From The Mojave To The Belasco: Desert Hearts Hits The Cities

The Desert Hearts DJ foursome has taken a slice of its flagship Mojave desert festival to the city, with its largest “City Hearts” tour to date and an outdoor festival hitting downtown Los Angeles Nov. 12.

Juliana Bernstein

Desert Hearts Spring Festival ran March 31 to April 3 at the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in Southern California.

“This whole time we’ve been doing this Desert Hearts festival, which we’re coming up on our 10th one this spring, we’ve decided we wanted to take it on the road and that’s how we started touring, with these City Hearts parties,” co-founder DJ  said. “That was kind of our way of taking a small portion of the festival experience and taking that on the road on a much smaller scale.”

The current “Take The Ride” City Hearts tour has the DJs – Mikey Lion,  and Porkchop – in venues including Public Works in San Francisco Oct. 27, Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colo., Dec. 7, Coda in Philadelphia Dec. 15 and secondary markets like Santa Fe and Cleveland for a total of 20 shows.

The group did 62 Desert Hearts-branded dates in 2017, including selling 3,000 tickets to the March 31 to April 3 flagship Desert Hearts Festival at the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation.

Coming from such an underground scene, where fans feel at home and part of an exclusive club at the annual 80-hour Mojave Desert party that Resident Advisor called “one of America’s best electronic music experiences,” growth into bigger rooms on subsequent tours was a concern to some core followers.

“We were told by some fans that, ‘Hey guys, we’re not super stoked about you guys moving to this club in Manhattan because they’re booking mainstream talent,’ if you will,” Desert Hearts manager Tim Gould told Pollstar about moving into Flash Factory in New York.

This year saw 23 City Hearts shows with full production, with highlights including Feb. 11 at the Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles, Schimanski in New York March 4, and The Church in Denver Oct. 20. 

“We had to convey to our fans that it doesn’t matter where Desert Hearts plays, we’re always going to be able to capture that vibe and deliver the best-produced show,” Gould said. “Once they got into that room they saw how special that moment was.  We never make a transition like that based on a financial or business decision. It’s always about what is the aesthetic and what are the positives, we just want to make sure that we are delivering a show that is just as special as the first time we entered a market.”

Another growth market is Denver.

“We switched things up to a hard-ticket sale and moved up to Cervantes Masterpiece (in February). That’s when the doors opened up with AEG Live and we started getting offers from those guys to move to the Gothic or Bluebird,” Gould said, adding that the hope is to take the show to Red Rocks within two years, but organically. 

Skylar Greene

City Hearts at Exchange in Los Angeles July 8.

For the tour, “The way it’s initially pitched out is it’s the four guys,” Gould said. “Promoters will come back and say, ‘I don’t have a budget for all four or don’t have time for them all to play,’ so we’ll take a look at that and reconfigure. But for bigger markets we’ll reach out to special guests – we had Waze & Odyssey play our last City Hearts party in Los Angeles at the [1,500-capacity] Belasco Theatre.

“Times before that we’ve had Sacha RobottiDoc MartinMarques Wyatt, so we try to mix it up in some of the bigger rooms but have to make sure there is enough play time for everyone.”

That vibe will be implemented into the City Hearts Festival, a 10-hour outdoor, 3,000-capacity event at Los Angeles Center Studios, including a full vendor row, theme camps, healing village, yoga, food and signature dance floor elements.

“When we decided that we wanted to do this City Hearts Festival, it was because we’re pretty much at the point where we don’t want to grow our Desert Hearts festival any bigger than it is,” Mikey Lion said, stressing the importance of having just one stage, no VIP sections and letting members of the community (not merely “fans”) in the DJ booth with the performers.

“Because once it gets to that big, big size it starts to lose intimacy, and the overall vibe and what the whole thing is about,” said Mikey Lion, whose life changed when he saw Daft Punk play Coachella in 2006. “But at the same time, we’d be doing a disservice to us and to our fans by not having some kind of event.”

The original 300-person Desert Hearts parties that started about 10 years ago were an outgrowth of the Burning Man movement, where the Desert Hearts crew learned about community and giving back.

They’re launching the Helping Hearts Division partnering with the L.A. Mission to get fans involved in the days leading up to the Los Angeles City Hearts festival.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to bridge into more philanthropic work and lead a bigger role in the communities that need our help,” Marbs added. “If we have that foundation, we should definitely take advantage of that and give back. This is a great opportunity for us to start that part of our journey.”

While the City Hearts are a strong draw on their own, they seem to consider themselves part of the movement rather than headliners.

“Over the years, the community has come to trust us as tastemakers and curators,” said Mikey Lion, who is also head of the group’s record label which releases its music freely on SoundCloud.

“A lot of the artists that we book might not be the biggest draw. For us, these are artists we’ve been following and been in love with for years. A lot of what we want to do is educate people and introduce them to music they’ve never heard before.”

Gould, who handles some of the booking duties along with booking agent Jon Sax at Liaison Artists in San Francisco, echoed those sentiments.

Desert Hearts
Juliana Bernstein
– Desert Hearts
Desert Hearts Spring Festival, which ran March 31 to April 3 at Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in Southern California.

“It’s so important for us to be on the same level as the fans. It’s so, so important,” said Gould, who also acts as talent buyer for Desert Hearts festivals.

“We have it in our contract and our rider that when the guys are playing we have 100 percent control over the stage, and who’s on that stage. There have been times when we go into a play and we’re not able to give them the freedom that they want, and it takes away from that experience.”

“But it’s organic, it’s not something that’s forced. It just happens,” Gould added, mentioning that in about 100 shows with the guys he’s never seen an issue onstage. If someone gets too loose or rowdy, there are cooldown places and members of the community do the self-policing without incident.

“We want to dance, be partying in only one place but also have a place for a breather,” Marbs said, mentioning their artist walk and designated cooler, quieter places. “The one-stage, one vibe thing we love and is a huge, huge part of what makes us.”

On the horizon is Europe, where Desert Hearts is planning to take up residence next summer to build their audience –  maybe in Ibiza. 

They’re already big in Central and South America, where their colorful, loving mood goes well with the existing party culture, as opposed to the stuffier, darker setting usually seen in Europe.

“On the dance floor it makes sense.,” Gould said. “The colors, the costumes, I think that’s why it’s taking hold in Central and South America. It’s going to be a challenge to get over in Europe but we’re setting goals, and making sure the intention stays pure and the workflow is fluid among teams.”