Techno Tuesday is a feature on Dancing Astronaut documenting the culture of underground dance music. We’ll bring you exclusive interviews, tracks, and narratives from artists within the techno, tech house, and deep house world in an effort to shed light on some of the best talent outside the world of mainstream dance music.
Most electronic fans know Desert Hearts as one of the most light, fun-hearted brands around. Its leaders Mikey Lion, Marbs, Porky, and Lee Reynolds have made House, Techno, Love a global mantra as they’ve continued to bring people from far and wide into their quirky and radically inclusive movement. Music at each show often falls on the grooving, tech-fueled end of the house scale—an energized and accessible sound that further amplifies the brand’s ethos.
However, there’s always been a dark side to the Desert Hearts as well; in a musical sense, that is. Marbs has marched to a slightly different beat than his Desert Hearts counterparts, treading deep into the rabbit hole of dark, driving, melodic house and techno. His penchant for underground sounds have made him an essential element during the late night hours at both the festival and tour stops worldwide, and a cult following has since grown around his treasured performances. Along the way, he discovered just how connected him and extended Desert Hearts family member Evan Casey were musically, and they began hitting the studio and performing together. The idea for Desert Hearts Black soon followed.
Desert Hearts Black now stands as a welcome subsidiary to the Desert Hearts catalog. With Marbs and Evan Casey at the helm pushing the name farther and farther outside its traditional aesthetic, they’re bringing Desert Hearts into a forward-thinking new chapter that is primed to receive international acclaim. Not to mention, a new niche finally exists for those craving the harder sounds that Marbs and Evan Casey bring to the table. They’ve paired with Rinzen, with whom they also share a strong chemistry, to create three-track Desert Hearts Black debut that is a quintessential embodiment of the ethos we can expect from the new venture.
Interested in diving deeper into ‘The Mind of Marbs’ and Desert Hearts Black, we say with the crew member and his co-founder in candid discussion about what’s to come.
You’ve always favored deeper sounds, Marbs, but even your own taste has changed over the years to an even fiercer, darker aesthetic. What sort of set you off on this path deep into the underground rabbit hole? Did you have a life-changing moment at a show, discover a certain record and dive in from there, etc?
I wouldn’t say a specific thing or moment led me to the sound I’m playing now. I believe really strongly in the importance of ‘the journey’ in everything, not the places we begin or end, but the places in-between. When I first fell in love with good electronic music I was candy-flipping for my first time at Love Fest in San Francisco when they still brought the art cars into the civic center for an epic block party. I meant to see Deadmau5 and got lost and ended up at Lee Burridge. That day is when I discovered good tech house. Shortly after that I found Plastikman at Coachella and that got me into techno. Within the last few years I’ve found myself paying more attention to movie scores than I ever had before. People like Hans Zimmer, Johan Johansson, and especially the duo who did the soundtrack to Annihilation (Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow) began blowing me away. Then hearing elements of these sounds from producers like Stephan Bodzin, or from labels like Afterlife, started sparking creativity in my own DJing and Producing. I think a merging of all of this is what I’m really reaching for now. If MAETRIK and Stephan Bodzin got smashed together and out popped a cinematic concoction that hit both sides of this spectrum, I think that would be what I’m reaching for. Something in-between techno, tech house, and a movie score.
Continuing on that, how would you describe your music taste, in your own words?
Journey-driven, heavy-drummed, melodic techno and house that focuses on an experience both inwardly expanding and outwardly connecting. Techno doesn’t have to be so serious; we can enjoy these sounds with a smile on our face. Just because it’s heavy and sometimes darker, doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it. Desert Hearts is about connection and love. That vibe works for all of the genres enjoyed by our community.
How did you take your love for these sounds and develop your own unique artistic voice out of it? Tell us about your journey behind the decks and in the studio over the past years
I played deeper music when Desert Hearts first started. Then as we began touring I played a little more techy. More places were open to tech house in North America than Melodic Techno and Deep Tech at that time. I’ve always had an affinity for tech house, but my true love is in the harder more melodic sounds. I’ve noticed that over the last two years more and more dancefloors have been enjoying it when I went down the rabbit hole and played more journey driven music, so I kept following my heart and that path. My first release, Tusks and Tales, in 2016 was a combination of the deeper and more tech house driven music I began playing early on in my career. Now after putting my head down and really focusing on what I want my productions to sound like, I’ve teamed up with Rinzen and Evan Casey for my second release titled Torus and I’ve found my musical voice in a place that fits perfectly into my current sound and that’s a really good feeling to have. I’ve learned a lot since my first release and I took the time to really focus on what kind of music I want to create and I think that shows in this EP.
What are some labels you’re loving right now that really reflect your sonic ethos? Other than Desert Hearts Black, of course
There are so many labels I look up to, but a few that really resonate with me are Prisma Techno, Phobic, Tau, Afterlife, Rebellion, and Parquet.
On a similar note, what artists are really inspiring to you right now and why?
