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Skills to Pay the Bills
Interview by Sobo 5/12/08

Jason Sperling, aka, DJ Dyloot, has the skills to pay the bills. As one half of Tom Slik & Dyloot he helped pioneer a fresh, new approach to DJ sets that started a craze. As Dyloot, he orchestrates amazing sonic symphonies for thousands of dancefloor fanatics. As the co-founder of Skills he channels his vision and leads the Bay Area's best event production company specializing in electronic music massives. Starting with a special event called Skills, Dyloot built a loyal following of 'family and friends' by investing in sound, lighting, and the guest experience, and thus turned his passion for music into a career for him and many other people that have been with him from the start, or that he has picked up along the way.

On May 24th, Skills celebrates their 11th Anniversary with a ground-breaking event, etdPOP, which will be an all-ages event at the Cow Palace featuring 20 DJs, 5 rooms of different styles of music, and an estimated crowd of 20,000 revelers. But don't call it a drug fest and definitely don't call it a candy rave because those days of being a drug fest have never been here, and those days of being a candy rave are long gone. The 'kids' from the first event are all grown up and now do this for their livelihood. When it comes to producing the biggest, baddest, events in the electronic music scene, the Skills Crew are the best around and truly have the skills to pay the bills.

SoBo: Tell me what you remember about the first event you did as Skills.
Dyloot: The event was in 1997 with my best friend Tom Slik who just moved up from SoCal where I had just moved from a couple of months prior. We both were going to school at SF State and decided we wanted to do a party together. Actually the name our first event was called Skills and our promotion name was Slik-e Loot. The name of the party was Slik-e Loot Kids Juggle There because the concept of the event was the two of us playing on 4 decks, which at the time was a really fresh concept because we didn't see anyone here or in SoCal doing this kind of set. Not that we were the first ones doing it but we decided to take the concept to the next level.

Jason aka Dyloot with friend at Ultra Festival Miami WMC 2008. Photo by Steve Han.

SoBo: Where was the event?
Dyloot: The event was at the old Maritime Hall and it sold out. Here we were thinking that we might draw a few hundred people and it turned out that we had to turn away 100 people. We wound up doing events there for 3 years before we decided we wanted to go big. And the only reason we decided to go big was because we living poor, not making any money on our events, and barely getting by until the next event. We put all our money into sound, lighting and props, and at the end of every event we hardly had enough money to pay the DJs. But the response we got from the people was so positive that we knew we had to push forward.

SoBo: Who played at that event?
Dyloot: Wow I don't think I can even remember because the lineup was all local DJs. Our whole idea was based on giving people a great event and it wasn't about the DJ lineup it was more about the experience.

SoBo: Do you think that your focus on the experience is what has made Skills so successful?
Dyloot: Absolutely. Even when we decided we had to raise our ticket prices to $30, people kept showing up because they trusted us. We were skeptical, but we felt that if we just gave people more than the average promoter the rest would take care of itself. Skills was always about the people that came and are the reason we are here 11 years later. It has been one incredible ride and we owe it all to the people which is why we are embarking on this event at the Cow Palace that we feel is one of the most important events in the history of the Bay Area. We are going to have 15-20,000 people and this influx of people is going to positively affect the local music and club scene.

SoBo: How do you account for you and Tom Slik making it for so long while the DJs that played at your first event did not?
Dyloot: We both were pretty popular DJs early in our careers so we had the luxury of making money from bookings and then invest the money into our parties. We really had a strong vision right from the start. We both knew we were in this music scene for the long haul and for the true love.

SoBo: Who were the crews that were your early influences that helped shape your vision?
Dyloot: The Gathering, Basics, Funky Techno Tribe, Coolworld, Feelgood Entertainment, Wicked, Quest, and one or two other promoters that were doing massives and helped build the scene before I even knew what electronic music was.

SKILLS present Electro Techno Disco POP at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium 3/31/07. Photo by Magic.

