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A Sit Down With DJ Claude Vonstroke

14:35 Feb/28/2018

Revered DJ and Dirtybird label head, Claude Vonstroke has won fans across the globe with his unique perspective on music, touring relentlessly and sharing his love for chart-topping hits and underground beats alike. Dirtybird, meanwhile, has influenced an entire generation—especially in the States—?where Claude has managed to tempt party people away from "EDM" and bring them back over to the brighter side of house music. One fan in particular, Doorly, joins Claude this year on the bill for MADE Bigmirham. Doorly is a top-billing DJ, and producer, who has followed VonStroke's career closely and has seen him play out many, many times.


"If you don’t have a unique identity to your music, don’t bother."


Everyone always loves to hype about how young some of the new DJ/producers are. Do you think age matters when trying to make it in music?

I don't think it matters when making music but I do think it matters for managing a career path. If you have worked for a living before becoming a popular DJ then you have a leg up on the younger person who only knows the life of being pampered and told they are great all the time. Working and toughing it out at a real job can give you the fortitude to get you through the slow times and the mistakes and the mishaps that always go along with a music career. I also think age gives you some wisdom when dealing with people, knowing how to pick your battles and focus on the things that matter. I was in my 30's when I put out my first record.

Your success wasn't an overnight story. How important was that time in the trenches for you? What advice do you have for aspiring DJs who are grinding, but might not be catching a big break?

My advice is always the same. Buy the best monitor speakers you can possibly afford - spend everything you can on them. All you need is your ears to really make music well and the better the speakers are, the easier it is for your ears! Go to the clubs that the people you want to be associated with are playing and meet them, because a face and the music, physically, is a lot better than a link on the internet.

?an you talk to me about making Intellect?

That was tortuous. Long. But I learned everything. I was already a film editor. But to make Intellect, I learned how to build mega-fast computers for a thousand dollars from my super-nerd roommate. I bootlegged video editing software from China, as well as DVD authoring software and photo editing software—I learned all those programs. I made the cover, all the artwork, edited the whole thing, made most of the music, interviewed all the people. I didn’t own a camera, so I’d go on Craigslist every Friday and Saturday night and I’d post messages like, “You can meet Derrick Carter if you come with me with your camera!”. Ed Lewis [who became a principal photographer] said, “Fine, I’ll come out with you.” We filmed with DV tapes, two to three generations ago technology. That was the hardest project I ever did. I went completely broke doing that project. 100% broke. I even sold my cello. My parents almost killed me! I sold everything, borrowed money from everyone.

Talking about movies, before you started DJing you were trying to make a career in the film industry. Why music in the end?

I’m better at music plain and simple. I gave it a good solid try but I’m much better at music. Im not good enough at mass collaboration to be great at film. Too many people involved.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a label curator and the transition towards your own approach? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

I had been making electronic music for 15 years before I released my first record on Dirtybird. I even made beats at 11 years old. But I did not go to a lot of parties until I moved to the Bay Area. One thing that made it work on Dirtybird and why I never succeeded before was that I learned how to edit everything down to one single concept. I learned how to remove everything that wasn’t needed by going out to the club 3 and 4 times a week and listening to the records that really worked. This is how I got a much better perspective on how to do it. At home you have no perspective of the dance floor. You have to either DJ or go out all the time to understand club records. Once I figured out that I only had to have a great groove and a single idea, everything became so much easier for me and the success was almost instant because I had so much experience already in production. It's kind of like the difference between being book smart and street smart. I was already book smart but I had to learn the streets to get good.

What was one piece of equipment that helped define your sound early on?

I was introduced to turntables by my uncle, a bit later I bought a sampler/sequencer but I didn't release anything at the time, that was just for fun, nothing serious. Then I felt in love with one synth, the Roland Jupiter 8. Firstly because it was used in all my favorite classic songs and also because I loved the different colored buttons!

What's your favourite non-social network or movie streaming site to go on when bored?

This is so stupid but I love seeing what the box office is doing for movies. I go to boxofficemojo.com; it's a carry-over from when I worked on films and this was often a daily discussion on movie sets. For some stupid reason, I want to know how much money the new Jurassic Park and Star Wars movies will make.

Are there any specific experiences you remember that showed you musical patterns and resonant beats?

Well, the day after I graduated from college I moved to Los Angeles to work on films. I got in with two directors as their personal driver. I’d work all day on the film set and I’d go home to work all night on music. I’d play my music on the morning drive with the directors. But my songs were insane. They’d be seven songs in four minutes. One Scottish director wanted to put all this jungle music in his movie. I played him my tape, and he said, “Dude, if you just chill and stick to one idea you’ll be fine. You have the technical ability, but you’re a mess.” That was helpful. I had the same job on both movies. [I learned] you have to be a jerk to be at the top of a movie director project! I started to realize, now I’m the boss of our company, you kind of have to kind of be hard. There’s no time for stupidity, which I didn’t understand. If you’re the boss of your whole company and your assistant is stupid, you don’t have a lot of time for it. I was a stupid assistant, just a kid driving around [film directors], like, “Listen to this song, whatever! What are we doing?” I was an idiot.

What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the music-, music-PR- and music-journalism landscape? How do they affect labels in general and your own take on running a label in particular? What role do social media play for you rapproach?

Data collection and well planned marketing are a big part of our success. In general - we make profit but only because we are way ahead of the curve. We have our own subscription service, our own clothing line our own festival and our own events series - so “label” is all relative. For me personally, social media started out kind of fun and now its just a place where everyone is jockeying and paying for this and that to try and get “big.” Even so, we use social media to display the facts and try to tell the truth. I think we are already in the age where the fans know the difference between fake marketing and real sentiment. On the release side, music streaming is everything. (I should have listened to my old manager about that one.) But one of the most frustrating things is being a DJ and trying to find uncompressed music files of everything you want to DJ. The streaming has actually removed the part of the market for DJs who need real files.

You were based in Bristol, UK. What made you seek us out, an oddball label in SF?

I love the music. I was a big fan of yourself, Justin, Jess, Worthy, Christian, Ardalan and the music that you guys were putting out fitted me perfectly. I knew I would be part of the gang, I just had to deliver the goods.

How did your Ibiza residency work out? Was it everything you guys were hoping for? Do you have any favorite stories or moments from the experience?

The season was like everything in life. We had to work really hard in oder to play really hard. We loved the opportunity and the parties were amazing. I dont know if i could ever travel to Spain for 13 weeks again until my kids are older but it was so great to do it and see everyone out there from this little American label. We had some really good fun in Ibiza.

How would you describe your experience growing up in Detroit? Did growing up around such a major center of music influence you at an early age?

Yes but not really in the way everyone assumes. i was inspired mostly by the radio, by early hip-hop and funk music and a very eclectic mix of things. also by the symphony orchestra and the music my parents love.


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