Annual event featuring foursome of house and techno DJs doubles as a holiday toy drive for the San Diego community.
Lee Reynolds is a thrill seeker. It’s why he left his native England as a teenager to ride BMX for Vista’s Haro Bikes. It’s also why, along with fellow house and techno DJs Mikey Lion, Porky, and Marbs, he co-founded Desert Hearts in 2012.
What was born in the Mojave, and became a 200-person party at the Los Coyotes Reservation in Warner Springs, has slowly evolved into something else.
Not only does the annual soiree in the northeastern reaches of San Diego County now draw thousands, the foursome have expanded into both national and international markets.
After an upcoming hometown show at SPIN on Saturday, the Desert Hearts crew is scheduled for a variety of events from The Ocaso Festival in Costa Rica to the sea-bound Holy Ship! Festival — which sails from Florida to the Bahamas.
They also now run a record label, as well as an online shop that sells everything from canteens, earplugs, and tote bags to jewelry, t-shirts, and pasties.
But giving back and community service are also fundamental parts of the Desert Hearts brand. And it’s been that way from the beginning.
“We didn’t start it as a business,” said Reynolds from his home in North Park. “It was never intended that way. We noticed immediately after our first event that a community was starting to form around us. And that has always been the backbone of Desert Hearts.”
That community has allowed the quartet of Desert Hearts DJs to travel the world and build their brand into something that successfully keeps the party going. But after injuries forced Reynolds to make his transition from the half pipe to house music, he knew it had to come with something more.
“We realized we had the opportunity to activate people,” he said, “to build even more communities in other areas. And that’s when we started doing more fundraisers, events, and things like seasonal toy drives.”
Saturday’s event at SPIN will double as a toy drive, with 100% of the donations being personally delivered to underserved communities — by a motorcycle club associated with Desert Hearts no less.
And it certainly isn’t the first time. Each Christmas party Desert Hearts has thrown since the inaugural event six years ago has featured a toy drive. And it’s more common than not to have City Hearts events closely tied to charity.
Last year at a City Hearts event in L.A., the group took monetary donations, gifts, and packages, got on bikes, and personally delivered it all to the homeless.
They also recently raised $6,500 for the victims of the California Wildfires. It’s just part of what they do.
“We want to send a positive message to our community,” said Reynolds. “We treat people the way we want to be treated. And we help people who need help. It’s ok to have fun and inspire others to have fun. We’ve created a forum where people can really express themselves, get away from it all for a while, and figure out who they are. But we also want to help those who need it.”
As others start to realize the dollar value in what Desert Hearts is doing, all kinds of different offers are starting to come in. But Reynolds is confident in the “conscious and levelheaded” nature of his partners. And he’s even more confident in their ability to keep Desert Hearts the kind of business model that doesn’t work unless it’s giving something back as well.
“We’re lucky in the way that we grew the party,” he said. “It was organic, symbiotic, and was slow enough that we never had to get investors. So nobody is telling us what to do. And really, if we can’t keep it pure and true, then I’m not interested. That’s the kind of stuff that means more than anything. And there’s already enough bulls**t out there.”
Desert Hearts presents XMAS Hearts feat. Mikey Lion, Lee Reynolds, Marbs, and Porky
When: 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Dec. 22
Where: SPIN Nightclub, 2028 Hancock St., San Diego