SoBo: Did you ever think that Skills would get this big?
Dyloot: In 2001 we did our first massive, Popsicle, at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. We were expecting 6000 people and wound up drawing 10,000 people with only a local lineup. It was the first time that I ever played in front of that many people and it one of the most amazing feelings I ever had. And since that first time I have done it again but there is nothing like your first time.

Skills was always about the people and the experience. I never thought it would get this big and I didn't get into this to do massive events. But now that it has, I'm excited. Skills was never about paying $50 to see a headline DJ at a club, but now that it has grown into this major production where you can see 20 world-class DJs it's great for a lot of people all over the world.

SoBo: I've been to Popsicle in years past and have met people from Fresno to Sacramento that have come with 20 friends. Do you think that 'family' type of environment still exists at your shows?
Dyloot: Absolutely. A couple of years ago we started swiping IDs and the second year we got an 80% return rate which is phenomenal. And a lot of those people only come out only once a year even though there are events like LoveFest and the afterparty because its tradition for them because they have been going for so long with the same group of people.

SoBo: With your history of playing 2x4 sets how excited are you to have DJ Dan & Donald Glaude doing a 2x4 set at POP.
Dyloot: We were really fortunate to get the Bay Area exclusive. This is not going to be your typical Dan/Donald 2x4 because they have played these kinds of sets in years past so I know they have been practicing and choreographing this incredible set.

SoBo: What else are you excited about with this event?
Dyloot: Wow, we have Tiesto. We have Stanton Warriors, one of the most influential and important Breaks producers, headlining our Breaks room. We have Ferry Corsten. We have Kaskade. We have a jungle room. We have a Hardcore room. We have so much to offer. In years past it was all Trance. Sometimes three rooms of Trance. And now that my music tastes have changes I want to bring this to my events.

This is also our first event at this venue so it feels new and it feels fresh. There are things that we are going to at this event that we could never do at the Bill Graham so I'm really excited. We can't even announce some of the surprises. If you walked into the Bill Graham and were amazed by that set up, then you are going to be freakin with our set up at the Cow Palace.

Skills and Ruby Skye present DJ Tiesto at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium 7/28/07. Photo by Steve Han.

SoBo: How do you feel about your recent alliances with Ruby Skye and Energy 92.7 FM?
Dyloot: They both have been great. Ruby Skye has helped build the scene and keeping the scene alive by bringing in world-class talent every single weekend. And Energy has helped us immensely and they have done a great job of building a daily audience for all kinds of dance music. Both of these groups get a bad rap from people but if you really know what is going on behind the scenes you know how important they both are to the development and sustainability of DJ and dance music culture here in the Bay Area.

SoBo: Skills has become such an important factor in the success of LoveFest. You have built this audience of loyalists and now the LoveFest group reaps the benefits of all your hard work. What is your feeling about the status of LoveFest and what is your vision for LoveFest's future?
Dyloot: I'm blown away by LoveFest. To see this many people in the Civic Center is amazing. I feel like it is getting bigger and bigger and it is eventually going to grow out of Civic Center and is going to need to find a bigger location. We actually have some pretty major news to announce about our lineup for the Official Lovefest Afterparty but we cannot make any official announcements yet.

Lovefest 2007 Afterparty at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Photo by Dirk Wyse.

SoBo: As a DJ & recording artist where do you feel you are in your development?
Dyloot: I feel like I'm starved for time to practice and produce. My art suffers greatly from these events. Sometimes I feel like I'd seriously like to retire from doing these events because it takes so much out of me. It's very stressful and so much work goes into making these events happen.

SoBo: So how long do you see yourself doing this and who do you see passing the torch onto?
Dyloot: I'm happy now so I'm not ready to give up yet. And besides that, I'm a micro-manager so I'm not sure there is anyone ready just yet. But I can easily pick from any number of people like Andy, my production manager; Tim, who manages the store and helps with events; Hill'manages my SF promoter network; Elaine'promotes at a ton of clubs & schools and is a great DJ; John is a DJ too and plays at our shows and all over the Bay and handles the South Bay; Ben handles Sacto & a lot of our web promos; Nelson, who does a lot of web promo & design; and Tom Slik, my original partner and still does a lot for us.