For many, Dirtybird is the house and techno label that helped them zip from an affinity for brostep and fist-pumping, to passions for quality house music. In the last few years, the label's latched on to a enthralling marriage between bizzare bass and approachable house rhythms, becoming one of the most in-demand labels around, as well as one of the most fun-loving. Founded in 2005 by Claude VonStroke and Justin Martin, the roster also includes Worthy, Christian Martin, J. Philip and a host of other influential artists. Barclay Crenshaw AKA Claude VonStroke established and led the self-described gateway label with hits such as "Who's Afraid Of Detroit" and "Make A Cake," and imprint's Dirtybird BBQ has been tearing across the world hitting festivals, waterfronts, and hopefully somewhere else within your ear's reach.
The THUMP UK teams caught up with VonStroke a while back in London as he was getting ready to celebrate the label's 10th anniversary by playing his full back catalogue in one six-hour set. Before that, though, we drank some coconuts and talked about 10 Years of Dirtybird, barbecues, and the future of the label.
THUMP: So, 10 years of going strong for Dirtybird, how does that feel?
Claude VonStroke: It feels really good. It's always been a challenge but it's just as rewarding as it is challenging. It's one of those labels where we did it because we didn't like anything that was out and actually I feel good because we stuck to that. We just kept doing our own thing and I feel like you can tell that it's us when you hear it. We've developed a really good identity. It's a great group of people, the artists are all friends, it's an awesome little community.
Yeah, Dirtybird seems to more about having fun than trying to look cool or whatever, which I guess is cooler anyway.
Well we have this thing in the office or wherever it is that we stay, that we don't want to be a joke label. We just want to have fun, we're serious about music but we're not serious people. We're serious about producing, but we're completely not serious.
How does the house scene here in the UK compare to the US?
I really can't believe I'm about to say this, but it's not as big here, but it's probably a little bit cooler.
So we have that at least.
Something just happened in the US and everything went fucking crazy, I mean even just for regular house music, not just for like…Skrillex.
Yeah, so what's up with the Rihanna remix? I dig it.
Oh you like it?
Yeah, did you?
Yeah, I did, but when you're someone like me and you do something that's overtly commercial, the response can be like 'fuck you' or 'I love it'.
Some people are saying, "You're a fucking idiot why did you do that, you're ruining your label" and on the opposite end it's like "I love it, I cant believe you don't do more of this." It's just what happens when you do stuff that isn't super underground house music, everybody has their comment, but I liked it.
Do you think most contemporary pop music lends itself to a house remix ?
Maybe, I mean, I've just done a Chemical Brothers remix that's about to come out. Q-Tip's on it.
Nice. That seems pretty true to the label, keeping that hip hop influence.
Well you could argue that's it's kind of a commercial song….it's not the same as Rihanna though. I mean I'm about to do another remix that I can't really talk about, it's gonna be super-duper cool. I think if you can just make it your own thing. Like, remember when Switch was remixing crazy people, like really dirty underground, pre-Major Lazer stuff, it's like that, if you can just make it your own thing I think that's cool.
Are you aware of trying to keep integrity whilst approaching more popular music ?
I'm very conscious of maintaining integrity. I think about it probably too much. We always try to stay in the middle. Then whenever I feel like we're getting too big or too insular, I'm always trying to pull it back in the other direction. Because no-one really sits in the middle, there aren't really that many people in-between big stuff and 'I hate everything' stuff. We like that spot in the middle, we want it. We want to be the gateway drug between when you were a kid and listened to hardcore D&B and on your way to house and techno.
So, I wanted to ask about barbecues, they're pretty synonymous with the Dirtybird label now, whose idea was that?
Justin Martin's older brother, Christian Martin was really obsessed with these parties called Moon Tribe, they were these big parties on the beach in San Francisco, or maybe they're called Full Moon? I don't know…something moon…way back when. So he was like really dead set on doing an outdoor event so he bought huge speakers on his credit card and started setting up the sound system in Golden Gate park, this was before Dirtybird, and then we just started doing BBQs there, for free, then a few years later I started the label. But the barbecue was called Dirtybird.
Cool, who's cooking?
It's always the same chef, Chris Wilson aka Chef Grillson
What have you got planned for this year?
One of the best things we're doing this year, is we're taking it a bit further and doing a camp out, in California, with like fishing and archery, tugs of war, comic shows, a full roster of main stage artists and then a little after party area with like hip hop. We're all going to be dressed up as camp councillors, a coloured band on your arm, playing teams against each other…
Do you have a favorite place to play in the US?
Sometimes, it changes every year. I used to think New York was terrible, now that's changed.
I guess when people started liking house music again, like two or three years ago. Like for a while, we were popular everywhere, and then in New York we'd stay in a youth hostel where all the rooms would have bunk beds and that's just what we could afford. And we'd get yelled at for having the music too loud at our show, that was maybe six years ago. But now there's like eight amazing clubs, sound systems, everyone is competing for warehouse parties, New York has changed the most of all…San Francisco is good but it doesn't have the same sound systems.
Can I ask about the Make A Cake video? I can watch that quite a lot of times in just one day, where did that come from?
Yeah, so these guys contacted me, Capture This NYC, an advertising agency in New York and they were like we don't care what you do we just want to make a music video for you so I'm like, 'oh well that's cool, let's do it'. So they met with me in New York and over breakfast we thought of a bunch of ideas, and we kind of had an idea, that was like that video [Make A Cake] but I thought it had to be more, it needs a little bit more of a weirdo, old school, Mr. Oizo/Dirtybird thing to it and it just came together but they did everything. That's how it happened.
A few hours later we headed over to catch his set at BLOC. From the onset it's clear why he's been at the front row of the genre for over a decade. He's one of those DJs confident enough to smile and visibly enjoy what he's doing, and why wouldn't he be? Celebrating ten years of your life's work isn't a bad way to start your shift.