You can't blame Barclay Crenshaw for feeling like an old man playing a young man's game. When he created his DJ-producer alter ego, Claude VonStroke, and launched his Dirtybird label, Crenshaw was already 32. “In the world of dance music, that's already, like, you're on the way out,” he says. Instead, Crenshaw finds himself on the way in, a rising star and top attraction at several EDM festivals — including HARD Summer, where he'll take the stage this Saturday — at an age when most guys are ready to find a more respectable way to earn a living.
Asked how old he is now, Crenshaw cops to being slightly north of 40, then playfully adds over the phone from London, “You don't have to print that, by the way. It's gonna lose me some fans.”
Bearded and affable, Crenshaw comes across neither as a typical DJ nor as a man worried about losing fans. You get the sense that at many of the festivals he spins at, he's sometimes mistaken for a crew member — and that, just for a laugh, he sometimes plays along.
He owes his late start to two things: an abiding interest in filmmaking over music (“I even lived in L.A. for a minute”) and a hard-drive crash that, at the time, felt like the final nail in the coffin. He was doing a live drum 'n' bass show in his hometown of Detroit and lost all his files. “So I just gave up on music,” he says.
Resolving to get back into the film industry, Crenshaw moved to San Francisco (which he still calls home) and found work at a post-production house. But he couldn't resist scratching his EDM itch, and soon began borrowing gear to shoot interviews with DJs passing through town. He eventually assembled the interviews — with everyone from Paul Van Dyk to Orbital — into a documentary called Intellect: Techno House Progressive. Aided by the knowledge he'd gained from the interviews, he composed a soundtrack that mimicked the music of his subjects. (“We couldn't license any music because we were so broke,” he explains.)
Ironically, all those hours imitating his heroes led Crenshaw to a distinctive, original sound that remains the template for all Dirtybird releases: an infectious blend of the springy bass lines of Chicago and the sleek simplicity of Berlin, often infused with a screwball sense of humor that surfaces in odd samples, like the cartoonishly menacing voice on his most famous track, “Deep Throat.”
“We'd just seen what had happened to the really dark drum 'n' bass scene, which I was really into,” Crenshaw says of himself and his friends Justin Martin (also playing HARD Summer) and Sammy D, whose house-meets-hoedown goof EP The Southern Draw became Dirtybird's first release. “It had just become all guys and it was really dark. We just said, we wanna have fun and do something that's not so serious.”
Which is not to say Crenshaw doesn't take his music seriously. Asked about Dirtybird's sly, sinewy approach to house music at a time when bone-crushing dubstep and anthemic electro-house dominate, he gets emphatic. “We're definitely not riding whatever's the hottest thing. … We're never gonna put out a commercial cheese song.”
So no Claude VonStroke/David Guetta collabos in the making? “No. Well,” he deadpans, with characteristic wit, “maybe if my name weren't on it and I could make a million dollars.”
Claude VonStroke plays HARD Summer Music Festival Fest on Saturday at Los Angeles State Historic Park.