Claude VonStroke came from obscurity to win Best DJ over the Chainsmokers. Can he pull off the same trick in a new genre with a new stage name?
Blood is running down a guys arm. He shoves his way across the terrace of the Airliner in Los Angeles, a soggy cocktail napkin blooming red under his nose, and bumps into a girl bending over the ledge with a cigarette dangling off her lip. Another girl hands out Jell-O shots to her friends. There are always too many people at Low End Theory, the weekly, world-renowned Wednesday night gathering where beat devotees come to bob their heads and get their intellects blown by producers, DJs and rappers. But on this frigid, winter evening, the club is swollen more than normal, and with lots of newbies. Theyre here to watch one of their favorite home producers, Claude VonStroke.
There is only one problem. Claude VonStroke isnt taking the stage; Barclay Crenshaw is. I actually forgot to do the thing I was supposed to do in the beginning. I said I was gonna do hip-hop, but then I get really good at home, says Crenshaw, the man behind the VonStroke moniker. Possessing a lovable teddy bear vibe, he athletics a bushy beard and an infectious grin. Tonight, in honor of debuting the first hip-hop album he recorded, which is self-titled, hes garmented in a custom-made, khaki safari-style short suit with Hunter S Thompson spectacles. Im definitely more nervous about such projects because Ive never done it before. But the first videotapes I bought were rap tapes and when I started building music at 11, it was with two jamboxes videotape splicing, rapping, beatboxing.
Turning his back on house music even temporarily could be unwise. After all, thats the genre Crenshaw built his small but admirable empire on. Starting with the launch of his Dirtybird label in 2005 and release of his debut Beware of the Bird a year later, he has now fell two other full-length albums, played festivals all over the world( and, with Holy Ship, on water) and thrown his labels own Campout Festival as well as BBQ parties that draw over 3,000 attendees. Last year, he won Americas Best DJ in a DJ Times annual poll, watching off EDMers such as the Chainsmokers and Kaskade.
When[ the Chainsmokers] come on the radio with my children in the car, I turn it down and tell, I won Best DJ over them, he says, his eyes crinkling as he lets loose one of his frequent chuckles. They cant believe it. But[ winning] was all due to my fans. They only crashed the poll.
Of course he is nervous about alienating them. It is never bitterly cold in LA, but at the Griffith Observatory the night after Low End Theory, its so chilly that tourists are bundled up in scarves, mittens, hats, the works. Crenshaw is tired and in a sweatsuit after a long day running a successful independent label while getting ready to leave on a new tour and juggling household responsibilities is hard work but the air, so crisp it nearly snaps, is invigorating and the city is glittering like a jewelry box. Its been years since hes driven up to the Observatory, but the new album is inspired by astronomy, sort of: its launchpad is a tale of children being abducted by aliens.
Crenshaws fascination with the supernatural( not to mention his suspicion that he was different) has deep roots. When he was 10, he and a friend latched on to the idea that they were from another planet.
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