Mikey Lion Sheds Light on the Desert Hearts Collective Consciousness
Over the past few years Mikey Lion and the Desert Hearts crew have been on a mission, spreading a message of love and togetherness with each event they put on. The movement has grown into a community of like-minded individuals and has made them a leading force in the underground desert community that is present on the West Coast. With a vision for spreading love, family, and good-vibes the crew is expanding from the desert and into the urban environment of city life. Desert Hearts will be bringing their City Hearts experience to the East Coast, hitting Washington D.C. on May 1st and Brooklyn on May 2nd. We got a chance to speak with the co-founder, Mikey Lion, about what makes Desert Hearts so special and what we can expect from the City Hearts events. Here is what he had to say...
When did you realize music was a passion you wanted to pursue?
Mikey Lion: I think it happened fairly early for me. By the time I was in 9th grade I knew I wanted to start DJing. I remember my parents asked me what kind of instrument I wanted to play and I was super into hip-hop at the time, so I told them I wanted a set of Technics 1200 turntables and they were like ‘What? That’s not an instrument.’ So I ended up saving up my own money and I bought the turntables anyway. They immediately began to see how dedicated I was because I would come home from school every day and scratch records for hours. It wasn’t long before they realized how being a DJ was a form of artistic expression, especially when I was scratching records and manipulating music. So they paid me back for the turntables.
My very first experience listening to electronic music was when I was 17 and I went to Coachella in 2006. I found myself at Daft Punk’s live performance and that was probably the most influential moment of my life. I finally understood what electronic music was all about. After that I didn’t want to DJ hip-hop anymore and my life completely changed.
Fast-forward to 2012. I had been DJing all throughout college and I ended up landing a gig at the Wookie Stage at Lightning In A Bottle. That was the biggest gig of my life at the time and I completely knocked it out of the park. That was the exact moment when I was like, ‘Wow, I can actually do this, I have the drive to do this for the rest of my life.’ It just really reassured what I was working toward for the few years leading up to that point. After that I ran with it. That year I quite my job working for my dad and began DJing full-time.
Tell me a bit about the Desert Hearts crew. How did you all come together?
After I graduated college I moved back to North County, San Diego and 3 of the other 4 Desert Hearts founders had pretty much done the same thing at that time. It was me, Marbs, Deep Jesus, and my younger brother Porkchop. We decided we wanted to throw a party in North County because there was pretty much no scene there whatsoever. We were all into the same music so we wanted to make something happen. That party was called Jungle. We soon got word of another house and techno party, called Moon Shake, that was happening in more of the downtown area of San Diego. That’s where we met Lee Reynolds. He would later partner with us to launch Desert Hearts, but at the time we had no idea what to expect when we walked into that party. I remember he was at the decks and he played this Art Department track that was our favorite at the time. We all just looked at each other and we knew we were home.
After that our crews just collided. We would throw a party one week and the next week they would throw a party. We were both doing 2 events each month so we decided to take turns each week and there was something to do all the time after that.
It’s always amazing when 2 crews come together to form a bond. How did that help to expand your vision for Desert Hearts?
His (Lee Reynolds) crew is the older generation, so they’ve been into this music since forever. We were this totally new crew who had just as much passion and determination for the movement. We all just had a really cohesive vibe with bringing the San Diego underground community together. The older generation really embraced us and helped us grow.
To give a little bit more history of how Desert Hearts came to be I need to tell you about Kristoff Consciousness and the desert community of Moon Tribe. They played a crucial part in bringing us all together. Moon Tribe is pretty much the original electronic desert party crew and they’ve been throwing secret underground parties for the past 22 years. Just basically throwing renegade parties out there in the desert of California. Kristoff had been going to Moon Tribe for like 10 years or so and he introduced us to the whole desert scene. He threw his own party one time and invited our Jungle crew and the Moon Shake crew. When we were out there we all really connected due to our joint musical tastes.
So we had the Jungle crew, the Moon Shake crew, and then the whole desert crew and we had the idea of throwing a huge party with all of us together. That’s when we came up with the idea for Desert Hearts. It created this magical vibe of three different communities coming together with every generation and every type of person represented. It was a totally cohesive and amazing community that blossomed from all that.
You’ve also had gigs at a number of different clubs around the world but you seem to embrace the festival vibe more with Desert Hearts. What do like about the festival atmosphere as compared to the club atmosphere?
The vibe is, hands down, the best thing about our party. One unique aspect about the Desert Hearts Festival is that the music is 72 hours non-stop. It’s held on an Indian reservation so we don’t have to get any permits for anything because we are under the jurisdiction of the reservation. So we kind of get away with a bit more. The reservation has been super supportive with everything we’ve been doing.
Another thing we like about the festival atmosphere is that it’s kind of it’s own bubble. A big thing at all the festivals out here is this ‘leave no trace’ attitude which just brings more of a community aspect. Where as with a club its a bit different. The presence of burning man out here is so engrained in our society and community, so before we even have our event we instill the burning man principles, which is all about giving back to the party. The more you put in, the more you get out. Everyone knows that before going into the festival.
