BnB Interview: Claude VonStroke

The story behind Claude ‘Who’s Afraid Of Detroit’ vonStroke’s career is a remarkable one. A lifelong passion for electronic music triggered the DJ to start up his own label Dirtybird back in 2005 as a deal with his girlfiend.
Claude’s grown out to become one of the planet’s most wanted DJs in the field of house and techno, whereas Dirtybird has made a name for itself as a trusted source for all things housey and minimalish. And there’s no stopping yet…

Hey Claude, how’s it going?
I’m doing well, thanks. Hitting the road again for a pretty epic week.

How have you been celebrating five years of Dirtybird over the past few weeks? Any wild stories?
We had one of our big dirtybird barbeque parties in golden gate park last week. It coincided with Justin and Worthy’s birthdays and it was one of the nicest days of the year.  Everyone got a bit tipsy and ate tacos and danced to dirty basslines in the hot sun. That’s my kind of thing.  Besides that, no i haven’t jumped out of any windows or destroyed any hotel rooms. Nothing too wild yet. But we’ll see.

The celebration comes with a 3xCD representing Dirtybird’s past, present and future. What has been the main idea behind starting your own label?
The main idea was just to release music that I liked and have an avenue for my friends to release music as well.  In a way it began because i wasn’t really hearing anything that i loved out at the clubs in San Francisco.  It was kind of a thing where Justin Martin and I knew what kind of music we should be hearing but were not, so we went ahead and made some.

The CD is a funky collection of Dirtybird’s hottest tracks.  What criteria does a record need to have to get a release on the label?
A hardcore techno track is probably not going to get released but i am pretty open minded within the house/techno genre.  One thing for sure is that the track has to have some funk.  I never sign something that isn’t funky or really in the pocket.  Some people think they have to send in something silly to fit in with the label but it’s really not the case.  I mean are Who’s Afraid of Detroit and Aundy silly tracks? not really.  I also hate a track that uses a gimmick for the gimmicks sake.  The gimmick can only be the icing on the cake. The track has to be spot on rock solid or no one will go for it no matter how clever you think you are.  

How do you see the label evolving in the next years?
Like what i was just saying I’m really trying to find music that isn’t trying too hard.  I don’t want dirtybird to be thought of as this label of jokey jokes.  I want the tracks to speak for themselves.  For example a really good producer just made me a demo and he thought it would be good for the track to be full of silly bird sounds.  I really like this guy’s production and he has a really bright future  so i’m not going to say who it is but the point i’m making is that i’m not signing that track.  It is too obvious. You can just add bird sounds to your beats and expect me to release it. It’s not enough.  I want innovation, vision, passion & dirty funk.  So to answer the question i see us continuing to trail-blaze. I don’t fear anything because the music industry is pretty silly like high school.  People want to follow who’s cool. But i just want to innovate and make music i like without getting led astray by the trends.

Any hot plans for the label in the pipeline that you wish to share?

The Martin Brothers have a rocking new joint coming out soon called “Steal Drums”. I also have a coupe bomb tracks from total newcomers. I like this the best.  If you can remember we broke Tim Green, Riva Starr, Justin Martin..etc… Some of these guys move on to different things or go more commercial but I love finding a new talent.

A new venture in your imperium is the Motherbird DJ agency. What has been the reason for starting up your own agency?
It’s really just an offshoot of our old booking agency. I just wanted a place for people to go where they can see our artists and book them without having to wade through 30 other artists that have nothing to do with us.  Basically, the people on there are all the major artists on dirtybird and mothership.  They are all people I have made some kind of commitment to.

The name Dirtybird is a reference to a drawing you used to make as a kid, but how did you came up with the name Claude vonStroke?
We were all out partying and thinking of fake European minimal techno Dj names. It was all a joke but this name stuck with me and the girl who’s house we were partying at had her birthday the next week. I was Djing so on the flyer as a joke she put “Claude VonStroke” instead of my real name. After that there was no turning back.

You originally hail from Detroit. How did you end up in San Francisco? How did you experience the differences between the sound of Detroit and that of San Fran?
Well i actually went to LA right after college and worked my way up in the movie business. Then i went back to Detroit. THEN i went to San Francisco.  It was my return to Detroit from LA that really opened up my eyes to the possibilities of doing music for a living.  Yes, it wouldn’t be until i got to SF that my dreams started coming true but alot of the groundwork was done in Detroit.  The cities (SF and Detroit) are so different that it is hard to even compare them. One is empty, affordable and very grounded and the other is over-full, expensive and somewhat dreamy.  The music follows suit. Detroit has a very underground almost futuristic sound. It is grounded in reality and seriousness but takes you to the moon. San Francisco is always more about imagination and weirdness. It is grounded more in fantasy, drugs, and love.

You’re part of San Francisco’s lively house scene. What was the scene like when you first got introduced to house music?

It was mostly about vocal house but with a strong drum n bass underground. I hated all the house that i heard when i moved here. The only reason i would even go to the parties was because there were so  many girls.

How has it evolved since those days?
I would say so. The word techno was no even in the cities vocabulary when i moved here. Now it is part of the weekly line-up. Also, the sound has shifted a bit dirtier. Not as much fluffiness, but you can still find that stuff.

Any tips & tricks for aspiring DJs?
Please learn how to DJ properly even if programs like Traktor will beatmatch for you now.  It may be tempting to mix like this because it will be so smooth but when you strip away the layers of human interaction with the gear and the crowd it becomes less and less of an exchange with the people and more about just you and your computer. I’m not saying that you cant play great with a computer I’m just saying it is always better to learn an art-form and then break the rules.  If you know how to mix it can only help you.

What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m busy in the studio with my Grizzl alias. Right now I’m finishing a remix for Gonzales on Boys Noize (hip hop style)  I’m developing that name this year any continuing vonstroke of course.  A couple massive remixes this year for VonStrizzo. The first is on Planet-E and the other is for Cajmere.  I’ll keep the details under wraps for now but they are as big as it gets for me.

To conclude, is there anything else you’d like to share with your audience? Anything goes!
Yeah one thing i’ve found to be true is that there’s no way you can please everyone so the more you can be true to yourself and your particular vision (no matter how far out it is) the better off you will be.

Claude vonStroke – Who’s Afraid Of Detroit