“Detroit is not that different than it was one or two years ago. The media love to tell a fantastic story about a city going bankrupt but really it is the same type of place that it was before.”
Raised in Detroit and based in San Francisco, Barclay Crenshaw created the quirky alias “Claude VonStroke” in 2005 and went on to become one of the most well respected label owners and DJs in dance music. His label, dirtybird, continues to surprise and innovate in the underground dance scene. The label features an enigmatic combination of house, funk, dirty-bass and electronica. In this day and age of music cross-pollination, Claude VonStroke sits at the forefront of all that is proper and, most importantly, fun. DJ wise, his relentless touring of every major city, festival and basement after-party around the world has only enriched this unique perspective on music. The Dirtybird boss released his third album in September 2013, the rock-solid BBQ Dirtybird compilation just recently and he will play at Studio 80 this Saturday as part of his European tour. In light of that special night we talked to him about sitcoms, his fascination for birds and of course his music.
Urban Animal is already your third album where many producers only release single tracks and EP’s. Why do you choose to make full albums?
Because you can’t make a drum n bass track and release it as a single, or go on any adventures really. The singles market is all about tracks that people DJ. Albums are about making music. Even so, thats probably the last VonStroke album because the value of an album has dropped so dramatically. I’d rather just make an alias to do a hip-hop track or a hard techno track. A Dj mix that took someone one day’s work is almost the same value as an album the way people are listening to music right now. For example, I think more people heard my last essential mix than heard my album.
The description to the album tells us you use unexpected sounds from your chaotic working environment to create the tracks. Can you be a bit more specific on where you get your inspiration from?
My work environment includes constant travel, constant decision making, two small children, a studio, a wife, and many many nightclubs. I get my inspiration from all of these places all in small pieces. It is hard to pinpoint where each idea is coming from exactly.
The artwork always seems very interesting and cool. Who is the artistic one in the Dirtybird family?
I am not a talented drawer or painter but I pick all the art for the label the same way i pick the music. I am a great admirer of art and I think it’s nice we do good art and pay money to do cool art on our records. Many labels just do their logo in different colours, like they do not even respect the releases. They let a factory make the license plates. One cool thing we started last year was picking a single artist to design the entire year’s worth of single releases. This year the artist is called Graham Carter from Brighton. He is really good and he is doing all the singles for the entire year.
Fun and a sense of humor seem to be important ingredients in the VonStroke kitchen. Do you think some other DJ’s/producers take themselves too seriously?
I don’t really think about this too much. I just think about what I am doing and try to find like-minded people who I enjoy hanging out with. If a DJ acts like a baby I just don’t hang out with them. We have signed guys in the past who were dead fish or just not very much fun, they don’t really last very long in the crew. They weed themselves out I don’t really even have to do anything.
So what is your favorite sitcom and comedy movie?
The best show ever that made my belly laugh out loud was the Chapelle show. I often think to myself that I wish that show was still on. Comedy Central keeps trying to re-create it and they will never be able to match it. My favorite comedy movie is from when I was a kid it’s called Strange Brew. It’s a very very loose rendition of Shakespear’s Macbeth but its about two Canadien guys who love beer. Its so so stupid but also very funny.
Talking about movies, before you started DJing you were trying to make a career in the film industry. Why music in the end?
I’m better at music plain and simple. I gave it a good solid try but I’m much better at music. Im not good enough at mass collaboration to be great at film. Too many people involved.
As a multi-label boss you always have to keep an eye on the new talents in the business. How do you keep up with all the new music and what different ingredients does a producer needs to be on one of your labels?
We only do dirtybird now. Mothership is on hiatus for a while. I simply listen to all the demos, it’s as easy as that really. I also give people notes about how to make stuff better, but mostly i just listen to demos.
Can you name us some talented DJ’s/producers that you think will have their breakthrough in 2014?
I can never tell you who will be the one. We have plenty of acts that could do it and every year or so, we always have a person break loose but its very hard to predict which person it will be. Right now I think Killfrenzy has the best tunes but i can’t tell you if the package is complete or if the time is right for him yet.
You were raised in Detroit, a city now in the news for becoming almost a ghost town after the fall of the automobile industry. Although you live in San Francisco at the time, what does it do to you to see your hometown deteriorate and do you have any thoughts on how this could be stopped?
Detroit is not that different than it was one or two years ago. The media love to tell a fantastic story about a city going bankrupt but really it is the same type of place that it was before. It always had big problems even when i was younger. But growing up I never lived in the bad part of town, my childhood was very nice. I didn’t live downtown until i was older. Detroit still has nice places and not so nice places. Art comes from Detroit because it is cheap to live there and the people are very creative and inventive. I find it to be an inspirational city.
The revenues of your label Mothership go to a childrens music school in Detroit. Can you tell some more about this project?
Well, since we are keeping the releases very quiet on Mothership we started donating from dirtybird instead. We give a large amount of money to the school every year. its a nice program for kids to learn video editing, music production, fashion design, lots of things for only $25 a year.
March 8 you will play at Studio 80, Amsterdam. How did you choose venues for your European tour and what do you know about Studio 80?
I know that some DJs told me this is a nice venue. I haven’t played that many shows in Amsterdam recently so I am really happy to be coming back there.
What are the biggest differences between clubbing in the US and Europe?
The difference is that USA crowds don’t think about what anyone else thinks. USA people just have huge confidence. Sometimes this is really good and sometimes it makes us look really stupid but the people are very enthusiastic. Europe crowd is more trying to be cool and they are more exclusive to one sound. So sometimes this is really good for the party and sometimes it is very restrictive and limiting. Overall, I don’t care i just play.
You can check out Claude VonStroke this Saturday in Studio 80. He’ll bring along J. Philip, one of the soldiers from the dirtybird army. Hailing from Amsterdam is Presk.
Claude VonStroke | J. Phlip | Presk |