The second year of Insomniac's house and techno event once more proved that the underground is massive.
Equipped with a lineup that could easily be plucked straight from London or Berlin, Secret Project has returned to Los Angeles for its second year. With 12,500 people in attendance, the two-day event was warmly welcomed back as the city’s sole music festival dedicated to house and techno on Oct. 12 and 13, with the growing stature of Secret Project signaling promise of a city finally ready to once again become a home for standout electronic events.
Los Angeles certainly is familiar with underground electronic music, but despite its history of rebellious warehouse events and early festival culture, promoters have traditionally struggled to toe the line with the city’s stringent regulations around nightlife and music events. Enter Factory 93, the organizers of Secret Project and more importantly, a strategic subdivision of Insomniac, a promoter with well-oiled expertise in bringing large-scale electronic events to life. After creating the Factory 93 brand extension in 2016 to cater to the rapidly growing population of maturing ravers finding a growing interest in house and techno in a post-EDM era, the concept of a fully-fledged festival seemed inevitable.
Veering away from Insomniac’s traditional approach (think the over-the-top, fantasy world of Electric Daisy Carnival), Secret Project is, in turn, a no-frills two-day event, maintaining focus on music that involves a bit of discovery and digging to appreciate, and on artists that are still considered a rarity for most other promoters across the city’s club scene. Today, it’s undeniable -- names that were formerly sequestered to a single festival stage have become superstars in their own right and are more than ready to take on their own festival in Los Angeles. Secret Project might be proof that the underground is no longer so “underground” after all.
Across two days teeming with house and techno, Billboard Dance brings you the best of Secret Project.
Chinatown could very well be Los Angeles’ final frontier, as one of the few remaining neighborhoods yet to be transformed by developers and swarmed by eager Yuppies. Still raw and a little bit grungy, the spread of warehouses and parking lots has proven itself a perfect home for Secret Project. The festival leans into the venue’s unique backdrop, building one stage entirely out of shipping containers and making use of the city’s industrial landmarks for the other, placing it directly between the looming Naud Street bridge and a set of train tracks, with Amtraks periodically whisking by and adding the sound of a train horn to the mix.
Daytime Power Sets
There was a lot of talent to get through across Secret Project’s lineup, and only so little nighttime to utilize with a strict 11 P.M. curfew. Thus, by even the early hours of the afternoon, things tend to already be kicking off strong. On Saturday, with the sunshine still blazing at 4:30 p.m., Daniel Avery exploded into 90 minutes of propulsive, blistering techno with such fervor that it almost seemed believable that he could force the sun to set on his terms. The following day, it was a similar powerhouse rodeo during the same afternoon slot with Australia’s breakout star Mall Grab, who set the tone by opening his set with hard-hitting breaks.
A Visitor From Burning Man
If you have an Instagram account, you've seen photos from Burning Man -- of costumed Burners, dusty friends and the jaw-dropping artworks. The Playa is known for its larger-than-life art creations that usually disappear, or make their way to storage spaces, after spending a week in the desert. Lucky for Secret Project attendees, a favorite of this year’s Burning Man made a pit stop in Los Angeles, serving as the main centerpiece for the festival. The piece, created by artist Michael Benisty and titled ‘Broken, But Together,’ is a stunning, 21-foot tall mirrored sculpture of two silhouettes walking hand-in-hand. Positioned as if sauntering themselves between the two stages, ‘Broken, But Together’ brought some extra magic to the site, catching tones of purple and orange during sunset and reflecting a show of blue and green LED lights at night.
Dressed in tie-dye and a blue bucket hat, dancefloor specialist DJ Tennis was right at home as he took command of the decks under a collection of disco balls and draping sheaths of glittery fabric. Thanks to a lifetime of masterful curation and a style that doesn’t take itself too seriously, the Life and Death boss bounced effortlessly between new favorites like Midland’s high-octane remix of The Chemical Brothers anthem “Got To Keep On” and vintage treasures like the infectious O’gutta mix of Kenny Dope’s “Be Your Freak,” making sure to add his own healthy dose of unreleased and Shazam-resistant IDs throughout the mix.
The Neon, The Mesh and The Leather
Fans of techno certainly tend to stick to a signature color (read: black), but in a city as vibrant as Los Angeles, some bold variations should be expected. In line with the spirit of the underground, attendees of Secret Project weren’t afraid to get a little weird with their style choices, opting for daring mesh cut-outs, blinding bright neon accents and the occasional dose of leather in every form: as chokers, trench coats, wide-legged pants, and platform boots.
The Food Trucks
In a city known for its food truck culture, the obvious choice is to drive in a few of the most outstanding delicacies of Los Angeles to feed the hungry dancers. The options were aplenty: KBBQ-style bowls, sushi burritos, gourmet hot dogs, cereal-flavored ice cream, and of course, vegan burgers, tacos, and nachos for the plant-friendly people of the city.
Kieran Hebden has had a busy 2019. Following up on his well-received (but limited) live show run last year, he started off the year with a tour that included a stop at the Hollywood Palladium. A few months later, he returned to Southern California for two back-to-back weekends of Coachella. As the final set of Secret Project approached, the question was: could Four Tet bring something new to Southern California? With ease, Hebden rose up to his own self-inflicted challenge with an updated and spellbinding set. It was tribal (read: traditional Indian vocals), it was bizarre (read: bird noises), and it also included a seamless, entrancing mix of his Nelly Furtado sample-led “Only Human” (released under his KH moniker) into his New Energy standout “Lush.”
Drinks, With a View
If the Red Bull vodkas aren’t cutting it, Secret Project was pleased to provide another option in Apotheke, a lush and undeniably swanky cocktail bar (voted “most stylish in Los Angeles!”) that serves as a VIP lounge during Secret Project. Forget your typical drink order -- Apotheke’s bartenders use ingredients like jicama, spirulina, Aquafaba (a chickpea liquid) and create concoctions you just have to try to believe (think charcoal-infused vodka or cilantro-infused tequila). The best part? Cocktails could be enjoyed on the outdoor patio, which provided the optimal view overlooking the Naud stage.
Helena Hauff B2B Nina Kraviz
Feet were pounding on the concrete, keeping in rhythm to the breakneck speeds of unforgiving, 140 BPM techno served by the untouchably cool Helena Hauff and Nina Kraviz, the ferocious B2B duo tasked to close out Secret Project’s final day. The pair glided with such ease through their thundering set that it was nearly unrecognizable that they were playing on vinyl -- that is, until they came into view, doing a graceful dance of sorts as they switched off, each with a cigarette in one hand and a physical record in the other, masterfully selecting from their record bags and placed on the turntable like the practice has never gone out of style.