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The House Music Impresario Who Went From SF to Ibiza—and Back

We talked to Claude VonStroke about his new record Urban Animal, why he moved to the Bay, and the rise of his label, the Dirtybirds. 

Way back in 2005, when the members of the funky bass-heavy-house music crew the Dirtybirds began throwing free shows in Golden Gate Park, few would have expected that the founder and "label boss," Claude VonStroke (born Barclay Crenshaw)—now pushing 40 and a father—would be playing a summer residency in Ibiza, overseeing the release of the label's 100th album, and, on top of it all, still be a stand-up guy. His moniker itself speaks to his playful attitude, as it stemmed from a joke that stuck after he released a series of quirky tracks under the name. And it’s just that attitude—fun—that’s brought the grinning producer success.

We talked to VonStroke on the eve of his show at the Regency Ballroom tonight at 9pm about his new solo album, Urban Animal, music as a loss leader, and following flaky Canadian girls to the West Coast. (Check out his SoundCloud too.)

San Francisco: Urban Animal is Dirtybird's 100th release, how do you feel about that as a milestone?
Barclay Crenshaw: Its a great feeling to have made it this far—almost ten years into this little fledgling idea I had. We've actually released more than 100 records but this is the official catalog 100. Either way it’s fantastic. In indy record label code this can be translated as, "I feel like we might not go bankrupt this year." Ha-ha.

This is more or less a solo album, right?
I think my new album stands on its own as a Claude VonStroke project. I really wanted to venture outside of house on this album. Perhaps I will go even further in the future. As a team we rock a sick house party that’s for sure, but each artist on Dirtybird has their own path.

So what does the new album sound like, then?
There is some drum n bass. I wanted to hearken back to the old full cycle sound. There is some funk highly influenced by Prince. There is even a quasi trap/hip-hop thing on there. Of course, there is some house, but even all the house tracks are totally different from each other. One is old school house-y, one is tech-y and weird, one is more ghetto, and one is really emotional. I really enjoyed myself trying out varying sounds and keeping it fresh.

You've gone from throwing free parities in Golden Gate to an international success. It doesn't seem like it's gone to your head, though.
That’s a nice thing to say. In SF, we have made sure to never charge too much and always to be all about the fans. I have to give the Martin brothers credit for that concept. Outside of SF, we are trying to build up that same dynamic crowd in every city. It seems to be working really well, but I know how fleeting this all can be. I’ve seen huge acts practically vanish in one or two years. I want our crowd to be as grassroots grown as possible. I want them to be real fans not just people going out to anything.

What are the projects with the Dirtybirds looking like?
We are really building the events side of things now because the record industry has turned itself into a loss leader business. We don’t want to sit on the sidelines, do all the grunt work, make everyone famous—and then watch them all rake it in on gigs while we make chump change selling tunes. So, expect to see more stages, more label events, and overall more stuff that we have a hand in producing.

You grew up in Detroit—how'd that affect your music?
Well, it was more the New York hip-hop that I bought at Detroit gas stations that really formed me. Even so, not every kid heard techno when they were growing up—but I did. Techno was on the radio in Detroit in the 80's, unlike almost any other city in America. In a general sense, the booty or ghetto tech stuff is really the main influence I got from Detroit because it is so dirty and so funky. I still love this music.

Why did you come to San Francisco? And how did that influence your musical production?
I came to SF for a Canadian girl who didn’t even end up moving there in the end!

How did San Francisco work into your sound?
The city had a strong underground drum n bass scene, where I met the OG Dirtybird guys. I don’t just mean Justin Martin. There were a lot of people who didn’t even make music that were huge influences—friends, bartenders, promoters, everyone in the neighborhoods, from my first apartment in Oakland to where I started Dirtybird on Belcher St. in Duboce Triangle.

How is it to be flying to Ibiza? And to have a residency there?
It was a really amazing summer. I’m not going to lie and say the travel part was fun, but the residency was awesome and I managed to bring 26 Dirtybird artists to Spain. I think maybe half of them had never been to Europe. We didn’t have any guests, only people who made music for us. That is a lot harder way to go but it was also more rewarding. It was also cool putting on the only American night there.

 

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