Here at NEST HQ, we feel a connection between the foods we eat and our life experiences: the foods we enjoy reflect our past, and the foods we choose reflect who we are. As an act of expression, food touches many of the same cultural cornerstones as other lifestyle expressions such as art and music. With projects like the NEST Eats Cookbook, we try to explore the connections between different planes of artistry. For the latest in the NEST Eats series, we’re inviting artists to join us at restaurants that honor their heritages, where we share mealtime conversations with them.
This time, we’ve dined with Mikey Lion of the Desert Hearts collective, which has been one of the West Coast’s fastest-growing house and techno communities finding its own unique soul. Though Mikey is the most prominent face of the Desert Hearts collective, I hesitate to call him its spiritual leader, because I feel like Desert Hearts tries to engender the kind of community that has no center, where everyone revolves around each other in a continuum of music. The parties, hosted by the heroic DJs of the Desert Hearts crew – Mikey Lion, Lee Reynolds, Marbs, and Porkchop – evolved into a record label which has been lucky enough to host the music of artists like Dance Spirit, Doc Martin, Latmun, and Scuba.
Since Mikey Lion loves sushi, we chose to go to a restaurant called Kula Revolving Sushi Bar in Little Tokyo, where sushi moves on a conveyor belt and you pick plates as you go, or you can also order on a screen and have it slung out to you. Catch our Q&A below and find a gallery of photos from our time at Kula past the break.
So you said you like sushi a lot?
Mhm, for sure.
I get sushi around here all the time – Kazunori in downtown is usually one of my favorites, ever been to Sugar Fish or anything like that?
Sugar Fish is bomb, Kazu’s a staple, Hama right down there is fire.
I love Hama, they are all great. What more can you ask for?
Yeah dude, Little Tokyo, it’s amazing. I live on 6th and Spring, so it’s all walking distance from me.
That’s right near LA Cafe and Exchange.
Yeah, it’s right next door to Exchange. It’s pretty hectic.
Must be convenient if you had to do a set there.
It’s very convenient, I love that. It’s cool, like Halloween was Claude VonStroke and Worthy. So to just pop down there super easy and pop home is great.
You did City Hearts at Exchange last time, right?
We’ve done a City Hearts at Exchange before. I don’t think we are gonna do more City Hearts there, but we are gonna do Desert Hearts take-overs there. It’s hard to get the full scope of City Hearts parties there. We have a bunch of live painters, fire spinners, all kind of vendors, so it’s kind of hard.
Did you try to do that all at Exchange?
We did. It wasn’t the right fit for putting all these pieces together. Our home is really the Belasco Theatre. They pretty much just give us the keys to do whatever we want there. The guys there have been super cool and have come out to Desert Hearts.
Nice, oh really?
Yeah, at first he was like, “Oh, for sure I’ve been to Desert Hearts,” kinda blowing smoke up our ass to get us in there. It became apparent, and we were like, “Yeah right dude, no way you’ve been to Desert Hearts.” But now because he loves our parties so much, he, his wife, and his brother come out to Desert Hearts a bunch. Now that he gets the real festival vibe it’s a whole other ball game.
Have you been out there before?
Yeah, it’s funny. I feel like in my time out here, your parties have been a string that I’ve thread through it all. It’s pretty dope because I feel like you didn’t plan that at all, you just threw parties for yourself in the beginning.
Dude, completely. When did you start going?
The first one I went to was in fall 2015. I did not come prepared for how cold it was.
Ha. fuck no. Fall is cold. Fall is fucking freezing.
Are you gonna go back to doing it twice a year?
No. Not two Desert Heart Festivals. It’s just too much, and we let everyone know that. Eventually, what we’d like to do is have this City Hearts Festival be a two-day with an afterparty-in-the-middle type festival in LA.
How’d you get the land for Desert Hearts?
Here’s the main story behind Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. We started at an underground spot in the Mojave Desert that Moon Tribe has been using for years, so we went out there and had our first Desert Hearts, then we moved to this spot in Apple Valley, this ranch –
That’s pretty far to get there, yeah?
