At the 2015 edition of Dirtybird Campout — the summer-camp-themed music festival hosted by the house music legend, Claude VonStroke—50 whimsically garbed ravers (none of whom have slept) are congregated in front of a small wooden hut. After a long day and night of partying, the sun is rising over the Southern California mountains.
But during this early morning set where rain trickled down in anticipation of an impending shower, VonStroke wasn’t playing house music. Instead, he put together an open-format set featuring a collection of funk, drum & bass, and hip-hop classics like “Buggin’ Out,” by A Tribe Called Quest.
Throughout that weekend, the Bass Lodge stage where he was performing was home to alternative bass artists like Eprom, and in later editions of Campout, rappers like Big Daddy Kane and Digable Planets performed there.
Based on the stage’s theme, it didn’t make sense for the artist to perform his usual set — or to use the VonStroke name. Instead, he spun under his given name: Barclay Crenshaw.
For the past 20 years, Crenshaw used the VonStroke alias as he championed a funky and unconventional form of house music through Dirtybird, his record label and event series. And now, he’s leaving what he built at Dirtybird behind.
Performing under his birth name eight years ago was the beginning of a new project that blends genres like hip-hop, bass music, drum & bass, and funk. In 2024, he is putting his Claude VonStroke persona on hiatus to perform as Barclay Crenshaw.
“There’s always been this project lurking even in [Claude VonStroke],” Crenshaw says. “There was always me playing jungle records, curating all these bass DJs, and people that I think are super innovative and live acts, playing hip-hop records. It’s always been there.”
That desire and love for these genres has been a passion of Crenshaw’s since his childhood years in Detroit.
“My body just reacts when I hear jungle or good hip-hop. It’s not even a brain thing. I was always drawn to these sounds since I was 11 years old,” Crenshaw says. “I’m gonna go do this thing that I wanted to do since I was a little kid,”
Even as he gained traction as Claude VonStroke, Crenshaw continued to have other projects in his back pocket. Under the alias The Grizzl, he remixed Katy B and Franz Ferdinand. He also produced bass tracks as VonStroke, including the alternative bass EP, Oh, with his Dirtybird protégé, Justin Jay, in 2021.
Now, Crenshaw is creating the space to make this music full-time.
“[Barcaly Crenshaw] is that project that I didn’t have enough time to do, but I really love,” Crenshaw says.
In the ‘90s, Crenshaw attempted to expand into this sonic world, but his ambitions fell flat. While he was producing drum & bass as DJ Tree in the ‘90s, Crenshaw attempted to sell his first EP in a local San Franciso record shop. However, the clerk was dismissive and didn’t listen to his music.
Crenshaw said that he was “embarrassed and humiliated” by the incident. Years later, he still carries that rejection with him as he moves on from the legacy he built with Dirtybird.
Last October, Crenshaw sold Dirtybird to the San Francisco-based distribution company EMPIRE. While it was difficult for him to let go of it, disillusionment with what the company was becoming partly fueled the decision to sell.
“Dirtybird was becoming a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy so at the end you just have a page that you can’t even read,” Crenshaw says with a laugh. “We got copied so many times that I couldn’t even make out what the original thing was.”
Continuing, he says “Everybody might think [changing genres] is going to be easy, but I’m still scared. Who decides to leave their profitable record label that they’ve been working on for 20 years and super high-paid shows to just drop it all? I’m fucking crazy!”
One main reason there were so many derivative versions of Dirtybird (also one of the reasons it was so profitable) is that the label was a central reason Tech House has grown into the top-selling genre on Beatport in 2021 and 2022.
Dirtybird released numerous Tech House hits including “Stop It” by the Australian house music maven, Fisher. This track was a catalyst for Fisher to play massive headlining gigs all around the world including closing stages at Coachella and being the first artist to play a set on Hollywood Blvd. Naturally, other artists wanted to reach that status as well.
Conversely, due to its popularity, many producers were separating themselves from that sound…including Crenshaw, who, for one of his last tours specifically moved away from Fisher-sized gigs to play small warehouses. The name of the tour was called Your Dad Plays Great Music.
“House is a little bit pretentious, and I was a part of that, too,” Crenshaw says. “This [bass] community is way more open-minded.”
Crenshaw’s most recent appeal to this open-minded community came in the form of his newest single, “Blue Mile.” This grime track is a collaboration with Of The Trees with a feature from British rapper Strategy. Powered by its heavy bass, Crenshaw says “Blue Mile” is the most club-ready song of his new material.
“Everyone is not coming with me from the house world and that’s fine with me. I’m looking at turning on an entire new audience of people which is exciting and daunting, and all of the above,” Crenshaw says.
Crenshaw is heading on the road for the 10-date Open Channel tour next March — a title that shares a name with his new album, Open Channel, which is out next spring — where he will curate a full audiovisual production in venues like Webster Hall in New York, The Mayan in Los Angeles, and Elektricity in Detroit.
These shows will be comparable to his recent performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre for which he made 30 different edits and a crew of live dancers performed alongside him.
“I’m going more adventurous,” Crenshaw says. “It’s almost like the first days when I was putting together the label. It’s just really exciting, and everything about it is making me enthusiastic about what we’re doing. I’m just back to being like a little kid.”