For an artist whose career trajectory has largely paralleled that of the mainstream EDM explosion, Claude VonStroke boasts his fair share of underground credentials. The Dirtybird Records label head spent much of his youth in Detroit, where he was steeped in the area’s historic rave scene before setting up shop in San Fransisco.
Over the past few years, the signature Dirtybird synthesis between proper house music and more bass-heavy ghettotech styles has become the U.S.’ answer to house and techno from other parts of the world. As such, it might surprise music fans not intimately familiar with VonStroke or his signees to learn that much of their influences are rooted in drum and bass.
During Miami Music Week, Claude VonStroke sat down with us to discuss his latest endeavors – and after giving his thoughts on the UK bass line trend, he revealed that he still believes drum and bass to be “the best genre.” He also discussed his Get Real project with Green Velvet and revealed that a remix of one of his classics is on the way.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
I think that Dirtybird has played a big part in the recent assimilation of house and techno into popular electronic music. When you first started the label, did you ever imagine that would be the case?
Claude VonStroke: No! I just wanted to put out some records, hang out with my friends and make something cool. I had no way to know that it was gonna be merch and events, and 26 artists on a label with subscription memberships.
Is the Dirtybird roster sitting at 26 artists right now?
Claude VonStroke: That’s the number of people I had to consider when I was doing the campout – the number of people I feel are in the rotation. If you’re talking about just Dirtybird artists, not just the ones who have tracks signed, that number’s lower. There are like 15 who who have released more than one record and are showing up to things on the club circuit.
It’s coming up on a year since you and Green Velvet have been doing the Get Real project, right?
Claude VonStroke: Yeah, and it started out in Miami as an accident! We were at some hotel over there in, like, the Basement or the FDR room – I don’t know what it’s called, but we were booked at different times but showed up at the same time, and we were like “Why don’t we just play this together?” It was so fun that we decided we should just do it again.
In a lot of ways a project between you two makes sense, but it’s also kind of an unlikely union.
Claude VonStroke: For me it’s not unlikely at all, because that was how I got into it. Before I started releasing, it was “Percolator” and all of his tracks. I thought he was the coolest because the hardest thing to do is ride this super thin line between having a funny idea and still having it be cool. He’s the master of that. He’s the master of having kind of a funny idea, but it’s so good that it’s still cool. “Percolator” is the best example ever of this. It’s a funny idea, but it’s the coolest track ever.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like Justin Martin was the biggest Dirtybird export in 2015. What do you think it is about his music that has resonated with such a wide audience?
Claude VonStroke: I dunno, he’s just a really talented producer and he’s got a great attitude as well. He’s probably got the best attitude of anyone on our label. He’s the most approachable, fun guy ever. Seriously.
I’ve heard you say that you’re not all that impressed with the UK bass line sound.
Claude VonStroke: No, no, this is the deal. We came from that sound. We’re all drum and bass guys. It’s just that we started putting out house in, like, 2010 maybe. But now, that’s been bastardized to where it’s almost pop in the UK and has singers over it – and in my opinion, that shit is over. But it’s actually really cool, because now that I’ve said that, it’s allowed us to keep our bass influences, like Ed Rush & Optical and all the killer shit, but we’re not trying to make slowed-down garage. We’re like, fuck that shit, we’re Americans. (Laughs)
I’m a closet drum and bass fan, though. If I could have been a drum and bass producer I probably would have traded it for this. It’s the best genre. Technically, you have to be fucking amazing to get that shit to sound right. In my opinion, you just have to be ridiculously talented at sound design and stuff. I think that drum and bass producers are the most technically advanced producers.
You could say that that goes into dubstep as well, but that’s the hardest sound to get right because you’re dealing with sounds that you can’t really hear in the studio. You’re dealing with frequencies that are only gonna come out on a huge sound system, and either they’re gonna fucking kill it or they’re gonna flop. With a house track, even if the sub isn’t completely right you’re gonna get it to work. It’s not reliant on the bass.
You guys have a really ludicrous press photo where you’re all wearing old-timey sports outfits (seen above). I’ve always wanted to know how that came about.
Claude VonStroke: Yeah, for Mixmag! That was actually a cover for Mixmag three or four years ago. It was when we launched the idea of DirtyBird Players, which was where all the Dirtybird guys would play on one stage at a festival. That was the launch of that concept, so we were just playing on the idea that we were all gonna look like vintage basketball players, cricket players – that was actually the idea of this guy from England who did the shoot. Mixmag killed it, they brought in all the stylists, and a great photographer. It was a big concept that took the whole day, and that was one of our best pictures we ever did.
Aside from The Rainbreak, what else do you have on the horizon that your fans might be interested to find out about?
Claude VonStroke: I have a “Who’s Afraid of Detroit” remix that I’m gonna be testing out that I think is pretty good. I actually have another remix that I made and played last week, and I was like, “It’s just not fucking good enough.” So I went back, and my buddy who took me to my first rave was staying at our house in L.A., and he’s a big TV director from Detroit, and he says, “You know what the problem with this remix is? It doesn’t sound like Detroit! You gotta make it more Detroit!” (Laughs)
And he’s right, it totally sounds like the California version of “Who’s Afraid of Detroit,” so I went back in and made it super moody and I think I got there. Even my wife was like, “I wish it was moodier,” and she never says that. She usually wants it to be happy and poppy, but this time she wanted it to be moody.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Claude VonStroke very much for his time.