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BONA2018 | Best DJ: Claude VonStroke

Best of North America 2018

With his bushy beard and low-key demeanor, the man born Barclay Crenshaw projects zero superstar DJ attitude or label-boss ego. That warm personality infuses his music, which favors bear-hug basslines and quirky vocal samples that constantly remind you this shit is supposed to be fun.

It’s hard to find anyone on the floor during a Claude VonStroke set not wearing a grin and a sheen of sweat. He’s the kind of DJ who lowers inhibitions and raises body temperatures with every track selection.

Crenshaw grew up in Detroit, where his early passions were hip-hop and drum ’n’ bass. His hometown’s techno pedigree clearly informs his Claude VonStroke sound, as well, especially as heard on his early tribute to the Motor City, the now-classic Dirtybird anthem “Who’s Afraid Of Detroit?”

Since creating his Claude VonStroke alter ego and founding the Dirtybird label (also winner of the year’s Best Label) in 2005, Crenshaw has quietly championed a distinctive style of house music that’s stripped-down but insistently funky, influenced by tech-house greats like Derrick Carter and future collaborator (and last year’s winner for Best DJ) Green Velvet, but with a sensibility that, in the mid-2000s, was a goofy breath of fresh air. The video for early single ‘Deep Throat’, featuring a strutting dude in a giant bird suit, set the tone for what was to follow. Crenshaw told us in a 2012 interview of his former drum & bass scene, “It had just become all guys and it was really dark.” Dirtybird and VonStroke represented a left turn away from that: “We just said, we wanna have fun and do something that’s not so serious.”

‘Detroit’ and ‘Deep Throat’ were underground hits, but it was VonStroke’s 2009 mix for the Fabric series that really put him on the map. A fiercely funky collection highlighted by several Dirtybird singles and VonStroke’s own collaboration with funk legend Bootsy Collins, ‘The Greasy Beat’, it established its creator as a master of dirty, relentless grooves, an antidote to the endless bass drops of mainstream dance music at the time†.

Since that breakthrough moment, VonStroke has kept the roll going with a string of infectious singles (including ‘Beat That Bird’, ‘Make A Cake’ and ‘The Rain Break’), his acclaimed Get Real collaboration with Green Velvet, and pummeling remixes for Rihanna, Disclosure, and The Chemical Brothers among many others. He even returned to his hip-hop roots, releasing a self-titled boom-bap LP as Barclay Crenshaw, featuring cameos by The Cool Kids and The Underachievers. His most recent tracks, this year’s ‘Walay (My Bae)’, ‘Raw Nerve’, and ‘Grenade’ — the latter a collab with bass producer Eprom — prove that he hasn’t lost his touch, keeping his sense of humor and groove fully locked in, even as he pushes his sound in darker directions. 

WORDS: ANDY HERMANN

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