The Claude VonStroke Interview
Upon looking at Claude VonStroke’s Facebook page, it becomes very apparent that this guy does not take himself too seriously. In an industry that’s full of pretentiousness and egos galore, Claude has managed to remain grounded, lighthearted and fun-loving. His page reads, “If you want to act cool and not have any fun then please do not book him.” Because, what’s the point of booking someone with track names like “Deep Throat” and “Big N’ Round” if your idea of a good time is drinking PBR in a dark corner with your pinky up. I know Pittsburgh likes to get down, and after experiencing Claude’s set during the second evening of Movement 2012, I know Claude not only knows how to have a good time, he’s a master at maintaining a crowd’s party spirits and demanding attention after playing to those who just endured ten hours of extreme heat, countless drinks and navigating crowds of 30K+ during Movement. We had a chance to chat with Claude earlier in the day, before the festival got to our heads, and ask him a few questions about his recent endeavors, thoughts on playing to his hometown crowd and of course, Pittsburgh.
Claude, whose real name is Barclay Black, was raised in the suburbs of Detroit. He started out as a filmmaker, but eventually began making music as a result of producing his documentary Intellect in which he made his own music to accompany the film because he couldn’t afford to license the music of the film’s subjects. He made the film in an effort to understand the ins and outs of the industry. He knew how to make music, he just didn’t know how it fit into the bigger picture, and so, set out to do a series of two-hour interviews with a cast of influential players. “I started producing before that but we ran out of money and I had to make all the music for the people that I interviewed. I couldn’t afford to license their music, so I had to make a song that sounded like Derrick Carter, a song that sounded like Derrick May, a song that sounded like this guy, or that guy. It wasn’t all me. I had a Sweedish guy do the trance and my friend Nigel did the techno and I did the house part.”
It was this experience that set the tone for the rest of Claude’s career. Now that he’s a more weathered performer and producer, we wondered how this early experience of making music out of necessity shaped him as the artist he is today. “I was actually more proficient then because I didn’t tour all over the world. I could just sit at my house and be a nerd, non stop, which is the best way to make music. You really need a solid block of time to make music. You really can’t break it up too much. To answer your question, it was extremely helpful. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t done that movie and made the music for it. From that having to make music that sounded like other people, it really reigned me in. I was all over the place. I would do six songs in one song. I would listen to the song so much that I would think everyone was getting bored after 30 seconds but really that’s not a good way to look at it.”
Though based in San Francisco, Claude couldn’t have been happier to be in Detroit for the Memorial Day weekend and play to his hometown crowd, in addition to many colleagues from around the globe. “It’s the best. This is my favorite festival by far. I love coming home. I just had dinner with my parents last night. I get to see all my old friends. It’s fantastic. I really wanted to come last night but we had our party. I really wanted to see SBTRKT. I am going to go see a bunch of people right after this though. I’m going to catch the end of Heidi. I’m just going to see all my friends. I’m just doing the rounds. I probably should have gone to SBTRKT. That’s who I wanted to see.”
After nerding out over SBTRKT for a few minutes, we found it appropriate to ask about the post-dubstep movement coming out of the UK, which Claude has been very appreciative of in past interviews. “Mickey Pierce, Gold finch, there’s all this really fringy, weird, cool stuff that almost sounds like techno, but it’s not â€“ you can’t even really call it dubstep. What can you even call dubstep anymore? It’s not even like a genre. You have Skrillex, and then you have this techno-like stuff and they’re not even close to the same thing. So I don’t know what to call it. One thing that I will say is crazy – any time I go somewhere in the US that isn’t a major city, not NY or Detroit, the first thing I ask is how huge dubstep is there and they’re like, ‘It’s fucking gigantic. We had to do a special party to bring you in because no one listens to house music.’ We’re like the rogue promoters. This is always the story I get now. It just started in the last two years. These little rogue bunch of promoters who were the only people doing house music and had to struggle to make this happen. All I can think is that three years ago we wouldn’t have had this problem.”
Pittsburgh certainly comes to mind when Claude describes this familiar scenario, which is probably why he’s never played here before. “Pittsburgh’s really nice, though I’ve never played there. And I hate the Steelers because I’m a Browns fan. They’re always gonna suck. They’re so bad. I’ve given up on them ever winning. But Pittsburgh’s really nice! I’ve been there a couple of times.” We spent the next few minutes telling Claude about the VIA festival, which he saved in his phone. A self-described “concert researcher,” he jumped at the chance to check out a new festival and said “somebody’s gotta do it.”
Speaking of doing, we were also curious about how his recently-launched Dirty Bird subscription service has taken off, a label he operates and shares with the likes of Justin Martin, Leroy Peppers and many others. “It’s amazing. It’s doing really well. Sam Valenti who owns Ghostly International thought of this idea to do a subscription service for dance music labels and they ran a beta test with Ghostly for a while. We were the first label to do it with them, so we were like the real beta label. Basically you just pay a small fee every month and we send you everything we put out. We give you free tickets to all our shows. I am starting to make production videos about how to make beats and will post them. We do interviews with people and post mixes. We post exclusive tracks that we’re never going to release. It’s crazy.”
If you didn’t get a chance to attend Movement this year, or you missed Claude’s set during the festival, fear not! He’s playing Paxahau‘s 14-year Anniversary Party Saturday, August 25th in Detroit’s New Center Park. This free event is part of the Movement Summer Series. We’ll see you in August, Claude!