What is the meaning of life?
Well… that all depends on the person you ask. For San Diego-based producer and DJ Mikey Lion, the answer is spreading as much love and positivity as possible.
That’s why Lion (whose given name is actually Mikey Leon) helped co-found Desert Hearts back in 2012. The whimsical SoCal party collective has been pushing good vibes ever since. Almost a decade — and hundreds of festivals, events, and takeovers — later, he’s finally channeled his personal cosmology into a singular artistic statement: his debut album, For The Love, out May 28 on Desert Hearts Records.
“That was the basis of our first party: Let’s go create this love fest where we’re trying to create as much love and positive energy as possible,” Leon says. “That vibe has carried us to where we are today, and that’s why my album is called For The Love.”
Though his hometown of San Diego is at the very core of Desert Hearts, Leon says that San Francisco is the eclectic community’s sister city. “San Francisco’s always been one of the cities that completely gets the Desert Hearts vibe,” he explains. There’s a swath of Desert Hearts fans who call San Francisco home, and the first Desert Hearts event outside of San Diego was at Audio in San Francisco. Leon remembers that Haunted Hearts 2018 at 1015 Folsom was his favorite Halloween party of all time.
But most of all, Leon cites the historic values of the area, which he traces all the way back to the counterculture movement of the 1960s.
“The ’60s psychedelic movement in San Francisco played a huge part in us wanting to go there. The entire thing that we’ve been trying to push with Desert Hearts has been this message of spreading as much love and positivity as possible and San Francisco’s always had that. It’s never left,” Leon says.
Though he didn’t experience the Summer of Love for himself, Leon has long felt a connection to the flower-powered vibes of mid-century San Francisco. That feeling was fully crystallized during a powerful psychedelic experience in his backyard.
As Leon was cutting down jungle plants to use as decoration for a party he was throwing with fellow Desert Hearts founder, Marbs, he felt immense guilt in hurting them, but the plants assured him that because he was using them to spread love and positivity he was welcome to cut them down.
Two months after that trip, Leon helped launch Desert Hearts. The meaning he derived from that experience guided him to his debut LP.
“For The Love is all the lessons and feelings that I’ve felt over the last eight years of Desert Hearts and all the things that I’ve learned,” Leon says.
Over that time period, Leon has honed his sound, performing on many stages in front of plenty of packed dance floors. Songs like “Glide” with Sacha Robotti or “BOBBY” with RYBO were created for that environment. Driving basslines. Heavy drums. Grueling drops.
In contrast, For The Love demonstrates Leon’s desire to spread love and positivity to people in every listening space. To do this, he keeps the dance floor in mind but also seeks to reach listeners with lush chord changes, warm melodies, and heartfelt lyrics inspired by his relationship with his wife, Cookie.
“This is where my development has gone over the years,” Leon says. “I wanted to make an album you could listen to from beginning to end. It has the songs you can listen to in your home and the album progresses and gets harder and harder.”
“Above The Clouds,” the opening track on For The Love, is a spacey ethereal jam decorated with flickering piano chords that hover like aural fireflies. Also on the front end is “When I’m With You,” a sultry indie-dance piece dedicated to true companionship. Later down the record the groove takes hold on tracks like “Spot Freak” and “Burn With Me.” Two festival-ready heaters, peppered with alien blasts.
Leon also spreads love and positivity among his close friends with For The Love. Frequent collaborators like RYBO and Sacha Robotti prove they can go in any musical direction with him while new work partners like NorCal’s Justin Martin come into the fold because they resonate with Leon on a profound level.
“[Justin Martin] is always aligned on the same vibe as me. Never takes himself too seriously. Always trying to make everyone else’s day better. I knew I really wanted to have him on the album.”
Finally, Leon is directing love and positivity towards himself with For The Love.
“One of the main goals of this project is to establish myself as an artist on my own that’s not Mikey Lion from Desert Hearts,” Leon says.
Proving oneself as a solo artist after ascending as a part of a collective is no easy task, but after so many years together with his Desert Hearts cohorts Marbs, Lee Reynolds, and his brother Porky, Leon is ready for new adventures.
“I’m really excited for it,” he says.
As expected, COVID delayed Leon from taking this next step, pushing back the album almost a year from its original release date. But Desert Hearts TV — the Desert Hearts Twitch channel which has amassed over 100 million views since its launch — has been a cushion for him throughout this pandemic.
Throughout much of the pandemic, the Desert Hearts crew was responsible for 40 hours of programming per week on Twitch. With so much time to fill, Leon frequently found himself spinning solo sets for as long as eight hours, sliding in the nine tracks on the album numerous times.
“The reactions to my tracks have given me so much reassurance into what I’m doing,” Leon says.
Beyond Leon’s individual satisfaction with Desert Hearts TV, he is thrilled it has become a conduit for love and positivity throughout one of the most difficult periods of time on a global scale.
“Isn’t it unbelievable how much we need this music and how much we need our dance community?” Leon asks. “It’s such an essential part of our lives, and I think the main thing that the Twitch DJ revolution has really given these people is a sense of community when they’re feeling the most lost.”
As the possibility of live events becomes more and more realistic, Leon is eager to connect with his online audience IRL. He jokes about asking Desert Hearts attendees to wear name tags showing their Twitch usernames, but the suggestion isn’t all that absurd. At a recent drive-in show, Leon met fans of his Twitch streams who had only connected because of the communal nature of his online events.
Encounters like these give him hope for the future.
“I think it’s going to be one of the best seasons of dance music,” Leon says. “We’re going to hit it stronger than ever.”
‘For the Love’
Desert Hearts Records