Claude VonStroke barely needs an introduction, but we’ll provide one regardless.
The Detroit-born producer dropped his first album in 2006, with the LP’s “Who’s Afraid Of Detroit” single becoming an instant classic, one still often heard on any given night out. The album came a year after VonStroke — whose given name is Barclay MacBride Crenshaw — launched his label Dirtybird with the help of his wife from him Aundy.
“I was basically like, ‘I will support you for one year, and if you can do it in that one year and you are good, you can keep doing it,’” Aundy told Billboard in 2020. “I wanted to make sure he gave it all. And he did.”
In the last 17 years, Dirtybird has become of the US’s most beloved electronic imprints, helping give rise to a fleet of artists including Justin Martin, J. Phlip, Ardalan, Justin Jay and many others while exposing audiences to the weirder strains of house and techno and sonic points beyond. (This deliciously strange vibe extends to the output from Get Real, the longstanding side project from VonStroke and Green Velvet.)
The label’s familial vibe — as fostered by its leaders Mr. and Ms. Crenshaw — extends to its fans, who swarm to east and west coast iterations of the label’s Dirtybird campout, which features the games and activities of the sleepaway camps of your youth, but with more tech house. The next campout happens this October, in Modesto, Calif.
Cutting his teeth in the Bay Area before relocating to LA, VonStroke has risen in tandem with his label, becoming a mainstay of dance music in America and beyond — a figure adjacent to the EDM boom, but not necessarily of it — who’s earned headliner status without selling out. The now 51-year-old father of two is in the midst of his Your Dad Plays Great Music Tour, which continues tomorrow (August 5) in San Diego and hits smaller markets including Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana before wrapping in Washington DC on September 17. Crenshaw calls it “his most successful tour yet, with the most personal shows, and best connection to the fans.”
Here he talks about working with his wife, being a DJ dad, and how doing the Dirtybird campout DIY-style “creates an extreme level of creativity, stress and pure love for the four-day festival and everyone who attends.”
1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?
I’m in LA right now trying to figure out how to fix the bass in my studio. A never-ending process.
2. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do or did they think of what you do for a living now?
My dad was a lawyer for a steel company, and my mom was a school teacher. They always pushed me to create music and I think they are happy that I found something I love to do that generates income. As a parent myself, I feel like all we want is for our children to be safe and happy. They can do whatever they want. As long as those two things come true, I’m good.
3. Your wife Aundy is Dirtybird’s COO, chief marketing officer and head of business operations. What are the primary advantages of working so closely with your spouse?
She is way better at managing the company than I am. I am too emotional, and I make decisions based on vibes instead of facts. You need the vibe as well at a place that generates art, but you also need the grounded person who watches the budgets and knows how to get the products to the people. I will also say it takes a really special partnership to not go insane while running a business together, so I’m not sure I recommend it for everyone. But if you can make it work, nobody will fight for your business like your family will.
4. What’s the last song you listened to?
Fela Kuti’s “Water No Get Enemy” — plays in our house on loop. It’s on someone’s playlist, and I hear it minimum three times a week. Aand it’s great.
5. Are there any charitable organizations or causes you’re involved with that you want people to know about?
I don’t really like to hype this up too much. I think you should just give to charity and not make a big thing about it. We give large donations to several organizations.
6. What was the first album or piece of music that you bought for yourself and what was the medium?
Yeah, this is easy; I snuck out of my eighth grade field trip and went into the record store, we were like, visiting Toronto, and I literally snuck away from the group, cause it was so big no one teacher could tell who was there, and I went to the record store and I bought Run DMC’s Run DMC on vinyl.
7. What do your children think of what you do? Do they know of the Claude Von Stroke moniker and all that it entails, or are they not quite there yet?
They’re old now — they are like 13 and 15 — so they definitely know. And I just kinda gotta see if I can get them to do music, ’cause actually they are both really talented. My son has a beautiful voice, really cool and jazzy, and my daughter is an amazing songwriter. It’s kinda incredible.
