Ravin' and Puttin' 

A DJ's-eye-view of Nor-Cal's all-ages dance music scene -- anyone for miniature golf?

Page 2 of 2

He parks, and one of the party organizers meets him at the entrance, overseen by two police officers and a few security guards. Sperling follows his guide past the security guards after they search his pockets and record crate. A Latino kid standing in front of the golf course arcade smiles and calls out, "Dy-loot!" Two teenage girls turn and see him, clap their hands excitedly, and then dart past the video games and out to the dance area where he'll be spinning.

Sperling gets to the turntables -- set up on a patio among the golf course's various castles and bridges -- at almost exactly 11. He stretches his headphones over his mane of multicolored dreadlocks and drops the needle on his first record, a melodic trance tune: his signature sound. Deviating from the genre's boilerplate 4/4 kick-drum throb, the percussion pounds out a wobbly electro breakbeat. The three dozen or so kids on the outdoor dance floor respond by adding a few extra steps to the tried-and-true two-step raver hop.

Of the eighty or so attendees, no one looks over nineteen, and a tiny blond girl watching Sperling intently from just in front of the turntables easily could be fourteen. Furthermore, the crowd doesn't look so stereotypically "rave." Only two girls are wearing the obligatory bunny ears, and only one sports the even-more-standard butterfly wings. There is also a surprising dearth of glow sticks -- one boy is swirling a pair in front of his friend's eyes, but that's it.

As Sperling glides through a series of darkish, no-frills trance songs and more dancers wander over from the arcade, it's clear as well that this isn't an Ecstasy-charged crowd, either. The telltale black-hole pupils are absent, and the dancing is much slower than amphetamine pace. A light-skinned black kid named Robbie grumbles that he wouldn't have driven from Mountain View if he had known security would've been this tight. "But really, drugs aren't such a big thing at parties anymore," he says. When asked if he's a Dyloot fan, he replies, "Oh yeah," and then adds casually, "And I've talked to him a few times."

While Sperling continues to cue up records and chain-smoke cigarettes, admirers and scenester acquaintances approach to shake hands and exchange smiles with him. The crowd feels like the sort that keeps in contact through an Internet discussion group: Everyone knows everyone else, and they all seem aware that he is playing later that night in Oakland. It's a small crowd -- by the time his final record is spinning out at midnight, there are maybe a hundred kids there -- but the vibe, as Sperling states afterward, is good, and the focus seems to be more on community than passive consumerism.

After Sperling's one-hour set (for which he played ten records), Treasure Island's promoter gives him a hug, chats with him for a few minutes, and then pays him $350 in cash. Sperling counts the money out of sight of the dancefloor and then turns to his line of well-wishers: two high-school-age girls bubbling with compliments on his playing and his dreadlocks. He gives them his e-mail address, in case they want information about upcoming parties.

Back in the 4Runner, Sperling explains that the promoter intentionally kept the event small to reassure the venue owner there wouldn't be any problems at a larger party he's planning to throw there in the future. "But even with more kids there, he'll probably just break even," he says. "I know all the promoters in the Bay Area, and no one's making any money right now."

Sperling says that his production company is one of maybe six party promoters in the country that still puts on events of ten thousand attendees or more (Electro-Techno-Disco-POPSICLE, its Halloween party, has reached that number in previous years). But he is starting to burn out. "I wouldn't do the events if I didn't feel I needed to -- not financially, but to keep the scene going," he says. "I don't like doing them. I like what happens from doing them, but the headache is unbelievable, to have all that money on your shoulders. The cost of putting on one of our parties is around a quarter of a million dollars. What if there's an earthquake the day before the event? I'd be bankrupt."

DJing, though, is still as thrilling for him as it ever was, and he says he feels the same magic waiting for new records to arrive that he did collecting baseball cards as a kid. "I guess you get to a certain age when you can't do it anymore," he muses. "But I'm young and I feel like I still have a lot of energy. Obviously I need to pay my bills, and if things worked out where I couldn't anymore, I'd get a job, but I'd keep DJing. I wouldn't miss the promoting, though."

As he pulls into his driveway to pick up his girlfriend for the second party, he gets a call from Slyk: the rave, a nonpermitted warehouse party, has been broken up by the Oakland police. Sperling is disappointed, as his partner had described a hopping party with four hundred kids. He still gets his $350, though: Because his record store sells tickets to these events, he always has some of the promoter's money and, as a result, never gets burned.

"I wanted to play again tonight, but it's cool," Sperling says with some relief. "As I get older, I can't go to bed when the sun comes up like I used to."

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