Desert Hearts Texas Takeover Glammed Up Austin Shed Cedar Street Courtyard

Burning Man-like dance music party starred Damian Lazarus

Last week’s weather made a mess of festival plans. Carson Creek campgrounds: flooded. Emerald Point Marina: forecasted to flood. Verdict: a party that should have been an outdoor, under-the-stars local edition of Desert Hearts – the California renegade turned “Best Boutique Festival” (DJ Mag) – instead stayed inside on Saturday.

Photo by Jana Birchum

“Open-air” but roofed, the Cedar Street Courtyard throbbed with bass maintained at a strict, debatably neighborly decibel level until 11pm, when the volume went up. At 1:26 am, Damian Lazarus’ record skipped. Until then, the stream of house and techno had continued uninterrupted for 13 hours.

“It’s weird to see the stage when it’s not in the middle of the desert,” said Bobby Brownfield, a long-time Playa-goer.

Inspired by the Robot Heart stage at Burning Man, DJs Mikey Lion, Lee Reynolds, Marbs, Porkchop, and Kristoff McKay created Desert Hearts in 2012 with a party on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation in the Mojave Desert. Two years later, they founded an accompanying label on the appreciation of underground dance music and a lifestyle approach similar to the principles of Burning Man’s: come be/feel/make love, dress up, dissolve the boundaries, barter.

The idea caught on, successfully swelling an initial party crowd of 200 to over 5,000 and launching the DJs on a traveling City Hearts tour with an event brand that’s currently looking for a summer intern.

In Austin, a spectacular giant wood and rope stage with four unicorn-horns backed in red lace and purple fabric anchored the Desert Hearts aesthetic along with an endlessly collaged kaleidoscope of backing visuals and beamed lasers across a crowd whose costumes were dipped in glitter and dissolved in rainbows. Bedazzled, beaded, fur-lined, and lit-up, captains hats proved a staple, as did pasties, furry coats, and sequined jackets in the chilly, 60-degree weather. Instead of endless sand or giant trees in forested campgrounds, climbing vines traced one wall to the gods above from the long, shoe-box venue on West Fourth.

Damian Lazarus (Photo by Jana Birchum)

London-born Damian Lazarus, the Crosstown Rebels head known for DJ wizardry during sunrise sets in the jungles of Tulum at Mexico’s BPM Festival, played beneath a shattered glass mirror-ball that spun inside a splintered glass heart. He came on last, without his usual robes, weaving through bass-y house for a solid, near-two-hours of a constrained performance that recalled only hints of his usually expansive, rhythmically enchanting selections. His music cut out twice before he ended his set at 2am on the dot, with a remix of his own “Moment.”

Before him played Desert Hearts mainstays, among which England-born Lee Reynolds stood out for his exciting, up-beat work and wild grey hair. The ex-pro BMXer cuts a figure like Grandpa Joe in tie-dye with an inspired DJ’s ear.

French DJ Rodriguez Jr.’s much anticipated live set played with Traktor and an assortment of equipment culminated a wave of melodic, melancholic, trance-based work well foreshadowed by Canada’s Nathan Barato before him.

“If this was outside, surrounded by trees, it would be amazing,” said one partier.

Rodriguez Jr. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Find more of Jana Birchum's images from the dance party in our photo gallery.

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