Dirtybird Records – Claude VonStroke’s San Francisco Tech-Funk

[The main members of the Dirtybird family.]

For all of the Dirtybird record label’s qualities, their primary goal is to make things fun. Ask Justin Martin, one of their most prolific artists, what a good track needs and he might reply, “A fart.”

“Think about it, it’s instant humor,” he says. “The first Dirtybird record ever had a fart in it. You just can’t take a fart too seriously (unless you’re my girlfriend).”

[Julio Bashmore -- "Um Bongo's Revenge" (Dirtybird 2009).]

That comedic theme has most definitely been present since the beginning, like the monkey samples in “Chimps” or the vocal samples that blurt “boobies” throughout “Big and Round“. But fun for the Dirtybirders is also about keeping the floor dancing, and their particular brand of tech-funk does this by incorporating a wider range of influences and ideas than simply being goofy.

This San Francisco sound revolves around house but dips into a blend of hip hop, tropical orientations, and techno. Space is used to make the music easy to absorb and allow each element to be as effective as possible; acoustic sounding instrumentation and unique samples keep the atmosphere from becoming too mechanical; and they strive for the biggest sound possible with lots of bass.

["My whole thing is trying to not make it sound like I'm going nananana," VonsStroke says as he one-finger taps the air like it were a keyboard. "So all the tricks are usually just a way to get it to sound not like I'm on my 1985 Casio."]

“There’s a lot of elements from hip hop, and almost that minimal aspect too, where you want to have either a clap or a snap on the 2 and 4 and then some really nice, round, warm 808 bass,” explains Chris Martin, brother of Justin and one half of The Martin Brothers. “When you combine those two things at a house tempo, it kinda gooses the dancefloor a little bit, because that 808 isn’t something that’s really saturated the house market. So we just wanted to hear those booms all the time.”

And with that, you can be pretty sure what to expect from a Dirtybird DJ set. They basically spin what they’re known for. “Of course there is an adjustment for a massive room, but I like to bring my style to all the venues I play,” says Claud VonStroke, the label’s founder. “I’m not there to play like everyone else. I’m being booked to be myself, to play dirty slutty bass.”

[Image: Claude VonStroke via Lost In Concert. Song: Claude VonStroke -- "Chimps", from his debut LP, Beware the Bird (Dirtybird 2006).]

“I just want to have fun and I want people to have fun at parties,” the boss elaborates. “Parties are meant for fun but some people get so carried away with the ‘cool’ factor that they miss the point of partying. These are usually the bloggers who love Star Trek and living in their mum’s basement. I always understood that parties were about guys trying to get in girls pants and girls trying to flirt with guys and gay people trying to get with other gay people. The music is just a conduit for easing sexual tension in the crowd. It is a way to have some noise on while you are checking out someone you want to hook up with. Being married, I am now excluded from this, but I still think this is the key to the audience and I love to try to get the crowd hot.”

The sound that accomplishes this is so distinct that VonStroke created an imprint called Mothership to release other sounds – generally darker, techier stuff. He donates a big portion of the label’s proceeds to a music school for kids in Detroit, the city he grew up on the outskirts of.

[Solo - Congoloid (Dirtybird 2009).]

After watching an interview with a local artist who complained that people get successful and forget about Detroit, the producer realized he was guilty of that himself. “I just made a track called ‘Who’s Afraid of Detroit‘, and made a whole bunch of money, and I was like, this is ridiculous, I think we should do something.” he recalls. “My dad was involved with this school, and one of my friends, Anthony, told me about this place where the Detroit Youth Organization actually has music studios, so it’s not just like an after-school program. They can make music too. So we decided to give money to that.”

VonStroke began by playing the cello as a child. He went on to produce a hip hop record at college and then got into drum n bass after that. But it wasn’t until he began work on a documentary that Dirtybird became a twinkle in his eye. “The idea began in 2002 during his production of Intellect, one of the most intensive studies on DJs and producers of house and techno music ever filmed,” Chris Martin says. “[VonStroke] created the concept of the label in order to supply tracks for the DVD’s soundtrack.”

[Image: Justin Martin. Song: Justin Martin & Ardalan -- "Mr. Spock" (Dirtybird 2010).]

But before they had their first release, or saw the success of songs like “Deep Throat” and “Who’s Afraid of Detroit”, they began by throwing a Dirtybird party in San Francisco’s Golden Gate park in 2003, a summer tradition they still continue with.

“It’s a free party that we put on and we pay for it from our club night proceeds,” Martin says. “We still get like a thousand people to show up. It’s like we can’t even announce it. If we announced it, it would be out of control I think.” - MS

  • mikewalsh
  • 12/3/2010

The video clip on how “Who’s Afraid of Detroit” was made is great. That guy’s got a great sense of humor (and very humble.) Makes me like this label even more.

  • Matt Shadetek
  • 12/3/2010

“Who’s Afraid of Detroit” is just generally awesome, great tune.

  • District 36 Presents CLAUDE VONSTROKE / Christian Martin / Tanner Ross Fri 12/17 - Nokturnalist
  • 12/3/2010

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