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Monday, July 6, 2015

Five Years of Dancefloor Energy: As You Like It Recounts Its History and the Way Forward

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2015 at 9:32 AM

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For almost five years (its anniversary's coming up this September) local promoter and party host As You Like It has been throwing parties in the Bay Area, bringing some of the world's finest producers and DJs of underground house and techno to our fair city and beyond. We recently caught up with As You Like It founder and executive producer Jeremy Bispo to talk about the party's history, the challenges involved in producing events in San Francisco (and other cities throughout the U.S. and Canada), and what the future holds for As You Like It's next five years. The party is hitting the road this week, headed to Miami on July 10 and Pittsburgh July 11. 



SF Weekly: Let's talk about As You Like It's history here in the Bay Area and how it all started.

Jeremy Bispo:
As You Like It started when I moved back to San Francisco from the Midwest. I came back to a thriving underground dance music scene, thanks to [KONTROL], Dirtybird, and Sunset. I used to throw techno parties with a previous crew called ASR. That was '97 through '05. We did guests from out of town, through the rave scene that was happening at that time. Then I went back to school, was working full time … I didn't have the energy to put into it. I came back [from college] and discovered a scene here in San Francisco — a community here more than a scene, a community that would support music that I was actually into, more than just house music which is what the city was always known for. I started working the door at an underground venue here called the Compound. I fell in love with it all, and something clicked in my head. Through that, ASR relaunched and it became very obvious right away that not everyone was into it. Immediately after that, I began transitioning into As You Like It, all of it happening at the Compound. These were 200, 250 person parties with one or two guests per party. As that space began to come to an end, we did our first real club night. As You Like It launched in September 2010 … we hosted multiple guests including John Tejada, Kate Simko, Sammy Dee from Perlon and Eddie C. But the one that put us over the top was Nicolas Jaar. Once we did Nicolas Jaar, we were kind of set. We could get and do pretty much everyone that we wanted. It validated our brand and our reputation — when he went home, he left with such a strong impression of the Compound that he told Interview Magazine that it was the best venue he's played at in America. Using that to vouch for what we had going forward let us come out of the gate with a really strong club night after the undergrounds. Our first club night was Ben Klock, DVS1, Le Loup, and Lovefingers, with almost 1100 people through the door at Public Works. That proved that we could scale to the size of the room, that we had what it takes to do a bigger show versus a smaller show. And it's funny that I'm using the word show. It's really only within the last year that we've transitioned from parties into shows.

What do you think that change in terminology is about? Is it the visual aspect of it?

It's the visuals, but it's more the extra layers of production beyond just the visuals. And multi-level talent, for instance, where we'll do a show at Public Works ... for example, we recently did Robag Wruhme, downstairs in the main room, with Daniel Bell. Upstairs were The Black Madonna, Olin, and Steve Mizek, for an Argot showcase. So the fact that there were five out of town guests for a show at Public Works — that, to me, ahead of the production, is what takes it to the next level. The production came more recently, because I started to get kind of bored — I had proven that our talent, month to month, can be the newest, most exciting artists — but could we also make the experience be an immersive experience? For our audiences to get something [from us] that they wouldn't get from any other night? And a lot of that came from the influence of Honey Soundsystem, working with them on two parties. Because that's really what they do — they do parties, not shows. Seeing Corecult's installations, who designs their decorations, and has done ours since — seeing that, elevating the room, elevating the experience, and what that comes to. People leave talking about what they've seen just as much as what they've heard. There's a lot of great nights of music in San Francisco, but I hope what we do by bringing these elements together, we can show this is what we're about, this is why the ticket costs this much, this is why you should come to the night. Our anniversary last year was really the "coming out" of that experience, where we transitioned from a party into a show. We had Corecult build a piano for Todd Terje, a lighting team come in, and live visuals. We also had the live [performance] element, with Todd and Maurice Fulton downstairs, and DJ Qu up in the Loft. That's a full, immersive experience, and that's what I want to build on and go forward with. 

When did you take As You Like It on the road for the first time? Was it Detroit?

We did an after-party in Detroit during Movement in May of 2012. The following weekend, June 2, we did an As You Like It at Smart Bar. Those were the first two. The next time was at Decibel [Festival] in Seattle that September. That was a challenge, and I took a break from [bringing our party on the road] for awhile. Later, we were asked to throw a party with a crew in LA — which still hasn't happened yet — but when we were asked to do it, I thought, Wait. Someone's watching us? Someone thinks that what we bring would be positive to what they're doing? Before that, I felt like we were on someone else's turf, and it felt egotistical to me. But as I've built relationships with people all over the country or all over the world — we just did a party in Vancouver with Subversive. We had shared headliners and all that. And it developed into a natural feeling where us working together felt right, with the energy between us lining up in a way that it all made sense. That feels really good, when you have the same or similar ideals and the goals about what you want to bring to a dancefloor, an experience, that working together feels right. With these next two parties in Vancouver in Miami, we worked with SAFE previously at our last party in Detroit, May 2014. Diego Martinelli from SAFE and I talk regularly, we're both on the same wavelength — the way we look at talent, the way we look at a party. And Electric Pickle has such a strong reputation that I couldn't not want to do a party there. Similarly, Hot Mass in Pittsburgh is something that I've heard so many stories about. Finding a way so both parties could happen over a weekend is something I've been working hard on. You know, you find your peers, you find people who you connect with, and you want to work together. Borders won't hold you back.