Yeah, it’s a mish, it’s like three-plus hours. In Apple Valley, it’s this super cool ranch that was perfect. They have desert parties there all the time. We got in touch with La Jolla Indian Reservation, so different than Los Coyotes, and they would always throw parties in the bottom of the canyon. We thought, if we throw a party here, we’ve gotta throw it high up on the mountain and create the sickest dance floor ever, so basically the Funktion Ones carried throughout the entire canyon and pissed off the entire reservation.
So they banned you?
Yeah, they said, “you guys can’t throw parties here anymore.” We started looking up all the reservations that could do it. This is five months in the making, so we find the spot, we’re psyched on it, the reservation is psyched on it. Nothing comes up to Los Coyotes, people don’t throw parties there, it’s just too far out there. They don’t have a casino, they don’t have anything that a reservation can be making money off of other than a campground.
So we went there and they were like, “We want you guys super bad, come throw your party here.” Ten days before the festival, we meet with the police chief of Los Coyotes, and it turns out that it was his birthday that weekend. We’re supposed to get the run down of what’s supposed to happen, but he said that if he has to guard this party on his birthday weekend and anyone gets caught with drugs or anything, we are gonna make it so the entire festival is shut down, we are gonna kick out everyone, and set up DUI checkpoints on the way out as we’re kicking everyone out. We’re like, what the fuck, he’s basically saying we’re gonna raid it.
It’s a week out, we had 1200-1500 tickets sold at that point, and we just lost our venue. So we go back to Apple Valley and asked, “hey, last minute can we pull this off here?”
So we go from not having a venue to going to Apple Valley, but we don’t announce where it’s going to be: we just say it’s in Apple Valley, and we’re gonna announce the day of via email. Well, a day before the festival, we get a letter in the mail from the San Bernadino County / Apple Valley Police Department outlining every permit that we are in breach of, and if we don’t shut down the festival they are going to shut it down for us.
This is the most-heart sinking moment ever, and we’re sorting out “Ok, what do we do,” so we lawyered up and figured out a way it worked with loopholes on the ranch. You can’t have more than 250 people on a property with amplified sound without a permit, and you can’t have more than 500 people without amplified sound. There’s 3 properties there, so we said there is 500 people on one property, 500 people on another property, 250 on the third property. Basically, we had all our documents waiting for them.
As soon as the music started, twelve police SUVs roll up on us, a fucking helicopter, like they are coming to raid. We’re just out there like here’s all our legal stuff. You guys can fine us but you can’t shut us down. They were like “god damnit,” like with all their raid funding, all their helicopter funding, they were like, “oh my god, we can’t believe we’re getting schooled by these hippies.”
They said, “we’re gonna check on you every day to make sure that theres no more people here then when we checked the first time.” It was so crazy, that whole experience. We got on the mic as the helicopter was rolling over, and we were like, “Everyone in your fucking tents NOW! We’ve got to make it look like no one’s here.” That was the scariest moments of our lives. Everything about Desert Hearts has been so momentum-based that if that momentum got shut down, it probably would have ruined our reputation forever.
It must have been a fun night.
Everyone was like, “fuck working, we are raging, I can’t believe we beat the cops.” Two hours later, a hurricane rainstorm rolls through and sideswipes the festival with gnarly rain, and it’s freezing cold. We’re just like, “What the fuck, we cannot get a break here!” Then right when we couldn’t take anymore, it started snowing. It snowed 3 inches. We had the festival in Apple Valley at the end of April. We worried it was going to be too hot, and it snowed. That’s what it’s like throwing parties in the desert.
After it snowed, it went perfect fucking weather the entire rest of the time. That was spring 2014. After that, we squared up with Los Coyotes, they fired their police chief, got way cooler and now we’re super tight with them. They let us do our thing and their people come out and party with us. It’s been this symbiotic relationship with them: as Desert Hearts grows, we want their community to grow too.
I mean, I don’t think you could have happened without their support. You needed a home.
[Suddenly, the machine bleeps.]
I think we just hit 15 plates, what does that mean?
That means we get the prize, comes out of there.
