Interview: Claude VonStroke Says U.S. Doesn't Get Enough Respect In Dance Music
Claude VonStroke is the prankster of dance music, a provocateur whose tracks ("Who's Afraid Of Detroit," "Deep Throat") are cantankerously groovy. While many DJs set their watches to the latest movements in club-land (minimal, nu electro, tech-trance), VonStroke is a rare spinner who has created an industry around his own digi-delic sound. You'll find it on his recently released sophomore album, Bird Brain, where VonStroke stirs up an syncopated alchemy of techno, funk and bass-driven house music.
VonStroke was born Barclay Crenshaw and grew up in the suburbs of Detroit soaking up the eclectic, futuristic radio sounds of the Electrifying Mojo, the same DJ who helped inspire the Motor City's Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May to create techno. Crenshaw went to college in New York and eventually came West. Before embarking on a dance music career, he worked in Hollywood as an assistant on big-budget films. He eventually moved to San Francisco and made a flick of his own, the well-regarded DJ documentary Intellect.
The 38-year-old DJ has since become a major star in a global club scene increasingly focused on Europe: He's one of America's few standouts on the superstar DJ circuit. VonStroke is set to spin Friday at Compression's four-year anniversary party. We asked him a few questions.
LA Weekly: Everyone seems to be digging the dark wave coming out of Europe. Is that your thing at all?
I'm into it a little bit. I'm more into individual, good tracks.
The focus on Europe has taken the spotlight away from U.S. dance music again. Do you think the artists here get overlooked?
The U.S. definitely doesn't get enough credit. Everybody in Europe is playing U.S. house music. It's the rage. And it started here. There are a lot of DJs I know that would be huge if their address happened to be in Berlin. It's as if you're in actor who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska instead of Los Angeles. (Chuckles).
What kind of house are they playing overseas?
It's all super-'90s, old DJ Sneak, a little bit of Chicago, a little bit of deep house. And then people are mixing that stuff with stuff that they're remaking that sounds exactly like it. A ton of Germans are making U.S.-style house music. That's how it happened last time as well: They took techno and made it better.
You're from Detroit, home of techno, but made your name in San Francisco, home of West Coast house. Which style does your sound reflect more?
My first album was a little more Detroit and my second album was a little more West Coast, more Bay Area. I definitely still have the Detroit influence that's also melted into Europe flavors. The influence is what I grew up with, though, regardless of where it was made. I grew up with funk, hip-hop and people yelling, 'ehhh' and 'ahhh,' in the music. (He says this with a decidedly James Brown intonation).
A lot of DJs see their sets as a way to brand and project their own music. Do you play a lot of your own productions when you're in the booth?
I play 80, 90 percent percent other people's music. I don't want to DJ my own tracks for 52 weeks. I would go crazy.
What's next for your label, Dirtybird?
The next big project is our five-year birthday release, which will be a 3-disc package in March that will include our greatest hits, a DJ-mix and a disc of all new tracks.
Will you ever follow up on your 2003 dance music documentary Intellect?
No freakin' way. That was so difficult. Film is so collaborative that 's its kind of a pain in the ass. Music, I can just do it and be done with it. That project was extremely difficult to finish. I don't have a desire to do it again. I just lost the fire for doing that kind of stuff. I can be much more creative and get my ideas across much faster in music.
Claude VonStroke headlines Friday with Justin Martin and more at the four-year anniversary of Compression at Cinespace, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 21+. $15 before 11 p.m. with RSVP. Doors at 9:30 p.m. Info: robtronik.com.