Beyond the Booth is a feature dedicated to the hidden side of artists that exists outside electronic music— a side rarely discussed with those outside their immediate circle. We venture “beyond the booth,” so to speak, and dive into their deepest passions that tie into their unique personalities. After some self-introspection, each participant then returns to the booth, providing an exclusive mix for the Dancing Astronaut audience.
Every successful brand is held up by people working ardently behind the scenes to maintain its vision and prosperity. For Desert Hearts, that role largely belongs to Marbs — lovingly nicknamed ‘Papa Marbs’ by his followers.
Marbs’ humility and focus behind the decks gives him a commanding energy that fills the room as soon as he takes his turn to perform a set. He becomes a shaman of sorts, with his witnesses becoming hypnotized as he keenly works his way through dark and psychedelic shades of house, tech house, and techno with finesse. His intense focus on his craft is magnifying, making him a crowd favorite and one that attracts many to his sets alongside his other Desert Hearts family members.
The technoshaman’s creativity expands far beyond his music, however. In fact, Marbs is more or less the primary creative force behind Desert Hearts, creating all of the brand’s visual artwork while also playing a significant role in events organization. Art is instilled in his blood — since early childhood and through his school days, he’s been known as a “doodler.” His skills have since translated into an extensive portfolio of breathtaking artwork across multiple mediums. In fact, Marbs’ passion for art helped catalyze his immersion into the transformational circuit as a party purveyor. He constantly feels an itch to create, which led him not only to find his other Desert Hearts founders, but also to deepen his own visual skills with the help of music. He was never meant to follow the status quo.
Before he sets off on an extensive City Hearts tour (information and tickets here) with his colleagues across the US, with one stop being the inaugural City Hearts Festival in LA, we caught up with Marbs to discuss his intense connection with visual art, music, and his vision for Desert Hearts’ future. Marbs has also provided a brand new mix filled with grooving pieces that set the tone for what to expect on the tour.
When did you get your start in visual art, and what was your first major art program?
I’ve been doing art since before I can remember. Drawing came very naturally for me and was always very calming. I didn’t take any classes until I was in high school, and even then I didn’t apply for them. The major moment that really sparked my artistic growth was when my sophomore English teacher from La Costa Canyon High School walked me out of class for not paying attention while drawing. I was often in trouble for this during lectures. This specific English teacher was a cool, older hippy and an absolutely wonderful teacher. She loved my art, but at the same time wanted me to pay attention in class. One day, after having told me many times to stop drawing, she said, “If you’re not going to pay attention in class and you’re just going to draw all day then you might as well put it to good use.” She then walked me out of class right then and there, took me down to the AP art teacher and had me placed in honors art for the semester. I was able to skip all the prerequisite courses and immediately join the class. The art teacher was absolutely incredible and basically told me that I didn’t need to follow the curriculum because I understood most of the lessons already; all I needed to do was turn a project in on the dates that the rest of the class had work due, but I could do whatever I wanted with my assignments. She also gave me full access to all the art supplies, let me build canvases in class, and would let me work after hours as long as she was there. At the time, I was doing illegal graffiti on the streets, but once I started building 10-foot canvases in class and working in the alley, I didn’t really need to go hopping fences and running from security guards anymore. This was when art really excelled for me. I wish more teachers in public schools focused on magnifying the good qualities kids have instead of forcing them into a subject that they’re not interested in. If it weren’t for these two teachers, I may have never started painting and who knows what else I may not have experienced.
Do you come from an artistic family, or were you sort of an “outlier” in this regard?
For the most part, I was an outlier. My mother’s grandmother was a great artist, but in a more traditional way. Her son, my grandfather, could draw but only did it when I wanted him to. It wasn’t something he did on his own. My sister, Megan Marabella, is passionate about performing arts. She focuses on dance choreography and competitions.
What mediums do you prefer to work with best, and why?
My absolute favorite medium is simple pen, pencil, and paper. I love how detailed you can get with a fine-point black pen, while adding space with pencils for the shading and textures. You can really create a lot of depth and complexity with it. I also love to work on big surfaces. As I mentioned, I used to break into places to do graffiti murals while we skateboarded around North County San Diego. I loved doing that; it was exciting and working with cans was always fun. I also got into acrylic painting when I was in AP art. Then combining everything is where it became the most fun. I would layer spray paint as the background, use acrylic over the top to create depth, and then use paint pens and drawing techniques to further deepen the projects. I’m now getting more into digital media as well, which is a whole new world. Now that I do all the artwork for Desert Hearts Records, it’s pushing me to get into working digitally and even trying to learn animation.