8. If you had to recommend one album to someone to get into dance music, what would you give them?
Wow, now that is a good question… how about… well, you’ve thrown me here… I’ve recently been listening to a lot of old albums, something like Portishead’s dummy. The DJ Koze album is awesome where he’s on a moose, I have it here, but of course I can’t put my hands on it right now… typical!
9. When you started making your mark as an artist, what was the one special item you bought for yourself that didn’t have anything to do with studio gear?
Yeah, I bought a car with cash.
10. What kind of car?
To Range Rover Sport.
11. What was the very last album you listened to, or, the album of the moment that you just can’t put down?
I haven’t really been listening to albums; I’ve been going crazy on Spotify just listening to single songs. There is a group that I like, but it isn’t to be found right now of course, it’s lying around somewhere… it’s like Kilimanjaro Jazz Quartet or something… hold on, well what do you know, got it, the Kilimanjaro Dark Jazz Ensemble. It’s really weird, but in a good way.
12. In terms of Dirtybird and its prominence, to what do you attribute to the label’s global success?
I’m all about, really, bringing in new names, new people all the time, relentlessly, so yes, we have some artists who have done multiple releases, but I think the strength of Dirtybird is just bringing in new kids all the time and just finding new music.
13. What are you typically looking for in a new Dirty Bird artist? What’s you’re A&R process?
Our process is really don’t look at who made it; just listen to the songs almost blind, not entirely blind, I have to add, but I do listen to every single demo still, which is kind of a task and a half.
14. You also did an NFT drop last October which generated what at the time amounted to $2.27 million. How did you pull off that sale and why do you feel all the fans were so responsive to it?
I was really banging my head against a wall doing that NFT thing and not getting anywhere. Then out of nowhere the NFT thing worked out, and we had just worked with this artist, Bert Kaff, and I knew he was really prolific and fast, and I knew we had a very short window before, like, eight million people were doing it and so, we just busted our ass and got this thing out the door. But in general, it’s really cool and it gets you a lot of things inside Dirtybird; we’ve even made our own metaverse now and we are continuing to work on it everyday. It’s cool!
15. And what, as far as you’re concerned, is the most exciting thing that’s happening in electronic music right now, any DJs in particular that you’re keeping your eye on?
Yeah, this guy Nikki Nair we’ve kinda bought in. I think he’s extremely creative and talented and headed in the direction of more interesting sounds than just tech.
16. In terms of the label, are you currently looking for anything specific, like house, or are you broadening the horizons?
I can say, we are going to be going everywhere! We’ve just done a drum & bass record, and I really do want to take the label further into different genres.
17. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?
I think looking over the marketing and data collection of Dirtybird was the best decision I ever made. It’s really gone from strength to strength and created a whole new fan base for us.
18. Who was your greatest mentor and what was the next advice they gave to you?
Not sure about the advice, but it’s definitely Green Velvet. I actually work with him now, and he’s still my greatest mentor…I don’t know an exact quote [from him]but he is so positive, and sometimes I know I can be a little negative and he always brings me up.
19. You’ll be returning to the Dirtybird Campout this fall. What are the key lessons you’ve learned about running a festival, and what’s next for the event?
Anyone who puts on a festival with all their own money is either totally insane or really adores their fans. Dirtybird Campout is a boutique gem delivered straight from the heart. There is no giant corporate bank account saying “go git ’em next time, tiger!” It’s all or nothing every year, which creates an extreme level of creativity, stress and pure love for the four-day festival and everyone who attends. I dare say you will have more fun here than almost anywhere else. As for the future, the festival market has become so precarious that there is no way to predict what’s next. All we know is that this field will be very special.
20. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Just get into whatever it is you’re going to get into faster! I don’t know how to explain that but, there is no reason to wait forever. I thought I had to have a job to pay my rent and everything — I put it off for a long time before I really dove into my actual passion. And I feel like if you’re a kid now, you should just dive in, and who cares what the consequences are? Because that’s what you really want to do.