It sounds challenging.

Working on these parties on the road … continuing to do those into the year, it's a whole different level of logistics that we haven't done before. Lining up your date with their open date with talent that makes sense for both parties and is reflective of what we want to do and what they're going for … Where, you know, you can go to Miami, and we're working with the people from SAFE, who have such a strong brand and a strong drive to bring new talent to Miami, underground talent to Miami. With Electric Pickle being the size that it is, around 200 to 250 people, with a big patio for bigger shows, we were able to connect with them and bring someone like Silent Servant, to bring a reflection of what we both believe in [to Miami]. It's interesting to me because with San Francisco, we take it for granted what we have — every weekend there's six clubs, two undergrounds, and talent at every single one of them. And there must be an audience there to support it. There's an extra level of disposable income [in the Bay Area] which allows people to go out every weekend. At someplace like [Chicago's] Smart Bar, they charge $15 — that's their max. [Some friends in Minneapolis told me about hosting a] Pride event last weekend with Mike Servito. They had to charge an extra $5 to make it happen. Instead of $10 with just locals, it was $15 with Servito. And another local club owner called them out — you're supposedly doing underground sounds but charging $15, this and that. The challenge for them is to increase their budget to the point where they're not losing money for doing a show … here in San Francisco, it took us a long time for us to raise our prices from $20 to $25. That's not something we take lightly. We've taken that opportunity to go a step above and offer something more … almost like a mini-festival, a full night's experience with multiple headliners. So, [the challenge] has been translating what we're doing here in San Francisco, fitting it into what works in other cities.

I think there's a real resurgence in American electronic music. I'm seeing events like this happening all over the country, and everyone's working together towards a common goal. From my experience of it now, and from looking at it from the outside in when I was growing up, it seems that the underground electronic music scene in the States is healthier than it may have ever been.

At the top level, I agree, moreso than on the dancefloor. The movers and shakers that are putting on the events — people are really excited about collaborating and seeing what others are doing. If you look at the Bunker’s party last weekend at Pride, that brought together Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco, New York. But the [audience] crossover from EDM hasn’t happened as quickly as I thought it would. The numbers, the attendance isn't quite there compared to the passion of the people putting on the shows. That’s where things start to become a struggle, trying to make your numbers work. New York can pull things off we can only dream of because they have the crowd to support that. We have numerous core clubs to go out to each weekend, but each of those has their own unique audience and sometimes the audiences don’t cross over. There is a core crowd that goes out wherever there’s a good party, but there are also people that only go to this or that. That’s a bit of a shame because I wish more people followed the music. Sometimes they’re following the brand of the club, which is how it’s always been with clubbing. 

That’s the challenge in San Francisco right now, encouraging cross pollination.

That’s why we’ve loved working with Sunset and Honey Soundsystem. It’s hard to find that chemistry. I’m finding that chemistry in other cities. They want what we bring to the table and vice versa. We’re coming together to create this experience, this night that wouldn’t happen otherwise.

What are you bringing to these host cities?

I’m bringing our As You Like It artists, our access to talent, our relationships with the agents and the artists. We’re solving the puzzle together. I want to bring Christina Chatfield, Mossmoss, Rich Korach, Bells & Whistles, Mike Gushansky, and Sassmouth to these cities.

What about the future of As You Like It?

We want to showcase the energy in our own respective cities to fully represent As You Like It in five years. Part of that comes from the struggle to get artists’ visas from abroad and the challenge of bringing over some of the artists I’d like to. Domestic artists were being ignored and forced to move abroad to Berlin to be recognized. Moving forward, I want to put just as much, if not more, energy into showcasing domestic talent as we do international talent. While there are things international artists bring that we don’t have domestically, we have things they don’t have. I don’t want to ignore one or the other, it’s about blending it all to make a bigger picture that brings a forward-thinking, immersive, dancefloor experience. It’s a goal of ours to throw a festival in San Francisco, so we need the whole country to make that happen, why we need the city to make that happen. 

It seems that your ultimate goal is to strengthen the network that exists in the States and build it to be everything it can possibly be.

That’s exactly it. I was older when I found this direction in my life. I never thought I’d be in this position, throwing parties, producing shows. But I found the community that underlies all of this, that balance of love for underground culture and music, cooperative working experiences, and pushing forward the sounds that are my roots. I love how that sound is thriving right now and the collaboration that supports it. The shared dancefloor moments are what it all comes down to. And this all happens when we’re all working together. Everything we share together helps us all to prosper more.

To keep up with As You Like It's future events, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.
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Chris Zaldua

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