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Q&A With Claude VonStroke: American Dirtybird

12/23/2013 10:31 am ET | Updated May 15, 2014

Claude VonStroke

For those who don't know, Claude VonStroke is the boss of the infamous ragtag Dirtybird records crew. Founded in San Francisco, born out of a series of free BBQ parties at Golden Gate Park, Dirtybird has been releasing music since 2005, carving out a very distinct niche in international underground scene. What's their sound? It's a big bag of everything: glitchy, jacking, booty-moving house, with big basslines served up prominently. It's party music, it's gotta be fun, and it never takes itself seriously. The living and breathing embodiment of this ethos is is VonStroke, the label's most beloved artist, flag-bearer and musical pace-setter.

It's been another banner year for VonStroke, who released his third solo album Urban Animal in September, and supported it with a major nationwide tour. This Friday, December 27th, he returns to Marquee New York for a headlining appearance at the club, his second set of 2013. We'll be warming up for this visionary, and we're excited to hear him drop loads of new music on us.

What was the highlight of 2013 for you?

Of this year? God, I don't know. It's a good question. I guess just completing the album and getting it out. And that tour was really fun. I know a lot of people think I'm going to say Ibiza. But I actually think the U.S. tour of the album was the real great thing for me to see. That we can actually do 25 dates in North America. And have it be awesome. I don't think we could have done that even, two years ago.

Did you hit a bunch of new places?

I did. I hit all kinds of new places. I was in towns that I had never even been to. I'd never been to Buffalo, for example. And we cracked a bunch of new venues. I mean, it wasn't always perfect. You can't have every show be perfect on that kind of a tour. But I started to see that it really can work on that level. It makes me happy because before this, I spent all my time and energy trying to go to Europe. Because Europe was like the cool place to go for this music, you know what I mean? So it just makes me really happy to see that I can do an awesome tour, a huge tour, that has tons of dates, over here. Because here is where I live. I mean, Obviously if you live in Berlin, you love just getting on the hour flights and going to London and Barcelona and Amsterdam. Its no different for me. I would much rather go to Portland, San Francisco, New York, Miami, because that's where I live! It just wasn't like, totally cool before.

Aside from the convenience, is there any kind of...

For me, personally, I'd always rather be super successful where I'm from. Its like the "David Hasselhoff is famous in Germany thing." Like, who cares? Like, OK yeah, It's great that you're famous in Germany, but at the end of the day you want to be famous in New York. You know what I mean?

Are you going to back to ibiza next summer?

I am, but we're not doing a party. We might have some one-offs, but we're not dong that weekly. I've never even done a weekly in San Francisco. So that was awesome, but I bit off -- it was like I went to the salad bar and I came back with that plate that was like a foot high, and I couldn't finish it. It was so hard to get there 13 times -- it's not close at all. You can't get there direct. It took some doing to get that night done. It was a fantastic opportunity and I think it really helped us. But I can't go there that many times.

You weren't based in Europe?

I was for like a month. It was definitely difficult. I have kids! I mean, they came out for like a month and that was it. Not even, they were there for like 3 weeks, out of 13. So just imagine. And I was touring, so even though our party was on thursdays, I'd just be right back out to another city on Friday, Saturday. And sometimes I would go like, Thursday, Friday, and then have an American gig on Saturday. It was pretty crazy. And I'm not complaining, it was hard travel. I can't do it again. We were bragging at the beginning that we were the only American label in Ibiza. And we were like, "Oh, now we get it. now we know why we're the only American label in ibiza." Nobody's stupid enough.

Now I've heard that you're going to be doing some residencies next year as well.

Yes -- that is one of the strategies of this year. To kind of, take some of the randomness out of the schedule. A lot of people -- I mean, I did this forever. Just take phone calls and see what happens. You never know anything, you never know where you're going, until like a month before. So this year we said we're going to set up some cities that we go to 3 or 4 times a year as a residency. But they're all in America. But that's what I was saying before, it's now possible to do that. So it's like, New York, Miami, LA, Chicago... there's like four or five of them. I think it's going to be awesome.

You guys have evolved and grown with different people that would be considered dirtybird members. Is it on you to kind of manage all that? When you do parties, this guy is on first, then him, that kind of thing.

This is something that I had to learn. This is something that is one of the hardest things to wrap your head around and like, get your ego out of the way. There's always this struggle between, we bring this artist in, they have a huge track, and then they go and do bigger things. Like, what do we do with that person? And do we want to try and lock them down and that kind of stuff. At a certain point in Dirtybird's evolution, I decided I did Dirtybird for fun, and I did it because I wanted to be an A&R, and curate music. And so I decided that we're going to be a place that doesn't do contracts with options and things. And we're just going to make our label cool, and if you want to be friends with us and hang out and make tracks, I will take them track by track and judge them on the quality of the track. And if someone gets big and wants to leave, they just leave. And we'll have another person next year that gets big. I don't want to trap people and be like Ministry of Sound and try to be this kind of uber-label. I want it always to be great. you know what I'm saying? But that is a really hard place to get to in your head! Because you see people come in, and you like, give them the opportunity, and then they get big. And the instinct is to be like, "I'm locking you down! You're booked on all our gigs!" But really, that just leads to a bunch of really heavy stress and not good relationships with people. And it's not worth it in my opinion.

How much time did you spend putting together the "Urban Animal" album? And what's your whole personal production process, vibe.

i do everything by myself, I mix it by myself. I didn't even get a few of the tracks mastered because I thought that the master was good enough. That part of it is excruciating, making the tracks and mixing them. But the way I make the tracks, I'm kind of mixing them as I'm making them. Because I feel like in dance music, that's how you make the tracks. Like, if they sound a certain way, that is the track. It's much more than any other kind of music. Like, the way that the bass hits is part of the music. It's not just like, oh this bass note will be the same if it hits or it doesn't hit. It's part of the song and how people interpret the sound. So I have to do the mixdown. Otherwise, I have a new style of making music thats really working out well, where I start tons of files all at the same time, and then in Ableton, theres a feature where you can just grab anything from any file, and put it in whatever project you're working on. And I'm finding that it's almost becoming like DJing. Like I make a really sick hi-hat pattern in one track but that track's not working out, and then I'm like, "Oh, remember when I made that really sick hi-hat pattern?" And I'll go grab it and put it in the new remix that I'm working on. And just having like seven or eight or 10 files all going at the same time, it makes me just be able to jump off something if it isn't working. I used to get really mired down in a single track. Like, "Oh this track is not working, but I gotta power through it." But this is much -- it's much more liberating, because you can be less bored if you're getting too deep into something.

Are you ever surprised by what tracks really take off? From the label, did you think that Breach's "Jack" would be so big?

I did. That one I did. Just because I saw the crowd reaction for six months, and nobody even knew what it was. That one in particular I actually told the label manager at the time to kind of put a little bit extra muscle behind it. Because I was seeing crazy reactions, more than usual. So when there's a track like that, you really want to kind of flag it up. If you've been playing it out, and everyone just kind of freaks.

So you're back in NYC next friday at Marquee. what are you looking forward to coming back?

Last time I had a really great show there, it was really fun. It will be good to see Sleepy & Boo! I don't know, I'm excited because I have tons of new music again. I just finished this Essential Mix, which is kind of like, the kiss of death to finish a two hour mix and then you're like, "Oh, I don't want to play any of these tracks." But I have a bunch of new stuff, a lot of remixes from my album I have now. And I've never played them out yet. This is pretty much going to be the first time I can play them. So that's exciting.

Claude VonStroke plays at Marquee New York with Sleepy & Boo on Friday December 27th..

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For more on Marquee NY

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