Interview: Mikey Lion from Desert Hearts

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City Hearts LA. Credit: Jamie Rosenberg

When Mikey Lion's Desert Hearts crew hosted City Hearts LA, bringing their sandy feels to the urban jungle, they shared an exclusive playlist with us. Now, right before their New York incarnation, happening tonight, correspondent Ziv Bitton had a conversation with Mikey Lion about life, love, and happiness. Pick up tickets to tonight's show here.

Ziv: Hey, Mikey Lion? Or Mr. Lion?

Mikey Lion: [Laughs] Mr. Lion!

Ziv: We’ll go with Mr. Lion then.

Mikey: What’s up man.

Ziv: How is your arm?

Mikey: My arm is doing great. Pretty crazy what technology can do these days. I mean, I broke both bones in my left forearm and they didn’t even put a cast on it. Took me to surgery and put two metal plates in my arm. Just told me to start moving it as normal as soon as I can, and we’re almost there.

Ziv: How did that happen?

Mikey: I was bombing a hill on my skateboard. It was the night before City Hearts LA and I was bored waiting for my girlfriend to come home. Just picked the wrong hill. Super bad asphalt.

Next thing I know I’m flying down the hill, barely hanging on. At the bottom there was a gutter area, super bad, broken up concrete. I tried to navigate through it. Like, “If I make this, I’m good!”

Didn’t make it.

Totally mangled my arm.

Ziv: You couldn’t Colemen? Or were you not wearing pads or anything?

Mikey: Nah man. I surfed and skated my whole life; most have bombed a thousand hills by then. Just picked the wrong one this time. It really sucked because I missed our City Hearts LA party.

Ziv: Ah no way!

Mikey: Yea, I was trying to go! It was at the Belasco. But my mom and my girlfriend were like, ‘what the fuck, you aren’t going anywhere.’

I heard it was a great party. 1800 people showed up! We had fire spinning on the deck and everything.

Ziv: I love your aesthetic. Every DH event I’ve gone to has been beautiful. Where did you get inspiration for your setups?

Mikey: We got a lot of inspiration from Lightning in a Bottle and Burning Man. A lot of the core principles of Desert Hearts, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, those are things we learned from Burning Man. That’s what really started it all for us.

I’ve been going to Coachella since I was 17. Coachella was always in my mind. It was the best of the best, I’m going every year, no matter what.

It must have been 2011; we went to Lightning In A Bottle and it blew me away. It was my first experience with burner culture and just, non-mainstream festival culture. I had an epiphany there. “This is the best party in the world!” Then one of my friends said, “No, man. You have to go to Burning Man.”

We all got tickets the following Monday and went to Burning man and phew, crazy.

Ziv: Everyone I’ve ever spoken to always goes to Burning Man on a whim. It’s never, ‘we planned it for a couple months.”

Mikey: Well, we thought we had it. We were throwing this party called Jungle at the time. We were going out there as 8 Burning Man Virgins. We thought we would have the sickest camp ever, sickest tent party, we did all this trip work. But Burning Man kicked our asses.

But that was the best thing that could have happened.We got involved with the San Diego Regional Burn. We wanted to make that our redemption for blowing it at Burning Man.

That was the first time we hosted an open bar. We had music. It translated into what became Desert Hearts. Slowly, we started to learn, through hosting camps at Regional Burns.

But we also get a lot of inspiration from our community. We see how other camps affect our community. We try to make a new spin on the things we interact with. It’s been a lot of trial and error.

But the entire point of Desert Hearts is to spread love through music and community. We make it known that that is why we are gathering. So everyone in attendance goes into it thinking that.

Ziv: What does community mean to you?

Mikey: Community is our family. When we started Desert Hearts there were, maybe 200 people at the first one. We just wanted to have a party with all our friends.

At the very first Desert Hearts there was this small camp called Live and Love Lounge. It was a tiny rickety little setup, but they were serving food the entire weekend, to anyone on the dance floor. Fast forward three years and they have become this huge camp. They come to every Desert Hearts and they feed everyone. All the volunteers. Anyone dancing. They were a two or three person crew, now they are 40 person camp.

When we are able to foster things like that, these sub-communities and sub-camps… I mean, these people who look forward to Desert Hearts all year.

Ziv: I went up to Desert Hearts with one best friend, and I left with five new ones. We hang out every weekend now.

Mikey: That’s so beautiful, man. I really appreciate you telling me that. Every time I hear a story like that it makes me so grateful [that] this things we created has impacted so many lives. Every time I hear that it makes everything totally worth it. It’s a ton of work, but it’s totally worth it.

Ziv: Tell me about the work.

Mikey: We meet up every week. We are constantly researching, how can we make things better. We really pay attention to the lineup. Having the right balance of nighttime techno vs. deep house in the morning.

I think a lot of [festivals] keep the headliners locked in. You know, ‘you’re the headliner so you play at 10pm.’ Where we’re like… you might be the biggest name on the lineup, but you make the most sense at sunrise.

Ziv: How is Desert Hearts Records?

Mikey: It’s our baby. We started it to put out our music. We all produce and we wanted an outlet to share our music with everyone.

When it started off, we went through the traditional routes. We went to beatport and all the online stores. But we thought about it. What’s more important to us? Getting our music out there and getting our name out there and making an impact, or selling a small amount and try to chart?

Well, the whole ethos of Desert Hearts is giving back and spreading love through music. So we decided to give all of our music away for free.

The response has been huge. Our soundcloud page has blown up. It’s only been around for about a year, and it’s grown massively.

We also release all of our live sets from the festival. It’s really cool. People go and experience it firsthand at the festival and then they get to relive it at home.

Ziv: What is under your hat?

Mikey: [Laughs] I have some green hair under it right now. My hat is my thing, man. I got a top hat for my first Burning Man. At Burning Man I was like, ‘I’m never taking this off again.’ That was when I became Mikey Lion. The hat symbolizes that transformation.

Ziv: What animal would everyone in the crew be? Specifically, what animal would Lee Reynolds be?

Mikey: [gasps] haha Lee is not an animal, Lee is an alien! 100% Lee Reynolds is an absolute alien. I have never met anyone who is so diehard about loving life. He is the ultimate ball of good energy. He was an ex-pro BMX rider in the 80s and 90s and that’s why he lives to the extreme. He pushes it to the limit with everything he does. He’s the most amazing alien I have ever met.

Porkchop is a pig.

Deep Jesus is probably a wolf. Some sort of wolf-ish type thing.

Marbs would be a poppa bear. He’s the most reliable person in the world.

Ziv: If I took these archtypes and made a mystery solving Desert Hearts crew, like Scooby Doo, what mysteries would you solve?

Mikey: Where do we come from? What is our purpose? Well, actually I think I know our purpose: Spread love and positivity. Mystery solved.