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Arts + Culture Music Oakland's As You Like It label rises from promise...

Oakland’s As You Like It label rises from promise to musician Johnny Igaz

10 years in, the party crew launches platform to support Bay Area artists—inspired by member gone too soon

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For just about a decade, the As You Like It party crew has been an essential force on the Bay Area underground and overground techno scene—outdoor picnics in Golden Gate Park, basement parties in Oakland, ambitious all-night affairs at clubs large and small—representing our region in an age (perhaps now over) of global techno brands and timezone-hopping DJs.

AYLI specializes in throwing parties whose line-ups embrace the phrase “wild combination”—witness 10th anniversary extravaganza Sat/19, broadcast via Fault Radio, with banging Midwestern techno from noncompliant, Tin Man’s spacey Austrian acid, local wiz Christina Chatfield’s deep electronics, Tape Ghost’s pressurized odysseys, and visuals from Pixelpusher, Will Erokan, Loaf Baker, and Jason Worden.

The party also serves as the launching pad for AYLI’s local-focused new label, As You Like It Recordings, which “promises to nurture and advance the Bay Area’s historic legacy, by promoting burgeoning talent while sharing that deep family feeling with the world.” That’s something we not only need more of under present circumstances, but which has also been missing in general on a grand scale for a little while now.

The label, branching out on the crew’s deep roots and canopy of styles, has lofty ambitious—its releases will be structured into four different branches (Sequoia, Cedar, Oak, and Cypress) that will represent and benefit different groups of artists and community organizations. It’s meant to serve as a platform with collaborative elements, reaching back into Bay Area techno history as well as its future, rather than function as a strictly top-down affair.

One of those branches, Oak, is dedicated to As You Like It member Johnny Igaz, a victim of 2016’s Ghost Ship fire, which also claimed the lives of several other wonderful people associated with the crew. (The fourth anniversary of that tragedy was earlier this month.) Under the name Nackt, Johnny had been DJing, releasing music, and helping to throw AYLI parties. His brother Paul has been releasing some of Johnny’s track via his Facebook remembrance page, and they show the depth of his skills.

Johnny Igaz aka Nackt perished in the Ghost Ship fire

For an outfit that had been operating so long, and which has produced a steady stream of mix podcasts, it seems that a label should have been part of the package out of the gate, as with many similar organizations. But it took a promise to Johnny to spark the project.

“It was was just about three weeks before the fire and Johnny had quit his big job and started working at Green Apple Books,” AYLI’s Jeremy Bispo told me over the phone. “He was struggling with how he was going to be an artist in the Bay Area—were there places to put out and support his music? We were supposed to go out, but we sat in our living room through the night talking.

“At one point he looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t we do it?’ In that moment he challenged me to launch a label,” Bispo said. “I never had any goals or intentions to start anything like that. But there was something about that time that we were living through, and knowing we might lose him—he was talking about moving to Berlin. I agreed and said ‘OK, let’s do it.’ He had so much talent and I was looking for ways to let him shine while keeping him here with us. 

“He really sold me on the idea of us being in a unique space to support the scene in this way, it was like he had it rehearsed. He kept saying, ‘If not us, who?’ He repeated it like a mantra.

“It’s weird because there was so much grief and weight and pressure to deliver on this promise I made to Johnny,” Bispo said. “If he hadn’t passed he would be here to do it with me. I still feel the loss that we felt that night in the culture, and I want to contribute in this new way that feels like moving forward. There’s still so much heaviness, but we are putting one foot in front of the other to keep going.”

Jeremy Bispo

The effort is having a positive effect: “After the fire we all gathered together in vigils, fundraisers, parties—we all leaned on each other, it was heartwarming,” Bispo said. “But after that, we went back to our individual spaces. And this past year, of course, has meant even more isolation. We don’t really know how everyone else is doing, we don’t have that connection. A lot of us have had to deal with things our own. Music has been one of the main ways we can still connect with each other.

“Launching the label around the anniversary of the fire has brought up a lot of feelings. But seeing peoples’ reactions on social media to what we’re doing, it makes you feel not alone. Watching people come together for the scene like what Revive the Night and the Queer Nightlife Fund have done has been uplifting. Bay Area artist need all the support they can get right now. I hope we’re helping to lay the groundwork for what comes next while supporting what truly makes this place special.”

The first release on the label comes from Christina Chatfield, a unique voice on the scene who definitely deserves more attention. (Her live sets are mesmerizing.) Called “Ascent/Descent,” it’s a burbling chugger that was inspired by tracks she wrote last year for a set in Paris, her first time playing overseas. Featuring remixes by Tin Man, noncompliant, Tape Ghost, and Lily Ackerman, the record reminds me of the electric, expansive Rare Form parties that members of AYLI threw in Oakland.

“The AYLI crew have been longtime friends of mine, and launching a label has been a goal we’ve been talking about and working towards for a few years now,” Chatfield told me over email. “To see it come to fruition after all the hard work, from the many people involved, has been a bright spot during these rough times.

“I’m also excited about the fact that the label will present an opportunity to highlight Bay Area artists—there are so many talented artists here, I’m really looking forward to hearing what comes next from the label.”

As for the impact that COVID has had on the current scene and her own process, Chatfield told me: “It will be interesting to see what happens when this pandemic is behind us. I’m sure the Bay Area scene will still be here—I just hope the venues survive. 

“But it has been really inspiring to see how people have managed to continue doing events, through live streams, interactive online experiences, etc. Some people have pretty elaborate live stream setups at home with multiple webcams, different angles, it’s impressive! We’ve all had to become our own content creators, working in mediums we’re not always used to, like streaming video in my case. I know way more about that stuff now than I ever did before. 

“Personally, I’ve noticed that my own music has slowed down a lot—I mean that literally. I’ve been writing music at a slower tempo because that’s usually the kind of music I listen to when I’m at home. And, well, I’m home a lot these days :)”

AS YOU LIKE IT 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY X AYLI RECORDINGS LAUNCH PARTY Sat/19, 6pm-10pm on Faultradio.com. More info here.

Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.

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