Throughout the ascension of dance music over the last decade, the Dirtybird has proven to be more than a source of high-quality, rump-shakin beats. “OKAY” by Shiba San. “Stop It” by Fisher. The San Francisco bred imprint and globally known event curator continuously shifts the collective consciousness surrounding house and techno, causing an entire population of dance music fans to be excited about new ideas and possibilities.
Recently, label boss Claude VonStroke and his loyal protege, Justin Jay, continued that legacy with their new EP, Oh.
On this four track offering, the collaborators tap their early influences of garage, drum and bass, and breakbeat. Pearson Sound, mainstay of London’s notorious leftfield imprint Hessle Audio, rounds out the project with a remix showcasing his talent for syncopated rhythms against a club aesthetic.
“This is actually the most leftfield EP to come out on Dirtybird,” says Claude VonStroke — real name Barclay Crenshaw.
“I wanted to really stretch myself outside of my own comfort zone, to throw myself into the fire of unexplored territory,” says Jay.
To hear these two Dirtybird veterans emphasize exploration is not surprising. Crenshaw and Jay are two of the label’s frequent innovators, producing music that maintains its trendsetting reputation.
But across a history of 16 years and hundreds of releases, there are bound to be some dips in creativity from the Dirtybird camp. Some uninspired moments, the most recent of which came just before these two old friends hit the studio together.
“What happens is you get popular for a sound and then that’s all you get back,” Crenshaw says in reference to Dirtybird demo submissions, all of which he still listens to personally. “I used to get a much wider variation of sound, but it just started closing in and closing in.”
Whenever this pattern resurfaces, Crenshaw eventually finds himself in a conversation where someone he trusts notices the banality of the release schedule. Usually in this situation, Crenshaw will defend his choices before receiving the criticism in the constructive manner it was intended.
This time around, Jay was the person Crenshaw trusted in the conversation, but Crenshaw didn’t get defensive because he knew Jay was right.
“Justin said something has to happen at Dirtybird,” Crenshaw recalls with a jovial laugh before Jay jumps in and says “I didn’t feel judgement towards the stuff that was happening, but rather excitement and ideas about possibility.”
Excitement and ideas about possibility. This is the intention that has driven Dirtybird from its genesis. It is an intention that all of the closest comrades of the label—Crenshaw and Jay included—embody in their creative output.
With that intention, something happened at Dirtybird. Just like Jay said it would. Crenshaw is already receiving demos harkening to the leftfield style of the Oh EP. Once again widening the variety.
With that intention, Crenshaw and Jay made four tracks that depart from house music entirely while retaining the unmistakable Dirtybird energy.
“Barclay’s taste; his ear. That’s the connective tissue. It’s something that you can’t always codify concretely. An artist’s taste can transcend the genres, and there’s connective tissue that you might feel,” says Jay. “That then can also be articulated through the process of making music, so just the fact that Barclay helped make these songs. The DNA of the label is injected that way.”
The Dirtybird catalog as a whole and Crenshaw’s individual catalog both demonstrate excitement about ideas and possibility. From collaborating with experimental bass wizard, EPROM, to Crenshaw’s extraterrestrial hip hop project which he produces under his given name, these influences all come up at various points in the history of his imprint.
After collaborating with Jay on the Oh EP, Crenshaw knew this revived spirit of exploration couldn’t end with them. Thus he decided their EP would be the first in a white label vinyl series. With these releases, Crenshaw is tapping artists few would traditionally expect to find a home on Dirtybird, but he’s building them a home on his property.
“At the end of the day Dirtybird is just music that I like, so it will sound like Dirtybird inevitably.” Crenshaw says.
Ivy Lab, the North London duo who seamlessly combine hip hop and heavy bass. Hugo Massien, who lives in the same aural realm as UK grime legend Burial. Danny Goliger, Justin Jay’s good friend who just recently dropped a debut LP of breakbeat on Fantastic Voyage, Jay’s ever-expanding imprint and party collective.
These are a few of the innovative artists Crenshaw has set for an offering on this new white label series. That number is already greater than what he expected to sign, and he’s still looking to sign more. A fresh flock of birds are on their way to the nest, and with them, yet another significant shift in the dance music zeitgeist may be sparked from the Dirtybird catalog.
“There has been this insane transformation with American open-mindedness to electronic music,” says Jay. “Everything from early Claude VonStroke to Fisher and Chris Lake is all a part of this continuum, and it’s a cool thing to see this new series be a continuation of that.”
Jay said that directly to Crenshaw in admiration, as the final segment of the joint Zoom call became an interview between the two of them. Manifesting in real time the dynamic that surely existed between them in the studio.
“The music is a testament to the collaboration,” Jay says. “In great collaborations multiple people push each other to be better than they would be by themselves. You bring the best out of each other and make something that you couldn’t have made on your own.”
“We listened to early Dirtybird tracks which was really helpful, and when we were able to come together on some tracks that we both really liked that were outside what Dirtybird usually does, I could get a picture of where we were going,” says Crenshaw. “Justin came into this wanting it to sound like Dirtybird circa 2007 – 2010. Kind of like a golden era throwback.”
Jay’s affinity for those years of Dirtybird can be expected because that’s when he fell in love with Dirtybird. “Obsessed” is the word he used numerous times throughout the conversation, and that obsession led him to his first release on Dirtybird in 2011, at the age of 18.
Nearly ten years after that initial connection, Jay and Crenshaw are pushing the boundaries of Dirtybird together, ushering a new era for the label.
“Getting the stamp of approval from Barclay was a fucking home-run,” Jay says with unhindered enthusiasm.
Over the last ten years, Jay has learned so much from Crenshaw. In many ways Crenshaw was responsible for Jay starting Fantastic Voyage because Crenshaw rejected dozens of Jay’s demos and they needed a new home.
But what Jay considers the most valuable lesson from “Professor VonStroke” is the importance of finding excitement in ideas and possibility.
There was a time when Jay made tracks he specifically thought Crenshaw would sign. Unsurprisingly, none of them got signed. When Jay started making music that excited him, when he started chasing his musical whims…well the rest is history.
Now they’re making history with each other. Anything is possible and they couldn’t be more excited about it.