How’d you guys link up with Lee?
Marbs and I were throwing a party called Jungle up in North County., and Lee was throwing a party with his friends called Moon Shake in Mid-City San Diego. At the time that was it, that was the only two house & techno parties that we knew of in San Diego. Our party was on Thursdays, theirs were on Fridays, and they were both twice a month, so we ended up switching off every week, because we would never want to have them overlap.
All their people would come to our party, and all our people would go to their party. Then we met Christoph, he was the one that really the one that got us into the desert. He threw a party called The Psychedelic Sound Experience, and he invited all the Moon Shake DJs, the Jungle crew, but the music was all over the place. It would go from house into dubstep into psy-trance, so there was no flow to it but it was a sick party. It was Christoph’s idea, he said, “what if we all teamed up together, and did a party together?” Christoph started the very first Messenger conversation that said, “hey guys are we doing this?” If that wouldn’t have happened, I don’t think we’d be doing what we’d be doing.
Well, thanks to Christoph, right?
So with City Hearts, you’ve got the painters and fire spinners, and that’s what makes it different from the Desert Hearts touring?
Right now, we are doing a “Take the Ride Tour” that’s less production and more DJ gigs. We’ve been hitting a lot of smaller markets that have been amazing.
We played a gig in Eugene, Oregon. It was so dope. It was the last place you’d expect to have a super sick fucking house and techno scene.
How deep are you touring middle America?
Not very deep. Me and Lee played in Cleveland last weekend which was pretty cool. It’s still Cleveland, but we are going to Chicago playing at the Mid in December. Not too much in middle America. I just don’t think there is very much house and techno other than Chicago and Detroit.
Well, someone has to bring it there.
I know, but I think that they are fully on the EDM wave, you know?
Yeah, for now.
I don’t even know what goes on in the middle of the country.
You guys have booked a ton of crazy people. I think that’s one of the reasons you guys have built a community like this. You book people that no one else will book, you guys book people that people don’t even know they want to see.
That’s something we take a lot of pride in. The booking process and curation of the flow is the best meeting of the whole thing. We’ll figure out when everyone can play, what days they can play. We’ve had Droog play like 10 AM just because we knew that would be the best slot for them. It just makes sense with their music.
Some of my all time favorites have been Mark Houle for techno. That’s my favorite techno, I do the windmill when I listen to Mark Houle. Rodriguez Jr. for sure.
Did he do a DJ set?
He did the all live set.
The piano thing?
Oh my lord.
There’s a video online we posted that was our most viral content that we’ve ever had, I think it’s up to a million views, 0f just him destroying at Desert Hearts. All the comments are like, “where is this party at? Hippies in the woods.”
Other festivals are like, “oh you’re the DJ who should be at the top of the headline,” but at Desert Hearts, there is no top of the line or bottom of the line, it’s a line of flow.
Completely. It doesn’t really matter how big of a DJ you are. We make the rules on that. We are essentially curating an 80 hour DJ set of DJs, it’s like putting tracks together.
It’s like the more macro version of it. Last question, what are you doing next?
I think we are going to Europe in the summer. We are working on lining up all that stuff right now. I think we’ll get a villa together in Ibiza, and just put ourselves out there. Yeah, because dude, we have so much energy to share.
Do you think Europe is going to be receptive? I think there is a little pushback to the West Coast scene in Europe.
Yeah, I don’t know. That’s what they said New York was going to be like, but now New York is one of our biggest markets.
You just gotta keep going.
Yeah, like Jozif is from London and he goes, “I don’t even know what these kids are gonna think when they see Lee Reynolds partying hard as fuck next to you guys with the top hat on. It’s gonna fuckin’ blow their minds. You just got to go do it.”
The only way to do it is to do it.
Exactly. None of us knew how to throw festivals or parties outdoor. I didn’t know how to start a record label, but you just do it.
Agreed. Thanks, Mikey!
Find photos from our time at Kula below, and check out Mikey Lion alongside the Desert Hearts crew at City Hearts in LA this Sunday, Brooklyn in early December, or next summer in Europe, apparently.