For years, a movement has been brewing within the Desert Hearts community that’s seen a lot of its members turning toward a deeper, darker direction. At the center of it is Marbs, a founding member of the Desert Hearts crew who’s always gone a bit against the grain. Increasingly inspired by the melodic sounds found in labels like Parquet, Steyoyoke, and beyond, Marbs soon became known as the go-to peaktime DJ of the group. Then, he met Evan Casey.

He and Evan realized their creative chemistry shortly after meeting, in and out of the studio. Their drive to create something more attuned to their style resulted in taking on another collaborator, Rinzen, and soonafter, the Beatport-charting Torus EP was born. So too was the idea for Desert Hearts Black—a new subsidiary of Desert Hearts dedicated to these hypnotic sounds so close to Marbs’ heart. Alongside Evan Casey, the label and events brand was manifested, with an overwhelmingly positive response to its launch on August 9.

A month after the Desert Hearts Black materialized, we caught up with Marbs to dive deeper into his inner creative workings, his personal evolution since spearheading this new venture, and his DJing ethos as a whole. He’s also packed his podcast mix full of fresh new IDs soon to be released through the platform.

Hi Marbs, thanks for joining us! Tell us about what you’ve been up to lately!

Thanks for having me!

Lately I’ve been on a steady grind balancing between our summer tour, the launch of our new sister label titled Desert Hearts Black, staying productive in the studio, and focusing on my health. On top of that I just returned home from one of my favorite places on earth, Burning Man.

This was my 6th burn, but I took 3 years off before returning this year. It was, and always is, an incredible inspiration, a total reset, and a full blown energy bath. It felt really good to be back on the playa. I’d have to say life is really REALLY good right now.

You’ve just launched Desert Hearts Black—tell us more about the sounds you wish to push for the label and how the idea came about

When I started working with Rinzen and Evan Casey in the studio things really synced up. We completed our first track (the title track to our debut DHB release), Torus, in two sessions. It was remarkable how easily we worked together and how quickly we completed the first project. From there we got back in the studio and within a handful of sessions we completed Helix and then Ark. We were thinking of who to send the EP to and the idea came to me that I should start a sister label to Desert Hearts Records aimed more towards the hard, melodic, deep, and trippy sounds heard during the late hours of our Festival. It just made total sense.

The DHR label is heavily tech house focused and represents that group in our community to the fullest. I’m so proud of what Mikey has done with that project. The idea behind DHR is to open up more opportunities and new channels for our community to express themselves creatively in these other genres that we love so much. I was nervous to ask Mikey and the rest of our core crew about starting the new sister label, but the idea was received with total support and love. With my heavy tour schedule, my involvement in everything DH, and a consistent studio life, I knew I would need help running this project and that’s when I decided to ask Evan Casey to join me. His musical taste is so in-line with my own and our relationship is so deep that I knew it would be a perfect fit. From the moment we decided to build this new imprint the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re getting amazing demos constantly and it seems like the community has been aching for something like this to represent this portion of our community.

I couldn’t be more happy about the way things are going. I can’t wait to announce the releases we have on the horizon. I’ve included a bunch of unreleased DHB tracks in this mix as a preview of what’s to come. I hope you enjoy it!

Right now it feels there’s a heavy emphasis on melodic house/techno. Do you see the label pallette broadening in the future?

Definitely. The idea behind this label is to represent the other genres we love so much often played during the late hours and early mornings at our Spring festival. Those genres include Techno, Progressive, Melodic House & Techno, Deep Tech, Minimal, Deep House, and even some more eclectic sounds. I can’t speak very detailed on upcoming releases, but we’re scheduled out through February 2020 and the sounds that make up those releases range greatly. We want the DH sister label to encompass a more wide spectrum of music to help represent the other interests in the community.

Right off the bat, tell us about something unexpected that you’ve learned in your time launching and running a label.

The most unexpected thing to happen so far is the quality of music that’s being sent to us. When we first decided to do this we were a little nervous about, one, how we would find enough of this type of music to supply a steady release schedule, and two, finding artists who wanted to release with us on a newly started label. Sure we had the DH foundation and DHR primary label to help with our clout, but we thought contacting big artists about a sister label with no prior catalog would be difficult to get people on board. We were blown away at the receptiveness of the label and the amount of excitement in people’s responses.

There’s a lot of really talented artists in our community and people wanting to get involved with Desert Hearts that make incredible music, but didn’t fit into the tech house style represented on our DHR primary label. DHB is now providing a platform for them to express themselves musically within our community. Just like everything we do in DH, it proves that if you lead with your heart the universe usually responds incredibly.

Going off of that, can you dive into some hurdles you’ve encountered in starting up the label and how you’ve overcome them

We’ve had a lot of scheduling issues, one with the internal catalog of DHB, and two by making it work with DHR primary. We had a very specific timeline and order for the releases coming out in these first 6 months, but life happens, things change in the artists’ schedules or lives, and adjustments have to be made. Just like with anything in life, if you trust the process and ride the flow then things tend to work out better in the end. This was definitely the case. The schedule and timeline now is a lot better than our original plan. The flow of music and how it sculpts the range of our catalog over the next 6-8 months is, in my opinion, better than it would have ever been if we were able to stick to our original plan. On top of that we have a lot of content and releases going out on our DH socials and the primary label, so coordinating with that has been tricky at times, but it’s a good problem to have. It means we have a lot of great stuff coming out and we want to give the proper attention to each item. Luckily we have an incredible team within the DH business as a whole and tons of support. Without the many people behind the scenes helping us with every aspect of the business, nothing would be possible. I’m very grateful to be working with such amazing people.

