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Going Underground: House DJ Claude VonStroke On Making Soul Decisions & Keeping Electronic Music Grimy
DJ and Dirtybird founder Claude VonStroke performs in Phoenix.

Photo: Peter Speyer 

interview

Going Underground: House DJ Claude VonStroke On Making Soul Decisions & Keeping Electronic Music Grimy

"I’m going in the opposite direction of everyone else," says the Dirtybird label head.

GRAMMYs/Jul 20, 2022 - 06:11 pm

Most artists want to create and share their music in a way that aligns with and affirms their soul, but as exciting opportunities arise, they may have to sacrifice some artistic integrity to reach a more prominent status. But in this phase of his career, producer, DJ, event curator and label boss Claude VonStroke is all about "soul decisions."

Claude VonStroke, real name Barclay Crenshaw, is one of the most prominent artists in house music today. Beyond his own solo career — which has seen him tour the world and perform at Coachella, Movement Detroit and Tomorrowland — he founded the record label, Dirtybird. Since 2005, the label has shared over 250 releases and curated its own festival, Dirtybird Campout.

Leading up to 2022 — a year when Drake's latest veres heavily into house and techno, and tech house is the No. 1 selling genre on DJ marketplace Beatport — Crenshaw made money decisions. He expanded his label, Dirtybird Campout and his NFT community, Dirtybird Flight Club as his own profile rose.

But now Crenshaw is back to making decisions that fuel his continuing adoration for underground electronic music. He’s reviving old favorites from the Dirtybird catalog through compilations like Deep Cutz, and he’s started the White Label series which shares music outside the traditional Dirtybird house flavors like leftfield, jungle, electro and dubstep that currently aren’t dominating big stages. 

Crenshaw's latest tour — cheekily entitled the Your Dad Plays Great Music Tour — was another soul decision, bringing him to small, limited capacity venues including a warehouse in Los Angeles and a boat in Boston. On this 10-date run, Crenshaw played obscure, esoteric records that wouldn’t fit on a festival stage. Rather than being pure hype, he chose tracks that were intricate and refined. He also DJed in the middle of the dancefloor at every show, playing open-to-close sets often lasting five hours or more.

The tour was an homage to the underground culture he fell in love with decades ago. "I am also making a social commentary. Yes it is possible [that] I’ve been around way longer than you, and I know way more about what good house music is than you do," Crenshaw tells GRAMMY.com with a laugh. "Maybe I can play some good house music that you might like and you don’t know you’ll like?" 

From his home in Los Angeles, Crenshaw spoke with GRAMMY.com about maintaining an underground culture as house music is trending towards the mainstream, the upcoming edition of Dirtybird Campout and how soul decisions are driving the current phase of Claude VonStroke. 

What are your thoughts on house music today?

I have two opposing thoughts. One is it’s getting really homogenous and generic, but the other is that because some of it is seeping into mainstream culture it’s helping everyone. All boats rise with the tide. So I’m not extremely excited about where it’s headed, but I realize that we’re adopting a massive fanbase that will eventually show up at my doorstep. 

How long have you had the idea to do the Your Dad Plays Great Music Tour?

I thought of it in the beginning of the year and, honestly, a lot of it came out of the same frustration that the fans and I were both probably having. When I’m like "F— I got to think of a whole visual package, and when the bombs that are going to shoot off, and the lighting guy and the whole thing that has nothing to do with what I’m going to play." 

Why don’t I just make a tour that’s actually about listening to music? Or dancing to music…and go back to why I liked it in the beginning. Why I got into it. By finding a room where someone is playing incredible music. It’s dark. You have no idea what’s going on. It’s just awesome.

Dirtybird has always been that landbridge between commercial house music and the house music you’ve been playing on this tour. With the way house music is blowing up, do you think there needs to be a bit more of an underground edge in order to maintain that reputation?

I’m going in the opposite direction of everyone else. I’m going more underground and everyone else is like "Where’s my paycheck?" Which is probably not the smartest decision [for me], but I’ll tell you this is the most fun I’ve ever had on tour.

Ever?

Yeah. This is my best tour. I’m playing every record I want to play from start to finish. It’s so awesome. I’m really reading what’s happening in the room from the bar meeting all the way till the last person shouts "10 more songs!" and they’re drenched in sweat.

