A week before Kanye West and the Kardashians turned Easter Sunday into a hyped up celebration of music and merch, Diplo, Flume and a half-dozen other electronic acts had descended upon the shabby-chic Two Bunch Palms resort outside Palm Springs for a two-day event dubbed “Secular Sabbath.” Their goal: to provide an oasis for calm and creativity, set close enough to Coachella for attendees to feel the music, but far enough for them to feel a difference too.
For Diplo, who had played a set at Coachella’s Sahara Tent on Friday night, Secular Sabbath was a chance to debrief after an evening spent before thousands of fans in the drifting desert heat. At Coachella, where he played an augmented reality-equipped stage that encouraged fans to “summon” celestial objects with their cameras, Diplo thrashed and turntabled his way through a set of his biggest hits. Two nights later, he sat solo, on the uneven grotto floor at an 80-year-old resort, as people slept on makeshift mattresses while the DJ improvised ambient music by candlelight.
“Secular Sabbath was special,” he says, “and I got to chill out, which is kind of rare.” Put more simply: “It’s kind of like the anti-festival.”
Secular Sabbath was started by Genevieve Medow-Jenkins, a California native who was raised by her mother at the Esalen Institute, an artist colony nestled among the foothills of Big Sur, where Medow-Jenkins grew up singing with Joan Baez, dancing at Babatunde Olatunji drum circles, and attending Wednesday night didgeridoo meditations in the area’s natural hot springs. Her mother, who moved to the community at 19, threw all-night raves every month for the residents, where Medow-Jenkins would try to stay awake until it was well past her bedtime.
“My mom would put me to sleep in the corner with a sign on me that read, ‘Don’t step on the sleeping child,’” Medow-Jenkins says.
When she moved to Los Angeles after college, Medow-Jenkins says she craved the same sense of community she had become so fond of, only to be left feeling isolated and out of touch with the people around her. “I didn’t see people coming together in a way that felt intentional,” she says. “I just saw a lot of hustle and hyper-stimulation.” Secular Sabbath, she offers, “created a space I wanted to spend my restorative time in. I wanted to create a space for people to explore their sensory self – how they hear, smell, taste, touch and see.”
The first Secular Sabbath took place in May 2016, inside an unassuming studio across from the neon glare of the CNN building in Hollywood. Medow-Jenkins, who had spent time in the music industry, invited people like Joel Shearer, Justin Boreta (from The Glitch Mob) and Maroon 5’s Jesse Carmichael to participate. If the lineup seemed a touch random, it was intentional, Medow-Jenkins says. “I invited different musical artists to perform in two rooms simultaneously so people could have a ‘choose your own adventure’ kind of experience,” she explains.
Multidisciplinary artist Lani Trock did a hanging Kokedama plant installation and actress Nat Kelley (Dynasty, The Vampire Diaries) served tea as part of a traditional Taiwanese tea ceremony (Kelley is Australian, but credits the restorative properties of bowls of tea for helping her through a particular tumultuous time in her life).
“[The event] was simple, but it was a seed, planted,” Medow-Jenkins says. More importantly, “People were moved.” It was the confirmation — and community — she had been seeking, as if, she explains, a guiding light had finally opened up for her in the City of Angels.
The event during Coachella weekend marked the 17th Secular Sabbath experience, which has taken Medow-Jenkins and her Secular Sabbath participant-turned-boyfriend-turned-business partner Michael Milosh (a.k.a. the Canadian atmospheric R&B artist, Rhye) from that cramped space on Hollywood Boulevard to an empty church in South Central, to Mexico, London, Iceland and finally, the other weekend, to Two Bunch Palms.
The April event brought about 40 people to the 1940s property, nestled within a quiet, unassuming town just north of Palm Springs called Desert Hot Springs. Once a haven for celebrities (and rumored to be a getaway for the West Coast mob), the town lost its lustre to the gay glamour of Palm Springs in the 90s and 2000s, but has reclaimed some standing in recent years thanks to a new interest in wellness and self-care. Following a renovation to celebrate the property’s 75th anniversary in 2015, Two Bunch Palms re-branded as a “Sustainable Wellness Resort,” with the installation of a 3.5-acre solar field to power the premises, and a renewed focus on the naturally-warmed waters that flow into the resort from nearby Miracle Hill. With travelers reportedly having first discovered these streams of water in the 1850s, Two Bunch Palms is considered to be one of the oldest hot mineral springs resorts still active in the country today.
While Ariana Grande shimmied on stage with NSYNC in Indio and the lights of the Neon Carnival blinked off in the distance, attendees at Secular Sabbath did sunrise yoga and got CBD massages and sat waist-deep in a thermal pool while a surfer-slash-healer from Venice led a soundbath with floating bowls in the water. At one point, the actor James Van Der Beek dipped into the pool, propping himself against a natural rock formation that had formed a nook for him to nestle into off to the side. Kassia Meador, the “floating aquatic sound healer” from Venice, encouraged attendees to grab a floatie and lie on their backs, bathing in the vibrations of the water while the afternoon sun fanned flames, she explained, of self-discovery. Twenty or so minutes later, everyone sat up again, with contented smiles and eyes blinking open wide. Van Der Beek was nowhere to be seen.
