“Did I tell you I got mistaken for a homeless person?”
“For a second time?”
It's almost midnight as the Desert Hearts crew wraps a wine-and-dine session outside Wynwood's Palmar. Group guru Lee Reynolds confirms that after being mistaken for a vagrant once in Chicago — by an actual homeless person — he and a similarly unkempt friend were recently offered food by a stranger.
“We had just gone out for this nice meal," he laughs. "We're smoking cigs, and this girl comes by and is like, ‘Um, there's still some pizza left in here.’”
"Did you take it?
"No, but only because I was full!"
Moments later, Reynolds and his fellow Desert Hearts members Mikey Lion, Marbs, and Porky hop into a Lyft headed for Club Space. The Southern California DJ collective is set to mix for the next 12-odd hours for a ravenous audience, a job they consider among the top honors in American DJ culture.
Despite — or perhaps because of — their unconventional presentation, Desert Hearts have cultivated a sizable following. DH began in 2012 as an outdoor party blending Burning Man values with a bygone era of California rave. It has grown from an underground, 200-person gathering into a beloved and trusted seal of quality nationwide. Whether it's a proper event or simply a visit from one of its members, the brand commands a devoted audience from San Francisco to Brooklyn.
Miami proved its loyalty this past Saturday, when hundreds descended upon Space to catch Desert Heart’s debut on the club's famed Terrace.
“When we were first starting to tour, we were throwing a party called City Hearts, and it was our way of bringing the Desert Hearts vibe to the cities,” cofounder Lion explains. When City Hearts took the gang to Miami for the first time in 2016, they came face-to-face with the 305's signature excessiveness and absurdity. The image of skinny, Speedo-clad weirdos waving inflatable balloons at the Electric Pickle stuck with them, painting the Magic City as "one of the most debauchery-ridden places to party in the U.S.,” Lion says. “Everyone was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is so Miami; you guys are getting the quintessential experience right now.’”
In January 2017, the group lost track of Porky following a gig at Treehouse and finally found him in the one place they hadn’t thought to look: behind the decks at another club.
In this instance, it just so happened he was kicking it with none other than dance-music innovator and Miami club favorite Green Velvet.
“I hit up our friend Gabe Duarte, saying, ‘Dude, have you seen Porky? We're fucking trippin'," Lion recounts. "He hasn't come home, and we're leaving for the airport soon. He's like, ‘Yeah, I'm I'm actually watching him go back-to-back with Green Velvet [at Space] right now.' What the fuck?"
While Porky describes DJ'ing alongside Green Velvet as “one of the biggest highs ever," the members of Desert Hearts universally agree the opportunity to headline a 12-hour set at Space is unique. To master a set of such scope takes the whole crew.
Porky brings the party, making him the perfect person to kick things off; Marbs prefers darker, more techno-oriented selections, which lends itself well to the pitch-blackness that sometimes envelops Space in the very early morning. Because Lion plays a more celebratory and house-oriented sound, he fills the sunrise slot followed by Reynolds, whose eclecticism makes him ideal to soundtrack the goofiness that sets in for the revelers who’ve stuck around for brunch.
And once you get the four of them behind the booth all at once to see things off? Absolute madness.
The night began on a relatively tame note, with clubgoers politely shuffling and mingling, but nothing over-the-top just yet. Leave it to Desert Hearts to pack a venue tighter from 4 to 6 a.m. than at midnight.
The crowd noticeably grew as Porky kicked things off with a wide spectrum of party starters, incorporating everything from old-school house to electro wizardry. It set the tone for the throwdown-ready, joyous vibe that pervaded the rest of the night and lasted into the late afternoon.
A memorable DJ set is a strange brew, a seemingly random confluence of elements adding up to a greater whole in which no one person has an ultimate say. But when that delicate balance is reached — like when the iconic melody of Fatima Yamaha’s “What’s a Girl to Do?” drops before giving way to Felix da Housecat’s “Silver Screen (Shower Scene)” and then “Sandwiches” by Detroit Grand Pubahs, all in a matter of five minutes courtesy of Porky’s selections and skills on the wheels of steel — it’s palpable both in the DJ booth and on the dance floor.
Around 3 a.m., a mania took hold. Dancers gifted cigarettes to strangers. Bros grabbed one another’s heads in disbelief. And couples could be seen necking between flashes from the strobe lights. A similar frenzy gripped the DJ booth as it was overwhelmed by the sound from the speakers surrounding the decks as well as the cheers emanating from all around. That unmistakable look of “Did you see that shit?!” diffused throughout the booth. A fan handed Reynolds and Marbs a custom vinyl slip mat. Desert Hearts proceeded to repay this act of kindness via hours of sonic insanity, spanning acidic, rubbery tech house and anguished calls for mass social action, to say nothing of the welcome appearance of Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” courtesy of Reynolds around 9 a.m.
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It’s the kind of set that’s possible only at Space and is a reminder of why the club remains a site of pilgrimage for voracious party animals and sonically adventuresome DJs alike.
According to Marbs — whose choice of heady techno made for an appropriate second act of the night — keeping a party going is a matter of respect for all involved. “It's a balance of staying true to myself but also being respectful of the things that are around me," he says. "I make sure that it caters to both the dance floor and the people that are DJ'ing before and after me. It's like a language. If you start talking about something with someone and they're not into it, you've got to change it up. I love techno, but if it's not working, I also love tech house or I'll play house. It's all about communicating.”
As evening gave way to morning, the DJs flitted in and out of the booth to attend to their own misadventures or catch up with friends and members of the Desert Hearts community. Perhaps that's the secret to Desert Hearts and Space — the enthusiasm of all involved tends to be infectious. If the DJs can go that hard until 1 p.m., surely your limbs can keep moving as well.