Did you have to adjust to doing these all night sets in small rooms after doing 90 minute sets on big stages for so long?

Oh yeah I had to prepare, especially at the start. I even did some beta gigs. I did an abandoned warehouse in LA for 500 people just to see if this was even going to be good, and then I knew it was going to be really good. So then I just expanded it.

Would you say a goal of this tour was to take things back to the underground?

A million percent on that one. Even if you look at the record label, we’re not making the best financial decisions over here. We’re going the wrong direction, but it’s the best direction for the long term, and musically the best direction. 

I think also the White Label has this other possibility for Dirtybird. If you’ve been to our festivals you know we don’t even play house music on one of the stages at all. I think there is another lane for Dirtybird that’s more in this Ninja Tune, Warp, Ghostly International, all-genre thing. 

We’ll never abandon our house crowd because that’s the core, but there is other music in the world that we can put out that still fits with our ethos.

Does it ever worry you that because you’re playing these small venues a lot of fans won’t get to enjoy the party the way thousands of people would in the past?

So this is one of the advantages of being super-veteran. At this stage in my career I’m able to make some decisions that are not the best money decision, but they’re the best soul decisions. 

It’s not just for the people. It’s for me. So I’m doing the parties that I want to do, and I know that I am not reaching the same amount of people that I would be if I just did every festival. 

There could be repercussions in that down the line, but I have to stay into it. How am I going to stay into it? I can go zombie it out for 72 minutes on a 40-DJ lineup, but that’s not really my thing.

You talk about this balance of doing it for the people and doing it for yourself. Was there an imbalance in that regard before doing this tour?

I think I was getting in a little bit of the commercial house rut. I wasn’t really quality controlling. I would be going to these shows and be like "OK money’s good. It’s going to be fun," and then halfway through the set I’d be like "Man I kind of wish I had just played a nasty little club in this city. It would have been a lot better gig."

Dirtybird Campout 2022 is coming up. Campout was never meant to be the underground techno festival, but after playing this tour and having so much fun, do you plan on changing Campout to align with these more underground intentions?

Well the lineup is more underground and weirder this year, and we’re also finally able to have some non silent disco sound at the after hours. So there’s going to be a sunrise set vibe going out of Campout.

Do you hope that this  tour will start a trend within the larger house music culture of taking things more underground?

I think it’s already happening and people just aren’t seeing it yet. Like, there’s a whole group of LA people that only go to this stuff. 

The festival scene, man. The independent festivals are under fire. It’s getting way harder. I want to support any independently owned festival because if you don’t have any of those anymore, it’s just really bad for the music scene. 

You get a different variation of the same 25 names all up and down America. It’s not even that those festivals are bad, it's just that if there’s only one or two [novel] things then there’s less creativity. No one has to think of anything [new to present] because they just own the market. 

This latest tour also seems to align in intention with Dirtybird’s recent release schedule. Even beyond the White Label series that shares drum and bass and dubstep, you’ve released stuff from very small artists like Simas, and your Deep Cutz compilation revived some of the headiest tracks in the Dirtybird catalog. Have you seen any positive trends following this shift?

It is as predicted. I knew it was going to be hard, and I knew we were going to get a little bit of pushback, which is happening because we’re not giving people the same thing that they got before, but we have to do it. 

Just to say "Hey we’ve been doing these weirder, off-the-market records for a really long time." A lot of time they were the b-side of huge records and we're just reminding people what we do here. 

How has implementing these underground intentions to your shows and the Dirtybird release schedule affected your productions?

I’ve been in a little bit of a no man’s land because I’m still figuring out what I’m going to put out. 

I have a whole bunch of records that I’ve made. It’s really weird. It’s almost like I’m in year one. Where I’m like "I made a bunch of records but which one am I going to put out?" 

 I feel like whatever I put out in this dad tour year is the next way that I’m going, so I’m being too much of a perfectionist maybe? 

You haven’t put out a solo EP on Dirtybird in almost two years…

I know it’s shameful. They’re all collabs. People just keep hitting me up for collabs and I keep getting sucked into them because in a collab you’re like "Oh you already did half the work" [laughs]. 

This is what I’m saying. I’m probably just going to do an album or something. These are all the red flags that usually happen before I make an album. 

