He used to do the backstroke in college. And he definitely likes "Backstrokin'" by the Fatback Band. Yet the true genesis of DJ/tech-funk producer Barclay Crenshaw's eccentric alter ego "Claude VonStroke" remains shrouded. But during a short chat with Crenshaw, it's apparent "Claude VonStroke" could easily be considered the evolving embodiment of the idiom, "Different strokes for different folks."
"I'm just trying to get away from the generic sound of a huge kick [drum] dominating," says Crenshaw by phone from his San Francisco home. "I try not to make my tracks feel like you're in a club and in an hour it feels like... a hammer has been beating you relentlessly. I try to have the bass swing more like a hiphop or funk track, and in the teeny half a second between beats, I try and fill in as much as possible."
Indeed, in little over a year Crenshaw—the head of his own Dirtybird Records—has injected quirky jerk plus kinky humor into a Detroit-bred, Bay Area–borne sensibility. And packing as much information as possible, but without descending into a quaggy mess, seems his tradition.
Prior to Dirtybird, Crenshaw cut his teeth in cutting film. It was during the production of the Intellect DVD—a five-hour electronic-music primer featuring almost 40 world-spanning DJs and producers—that Crenshaw began collaborating with then San Francisco newcomer and now Dirtybird artist Justin Martin and eased himself more into a management role.
"After college I went to work in movies in L.A.... and I realized it's actually better to be from Omaha, make a movie, and bring it to L.A. than try to work the ladder," comments Crenshaw on the DIY spirit inspiring his two intensive years on the Intellect project.
Crenshaw's productive pack-ratting and musical ambitions can be further traced. Appropriately, what partially fuels Crenshaw comes from a gas station. Growing up in Detroit, Crenshaw loved WJLB DJ Electrifying Mojo's Midnight Funk Association show. Crenshaw found himself most drawn to hiphop, which he could only find at a service station on Jefferson and 9 Mile Road. He still has boxes of those tapes, whose flutter, hiss, and 808 clap inform VonStroke productions in ways likely only to increase (and likely to see light through some jack trax that hit gray matter from a similar gray area as Danger Mouse's Grey Album).
After years basking in his mono boom box while making pause-button tracks with pal Bonus J, Crenshaw first mastered four-track then a sampler (the E-mu Emax, which Crenshaw believes was used in the Jungle Brothers' seminal "I'll House You"). Following hiphop, Crenshaw fell in with the drum 'n' bass circle, a genre he still considers this last decade's most sonically innovative yet emotionally stunted.
"Drum 'n' bass was fun, then dark, and I liked it, but I noticed it was turning into heavy metal: no girls, just bob your head and be angry," recalls Crenshaw. "That's no way to be when you're out. I'd rather have fun."
Following the aforementioned L.A. sojourn, Crenshaw returned to Detroit briefly, then settled into his current home base and production style. "I don't think I would have done this style without being in San Francisco," says Crenshaw. "It was almost a function of me going out and hating the terrible vocal VIP house music, so I basically started making my own stuff so I'd have something to hear."
All this culminated in Beware of the Bird, Claude VonStroke's full-length artist album already out in Europe and distributed directly to these shores October 31. Virtually crafted cuts such as "Deep Throat," "The Whistler," and "The 7 Deadly Strokes" match the enveloping style Crenshaw leans toward DJing: Green Velvet, 3 Channels, Alex Smoke, Switch—concept tracks where house sounds like techno, techno sounds like hiphop, and burbling electro melodies cross the tease and dot the eyes.
Anchoring Crenshaw's aesthetic is his label's namesake, the mischievous Dirty Bird—a creature Crenshaw initially drew into compromising positions when bored in church as a kid, and to get his brother and sister laughing. This cycles back nicely to the identity of freq-y "Claude VonStroke."
"What happened to the fake names, like DJ DragonFly?" asks Crenshaw. "It ended with the rave scene. Who wants to go see a DJ Larry Jenkins? What happened to the Cajmere/Green Velvet thing? It all comes back to the fun thing—people shouldn't be too cool to have fun."