If dance music is a vehicle for love, the 10th Anniversary of Desert Hearts Festival was a bigger hit than a runaway Mack truck. Ravers who turned out for the fest’s return at its new home in Lake Perris, Calif. enjoyed lakeside dancing, kaleidoscopic fashion and 72 straight hours of non-stop house and techno from April 29-May 1. In the background, squirrels observed in blue elderberry meadows, Peruvian pepper trees sung in the breeze and the heat was splashed away by the refreshing chill of a panoramic waterfront.
For the first time in its history, Desert Hearts added a second stage to accommodate the more than 6,000 attendees. Theme camps, art sculptures, a live painting gallery and several other signature features had larger footprints this year, too. For co-founders Mikey Lion, Marbs, Lee Reynolds, and Porky, it was their most ambitious endeavor to date. For fans, the added space was a welcome evolution for a decade-long love affair with the inimitable vibe of the festival.
The soundtrack for the weekend was served up courtesy of powerhouse crewmembers like Evan Casey, Rinzen, Lubelski and Rybo alongside globally known heavyweights like Omar S, Kenny Larkin, Danny Daze, Heidi Lawden and Carl Craig.
“We try to do a mix between artists on Desert Hearts records and Desert Hearts Black” Mikey Lion explains to Sounderground of the lineup. “In fact, one of the most fun meetings we have is when we sit down to create set times, because it’s kind of like we’re creating a DJ set for the entire festival.”
Fan-run traditions also returned in all their former glory. From a grilled cheese pop-up on the dance floor to a mid-day wine and cheese party in the campgrounds, the event proved yet again that sometimes the weirdest ideas make for the fondest memories. Experiences like the oddly fantastic Wench Toast — during which attendees dressed as pirates gift French toast as a morning pick-me-up — made the weekend even sweeter.
Over-the-top outfits remained an encouraged mode of expression via the festival’s annual runway strutting fashion show. Here, artisanal clothing vendors, choreographed performers and fashionistas decked out in their most psychedelic flair became the stars. Even the eco-forward waste management crew, the Trash Pirates, got in on the action again, this time with up-cycled outfits fabricated almost entirely from discarded pop-tops.
The change in venue arrived at a pivotal moment for the festival — despite pandemic-related setbacks, the soaring popularity of Desert Hearts hasn’t seen a lull. Twitch was the the Southern California collective’s only connection with fans during the pandemic, with each stream on their channel, DHtv, garnering an average of 5,000 listeners. The group racked up more than 127,000 subscribers in the past two years.
“With the new venue we have so much more freedom and space to explore how we really want to create an experience,” Marbs tells Sounderground. “[Our former location] Los Coyotes was special, and we love it so much, but we grew to a point where we really couldn’t be creative there any more. It was so packed and full we couldn’t add another person in, let alone any more creative aspects.”
He continues: “Coming into a place like this that has more space than we know what to do with really opened up our mind to dreaming again about how to curate a new experience for this next chapter of Desert Hearts.”
What future iterations of the festival could look like remain a mystery, but those who attended last weekend can dance down memory lane to the sound of the hand selected sets below. For those who didn’t make it out, it’s a chance to get in on a bit of the magic.