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EDC 2019: Alison Wonderland, TOKiMONSTA, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond, Tiësto, More

Alison Wonderland

Photo: Mauricio Santana/Getty Images

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EDC 2019: Alison Wonderland, TOKiMONSTA, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond, Tiësto, More

The world-renowned EDM fest has released the lit roster of over 240 artists for its 23rd annual event, set to return to its ninth year in Las Vegas from May 17–19

GRAMMYs/Mar 28, 2019 - 04:55 am

Today Insomniac, which hosts the now-global Electric Daisy Carnival and other major EDM events, announced the highly anticipated lineup for its flagship Las Vegas fest, set to take place May 17–19 this year. EDC 2019 is positively stacked, featuring GRAMMY winners Diplo, David Guetta and Tiësto, plus GRAMMY nominees TOKiMONSTA, Paul Oakenfold, Deadmau5, Above & Beyond and Kaskade.

Deadmau5 will be making his first return to the fest since 2010, bringing his new "Cube 3.0" stage setup, and Guetta will be back for his first time since the 2012 event. Australian singer/songwriter DJ/producer extraordinaire Alison Wonderland, plus GRAMMY-nominated rave icons Steve Aoki, Armin van Buuren will also bring fire to the three-day event.

Unlike a typical music festival lineup, EDC lists theirs alphabetically by day, giving way to a treasure hunt to the many gems across the lines of names. Underground techno queens Charlotte De Witte, ANNA and Amelie Lens will all perform at the event, which has eight(!) stages, along with fellow techno heavy-hitter Adam Beyer.

South African DJ/producer and underground house legend Black Coffee will also perform, as well as fellow house heavyweights Green Velvet, Patrick Topping and GRAMMY nominee Eric Prydz. Green Velvet will be offering two sets, one as Get Real, his project with Detroit legend Claude VonStroke.

Several artists will be hopping on the decks together, including Topping, who will be doing a B2B set (a.k.a. back-to-back, or collab set, for those not up on the rave lingo) with fellow British DJ Eats Everything. U.K. dubstep stalwarts Skream and Rusko are on the lineup for an "old skool dubstep set," which, as Your EDM put it, is "absolutely unheard of."

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But wait, who are the headliners? Pasquale Rotella, CEO and co-founder of Insomniac, believes that headliners are everyone that attends the festival, spreads the love and makes all the magic possible.

"Being a Headliner means looking at the world a little differently, and seeing beauty and inspiration everywhere you look. It’s about lifting up the people around you and making time for your family and friends. This is a journey we all take together—always connected and committed to one another," Rotella said in a statement on Insomniac's website.

If you want to get your dance on and check out the carnival rides, interactive art and plenty of lights and lasers with EDC in Vegas, you're in luck; tickets are still available. Check out EDC's website for more info.

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ODESZA

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Electric Forest Announces 2019 Lineup: ODESZA, Kygo, Bassnectar & Zeds Dead To Headline

The electronic music and jam band festival in Michigan is back and ready to get you dancing for a full four days in June

GRAMMYs/Dec 6, 2018 - 02:29 am

Electric Forest Festival is officially returning to Rothbury, Michigan June 27-30, 2019, for a long weekend of dancing among trees and lasers. The fest has announced the lineup, which includes GRAMMY-nominated ethereal electronic duo ODESZA, tropical house DJ/producer Kygo and bass music heavy-hitters Bassnectar and Zeds Dead as the headliners.

The full lineup, like the headliners, also includes a solid offering of artists across the sounds of the electronic music spectrum, including GRAMMY-nominated deep house duo Bob Moses, Detroit house OG Claude VonStroke, pop/dance collab champs Hippie Sabotage, upbeat house duo Gorgon City, female bass powerhouses Alison Wonderland and TOKiMONSTA and one of the leading ladies of underground house, Honey Dijon.

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The event is scaling back to a one weekend event from two the past two years and on top of the plenty of electronic artists and jam bands, also has some hip-hop artists to round things out. The jam band contingency is led by The String Cheese Incident, an Electronic Forest mainstay, who will be offering three performances over the weekend. Others include the Floozies, Lettuce and Twiddle, plus STS9, who blurs the line of electronic music, psych-rock and even hip-hop and could really fall in either category. GRAMMY winner T-Pain represents the smaller hip-hop contingency, along with rising female rapper Tierra Whack.