Patrice Bäumel has always been a huge inspiration both as a musician and as a person who carries himself in a manner that’s admirable. He’s humble, but also insanely talented, professional, and productive. Those are the qualities I look for in role models and idols.
I also really look up to Tale of Us and Mind Against. I have not connected with them in the way I have with Patrice, so I cannot speak about them outside of their talents, but what they’ve done to push genres forward is really inspiring. The future of this music, and all music, is the bridging and evolving of genres. These two duos are doing just that.
Evan and Marbs – how did you two meet and discover your mutual love for all things melodic and tech driven, and when did the idea to create an entire sublabel materialize?
Marbs: We first met at a warehouse party thrown by our good friend and DH co-founder Kristoff called The Psychedelic Lovebox. We were introduced on the dancefloor as people who needed to meet each other because of our similar tastes in music. Little did we know what that would develop into. Over the next few years we increasingly became closer, mostly through music, but also through getting to know each other outside of our love for music and discovering we resonated on a spiritual level as well. We quickly grew into best friends and ended up living together during Evans transition from San Diego to Los Angeles in 2018. That’s when everything really materialized. Then when Evan moved to LA he met Mike (Rinzen) and a good friend of mine had been telling me that I needed to get into the studio with Rinzen for some time, but I hadn’t met him or connected with him yet. After Evan and Mike met and started working together I joined in on a studio sesh with them. Quickly, after we met, we made Torus and we were blown away at the synergy between us. We completed the title track in two sessions, which was a lot quicker than any of us normally produce tracks. That fluidity and speed continued through the next two tracks on the EP. It just flowed.
After the completion of Torus I had brought up the idea that there should be a sister label to DHR, “like a black label or something.” We immediately loved the name Desert Hearts Black. Evan and I jumped on the idea, Mike gave us support and advice but wanted to focus on productions, so we followed our intuition and chipped away at the vision. A lot of hard work and a few months later Evan and I had made the idea a reality.
Evan Casey: That warehouse meeting was really cool because there was an immediate connection between Marbs and myself. I knew this community I had discovered was something really special.
As for the music, we just loved a lot of the same artists, and it really showed in the way we played and the tracks we pulled. Life and Death really changed everything for us; those dark sounds set a whole new mindset in motion about the experiences we wanted to have and also create. Then, over the years we became closer and closer, and well known within the community for sharing the heavier side of dance music.
We have always talked about having a space to share the darker, heavier sounds we love to play and experience ourselves. Desert Hearts Black has been a long time in the making, but only recently felt like we were ready to create and build it properly. We are both so excited to share the things we’ve been working on, and the great music we’ve been collecting. Exciting times ahead!
Can you two talk about the niche following within the Desert Hearts community for the sounds you guys push, and how it’s grown over the years?
Marbs: The late and early morning hours of the festival definitely breed a different part of the community. Everything from Techno to beautiful deep techy sunrises can be heard during those blocks. Every year the thirst for those hours grows. I was blown away by how many people were on the DH dancefloor this year through sunrise for mine and Evan’s b2b set. As the community grows with us their curiosity and maturity grow as well. I know when I first got into this music it took me a little while to find and enjoy it the way I do today. I assume it’s the same for a lot of people. Now we have this niche within the community more so than ever and it continues to grow constantly. What better way to water that plant than to create a DH sublabel that the niche can connect with without having to look outside of the community.
Evan: Its amazing! The amount of kind words, excitement, and love we got walking around the fest this year prior to our set was overwhelming. People sharing how much they resonate with our sounds and the weighted journey it takes them on into the late night. We are in very special company to have played a 4 hour set at DH and its something I will never forget, and like Marbs said, everyone stayed with us until the end! That niche following that I remember playing to at 4am in the freezing cold years ago, is now a massive dance floor fully engaged, its really special to see the growth and support. It means the world, and we truly hope to continue to foster that growth and those experiences moving forward with the new label.
You and Evan are behind a Desert Hearts set that will surely go down in Desert Hearts history. How often had you guys played back-to-back beforehand, and how did you prepare for those four hours?
Marbs: We had actually only played b2b a handful of times before that and I’d refer to those times as “jam sesh b2bs” more than official ones. We had talked about playing together many times and Evan actually had a dream while he was sleeping once (before we became close friends) about us DJing at Desert Hearts together. He said it was so vivid and lucid that it was profound and it made him think about us working together more seriously. Fast forward a couple years, we make Torus with Rinzen, decide to create a label, Evan asks me to be his best man in his wedding, and then the obvious next thing was for us to play together at DH. The only prep we did for the set was us creating genre specific playlists. The genres matched, but we organized our music in those playlists completely separately. That’s about it. We made an intro and the rest was impromptu, or free-styled.
