If the most advanced, intelligent alien species ever to exist were to observe Desert Hearts, they would probably go insane. It would probably be a display of the most confusing human activity they ever witnessed. If they were to set up camp and join us on the dance floor, however, they would probably experience one of the most memorable, fun, loving, important, unique weekends of their infinite lives and have no choice but to tell all of their friends in the Kronulus Galaxy that they just had to come check out Desert Hearts, of the pathetic Planet Earth during the miniscule and unimportant 21st Century.
Congratulations, Earth. Desert Hearts is probably the best party in the universe.
As such, it will ruin your life. It is simply too good. Way too good. It’s so good that you will start to hate everything that isn’t Desert Hearts. That’s why this festival happens twice a year. Any less than that and we would probably turn into cannibals. It’s so good that you will tell your friends, every time you see them, how good it is. You will keep telling them and telling them, and they will hate you for it. Eventually, they will go, and their lives will be ruined as well. Desert Hearts is so good that you will never be able to listen to anything but house or techno ever again. Even worse, when you do listen to house and techno, it won’t be as good as the house and techno you heard at Desert Hearts. It will just make you sad by bringing up the most amazing, fun, important memories of your life.
Thank you, Desert Hearts. You ruined my life, and I absolutely love you for it.
Desert Hearts returned to Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in early April to celebrate the springtime in spectacular fashion with the Spring 2016 edition of their festival. Like that other thing in the desert, it’s hard to classify what Desert Hearts is exactly. Is it a festival? I guess so, but it doesn’t really feel like one. Upon arriving at Los Coyotes, you instantly get a sense that this is something more. Something different. Something special.
Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s something less. Something simple for a change. One stage. One vibe. 72 straight hours of house, techno, and love. Just one ridiculous fucking party. And an honest party, at that. It is honest in that it knows that it is a party, and it’s not really trying to be anything else. At least not while it’s happening. But in doing so, in being honest about being a party, in focusing exclusively on house, techno, and love, it organically turns into something so much bigger and more important. Looking at the bigger picture, Desert Hearts is so much more than a party. It is a community. It is a family.
What is Desert Hearts? Desert Hearts is a family, and twice a year, they throw the coolest family reunion on the planet.
But let’s go ahead and call it a festival for now. Even so, it is so drastically different than any other event or festival. There is nothing like Desert Hearts. And I know each festival has its own vibe, identity, personality, characteristics, etc. But I mean there is NOTHING quite like Desert Hearts. Not even close. Its most distinguishing feature is that it only features one stage, and that one stage is playing house & techno for 72 hours straight. 72. Hours. Straight. The music does not stop for one minute.
This simplicity makes it so easy to have a good time at Desert Hearts. You’re not overwhelmed with options, things to do/see, set conflicts, hanging out with certain people, etc. Everyone’s generally going to be either at their camp, or at the dance floor. There is plenty of art to look at, bars to visit, and theme camps to hang out at, but even all of these are conveniently placed near the dance floor.
Want to catch that set you’ve been waiting all weekend for? Dance floor. Want to relax in a hammock? Dance floor. Grab a drink? Dance floor. Check out an art gallery? Dance floor. Climb an art installation? Dance floor. Looking for your friends? Dance floor, baby.
It is this “One Stage, One Vibe” attitude that is a key reason why Desert Hearts organically feels like an exercise in community building. Everyone is together at all times. We all love hanging out with our friends at festivals. Well, at Desert Hearts, you’re basically hanging out with them the entire weekend. You’re not going to get separated or lose each other in the dark like you do at other festivals. There are no cliques at Desert Hearts. There is no VIP area. Everybody is allowed backstage. Everybody is encouraged to freaking climb on top of the monstrous speakers. Everybody is encouraged to contribute to the community via dance floor shenanigans. These shenanigans include pop-up bars, fashion shows, Connect 4 tournaments, ping pong tables, furniture, wine & cheese parties, and more just spontaneously appearing in the middle of the dance floor throughout the weekend. People spice up the dance floor in some truly marvelous and creative ways.
