A sea of black-clad weekend warriors took over the Naud Street neighborhood of Los Angeles’ Chinatown last weekend, as Factory 93 threw its inaugural Secret Project festival to add a flagship two-day underground event to the Los Angeles electronic scene.
Though the most of the music played there would feel most appropriate in a European warehouse, Secret Project’s daytime block party style and catering from famed restauranteur David Chang created a unique vibe that captured the essence of its surrounding area like no other Los Angeles festival – and made it socially acceptable to party under a bridge.
Pedestrians walking overhead the show’s secondary stage on the historic North Spring Street bridge over the Los Angeles River still likely wondered what the heck was going on, though. Make that double for the passengers on the double-decker trains that whooshed by both stages on the perimeter of the grounds each night, as it was quite a sight to take in.
Secret Project’s production team used shipping containers that looked like they belonged in the industrial neighborhood and transformed them into the backdrop for the main stage. Much of the art on display was already part of the environment, as the neighborhood’s buildings were covered with abstract renditions of intense-looking women and rougher, more traditional graffiti.
Gallery: Secret Project festival
Any event catered toward techno fans -- a group known for comprising many proud audiophiles -- has to nail audio quality to survive, and Secret Project appeared to take this matter as seriously as its most snooty attendees. The sound bleed between the two stages was minimal, the bass thumps sounded clean and the hi-hats echoed crisply.
Some might say there are already enough music festivals to satisfy the hunger of West Coast electronic fans, but Factory 93 did a fine job of booking acts that don’t frequent Southern California.
Sunday night, for example, gave attendees the tough choice of closing out the weekend with either legendary British DJ Carl Cox by Naud Street or a rare B2B performance from deeply respected Innervisions label mates Dixon and Ame on Spring Street. Fortunately, the two stages were close enough to bounce between them quicker than a drawn-out 4/4 buildup.
Progressive techno pioneer Stephan Bodzin returned to the U.S. for the first time since 2016 and played a live set, meaning he played instruments in addition to twisting knobs behind the DJ booth. “Godzin” enthralled fans with a series of layered buildups and euphoric climaxes.
The only other “live” performance came courtesy of Bicep, an Irish-born, London-based duo that put on an especially inspired set of their disco-inspired brand of house music.
Motor City Drum Ensemble, a German who loves old-school Detroit house music enough to name his moniker after the genre, sustained a groovy atmosphere near Spring Street while VIP guests oversaw the proceedings with complex cocktails from Apotheke -- an apothecary-themed watering hole named “most stylish bar” by Time Out Los Angeles this year.
Festival foodies could take a break from the dancefloor and have their taste buds satiated by Chang, star of Netflix's "Ugly Delicious." The event’s two stages were placed on either side of Majordomo, which Chang just opened in January but has already gained the adornment of food critics.
Majordomo served some highlights from its Korean-fusion menu -- including juicy pork shoulder, short rib and stuffed peppers -- on a mouth-watering buffet to those who splurged for a VIP ticket. There were also several fusion-style food trucks handpicked by Chang available to everyone in a picnic area at the heart of the festival, where artists painted silently on giant canvases amid the action.
There’s a dichotomy to planning an underground event where its organizers want it to be well-known enough to be profitable, but not mainstream enough to lose its soul. Secret Project’s name even hints at this (though it reportedly got its name from a Factory 93 computer file planning the occasion that struck through its rollout).
Factory 93 succeeded in putting on a show that had nary a noticeable hiccup -- especially impressive for a first-time event. However, it didn’t sell out, and organizers will likely double down on efforts to get the word out next year.
For now, though, Angeleno tech-house fans seem happy to have a new secret outside of the popular EDM circuit to call their own.