Claude VonStroke: Man or Machine?

Despite running several record labels and rigorous touring commitments, Claude VonStroke has still found time to release two great records so far this year. David McNamara discovers that the bird obsessed madman is not done yet

Feature by David McNamara | 28 Jul 2009
  • Claude VonStroke

So far this summer Barclay Crenshaw, aka Claude VonStroke, has been one very busy man. In the space of two months, he has released an exquisite compilation for clubbing institution Fabric and his own Aundy EP, and still has one more full-length release up his sleeve before the year is out. The Detroit born DJ/producer is the embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit. This meticulously organised individual manages to juggle the responsibilities of international tour duties in addition to running not one, but two successful record labels. Since the release of his critically acclaimed 2005 debut Beware of the Bird, Crenshaw has been an unstoppable force of gathering momentum. His extensive world travels and exceptional networking ability has given him the opportunity to establish two record labels that have continued to flourish. The first, Dirtybird, has released over 20 EPs since 2005, but to date the most successful effort is still VonStroke’s debut album. He later started Mothership in 2007 to satisfy the more hardcore techno enthusiasts, and donates a large percentage of proceeds to a music school for children in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. This selfless act is a raised middle finger to anyone who dares to say that dance music doesn’t have a conscience. When considering the monumental amount of work Crenshaw thrusts upon himself, he could easily be mistaken for a masochistic workaholic. But the truth is, he is incapable of refusing certain offers. “Fabric called me, and of course I agreed without hesitation. I have wanted to mix one of the Fabric series since I started DJing house. I feel like it is a nice achievement for a DJ, something that says, ‘OK, this person is legit.’” Before the moniker of Claude VonStoke was created and the legacy of his performances was born, Crenshaw once interviewed the producers he now refers to as peers for independent documentaries. He considers how lucky he is to realise his passion and declares, “I'm so happy to be making music for a living. I got such a late start following my dreams that I really appreciate it now.” With slight embarrassment he adds: “Most of the people I interviewed don't recognise me and I don't really bring it up when I see them.” When quizzed about his third release due later this year, Crenshaw humbly asserts that he believes his previous work required some development. “Beware of the Bird was more of a collection of singles, and this upcoming album is wider in scope. There are hooks on this one but I'm not trying to kill you with every breakdown on this album.” The multi-faceted producer doesn’t give too much away about what his exact plan of attack is going to be with this album, but simply jokes: “Of course I kept the birds. This one is going to be called Bird Brain.” If the recently released Aundy EP is any indication of what we can expect from Crenshaw’s next full-length album, there appears to be a great departure from the infectious commercialism of previous hit Beware of the Bird and crowd favourite The Whistler. Title track Aundy is a soothing flurry of gentle harp strums and minimalist backing beats, whereas Storm on Lake Saint Claire possesses the kind of restrained grace that made Orbital so influential in the early nineties. It seems perfectly fathomable that the reinvention of an artist could be on the cards with VonStroke’s second album. There is a very endearing rumour circulating on the internet that Crenshaw’s wife was the one who gave him the opportunity to make a living from music. She apparently offered to support him financially for a year while he pursued his passion. This may sound like the main ingredients of a fickle Hollywood romance film, but is in the fact true story of how the Detroit born DJ started his career. He's perfectly happy to elaborate: “Yeah. She not only gave me a year, she paid all the rent and food and everything. It is probably the greatest gift a person can give to another person: an opportunity.” When asked if his wife ever regrets letting him enter into an occupation that would inevitably keep them apart for prolonged periods of time, Crenshaw confesses: “She is happy that I am following my dreams but she isn't so happy when I have to go on the road all the time.” The Dirtybird label owner has played in Scotland under his VonStroke alter ego on three occasions this summer, with two headline performances at Sub Club and a Slam Tent slot at T in The Park. Compared to other countries that he frequently visits, Crenshaw adamantly asserts that Scotland possesses “great open-minded crowds with big hearts. I love the people in Glasgow especially”. He then jokes: “My ancient relatives are from Glasgow so it must run deep in me.” Typical, another American who attempts to claim Scottish heritage. It becomes charmingly evident that Crenshaw is a reflective character who is not afraid to examine himself for the sake of explaining his craft when he offers: “I think my music projects my personality very well, maybe even better than me speaking to a person. I like to be dorky, cool, funny, nerdy, nasty, funky, and sweaty.” Doesn’t everyone?