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In a changing Chinatown, the new dance-focused Secret Project aims to make it a festival destination

In a changing Chinatown, the new dance-focused Secret Project aims to make it a festival destination
Bonobo will appear at a new Chinatown festival. (Tamas Soki/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterst / Tamas Soki/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterst)

Over the past year, an industrial corner at the north end of Chinatown has become a new pillar in the local music and culture industries.

The powerful talent agency Paradigm moved its offices there; the political art exhibit “Into Action” drew thousands of left-leaning fans to new gallery spaces; influential bars and restaurants including David Chang’s Majordomo and the cocktail lounge Apotheke have set up shop as well.

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Now there’s a new underground electronic music festival that wants to tie it all together.

Secret Project, a two-day festival debuting Oct. 13-14, is the latest dance music event to dip a toe into returning to downtown (joining the likes of All My Friends, Guy Gerber’s Rumours festival, Skyline and a resurgent Grand Park Sunday Sessions).

Produced by Insomniac’s Factory 93 imprint, the show corrals some of the more exciting acts in contemporary club music and pairs them with a slate of food and drink from the neighborhood’s new upscale tenants.

The likes of Bicep, Peggy Gou, Dixon, Bonobo and Tale of Us — among many others at this show — could each headline major L.A. dates in their own right. Together, it’s a big bet that this northern edge of the fast-changing neighborhood is quickly arriving as a music destination all its own. Two-day tickets will start at $130 and go on sale Friday via the website secretproject.com.

Factory 93 has thrown some one-off shows at a Naud Street warehouse, one of the sites for the new festival, though much of it will be outdoors, block-party style. Those smaller shows have helped push the neighborhood as a music hub (though anyone who went to punk shows at Madam Wong’s in the ’70s always knew that it was a prime spot), but they haven’t tried anything there on the scale of Secret Project before.

Organizers imagined it as “representative of a really exciting neighborhood, somewhere we've had a presence for several years and that has quietly become a creative hub for Los Angeles, in food, art and music,” said Carlos Correal, a promoter for Secret Project. “It’s so rewarding to bring these communities together and show the rest of the city what Chinatown has to offer.”

Chinatown long has been a hub for generations of immigrants and locals to pursue art and interesting restaurants.

But Secret Project is a sign that the L.A. entertainment and hospitality industry is eyeing the neighborhood for bigger projects as well. The dizzying influx of creative restaurants and bars in the last few years only underlined how fast it’s all happening.

Chang’s Majordomo immediately became one of the flashpoints in L.A.’s restaurant scene for its high-end riffs on L.A.’s Asian cuisines. Apotheke has quickly become the after-work unwinding spot for Paradigm’s power-bookers.

“Music has always been integral to [Apotheke],” said Christopher Tierney, the founder of Apotheke, which began as one of New York’s most acclaimed cocktail lounges before opening its L.A. outpost. “I signed the lease to the space three years ago because my instincts told me it was going to be something special. The direct neighborhood and area has already witnessed the launch of some leading players in the [hospitality] and arts communities.”

But it’s not all elite forces at work at Secret Project. Regulars of L.A.’s late-night warehouse scene will recognize plenty of familiar faces down the bill as well. Masha, Corey Sizemore, Sonns and Jeniluv are all important promoters and DJs in their own right, and lend local credibility to the effort to push this block as a broad cultural hub.

As the L.A. music scene tries to figure out its next steps in the wake of FYF Fest’s cancellation, Secret Project is one of the more ambitious concepts to move in.

“This is a love letter in the form of a lineup, the likes of which we haven't seen since the innocent days of early FYF,” said local disco staple A Club Called Rhonda’s co-founder Loren Granich, who helped book the festival’s music at Apotheke.

Electronic music has, for decades, been a way to push urban space into new terrain. Given all the new tenants and high-octane entertainment interest here, this stretch of Chinatown may be edging a little closer to West Hollywood than East Berlin at the moment. But Secret Project will be one way to prove if all the attention is here to stay.

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“Nightlife is culture,” Granich added. “It's where people meet, where the arts flourish, where ideas take shape. If a city or neighborhood is serious about attracting young creative hustlers, then these types of events need to be able to re-purpose open spaces like these.”

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