Oct 29, 2021
6 min read
Mikey Lion is a conduit of bright white light, a vibe conductor of the highest order, and a champion of positive energy and dusty funky beats. Positioned at the center of the West Coast house movement, he’s one of the founding members of the Desert Hearts crew. Alongside his brother Porkchop, childhood friend Marbs, Lee Reynolds, and Kristoff McKay, he’s created a loving community of wide-eyed dancers that believe house, techno, and love can change the world.
He embarked on his sonic journey at the age of 13. Young Mikey was a massive hip-hop head. When his parents offered to buy him any musical instrument, the DJ culture-obsessed teenager chose Technic 1200s. Undeterred by the fact that his parents didn’t think turntables were an instrument, he bought his own six months later. Mikey immersed himself in the world of turntablism and eventually proved to his parents that his decks were just as impactful and beautiful as any woodwind, piano, or stringed instrument.
“They saw how much I was obsessed with it and they saw how it could be a musical instrument. They ended up paying me back and just been my number one supporters ever since. My dad drove up to San Louis Obispo where I was going to college and surprised me for my first official gig at a bar. They were there the first time that I played Lightning In A Bottle. Now my mom does our accounting for Desert Hearts.”
When he was 17, he went to his first Coachella. His first festival was a life-changing day not just for him but for dance music culture. Coachella 2006 was a flashpoint.
“I didn't have any idea what I was getting into," he remembers. "And the very first time that I took my very first ecstasy, which also happened to be the very first time I ever heard dance music at the debut of the Daft Punk pyramid.”
The steadfast hip-hop head was converted. “In that moment,” he explains “I'm just like, ‘Fuck hip hop this is what I want to do with my life from now on.’”
When he co-founded the Desert Hearts crew in 2012 he was several years into his journey in dance music. Attending Lightning In A Bottle and Burning Man inspired him and his crew to create something that could bring people together for the love of house and techno. The first renegade in the Mojave Desert was a near disaster. 200 attendees huddled around a campfire on the dancefloor with no sound until 6 am Saturday. And from then on things locked in. Desert Hearts has now grown to encompass a record label and a global community of thousands.
“It came from this really pure hearted place of just wanting to make the world a better place, wanting to build community wanting to show people, how they can be a part of community, how they can go back and create their own parties, their own communities themselves. And really, I think that that's, that's the stronghold foundation of our of our entire brand.”
Mikey has countless stories of Desert Hearts fam sharing how Desert Hearts has changed lives. “One of my favorite stories is this woman came up to me and Lee at Lightning In A Bottle a couple of years ago, pregnant woman, and she just grabs our hands and puts our hands on her belly. And she goes ‘this baby was conceived at Desert Hearts festival.’ I've heard about Desert Hearts changing lives countless times. But never heard of Desert Hearts, creating life.”
During the pandemic, Desert Hearts strengthened their community in an entirely unexpected way. The crew hopped on the streaming game early, and the nightly Desert Hearts streams welcomed tens of thousands of people.
“I think the coolest thing about Twitch for us was just how amazing it was that we are able to provide this home for so many people online … It was such an unexplainable way of DJing. There's is a real deep connection that was made when I was playing music every Wednesday, It really was like, [we were] together alone. It was incredible.”
Mikey’s personal journey during the pandemic led him to reconfirm why he does what he does. After having a difficult time coping, he realigned his purpose and his place in the universe.
“I've noticed over the years that when I stray from the more spiritual path, which is trying to help people, trying to show people love, trying to just make the world a better place. When my purpose is misaligned, I think that things don't go nearly as well as they're supposed to. And so when I put out my album … I really wanted to make sure that I was completely realigning myself.”
His 2021 album For the Love is more than just a collection of psychedelic beats and basslines. It’s a declaration of love for the scene and his well-being.
He recently released, “This Is The Beat,” a continuation of the inner work that he established with his album. Given his newfound focus and intention, writing music has become a more organic process. The song was written on a surfing trip in El Salvador.
“The hotel that I was staying at had this million dollar studio…I ended up making that track, and basis for another track…It wasn't forced at all. I was going on vacation. And I had access to the studio, so I had some downtime in between the surf being blown out. I couldn't think of a better thing.”
Mikey’s newly aligned direction has been a source of clarity. He feels like he’s in the most comfortable space in his career.
“I know that when I play music, I have a very positive impact on people. And I've learned how to harness my own energy to push this healing energy out. When I was first figuring this out, it was something that I was always thinking like, ‘Whoa, don't let your ego get too big there, dude.’ But then it was like, oh wait, no this is a real thing that is tangible. And I can see the effect that it's having on people. So, if you just lean into it and harness it, it's working. And oddly enough, once I've started moving myself in that newly aligned space, gigs have been better, parties been better. Everything's just been better. So that's my goal now.”