Today he is the leader of DJ collective Desert Hearts, with Marbs, younger brother Porkchop, Deep Jesus, DJ Lee Reynolds, and Kristoff. Like a group of renegade house music rebels, the crew aims to bring back the simpler days of big dance festivals, with their mantra of "house, techno, and love." We spoke with Mikey Lion about Desert Hearts, magical moments, and his signature top hat.
The Desert Hearts crew takes over Audio Discotech this Sunday, August 3.
What was the main inspiration behind starting the Desert Hearts crew?
I think for the most part all of us were growing tired of playing and promoting club gigs that had so many restrictions when it came to partying. The Jungle Crew and I had just gone to Burning Man for the first time and we started getting more and more active in the San Diego Burner Community, which is a really amazing community I might add. Kristoff had been going to desert parties like Moontribe for years and Lee Reynolds was just in general the sickest DJ we knew in San Diego. Kristoff invited us all to a desert party he was throwing and that weekend we decided we should all team up and throw a party together. Our Jungle Crew had the club scene on lock, Kristoff had the desert crew on lock, and Reynolds had the veteran house heads on lock. The merging of these three scenes at our first Desert Hearts is what really made the whole thing so special and unique. Even from our very first 200-person renegade in the Mojave, people were saying we were going to be the next Lightning in a Bottle. It was that good.
With all these huge moneymaking EDM festivals, you guys seem to have a different mindset. What's your stance on the current festival circuit today?
I think today there is a huge lack of love being put into these monstrous EDM events. I was in Vegas last year to play an EDC after party and I ended up finding a free ticket to the festival. As jaw dropping as the production level was, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was at an ultra-corporate wannabe Burning Man. Every direction I looked was filled with neon lights, except instead of seeing these amazing projects built from love, I saw these god-awful interactive projects trying to convince people that Sony and Beats by Dre were the hippest, most cutting edge companies ever. Everyone figured out there was a lot of money to be made throwing EDM events and it became this massive exploitation of a dance movement that started with pure intentions.
What are you trying to do differently with Desert Hearts?
We really want to take it back to the roots of dancing and partying. Our whole mantra is simple: house, techno, and love. The more you put in, the more you get out. Dance music started as a movement of love and I think a lot of festivals forgot that along the way. One thing we've really embraced is having only one stage, one vibe. We want everyone at our parties to be on the same level mentally and physically. It creates this harmonious vibe with everyone completely in sync with one another. The music goes nonstop from 4 p.m. on Friday 'til noon on Monday and we take incredible care when it comes to programming the lineup. Headliners like DJ T. and Matthew Dekay played at sunrise and sunset because that's what made the most sense to us when trying to create these magical moments. Everything we do is to ensure we have the best possible vibe at our parties. We bring our Burning Man camp, the Pile Palace, to Desert Hearts so we can host open bar all weekend long, and we pay to bring out some of the best chefs in our community to cook food for everyone all weekend.
You guys have also developed quite a following very quickly. What do you attribute this to?
We've really just put out this positive energy and it's been incredible what we've received back. It's all about community, it's all about family, and it's all about sharing the love. People have really attached to what we're trying to do and they want to know how they can help. It honestly feels more and more like a movement every day. It's the love!
We heard your one-year anniversary was all sorts of crazy. What's in store for the two-year in November?
Our two-year anniversary is looking to be our best Desert Hearts Festival yet. We've locked in a beautiful, never-been-tapped campground just two hours from San Diego and three hours from L.A., our lineup is looking nicer everyday, and we're highly focused on bringing more art and community than ever before. People hit us up everyday wanting to get involved and work on projects. We're pretty much open to any ideas and if we like it, we'll do what we can to help make it happen. Because of this we've built this network of party pros that just want to contribute like never before.
What was it like being able to release the first EP from the new Desert Hearts Records label this month?
It's an absolute dream come true. I've always wanted to start my own record label and having Desert Hearts as the platform to do that is incredible. We've already done the hard part, building an ultra loyal fan base for our music. To be able to share the music that comes from the heart with so many people that want to hear it ... yeah, it's a dream come true for sure.
You usually DJ with a signature top hat. How many do you own and which is your favorite?
I've owned three, lost two, and found one. My favorite hat is definitely my second, because that's the one that came back. I was opening for Cajmere one night in San Diego and afterwards he wanted to try a San Diego-style California Burrito. I must have been in awe at the fact that we were going to go get burritos with one of my heroes, and I left my hat on the top of the car when we drove off. We went back and searched all over for it, but it was picked up and gone within 10 minutes of us leaving. About six months went by and I'd already gone out and bought a new top hat. But something about the new one just wasn't the same. On New Years Day 2014, I get a picture message from my brother and he's wearing my hat! Some random dude decided to wear it to Lee Burridge's All Day I Dream party in L.A. and my friends instantly recognized it and stole it back. That's when I knew 2014 was going to be a good year.
If you and your crew were stranded on an island and only had one song to accompany you, what would it be and why?
Orbital's "Halcyon On and On." Something about this song reminds me how lucky we are to live in world as beautiful as ours. If everyone on the planet listened to this song at the same time, I really believe there would be peace on earth. If only for nine minutes and twenty-seven seconds.