Imagine a place in America without the bubbling turmoil of our political situation. A cloister where cellphones are useless, social media just a bad memory, and the only concerns about painful service cuts are whether the couple dancing next to you might offer a swig of their boxed wine or if you’ve got to run back to camp for your own.
The last time I went to Desert Hearts, the dusty, exhausting triathalon of SoCal dance music festivals, it was a little revelation: a 3,000-capacity utopia on a mountaintop Indian reservation where a small crew of deranged techno-hippies tried to make a new reality. In more optimistic times, it felt something like a way forward.
Last weekend, however, it also felt like a last resort.
For club-music fans across Southern California, 2016 was a body blow. Between the election and the Ghost Ship tragedy, it felt like the dream for a better, more inclusive future had been snapped in half. This year brought fans together with some new green shoots of activism. But you can’t stay angry all the time. Tension like this can’t hold forever.
This time, Desert Hearts had a twinge of what clubs in ’70s New York or ’90s Berlin must have felt like: When the world falls apart around you, there is solace — and maybe a bit of radicalism — in putting up your blinders for a few days and giving yourself over to another world.