San Francisco-based electronic dance music DJ and producer Claude VonStroke — aka Barclay Crenshaw — has long existed on the fringes of house music. He built his sterling reputation in electronic dance music circles on his willingness to experiment and push the limits of the genre. On his latest record, Urban Animal, he takes that progressive approach a step further, delivering a record that, though still rooted in house music, is laced with subtle traces of sound from across the landscape of EDM and beyond, including intriguing detours into soul and funk. It is a decidedly more introspective and contemplative work than the Detroit native’s earlier records. But it also boasts enough innovative beats and breaks to keep dance floors hot and sweaty.
VonStroke headlines the long-running EDM series Sunday Night Mass at Club Metronome this Sunday, October 13. In advance of that appearance, Seven Days spoke with VonStroke by phone from San Francisco and asked him about his new record and his cheeky alias, as well as the increasing popularity of — and inevitable backlash against — electronic dance music.
SEVEN DAYS: You went in a different direction on Urban Animal, moving away from house music, to a degree. How did you change your approach and do you feel you accomplished what you’d hoped to?
CLAUDE VONSTROKE: Honestly, I just started making music, and that’s what came out of me. I don’t think I was trying to specifically accomplish anything. But I was trying to get away from house music a little bit. And I think I did that.
SD: Why did you feel the need to get away from house music?
CV: I just wanted to not be limited to a specific style. I wanted to expand a little bit.
SD: Is feeling confined by individual styles a pressure you’ve dealt with before?
CV: Not really. I’ve been doing this a long time. And I had never felt the need to do anything really different from what I’ve always done. But then I did. It sounds really simple, and I suppose it is. But I just wanted to explore.
SD: Where did the Claude VonStroke alias come from?
CV: It was a joke. I was out partying one night with a girlfriend and just coming up with silly DJ names, and I came up with that one. Then someone had a birthday party I was playing the next weekend, and she printed up flyers with the name on it. And I just kept it because everyone seemed to think it was really funny.
SD: I’d agree with that. Switching gears, EDM has exploded in popularity in recent years and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. What are your thoughts on the genre’s popularity and its increasing inroads into the mainstream?
CV: I think it’s great. I like to tell the story that when I was a kid, hip-hop was just coming out. But no one really cared. Then, over the next 10 years, it got into the Grammys. Then it was a televised Grammy. And after a while, nobody questioned it. It was just a style of music that was part of pop.
I think a similar thing is happening with electronic music right now where in a couple of years electronic music will be on the televised Grammys. And it will just be another genre: country music, hip-hop music, electronic music. And that’s good for everybody.
SD: How far away do you think we are from that?
CV: Not so far. I think everyone is already talking about it. I mean, it’s the hottest music right now. So it probably won’t be very long. All it’s going to take is for a few thousand 12-year-old girls to get behind it.
SD: [Laughs] Like anything, I suppose.
CV: Mmm-hmm. We need the tweens!
SD: With popularity comes backlash, and EDM is no exception there. What are your thoughts on the negative perceptions of the genre?
CV: Yeah, it’s like anything. But that just means it’s huge. I mean, there’s a backlash against Lady Gaga, but only because she’s successful. If she wasn’t, no one would care. So the backlash is good, too.
SD: Last question: You donate 10 percent of [your label] Dirtybird’s profits to a school in Detroit for music education. Is that because you had a strong music experience in school as a kid, or because you didn’t?
CV: I’d never really thought of it that way, but I guess it’s because I didn’t. I do it because it feels like the right thing to do. I had a bit of a classical music education as a kid, but I couldn’t find out anything I really wanted to know. I wanted to know how to DJ, how to sequence a sampler, how to make hip-hop beats. It was super frustrating. The school we work with has everything — you can learn how to DJ, be a video editor, fashion design, all that stuff.
Claude VonStroke at Sunday Night Mass, Sunday, October 13, 9 p.m. at Club Metronome in Burlington. $12-$18. 18+
The original print version of this article was headlined "House Party"
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