In addition to plenty of music to keep you dancing in the forest all weekend long, the event also offers a "Curated Event Series," yoga classes, silent disco, plus a VIP lodge camping offering. The full lineup plus more info on ticket options are available on Electric Forest's site.

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Dirtybird Campout 2018: Mija, Just Blaze, Phase 1 Lineup Announced

Mija (Amber Giles)

Photo: Nicholas Rhodes/Getty Images

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Dirtybird Campout 2018: Mija, Just Blaze, Phase 1 Lineup Announced

The first-ever East Coast edition of the camping-themed underground music festival has announced its initial lineup

GRAMMYs/Nov 1, 2017 - 11:45 pm

San Francisco-based underground tech house and bass music label Dirtybird Records' yearly three-day Dirtybird Campout music festival is all set for its inaugural expansion to the East Coast in February 2018.

The new festival is aptly titled Dirtybird Campout East, and standing tall atop the first batch of performers announced are big names like Just Blaze, Mija and Soul Clap, along with label boss Claude VonStroke and Dirtybird festival mainstays such as Justin Martin, Christian Martin, J. Philip, and Justin Jay.

In keeping with its West Coast forbearer, the first East Coast edition of the festival will feature a broad range of talent encompassing techno, trap, hip-hop, deep house, tech funk, and all manner of sub genres in between.

Dirtybird Campout East will take place on Feb. 2–4 in St. Cloud, Fla. Tickets will go on sale on Nov. 4.

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Dirtybird Campout 2019: Justin Jay, Jhené Aiko, J.Phlip, Shiba San, Mija, Tiga & More

Claude VonStroke at Dirtybird Campout 2018

Photo: Max Benedict

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Dirtybird Campout 2019: Justin Jay, Jhené Aiko, J.Phlip, Shiba San, Mija, Tiga & More

The camping music festival includes "'OG' Saturday night" sets, featuring your favorite Dirtybird heavyweights, from label head and house music legend Claude VonStroke himself, as well as Ardalan, Justin Martin, J.Phlip, Kill Frenzy, Worthy and more

GRAMMYs/Jun 5, 2019 - 03:24 am

Today, Dirtybird Campout announced the lineup for their beloved 2019 West Coast music festival, which includes many of your Dirtybird favorites like Justin Jay, J.Phlip, Shiba San, Mija, Walker & Royce and Dirtybird Records founder Claude VonStroke. The event returns to its 2018 home along the water at Modesto Reservoir Campgrounds on Oct. 4–6.

GRAMMY-nominated soulful R&B queen Jhené Aiko, turntable legend Cut Chemist, Detroit funkstress DJ Holographic, and Wajatta, the project of spoken word artist/comedian Reggie Watts and experimental house producer John Tejada, will also be bringing the beats to Dirtybird Campout West 2019.

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For all the early Dirtybirds who can't wait until that Friday to get their groove on, this year's Campout offers early arrival passes that not only guarantee "premier camping spots," but an extra special Thursday night B2B set from Tiga and Matthew Dear, as well as a "warm up set" from VonStroke. "Head Counselor Claude," as the press release calls him, will also be performing under his trippy beats alias Barclay Crenshaw aka VonStroke's given name.

Other musical highlights include an "'OG' Saturday night" featuring sets from longtime Dirtybird Records/events regulars including Ardalan, Justin Martin, J.Phlip, Kill Frenzy, Worthy, Christian Martin and, of course, the OG master of good times, VonStroke.

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The weekend will not only be filled with enough music to keep you dancing literally all day and night, the camp-themed fest also features tons of fun activities and games to help you live out the best version of summer camp you could possibly dream up. Attendees, including those behind the decks, are assigned to teams who will duel it out in dodgeball, tug of war matches and even the ".5K Floatie race."

Arts and crafts will also be aplenty, for campers to get their creativity flowing with screen-printing, totem-making and more. Grill$on's BBQ, a staple of the Dirtybird BBQ day parties the label hosts across the country every summer, will be on site to provide ample dancefloor and activity fuel up.

Tickets for Dirtybird Campout West are on sale now; for all options, including camping and BBQ add-ons, as well as the complete lineup, check out their website.

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