“The road is not great on your body,” says Barclay Crenshaw, in between yogalike stretches. “There's a lot of bad food … no sleep.”
The DJ, producer and Dirtybird label boss best known to house-music lovers as Claude VonStroke just got back into town after another trek across the country. After hitting Chicago to work with veteran producer Curtis “Green Velvet” Jones on new music for their collaborative project, Get Real, he went to New York for one of his touring Dirtybird BBQ parties.
There, a summer storm attacked the outdoor dance floor right before doors opened, leaving roughly 4,000 attendees stuck in what Crenshaw describes as a “Disneyland, Saturday afternoon” queue. He went to the back of the line, met fans and made sure they all, eventually, got into the party.
Now he's with his wife, Aundy, and their personal trainer, running through a series of exercises as the mid-August sun blazes across their Venice backyard. “I have much more energy. I dance a lot more,” Crenshaw says as he gets deeper into the workout. “The bad part of that is that I'm able to party way harder, too, which is a disaster.”
Lately, Crenshaw and his Dirtybird cohorts are at the center of the party. For years, they've been the cool crew on the U.S. festival circuit, bringing underground vibes to mainstream dance events such as Hard Summer and Electric Daisy Carnival. As the young, festival-hopping crowd moves away from pop-minded EDM and toward tried-and-true genres like house, Dirtybird's profile has grown immensely. Crenshaw, who moved to L.A. from the Bay Area two years ago, even landed his first big pop remix gig this year when he put his stamp on Rihanna's hit “Bitch Better Have My Money.”
A few days after his L.A. Weekly interview, Crenshaw has a gig with French DJ Shiba San at downtown club Exchange. Outside the venue, in a dead-stopped line to the sold-out event, would-be attendees chatter loudly about which of their vague connections might be able to get them in. Inside, even the VIP area is packed. Sweat flies as folks try to dance shoulder to shoulder and girls hop atop shoulders, as Crenshaw drops a bit of bass-y, Kraftwerkian electro at the start of his headlining set.
On Oct. 2, Crenshaw's label will host its first major festival, the three-day event Dirtybird Campout at Orange County's Oak Canyon Park. Produced in connection with the Do LaB, promoters of Lightning in a Bottle, the weekend is designed to recall the s'mores-eating days of summer camp. The core Dirtybird DJs — including Justin Martin, J.Phlip and Justin Jay — will perform throughout the weekend. They may also be around for the nonmusic events. Martin says he wants to put together a basketball tournament. Crenshaw intends to emcee a talent show.
Born in Cleveland and raised outside of Detroit, Crenshaw gravitated to music early. As a kid, he made music with a four-track recorder and had a show on his high school's radio station. Hip-hop was his first passion, but he didn't see DJing as a career. “It didn't seem realistic,” he says.
It wasn't until he was already entrenched in a film career that he decided to pursue DJing professionally. He made a documentary for which he interviewed house and techno DJs, and used the knowledge he gained from them to start his own label. In 2005, his wife agreed that he could spend a year getting Dirtybird off the ground while she paid the bills.
“It was a crazy idea,” Crenshaw admits. But it worked. Dirtybird formed out of friendships among up-and-coming DJs in the Bay Area, and 10 years later, the connections to their early days are still evident. The tour manager for the Dirtybird BBQs is a friend of Crenshaw's who was an early supporter of the label, and they've had the same grill master, called Grillson, since the first party.
“We're family,” says Justin Martin, who with his brother Christian is part of the original group. “It's been really fun to still have the same crew, the same friends that you had the dream with, and see it become the success.”
Dirtybird has continuously brought in new people as well. Jessica “J.Phlip” Phillippe first met the gang in 2005 during Miami's Winter Music Conference. “I loved their vibe,” she says. “I kept seeing them around with all these San Francisco people and I loved hanging around with them.” By 2007, Phillippe, who is originally from Illinois, had moved to the Bay Area; a year after that, she was part of the crew, too.
Then there are the producers Crenshaw finds by sifting through demos. L.A.-based Justin Jay had flipped over Dirtybird's releases while still in high school. The summer after he graduated from high school at Harvard-Westlake, he submitted his own demos to the label. Midway through his first week of college at USC, he learned that the label wanted to sign him.
Jay, who graduated college earlier this year, spent four years balancing school with far-flung DJ gigs. Crenshaw describes Jay's recent track “Hit It,” from the EP Mom, I Graduated, as “kind of like Eyes Wide Shut if it were a heavy house track,” and says it's been getting the best reaction out of the music he's playing on the road now. “It's really cool and I think it's going to do well,” he says before adding, “I have no idea — I always say that.”
Although the label is based in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Dirtybird's roster extends to Europe, including artists such as Polish duo Catz 'n Dogz and Belgian producer Kill Frenzy, and its acts are internationally recognized. Still, Crenshaw credits its success to the amount of effort it has put into the U.S. market.
“It paid off,” he says. “There aren't that many legitimate house-music labels in the U.S. that aren't super commercial, so we're filling that space. There are a lot of people coming from Europe, but they don't stay here. They're just coming over for a week. We're just always here.”
Crenshaw says he's not sure how he ended up playing house. But now that he's conquered the genre, he's delving part-time into the style that first inspired him.
Crenshaw's love of hip-hop is evident here and there on his Claude VonStroke productions. For example, his recent remix of The Chemical Brothers' track “Go” was done so he could play something “that had an Afrika Bambaataa vibe with modern production.” Soon, Crenshaw will be releasing hip-hop cuts under his own name on a subsidiary label. The first will be a collaboration with producer Eprom. “It's not going to be a high-pressure thing,” Crenshaw says. “I'm doing it for fun.”
The fun aspect is important for Crenshaw's work, especially as Dirtybird continues to grow. “I keep kind of saying, suggesting, to my managers and everybody that it's pretty good the way that it is. Anything higher and I have to go into a major label or listen to somebody else.
“Right now, I don't listen to anybody. I just do whatever I want and make tracks and throw parties and it's pretty good. It doesn't sound that bad, does it?”
DIRTYBIRD CAMPOUT | Oak Canyon Park, 5305 Santiago Canyon Road, Silverado | Fri.-Sun., Oct. 2-4 | $145 and up | dirtybirdcampout.com