Is there a particular era or style of visual art that you’re drawn to the most? Such as Roman Fresco paintings, impressionism, modern, etc.
Honestly not really. I love street art – the more trippy the better. Surrealism is one of my favorites for sure, and anything psychedelic of course. I think good art is timeless though. I was never drawn to a specific era or style. Funny story actually, the only art class I ever failed was a college Art History course.
Who are some painters (or visual artists) that inspire you the most?
Salvador Dali, Leif Podhajsky, Chuck Close, Ben Ridgway, Storm Thorgerson, our Desert Hearts artists of course 😉 … There’s so many. I think if you truly love art, it’s really hard to pick favorites. Inspiration comes from everywhere and everything.
What helps stimulate creativity to paint/create visual art?
Life experiences, traveling, psychedelics, and (maybe most importantly) music. Inspiration can come from anything though – from bliss, from heartbreaks, from love, from pain – it’s all part of the flow.
Is there a pattern of the type of imagery you feel compelled to place in your work (your stuff is amazing, by the way)?
Ideally, I like to have one organic object or a few organic objects as the focus, with complex line and detail work coming off of the objects in psychedelic patterns. The organic objects are often animals, people, portraits, skulls or bones from various species, partial landscapes, or plants. It all depends on what’s going on in my life at the moment, my emotions, the music I’m listening to, the chapter of my life I’m in. I often tell people that the art comes to me instead of me searching for what to make into art. There are periods when all I do is create all day and night, and then there are lulls for quite some time. To me, it’s all about the flow. You can’t force the creative process.
Let’s switch gears a bit – did your love for music come before, after, or at the same time as your love for art bloomed?
I think visual art and music are symbiotic – at least to me. I never make art without music playing. I think looking back, you could probably see the types of music I was listening to when you look at various projects from different times in my life. When I was listening to a lot of punk rock, my art was a little more raw or dark. When I was listening to a lot of hip hop, I was doing graffiti. When I was listening to Pink Floyd and psychedelic rock, the art became more abstract and trippy. Now, I think it’s a combination of everything I love, everything I live for, and everything I don’t.
Does the sound/vibe of Desert Hearts releases help you decide what its artwork will look like?
Definitely. I listen to each EP while I create the artwork; it helps put my mindset and mood in the right place, allowing my emotion to translate into the artwork. I think the best art, like most things, come when more energy and intention are put into it. The stories, emotions, feelings, environments, and influences that help us to create art clearly show through in the final product.
You’re about to throw the first City Hearts Festival – tell us more about that, and how it must feel to have grown so much that you’re able to make a mobile fest of sorts.
The City Hearts Festival is a big stepping stone for the story and journey of Desert Hearts. For one, it marks our 5-year anniversary – and to look back – it’s mind boggling. We’ve experienced, learned, and grown so much in this time. On the other hand, it also marks a new chapter for us as we begin bridging into more philanthropic work. We want our message of love and good energy to reach as far as it can. That means we want the ripple to travel outside of our direct community as well. We’ll be donating 25% of our proceeds to the LA Mission to help support the homeless communities of Skid Row and downtown LA. We have a platform to really make an impact, not only to the people who are part of our Desert Hearts community, but also for the wonderful communities that surround us. This is our chance to start giving back to those who live in the backyards of the beautiful places we get to share our music and art with. I like to use the analogy of our community being like a massive ship. We might be driving the ship, but without the crew, the engineers, the contractors, the boat, and everyone else who contributes to the ship, it would go nowhere. We’re honored and humbled to be the ones who get to direct this ship, but we’d be nowhere without our community. That feeling of true community is indescribable. We want to take this thing as far as we possibly can.
Are there other cities in the works for a City Hearts Festival?
At the moment, we’re just focusing on the LA festival, the spring festival, and our tours. Eventually, once we have the roaming festival dialed, we want to bring it to other cities of course; maybe Denver or Brooklyn, or even in another country. As we see it, the sky is the limit, but we want it to happen organically just like we’ve done with everything else in our community.
What’s next for you and the Desert Hearts brand?
Personally, I’m really focused on creating as much art, music, and positive energy as I possibly can. I’m digging deep into music production, learning digital media platforms including animation, and focusing on growing my DJ projects as well. For Desert Hearts, we’re just trying to continue spreading our ethos as far and wide as we can. We’re aiming to get over the pond and start bridging into Europe and Spain soon. Also, the record label is booming and we’re constantly working towards it being the best label available for our types of music. We’ll be starting to get into gear for organizing our spring festival right after the City Hearts Festival. Onward and upward!