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​The Desert Hearts Indoctrination: a trip to the kindest festival in California

A tech house metamorphosis at Desert Hearts Festival 2018

  • Words: Cameron Holbrook | Photos: Jess Bernstein, Jamie Rosenberg, Haley Busch, Get Tiny, Eric Allen
  • 10 May 2018

Before moving to Southern California, I’d never crossed paths with the name Desert Hearts before. It was only after moving to Los Angeles three years ago that I discovered this vibrant tribe of peacocking electronic music enthusiasts living within the city, all of whom have carved out a solid chunk of LA’s bustling underground scene for themselves. Weary of what appeared to me as a California love cult and unfamiliar with the playa pilgrims way of life, I initially approached this scene with caution and admittedly, distaste.

Starting off as a rebellious desert party in 2012, Desert Hearts has evolved into a globally recognized music crusade that has traveled abroad and touched every corner of North America. The record label, crew and community attached to the Desert Hearts brand revolves around a selfless ethos of love and freedom which makes as much of an effort to help feed the homeless of Los Angeles as it does to throw its bewildering parties.

From the outside looking in, the extended groove of Desert Heart’s musical formula makes it easy for me to stick my nose up it's scene. Not understanding these eccentric tech house patrons, I retreat to the abundance of sharp, cutting-edge music that Los Angeles has to offer. Overtime, however, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some of the wonderful people who are closely associated with the Desert Hearts family. These phenomenal friends remain relentless in convincing me to experience their tribe’s flagship event - Desert Hearts Festival - for myself. Won over by their enthusiasm and adventurous spirit, I pack my car with a tent, sleeping bag, some warm clothes and I'm off.

Located outside of San Diego at the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, a gathering of the weird, loud, ecstatic and beautiful commenced for three days and three nights. Upon entering its epicenter, Desert Hearts Festival’s solitary and beautifully sound stage comes alive with a fluid eruption of color, smooth debauchery and relentless movement. Sporting scantily dressed daytime attire and colorful bundles of fake fur during the frigid nighttime sessions, the mishmash of love crusaders on the dancefloor mill about like birds of paradise. No barriers, no wristband hierarchy, no cell service, no narcs, no drama. A compact and carefree village of bohemians and escapists, the layout was beautifully organized which made it easy to navigate, bounce around and get lost (in the best way possible).

A license of freedom that I’ve never known before bounces around in my head and I can feel my mind slowly fall prey to the unassuming indoctrination of this colorful community, but why should I fight it? How could I? I felt like a musical grinch and all the residents of DesertHeartsville were finally helping me understand the true meaning of the rave. Love, a shared connection, dancing, solid tunes, laughter and all that really lame gushy stuff that is too PLUR to be even a little bit cool. But here, away from all outside influence, it truly felt like the coolest fucking thing in the world.


Making a friend a minute, I open up to the onslaught of music being tossed from the stage to find a pleasant amount of variation and brawn within its cadence. My haughty musical hypothesis for the weekend shatters right before me. A warm and emotive sunset session from Atish soon leads into a top-notch demonstration of house music mania from Matt Tolfrey, a flexible display of glimmering techno from Shaded and the most magnificent set of straight-talking tech house I’ve ever enjoyed - handed over by Andreas Henneberg.

Other remarkable moments include Egyptian Lover’s mid-day 808 party session, Doc Martin’s house music history lesson, Mikey Lion’s disco rally and Tim Engelhardt’s soothing 8 am live set. The turning point for this jaded techno fan came at Damian Lazarus’ four-hour sunrise set on Sunday morning. The last hour of his gallivanting and mystical set include remixes of Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and James Blake's ‘A Limit To Your Love’ that will forever be scorched into my memory.

From the respectful “leave no trace” practices of the crowd to the all embracing feeling of “oneness” that the Desert Hearts family leaves you with, I can already feel myself missing the place during the final hours of the festival. I've come to realize the appeal behind Desert Hearts and the the mystery behind their ability to amass such a loyal and loving fanbase over the past five years suddenly seems so obvious.

This awakening does not dilute my previously held musical preferences, but it helps me reorient myself with the depth of our beloved electronic scene and how these sounds that we love, hate, criticize and dissect end up creating such a wild array of awe-inspiring communities. Donning their magenta DH pendents, the Desert Hearts community is one of the most unique and radiant that I’ve ever encountered. The words “welcome home” leave the lips of one of my lovely new cohorts. I know I will be back, this time with some big, bright colorful clothing.

Cameron is Mixmag's US Digital Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter here

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