What’s your process for planning sets, especially ones like yours where the intent is to take listeners on a deep, entrancing journey? Does location, crowd, etc come into play?

My process is pretty simple actually. I just organize my music into “vibes,” or genres, before each show so that I can read the crowd and ride the energy of each dancefloor. That way if it seems they’re enjoying the harder techno sounds I can go that direction, or if they’re enjoying more melodic journeys then I can ride that energy, and so on. I’ve tried to plan out more of my sets before and it just doesn’t work. I really believe that music should be treated like a language, especially for DJs. When we’re sharing a dancefloor we’re having a conversation. It’s the DJ’s job to carry that conversation. Just like talking with your loved one or best friend, if I’m yelling my opinions and ideas the whole time it’s probably not going to be a very good time. Same thing when I DJ, if I just shove the music I want without any regard to how its being received then it isn’t going to be a vibe.

With this mindset it makes it next to impossible to plan out a set. I think it makes more sense for live shows and bands to have planned sets because it’s more of a “play-and-listen” environment, but on a dancefloor everyone is involved in the communication between the people playing music and the people listening to it. Location, crowd, and setting are huge for this. It’s like a psychedelic experience. The environment helps shape everything.

Tell our readers about some underrated acts they should be checking out right now.

Township Rebellion is at the top of my list right now. I saw them at Burning Man this year and it was some of the best music I’ve heard on the playa. Oscar L and Matt Sassari are really incredible producers in the harder tech world. I don’t think they’re underrated persay, but some people might not know them and I highly recommend them both.

Our good friend Rinzen is at the top of this list though. He’s quickly climbing to the top. His production knowledge is just mind blowing and as a DJ he sits with the best of them.

It’s clear you, Rinzen, and Evan have a special synergy in the studio together. How does a session usually look between you guys? Are there any specific areas in that you specialize in or is it a fluid process? Ie, you think of the melodies, Evan tunes the percussion, etc

I’d say the flow between us is pretty even. We all help with percussion, synth work, melodies, and idea curation. We switch off on the gear and move around the positions frequently, but Rinzen does most of the computer work and has a technical side that Evan and I just don’t have yet. I know my way around ableton and synthesizers, but Rinzen went to school for sound engineering and his overall knowledge is very impressive. Any crazy idea or sound we dream up, he can help us create it. He’s really taught me a lot, as well as Evan, and has helped me take my production skills to the next level. The dynamic between us was undeniable from the second the three of us started working together. I’m so thankful to call them my friends and collaborators.

After seeing such a big community form around Desert Hearts Black/the sounds you’re pushing in general, what’s your take on why people are so drawn to this?

I think that the same thing is happening for melodic house and techno that we;ve seen happen over the last 5-10 years with tech house. When we first started touring there were markets in North America that were still new to tech house. Now that genre is received well pretty much wherever we go in the U.S.

Now, just like with anything, as tech house becomes more in demand, it opens up the door for new genres to grow in the same way tech house did over these years. I’m noticing more dancefloors on tour enjoying the heavier, deeper, melodic sounds I play than ever before. We’re seeing brands like Afterlife doing massive parties in the U.S. now. The demand for more journey driven music is here. Musical tastes are constantly evolving. Everyone wants new experiences through sound, so it’s inevitable that new genres will grow with that demand. I think over the next 5-10 years we are going to see a massive increase in the amount of techno and melodic tech in the U.S. As for Europe, these sounds are already big over there and we can often look at them to see where the U.S.’s tastes will be in the next few years. I think that’s exactly what’s happening.

Melodic techno is having a huge moment globally right now, with more artists making this sort of music. What are some things you and Evan do to avoid trends and stand out?

We’re firm believers that the future of this music is the tasteful bridging of genres. I think that’s why the melodic house and techno genre was birthed. It’s combining sounds from a variety of genres and that’s exciting to music lovers. Looking ahead we’ll have to continue doing that inorder to keep things “cutting-edge.”

My goal, personally, is to combine the journey driven sounds we experience with the Afterlife team and people like Stephan Bodzin, with the energy of old school Maetrik and Tiga. Something between these two experiences is what I’m really reaching for. If these artists had a little baby together I think the combination of cinematic emotional sounds with high energy dancefloor percussion would yield an incredibly moving and energetic experience. It’s all about evolution and breaking genres.

What do you do to address writer’s block?

I draw or dive into art. I’m lucky to have multiple creative outlets and one of those outlets is art. I normally do them together. I never do art without music on and I often create art before or after working on music. I find that they feed each other. If I’m having trouble with one I do the other and vise versa. Other things that help me with writer’s block are nature, the ocean, psychedelics, and human connection. Psychedelics are a massive one. I would be nowhere without those experiences and they help me with every avenue of life.

Finally, what’s next in Marbs’ world?

I’m really focused on getting to Europe more, being in the studio as much as possible, growing DHB as far and wide as I can, and moving to LA. I’ve lived in SD most of my life and it’s time for a new chapter. My girlfriend and I are moving in with Evan and his fiance in the Fall/Winter. We’re building a detached studio in the backyard, which is a massive step forward for me. I’ve lived in condos since college and that has made studio life difficult at home. Now I’ll be able to work at home as much as possible and whenever I want.

Evan and I are ready to submerge ourselves in everything DHB and get lost in the creative process together under one roof. I’m so excited for everything right now and there have been so many amazing things that happened in 2019. I couldn’t be more motivated for all that’s to come in 2020.

Onward and upward!

Connect with Marbs: Facebook | Twitter | SoundCloud | Desert Hearts