been incredible to watch the flood of heartfelt thank you’s from people who share this same rejuvenated view on life. I sincerely can say that I’ve found a new family out in the desert.

Photograph by Skyler Greene

Which brings me to the aspect of Desert Hearts that really sets it apart from any other event: the people. Everywhere I turned, there were some of the most beautiful, insightful, and wholeheartedly positive people I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across. I met people from all walks of life, as four generations joined together to party throughout the ceaseless dust storm. Instead of fighting for limited spots at a crowded bar, and vying against one another for the bartender’s attention, attendees were literally giving away free booze on the dance floor (as long as you had a cup). Instead of receiving angry looks as you shuffle past people, you received sympathetic hugs and warm smiles. Instead of being surrounded by entitled people acting as if they owned the place, strangers were gladly picking up trash that was mistakenly left behind by others. Desert Hearts was frankly love in its purest form.

If you wish to join the Desert Hearts crusade (and trust me, I’m never missing another one of their parties), they’re having their three-year anniversary party just a short six months from now. In the meantime, Desert Hearts will be throwing their more club-oriented events, City Hearts, in San Diego (April 11th), D.C. (May 1st), and New York (May 2nd). There were also rumors in the desert of a City Hearts Denver taking place after this east coast tour…we’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Follow Desert Hearts on: Facebook/Twitter/SoundCloud

About Joe Burchard