AYLI is 2020’s best new record label. But it’s more than that. Their history is ours. It’s a monument to & reminder of everything we cherish about the scene — music, love, family, perseverance. Lauren Krieger talks to the people behind the iconic Bay Area residency on the history, tragedy & journey of As You Like It Recordings.
“If not us, then who?”
This statement said repeatedly during a intimate night of challenging discussions between friends, one which became the impetus behind the creation of As You Like It Recordings, is also what holds the key to the label’s strength.
There is no one else who can tell the story of As You Like It. No one who is so perfectly poised to elevate their family of artists, to showcase the musicians who have dedicated their lives to creating connections on the dark dance floors of San Francisco, and to spread the scene which has left a lasting impact beyond their city.
Their story has been building for decades, with roots grown from across the US and forged in the underground of the Bay Area where together they made a powerful movement dedicated to quality music, culture, and community.
When AYLI founder Jeremy Bispo moved back to his home in the Bay Area in 2008, he didn’t expect to see a dance music scene that was much different than the one he had left four years earlier. After he had moved to Minneapolis he thought that he was “done with dance music,” not a fan of the way the industry was headed.
Lead photo by Brian de Simone
But when he returned to San Francisco, he found that the house-dominant music landscape was beginning to shift underground. Edgier, deeper sounds were experiencing a resurgence, becoming fertile ground for Jeremy to reignite his party throwing days of the late ’90s and establish what would become a vital force in the electronic music movement of the Bay Area for the future. What he was seeing was people in their mid- to late-20s who had moved from the Midwest and were looking for Techno, people who strive for quality and always put the music first.
It was the events at the intimate venue The Compound where it all came together for him.
“That place fostered an energy that just caught me,” he says. “Okay, there’s a space for this, there’s people who want this.” And he knew that “these are the people that make it happen. It all starts there, at that ground level. From there it all goes up and up and up.”
It was then that the roots began to form, and the relationships which would propel As You Like It into a party powerhouse for over a decade began to unfold. This solid base became an important factor in the success of AYLI, and is represented through their logo which features a tree growing through the center.
“I am very much about roots, underground driven events,” Jeremy says. “This idea of structure in life and foundation… it’s everything that I believe in in nightlife. Where we are, how we’re connected… As much as we foster those connections and grow together, we have the most opportunity to thrive in the long run because we have that background.”
‘We spent a lot of time looking inwardly [after the ghost ship fire], sitting with our loss and with our grief. Now it’s like okay — we’ve got those feelings. Now let’s put this out there.’
AYLI’s events grew to feature global talent, bringing in internationally touring artists like Nicolas Jaar, Ben Klock, Maya Jane Coles, Peggy Gou and Robert Hood, while continuing to focus on the development and promotion of their own local artists. One of these talented musicians was Christina Chatfield, who was just beginning to go solo after her career as a part of the duo Monocle when Jeremy Bispo invited her to become one of the first AYLI residents.
A Midwest transplant, Christina brought her blend of late-’90s/early-’00s Ohio underground rave influences combined with her experience at Boston’s Berklee College of Music where she studied music synthesis and sound design, to help take San Francisco’s developing techno scene to the next level. Her live performances of psychedelic acid techno were among those that truly helped define the high level of quality music that As You Like It was quickly becoming known for.
Lily Ackerman was one of those early party attenders who really connected with what AYLI was doing. “The good music was going to be at the As You Like It parties,” she says. “I was superimpressed by Christina.” Influenced by her talent and role as one of the few women who were performing electronic music at that time, Lily continued to push her own production to another level. After releasing tracks on SF labels like Friends With Benefits and Perfect Location, she co-founded the Diacritic Collective, a group of friends who shared a passion for music and DJing. After nights spent spinning records with the collective she began taking her music out into the underground, ultimately finding herself on the other side of the decks as a resident for As You Like It a decade later.
