This past weekend in Downtown Los Angeles, Secret Project kicked off its inaugural multisensory experience. While a music festival by appearance, as the subversive name suggests, Secret Project aims to upend predictable, stale festival tropes. Most obviously, Secret Project strives to set itself apart from the bevy of LA musical gatherings with its line-up: an impeccably selected roster of highly regarded yet underground house and techno artists. Think artists likely found in sweaty Berlin bunkers and tropical boutique festivals—such as Innervisions label heads Âme and Dixon, Bonobo, Bicep and Peggy Gou, and main-stage closers Carl Cox and Tale Of Us.
But while the handpicked musical selection of Secret Project is momentous, it’s the organizers’ careful attention to guests’ other senses that elevates the festival into unique territory. Coming from a rave background as a young Angeleno in the ‘90s, Factory 93 co-founder Meelo Solis has matured from a baggy-pants-wearing raver to an entrepreneur who runs one of LA’s most respected nightlife brands. As his musical tastes matured, so too has his appreciation of epicurean delights—so he decided early that Secret Project’s VIP treatment would reflect the maturity of the music.
“We’ve been inspired to do this type of festival, with these genres of music, for a while,” Solis explains. And, when he recognized the potential of this neighborhood, the seed for Secret Project germinated. It all started when making a walkthrough of the property—situated in a forgotten industrial corner of Chinatown, tucked under the North Spring Street Bridge and up against the LA River—preparing for another smaller party. Solis immediately noticed its potential: tear down a fence here, close off a street there, and take over the entire block. “So the inspiration to this exact festival,” Solis reveals, “was actually the neighborhood itself.”
The first tenant on this once remote cluster of colorfully graffitied warehouses was the Windish Agency (now called Paradigm Talent Agency)—dance music’s top agency with a roster that includes everyone from Above & Beyond and Diplo to Aphex Twin and DJ Koze. Then Apothéke, the stalwart cocktail bar born in Manhattan’s Chinatown, opened up this January. Naud Street hit terminal velocity this spring when David Chang opened the doors to his first Los Angeles venture, Majordōmo. The mecca quickly gained notoriety—not only as the city’s hardest table to source, but also as one of America’s best new restaurants by various publications and food writers.
It makes sense then that Solis tapped the team at Majordōmo and Apothéke for the VIP experience at Secret Project. “I was really excited,” says Jude Parrasickels, the head chef for the event. “It’s a lot of fun for our staff, to have a little kind of change of pace, to try out some new stuff and see if it’s something we can pull off.”
Majordōmo, a Korean-meets-Southern hospitality restaurant, created a special menu for Secret Project—their first music event and certainly their first buffet. Tempura shishito peppers stuffed with fermented pork sausage, brined and cured kimchi, and fried buttermilk chicken with a day-glo buffalo sauce (made of chilies, ginger and weeklong fermented garlic) is gobbled up on walnut-top tables. There’s short rib so tender it drips off the bone in chunks, and a version of Momofuku’s classic cured pork shoulder. Slow roasted for hours, then blasted with high heat for a crunchy shell, it is quite possibly the best-prepared delicacy ever found at a dance music event.
Then there is Apothéke. Like its New York cousin, the LA outpost of Apothéke aims to be a temple to the religion of cocktail: all garnishes, infusions and purées are made in-house daily; ingredients like fresh basil, verbena and cilantro are grown in their garden; habanero bitters and flower-filled potables are also homemade. The brick-walled bar’s high ceilings, dark recessed leather booths and marble counters offer a sophisticated yet slightly libertine ambience. Well-groomed staff in vests and matching ties walk guests through libation options as if choosing a purebred instead of a watermelon and bilberry tequila.
Overall, Apothéke’s open-air wood terrace makes for a comfortable, cozy VIP area. Overlooking one of two main stages, their space offers a relaxed ambience and—between the the heady cocktails and unobstructed views—it’s hard to leave, even with Octo Octa or Roman Flügel playing a block away.
For Experience Director Luiz Tuazon—who, as a University of San Diego student, would drive up to LA nearly every weekend to attend raves—the event takes on an even more special shine. Long a fan of underground techno, he hosts live music at his bar on weekdays and a dance party on the deck every Sunday. But nothing quite compares to the outsize spectacle of Secret Project. “On a personal level, it is super-surreal,” he admits of being involved in such a high-wattage dance event. “Especially the roster. The line-up for this is one of the best of any festival in the US this year for this kind of music. I applaud them for being super-brave and risky, bringing this kind of line-up over two days in LA.”