Evan: That night was out of this world. What’s funny about this question in terms of preparation, I would say the connection and relationship we’ve built and the trust we have in each other is what really prepared us. Marbs is my brother, I know how he operates and how selflessly he gives to others. When you have that type of trust, everything just clicks. What I loved most about our set together at DH is how little we discussed things, but were just completely locked in. Pretty much just set a beginning moment, a closing moment, and then let the journey take somewhat of an organic and open direction. The dream Marbs spoke of was wild, its like I had already seen things unfold and knew that it would happen when the time was right. Its hard to explain beyond that, it was really powerful. So when the festival came around, we knew we had the music, we had the trust, and we had the community ready to journey with us…and honestly, it just couldn’t have gone better. Incredible memory that we will always hold.
What do you hope to accomplish in running Desert Hearts Black?
Marbs: We want the community to have more outlets without having to stray away from the Desert Hearts circle. DHB allows those in the community to experience Melodic Techno and House while still being surrounded by the DH vibe and energy. DHR is such a great representation of our community and Mikey Lion has done an absolutely incredible job at executing that. He’s been such an inspiration to me and has always been someone that has pushed me to grow and evolve. DHR reflects the tech and house groups of the community perfectly and I couldn’t be more proud of Mikey for creating that. DHB aims to do the same for the music that plays during the late nights and early mornings of the festival … the darker, weirder, deeper sounds. Something we want to focus on with DHB is that it’s not all going to be techno or melodic. Some of the releases may be more chill and ‘heady,’ others might be full blown techno, and sometimes they’ll be somewhere in the middle. The main goal is to just open up more opportunities for our community to create and grow.
You mentioned a bit ago how you two and Rinzen came together for Torus before, but can you tell us the full story on your union? What roles did you each play through the EP’s production?
Marbs: Evan started working with Rinzen when he moved to LA. Then I started joining them in studio sessions. Rinzen is very technical and has an incredible understanding of Ableton. He’s also brilliant with synthesizers. Evan has somewhat of a background in piano. I have a decent understanding on Ableton as well as working with synths, but the main contribution I think I have, as well as Evan, is the vision and idea of what we want to accomplish musically. I’ve been touring heavily and have an ear that I’m proud of, which creates a thirst in me for pushing genres into new areas. Something really happens when the three of us work together that doesn’t happen with other collaborations we’ve experienced. We’ve all agreed that it also doesn’t work the same when we are alone. The three of us all work the gear and swap in and out of positions, but the magic is in the merging of our minds and visions.
Evan: I like this story a lot because the way everything came together seemed by such chance but now seems meant to be in a way. A couple weeks before DH two years ago, I got an email from Rinzen who I’d never met, with some tracks he wanted to share. He said he loved what I do musically and thought I might like his tracks and have them for my DH set. The tracks were great, I thanked him and said we should link up soon. A couple weeks later, I went to his studio, we hung for a bit and then started to write a track. Two sessions together and we wrote Fractal, which got signed to Parquet! So needless to say we both felt we had found something special in this dynamic.
After sharing all this with Marbs, we thought let’s all try and write something together, as we have similar tastes all with a slightly different focus. The outcome of this well exceeded our expectations and we wrote the 3 track Torus EP, set to come out on Desert Hearts Black. Our chemistry in the studio is wild, and something we are very excited to continue pushing to new levels. A very special dynamic was born, and a major factor in the timing of DH Black.
Back to you now, Marbs—as someone pushing a sound not too commonly in the states, how has the reception been nationwide as you’ve toured around? Do you think that there will be a trickle down effect and melodic techno will become a niche as big in the states as it is in Europe?
I think with time, yes. When I first started touring with the rest of the DH core years ago, people were still growing into tech house in many markets of the U.S., so techno and melodic sounds weren’t as well received. Now every market we go to is into tech house and more people are showing interest in other sounds. I think as these groups grow and their tastes evolve that more and more people will get into other genres of house and techno. As I said earlier, the amount of dancefloors enjoying the harder more melodic sounds grows every year. This is bound to continue and as it does, DHB will provide a space where people can find this music. DH has been a doorway for a lot of the younger generations getting into electronic music. It’s served as a space where people can discover and grow with that music. DHB is an avenue where this can continue even for the people who walked through that doorway years ago.
Curious to know – has your evolving musical taste ever influenced the direction/look of your visual art? Do you think all sides of your artistry are intrinsically linked?
100%. My music influences my visual art and vise versa. If I ever feel blocked with one I do the other and 9/10 times it sparks creativity to get through the blockage. Everything influences everything, our moods, our environments, our relationships … so it goes without saying that music and art influence each other tremendously. I never do art without having music on, and I often create music after doing, or enjoying, art. It’s linked forsure.
What are the next things happening in yours and DHB’s pipeline?
Europe! I’ve toured a lot in the U.S. but now it’s really time for us to spread the DH love across the pond. I’ve began to dip my toes in over there having played both Sisyphos in Berlin and Secret Solstice in Iceland the last two years, as well as my London debut with the DH crew just two months ago. We also have Spain, Fiji, and Australia on the horizon this fall. For DHB, it’s only the beginning but we have some amazing releases lined up and we plan on Desert Hearts Black tour dates coming very soon so stay tuned!