We also have a bunch of themed camps that are regulars at Burning Man but also come to Desert Hearts as well. We host an open kitchen that serves food all weekend and we have multiple bars that are serving drinks all weekend and It’s all free. We don’t sell alcohol because it’s bring your own everything. The vibe is just on another level.
Also, something that is really, really important to our festival is the concept of One Stage, One Vibe. We only have one stage at Desert Hearts because we want everyone that’s there to be on the same level. The one stage acts as a beating heart for the festival and the entire vibe is set from there. We only have about 3,000 people that attend, so there’s never really that moment when you lose your friends or you have to worry about going from stage to stage with competing acts. It’s all set at that one spot. The whole vibe just trickles out to the rest of the festival.
It sounds like Desert Hearts is bigger than just the DJs that spin and the people that put it on. It’s all about this sense of community that makes it so special.
Exactly! That’s what we’ve been saying since the very beginning. Actually, our motto is “House, Techno and Love. We are all Desert Hearts.” That is one of the most important aspects of what we do. It is way more than just a festival, it’s a full blown community. There have been all these families and sub-communities that have grown with us as well. Our open kitchen has been with us since the beginning and all these themed camps come back every time and try to outdo themselves which just keeps raising the bar.
Now you guys are expanding with the City Hearts parties popping up around the country. What is your vision behind that movement?
We’re trying to share our message of love and what we believe in with the people all around the country. We’ve done City Hearts in L.A., San Diego and San Francisco and one of the biggest things we’ve wanted to do is to take this community that we’ve grown in the desert and create the same vibe in various cities. When we decided to come to D.C. and NYC we reached out to our Desert Hearts community here and asked them if they would share what we do with their friends on the East Coast. Right away word got out to this crew in Baltimore who are known as Camp B-More. They’re all Burners who are really tight with our network and they’re going to help set the vibe when we make it out to the City Hearts parties. We’ve done similar things with different cities we’ve gone to. People are really down to get involved and the response has been incredible. This whole thing is about spreading love, music, family, and community. It’s a love movement pretty much and people are on board with it because they truly believe.
You also dabble in some production, how do you approach the production process?
I work in Ableton and then I have a few analogue synths I use. A lot of the time I’ll draw inspiration from a sample or something like that. For example, on the 'Drum Formulas' track, I use a sample from Gangstarr and a lot of that just comes from my hip-hop influence. I’ve also been really into tribal drums recently and so I think that has really helped shape the music I produce. I’m pretty much self-taught as far as production goes.
I produced my first EP with my good friend Jonjo Williams and I remember shopping around those tracks for about a year. We didn’t hear anything back, but we knew we had this growing Desert Hearts community and we wanted to share our sound with them. Which played a big part in why we decided to start our own label called Desert Hearts Records.
Yeah the label is loaded with quality and it’s all free! What made you want to have that be a part of the platform?
In the spirit of the festival, which is all about spreading love and music, we decided to make our catalogue of music completely free on Soundcloud and the response has been overwhelming. I can’t really think of any house or techno labels that have gone that route so it’s been great to see how much people are enjoying our music.
For us it’s more about getting the music out to as many people as possible. When we first started the label we would see how when we released a track, maybe 50 people would buy it on Beatport. We thought to ourselves ‘What’s more important, getting the music out there or selling the tracks to nobody?’ Ultimately, Desert Hearts is about sharing the experience and the free music platform just fit our vision and the response has been exponentially greater.
A lot of other artists have really embraced our mission too because they understand what the festival is about. The purpose of the festival is just about spreading love, so artists have been super stoked on what we’re doing and they’ve been eager to do remixes for us because they are just down for the cause. It’s rooted in intentions that are so pure. The whole community is really amazing. It’s hard for me to explain. A lot of people have caught on to it and have been digging what we’re doing.
What can we expect from City Hearts?
The whole place is going to be decked out. It’s very Moroccan themed in a way and the vibe is going to be super good. One thing we’ve always done with our events is that we give out these Desert Hearts necklaces to everyone that comes out. So people will come to the event and have this amazing and memorable time getting involved with the collective consciousness of the Desert Hearts vibe and then they leave and have something to remember the experience. The music is going to be top-notch the whole time with Butane and Atish getting involved. Its a free-spirited atmosphere and we don’t have any VIP sections or anything like that because it takes away from the vibe. Like, anyone who comes out is able to get on stage and vibe with us because it creates this mentality that we are all one, we are all Desert Hearts.
As I spoke with Mikey Lion it was evident to me how his community had grown to what it is today. I felt his passion for the movement he and the Desert Hearts family are promoting. When we step out onto the City Hearts dancefloor this weekend, we are all there for the same reason, to feel like we are a part of something. No, not to "feel", but to actually "be" a part of something. The community. The love. The family. The message is clear when it comes to dance music and the community that surrounds it. "House, Techno and Love. We are all Desert Hearts."