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“You never know when a person will be in or out of your life, or the impact that they will make in the time that you are together. Music has a way of not only bringing people together but inspiring the best of each other.” — Jeremy Bispo
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In 2016 As You Like It was booming and Jeremy Bispo was on the search for new residents who would keep their ethos of “quality, intimacy, and an intensely local glow” growing well into the future. One of these artists was AYLI “Family DJ” Johnny Igaz, who had been building his reputation as a DJ and producer, passionate about the local scene. One night in early November, Johnny came over to Jeremy’s house with the intention of heading out on the town together. However, struggling with the idea of being an artist in the space of the Bay Area, Johnny brought up a topic that would keep the two friends home all night long, engaged in a conversation that Jeremy would never forget.
“I considered him my best friend because he was one of the few people that was able to challenge me in that way, and the intimacy and the connection that we had… really he challenged me to this idea of starting a label. I never wanted to start a label. At that point it was 19 years into dance music for me, so when he did that, I really bought into the idea of this label founded in local arts that connected us to these artists that were in Berlin and New York and Chicago — we had booked some of the biggest names, the foundation of dance music. And he really got me. His challenge and the way that he spoke to me, he knew just how to talk to me, to get me to do things, to get me to buy in to this idea.
“And he had this whole thing: ‘If not us, then who?’ That was almost like this mantra that he’d used at different points in this night of long conversations where were just kind of bantering, going back and forth with each other.
“And I said, ‘you know what, we’ll do this’. And he’s like, ‘I need a commitment from you.’ I told him, ‘You can’t move to Berlin, you have to stay and do this with me, and we have to do this. You’re going to become a resident. We’re going to throw this party in LA for you (for his upcoming release on Night Owl).’ I was like ‘this is all going to happen’. The foundation of this idea in my head happened.
“And then the Ghost Ship fire happened. And Johnny died in the fire. Alongside Chelsea, who was integral to the foundation of this idea of releasing her music… I didn’t know that I’d still be able to come through it, the other side, holding on to this idea that he planted.”
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“We have to be outwardly looking — it’s not enough to be inwardly looking anymore. We spent a lot of time looking inwardly afterwards, sitting with our loss and sitting with our grief. Now it’s like okay — we’ve got those feelings. Now let’s put this out there for people to say, ‘Oh that’s San Francisco’s sound.’ That’s how they connect to my city.” — Jeremy Bispo
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After years of grieving and looking inside, it was the beginning of a new relationship which finally brought the idea of a label back to the surface again. It was time to push As You Like It further than it had been before, and with the addition of Andy Kershaw taking on the role of label manager, AYLI Recordings began to take form at the start of 2020. A part of the As Your Like It family who had a lasting connection with and deep understanding of its mission and music through multiple roles, Andy had also felt the intense personal loss after his wife passed away in the Ghost Ship fire. The memory of her encouragement for following his creative ventures with passion kept him pursuing avenues where he was uniquely set to make a difference. His plethora of label management experience varying from running his own house and techno imprint (3AM Devices) to working nearly every position for a large label conglomerate had given him the perspective that was necessary to be the one to help grow the foundations of As You Like It beyond its city walls, believing that it’s “our way of rebuilding after the fire.”
However, at first, associating the label with his established As You Like It brand wasn’t what Jeremy had in mind. His original idea with Johnny Igaz was to create an entirely new label, one separate from the company he had developed for over a decade
“I had to work through a lot of grief in order to change the name,” he says. “I had to get over this idea that it had to be something else. This is why Johnny was challenging me. This is what he wanted from this. He wanted us to give Lily and Christina — to put them side-by-side with Noncompliant and Tin Man. And once that kind of settled in, that’s when it really started to kind of move.
“And with Andy coming in, it just felt so right because of those roots, and because of that background, and because of his label experience… it was like ‘Okay, this is the next stage of his relationship and my relationship.’ He wasn’t there at the founding of this idea, but he wasn’t there at the founding of the party idea either and he found a place to contribute. And this is a time where he had a unique set of experiences that I have no background in that was able to hold up and bouy us to a point where this could move forward. And that’s where it’s come out of.”