Many people will describe a festival as a marathon, not a sprint. Well, Desert Hearts is the only marathon where you’re sprinting the entire time. There is just so much energy in the air all weekend. It’s quite powerful. It’s hard to stop at Desert Hearts. You just go, go, go. Desert Hearts is a 72-hour marathon of house, techno, & love. If it sounds gimmicky, it’s not. Those three things are at the very core of Desert Hearts. They provide the heartbeat for the weekend. The heart-shaped stage does so quite literally by pummeling the crowd with house & techno all weekend. The music curation is on-point, and scheduled masterfully throughout the weekend as upbeat house kicks things off and makes way for dark, mysterious techno deep into the night towards the latter half of the weekend. There are no headliners, and no real sense of time. Just daytime and nighttime. And you’ll be dancing your heart out during both. 72 hours of house, techno, and love. Love is just as important as the music at this festival. The love is honestly everywhere. Love for eachother, love for the music, love for this community. Only at Desert Hearts can you look at a stranger, and almost always be greeted by a glowing smile. That just doesn’t happen elsewhere. Quite simply, Desert Hearts is one of the most open, free, and loving environments on the planet. Openly connecting with strangers on this level is an unforgettable experience, and it will keep you coming back.
To see such large-scale production value brought to such an intimate crowd is truly remarkable. After three years of making waves in the festival community, there was a lot of hype behind this Desert Hearts, yet the spot was most certainly not blown up. It was still very much a family affair with a small crowd, and that was really nice to see. It is also a very key characteristic that truly sets it apart from other festivals. With a small, intimate crowd, the Desert Hearts crew is able to pull off their goal of one stage, one vibe. And what a vibe it is.
As far as festivals go (not including regional Burns), the atmosphere at Desert Hearts may very well be the closest thing to Burning Man that I have experienced at a festival. Free bars, theme camps, climbing structures, and an absolutely hilarious sense of silliness and sarcasm. Seriously, this place is HILARIOUS. Desert Hearts also structures the ethos of its event around a few of the Burning Man principles, mainly radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, and leave no trace, with a decent dose of gifting. Imagine Burning Man if everybody was part of the same camp. Imagine Burning Man if it really was just a party. You can’t really properly compare anything to Burning Man. There is no way to describe it, and there is nothing like it. But its influence on Desert Hearts is clear, as the Desert Hearts crew has taken their favorite aspects of Burning Man and used them to create a standalone product that is incredibly unique, fun, and ridiculous.
On that note, with great fun comes great responsibility. Desert Hearts really is a fantastic place to learn about radical self-reliance. There are no showers, no water, and to a certain extent, no rules. No boundaries. It is up to you, and you alone, to set your own boundaries and follow your own rules. Social norms are a thing of the past, and you have one weekend to radically self express, completely cut off from the outside world. Not even God gets cell phone reception at Desert Hearts. You learn so much about yourself in doing this. You learn to push yourself to your physical and mental limits, if you so choose. And you most certainly learn that your life wouldn’t be the same without Desert Hearts. I guarantee it.
Desert Hearts is a social experiment. What happens when 3000 people gather on sacred, tribal land and listen to house & techno for 72 straight hours? What happens is absolute ludicrosity. Absolute energy. Absolute joy. Absolute community-building. It is a social experiment during the weekend that it happens, and it is a social experiment on a greater scale throughout the course of its development over several years. This event happens twice a year, with its 4-year anniversary coming this Fall. How long will this sustain? What power does a gathering of this type hold? How long can Desert Hearts remain intimate? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m excited to find out, one Desert Hearts at a time. Be silly, joke around, give gifts, dance with friends, express yourself, smile. Throw your adult responsibilities out the door for a weekend and come fuck around with your friends. Go to Desert Hearts. Ruin your life. It’s exactly what you need.
*All words & photos by Babak Haghighi (aka Spirit Shutter)