Come, Get Your Bird On

Heavy, thumping hits and extravagant, silly costumes are mainstays of every Dirtybird BBQ.

(Photo by Brittni Zacher)

Blame it on Christian Martin.

If the DJ and producer hadn’t spent $4,700 purchasing a sound system on his credit card in 2003, Dirtybird’s inaugural Golden Gate Park day-party might never have happened.

This was back when Dirtybird was just an idea Martin shared with his brother Justin and with Claude VonStroke. (Additional Dirtybird mainstays, such as Worthy, J. Phlip, and Aradalan, joined later.) Back then, it was hard to get people to come to the barbecues, because the music they played — bassy and quirky electronic tunes heavily influenced by Detroit techno and Chicago house — “was different, and it had not caught on,” VonStroke says. But it eventually gained momentum, and by 2005, Dirtybird was issuing vinyls through its label and playing weekly bar nights throughout the city.

Fast-forward to today, and Dirtybird’s humble beginnings seem almost cute: A shared interest between three friends led to a slapdash party in a park — which, in turn, evolved into a worldwide dance-music phenomenon. Dirtybird is now a globally known brand linked to dozens of rising house and tech artists, and its founders make regular appearances at myriad music festivals, like Hard Miami, Holy Ship, Symbiosis, and Shambala. Dirtybird has its own monthly subscription service for new music called Birdfeed, and since 2015, it has thrown a weekend-long camp for grownups outside of Los Angeles called Dirtybird Campout.

The individual members of Dirtybird have also seen been keeping busy. VonStroke, who was named “America’s Best DJ” in 2016 by DJ Times magazine, hosts an hourlong radio show on Sirius XM every week, and released his first hip-hop and jazz-inspired album as Barclay Crenshaw — his real name — earlier this year. In addition to playing individually, the Martin brothers now perform as a duo called Super Smash Bros, and their most recent set was at Desert Hearts Festivals in late March. After “touring pretty much nonstop for the last four years straight,” Justin has finally returned to S.F., where he plans on getting in the studio to concoct some new tunes. Christian is preparing to launch his new record label, Trippy Ass Technologies, which will donate five percent of proceeds to public school music programs. And Worthy, who recently went on a 23-date solo tour, is preparing to hit the road again next month.

But though its members’ careers have evolved over time, one thing about Dirtybird has stayed the same: its barbecues. Since 2013, they’ve been held at Treasure Island, a move that came about after they grew too large to host for free at a public park. Since 2014, the parties have also been thrown in select cities around the nation, like Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, and New York. This year’s additional barbecues, which happened earlier in May, were held in Las Vegas — because it won the annual Dirtybird BBQ city vote — and Washington, D.C. — because “we’re trying to show some Dirtybird BBQ love to new cities,” VonStroke says.

Every city has a different lineup, and 2017’s out-of-state barbecues included sets by OG French producer Shiba San, U.K. house DJ Weiss, and dance music impresario Eats Everything.

But when it comes to the Dirtybird barbecue in San Francisco, the lineup has been the same since 2010. “For better or worse, it’s been set in stone,” says VonStroke, who will be spinning on Sunday, June 4, along with the Martin brothers, Worthy, J. Phlip, and Ardalan.

In addition to a variety of hearty, grilled meats, the day-parties include carnival games — like strength testers and “Knock Over the Milk Bottles” — and a hilarious costume contest that in the past has seen attendees dressed as green dinosaurs or cheeseburgers.

But it’s the nonstop, thumping music that’s the real attraction. While fans will likely hear popular tracks like VonStroke’s “Barrump” and Justin Martin’s “Don’t Go,” the whole point of the barbecue is to play adventurous, new stuff that, Christian says, will “make people stop what they’re doing” or “just freak out.”

Claude VonStroke, Justin Martin, Christian Martin, Worthy, J. Phlip, and Ardalan play from noon to 8 p.m., Sunday, June 4, on Treasure Island. $19.50-$40; dirtybirdrecords.com/bbq

Read SF Weekly’s cover story on the label, “The Hatching of Dirtybird.”

Check out Dirtybird’s secret ribs recipe.

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