When it was established that the label would indeed become a part of As You Like It, the symbol of the tree would continue to provide a significant role. Andy felt it was important to keep the AYLI branding and symbolism as it represented what they were trying to accomplish, and was in line with his outlook on what makes for a great a record label: elevating artists’ music.
“The blowing of the leaves now in the logo symbolizes both the mission of the label to elevate and spread the Bay Area talent globally in a new format, but also it’s us going out but always maintaining that connection to the tree,” he says.
Not only do the leaves represent the spreading out of the AYLI family as they have moved to new locations, but the opportunity for the label to take their music even further than ever before. As Jeremy says, “As much as it’s about connecting these two artists and these two people to the stage outside of San Francisco, it’s also about us remaining connected together and us creating space for that culture to thrive and cultivate long into the future. Once music is out in the world, it’s out, it’s shared, it’s going to go places that our party never went. And even though we threw parties all of the country, it’s never going to all the places that this music is going to go. And that’s it. In my mind, the leaves are the music and the music is out there, out in the world, and these artists are going to play it in podcasts and parties and we get to continue to get better at this, and improve and grow and mature and learn from each other.”
The timing is now right for them to fulfill this purpose. In an unprecedented year where parties have been put on hold around the world, Jeremy has looked to the positive side of what it means for As You Like It Recordings: “That’s what is really healthy about this point now. There’s this break in nightlife and we get to put this energy into the music, this foundation, and then we get to build up from that in this new structure, and define quality in new ways. And hopefully through this, and through the next steps, we’re able to rediscover shows and performances and it comes through with a different type of meaning and appreciation for our entire culture.”
With “the very roots of this label coming out of that conversation with Johnny and that fostering of giving local artists a place to be artists,” the selection for the premiere release is the perfect launching point to continue that legacy. As one of the original resident artists who represented the essence and quality of As You Like It parties, Christina Chatfield is now taking on the role of introducing the rest of the world to the next chapter in their story with the Ascent/Descent EP. Carrying a classic acid sound refined for a new era, the 8 track album features 4 original tracks and 4 remixes which each capture the dark atmospheric depths of techno from a range of talented perspectives. “Ascent” sees two remixes — a house-pressed take from “acid master” Tin Man and a jackin’ techno funk twist from fellow Midwesterner Noncompliant.
On her initial impression of “Ascent”, Noncompliant says, “I heard a few of the tracks early on and I loved ‘Ascent’ right away. It has that bounce and burbly acid that really lands solidly in a Midwest vibe for me. It’s just a serious jam.” For the remix she wanted to “keep the bounce but to give it a bit more of an edge with some extra dirt and a little bit of jack”.
“Descent” — a track that Christina had prepared as she was getting ready for her first European show in Paris last year — gets a moody, afterhours take from Oakland’s Tape Ghost, while “Energies” brings the AYLI family connection full circle with a wormhole deep dive remix from fan and fellow former resident Lily Ackerman. As Lily shares, “It was a dream come true to remix Christina.” The appreciation also goes both ways, as Christina shares that Lily was one of her favorite San Francisco DJs who truly makes the release a “family affair.” Following the analogy of the spreading leaves, Lily says it was “a good way to cap off my move to Berlin. Having this release happen a year later and still having the connection to the Bay Area family even though I’m here is a really nice feeling.”
These enduring ties found not only between the artists, but between all the people who have played roles throughout As You Like It’s story are what founder Jeremy Bispo believes truly makes it something special. “These long standing relationships that we’ve had together, and each of their longstanding relationships that they’ve had with nightlife, and music, and culture, and the drive to create culture and to contribute to this community is so strong in each of them. And because it’s so strong in each of them, it creates the strength to hold the tree up.” And as AYLI begins to write their next chapter, those deep roots which have held their tree together during the worst storms will continue to be there, supporting their growth as they expand their branches beyond the Bay Area and into a new world.