That night, after a family-style dinner of kale salad, vegan lasagna and mulled wine, a casual group of attendees gathered around the Two Bunch Palms courtyard, where Mexican-style blankets and vintage cushions had been haphazardly arranged around a knee-high microphone stand, mixing board and small speaker. dosist, a Venice-based cannabis brand, was a sponsor of the event, and had their “Bliss” vape pens on-hand (the company had also sponsored the Interscope Records party at Coachella, and a rep from the brand says, “With [their] mission at dosist being to empower people to naturally manage their health and happiness, Coachella felt like the perfect epi-center for happiness”).
Nico Georis, an artist who had grown up with Medow-Jenkins on the same mountain in Big Sur, opened the night with an introduction to MIDI Sprout singing plant technology (attendees were encouraged to interact with a plant hooked up to a MIDI to experience how patterns and melodies change depending on your relationship to the environment around you).
Flume took the podium next, trading in his swirling, complex beats for laidback ambient music, much of which was improvised on the spot with a keyboard and laptop. The DJ and producer had attended Secular Sabbath a year earlier in Joshua Tree, but this was the first time he was participating as an artist. “Secular Sabbath was like a massage for the soul,” he recounts. “It’s a very unique, intimate experience.”
The lineup continued into the night, as the moon merry go-rounded with the sun, and the desert wind whipped up the Mexican blankets into impromptu sleeping bags for the dozens of people huddled together on the grotto floor.
There was the producer, Joel Shearer; and The Glitch Mob’s Ooah, with the singer Yaarrohs; and then Daedelus, who shared a label with Milosh back when they were both starting out, each trading their usual pre-planned sets for ethereal “experimental” music set around a loose parameter of “ambient sounds.” Around 3am, Diplo appeared, wearing a pink onesie and sitting cross-legged behind a small mixing board and speakers. He had a new single that he was promoting at the festival, but here, he was just going with the flow.
“Wes and I met almost a decade ago when I was in college in Portland at a house party where I was reading a book in a corner and he came over to me,” Medow-Jenkins says. “We started talking about how much we love William Faulkner’s ‘Light in August’ – it’s pretty obscure common ground so I suppose we’ve been friends ever since.”
Diplo, who would return to the desert a week later to play a set at Stagecoach, says the whole Secular Sabbath experience was truly transformative. “It was a blast,” he says, completely devoid of sarcasm. “I got to sit in a hot tub, I took a nap – there was great stuff going on all at the same time. And,” he adds, “I got to play some cool music and I loved it. It’s good to try new things.”
As the moon dipped and dawn broke, attendees emerged from their blissed out slumber to the music of Rhye ushering in the new day with ambient music that twinkled as wispily as the last remaining stars that were giving way to the morning sun. By 7am, everyone had — finally — retired to their rooms, to shower, eat or get some proper sleep before another day of wellness and discovery started all over again.
Along with Diplo and Flume (and James Van Der Beek’s brief appearance), Secular Sabbath has brought out artists and producers like Ólafur Arnalds, Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio) and The Weeknd collaborator, Illangelo, along with celebrities like Britt Marling, Justin Chatwin, Ian Somerhalder and Nikki Reed. The “alcohol replacement brand,” Kin Euphorics, provided libations at Two Bunch Palms, with their “adult beverage” made from nootropics, adaptogens and botanics. All of them are personally invited by Medow-Jenkins or Milosh – no managers, agents or publicists involved.
“It’s born out of genuine friendships and human connections,” Medow-Jenkins says. “I want a friendship to be a creative exploration in which we are all growing. I don’t want to talk about me or you, but something bigger than both of us,” she continues, “and I think all of these creatives feel like-minded in some way.”
The April event was the first time a brand had been brought on to support Secular Sabbath, and Medow-Jenkins says that while she’s been hesitant to bring on partners in the past, she felt aligned with dosist, whose new white-walled, brick-and-mortar space in Venice’s hip Abbot Kinney neighborhood has been likened to a “Chanel store for cannabis,” thanks to their shared desire for creativity and community. “I believe that dosist aims to heal people and build community,” she says, “and we want to bring that energy into the larger world.”
For her part, dosist CMO Anne-Marie Dacyshyn says, “Secular Sabbath was an amazing weekend where we educated artists and festival attendees during their downtime on the therapeutic power of dose-controlled cannabis. The partnership and activation were both special and unique and we can’t wait to bring this experience to more musical moments this summer.”
While plans for the next Secular Sabbath have yet to be unveiled, Medow-Jenkins says she’s eager to see the program grow, if slowly and deliberately. “I hope that people will walk out of the Secular Sabbath experience inspired to take steps to explore their own creativity, build their community, and take time for themselves to rest when needed,” she says. “And perhaps,” she adds, “let ambient music be a source of solace when life’s stressors feel overwhelming.”
Milosh, meantime, says Secular Sabbath is not only an event he organizes for others, but also a necessary part of his creative journey, and it’s this reason, he insists, that brings musicians to the event. “You need places to experiment, and just have fun with music,” he says, “and Secular Sabbath provides a place to experiment musically with very little pressure.”
As for the timing of the event, Milosh insists they aren’t trying to be “anti-Coachella,” though he admits there is definitely a draw for artists to come chill out after a weekend of debauchery.
“Being right after the ‘Big C’ felt like a sweet reprieve from an otherwise fairly intense weekend in the music industry,” he admits. “Having played at Coachella two years in a row, I definitely know the need to have something to replenish your energy afterwards [and] Secular Sabbath was an attempt at that. From a mental health stand point,” he continues, “the event is also just incredibly relaxing and invigorating. We want it to become a space where you can chill with like-minded people to meet, create and collaborate.”