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Laurie Charlesworth

Q&A

The Barclay Crenshaw Project

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The Barclay Crenshaw Project

‘It’s funny, I’m sort of doing a reverse Skream! I’m the house DJ turning to bass music, he’s the bass music DJ that turned to house’ – Barclay Crenshaw

Barclay Crenshaw, better known currently as house music powerhouse Claude VonStroke, is flipping the script with his brand new alias. After nearly 20 years of service as one of house music’s most loved DJs and producers, he boxes up his iconic Dirtybird brand and puts it to one side. The Barclay Crenshaw Project is born, and a new chapter in bass music begins.

Barclay’s musical journey is extraordinary. He started off cutting his teeth as a jungle and drum & bass DJ. Claude VonStroke then took house music and made it fun, and wobbly, creating a warm and welcoming community with the Dirtybird family. And now, 2024 sees a whole new side of Barclay as he dips off into the world of bass, flying over to the UK to work with rappers such as Manga, Snowy and recent GRAMMY award winner, Flowdan.

Using his government name, The Barclay Crenshaw Project holds Barclay personally accountable for every move he makes. It also allows for exploration in any way, shape or form that Barclay, himself, wants to dive into: an exciting stance as an artist. This is above all, a totally personal project, one of which Barclay beams about as he Zooms in from sunny LA.

Barclay! Yourself – as Claude VonStroke – and the Dirtybird crew at Creamfields. They were the good old days…

I haven’t played Creamfields for years but I know exactly the time you’re talking about. It was a great time. It’s interesting because when I started, there were only really shows in Europe for me. The scene wasn’t really big yet in America, so I was flying to Europe every other weekend and then flying back again. It was crazy. I went to Europe 35 times a year or something crazy like that. Then, in 2015 I recognised that there were still no house labels that anyone really knew as brands in America, so I said ‘We have an opportunity to be that thing!’. After that realisation, I purposefully started to dig in over here, and then, of course, it kind of fell apart in Europe because of it! That’s what happens! It totally worked though.

Gotcha. Dirtybird is a brand well-known in the UK though, even within the world of D&B.
That’s because we were all jungle DJs beforehand. We snuck all the sounds into the house scene! We had a lot of tracks that the guys picked up on in Europe because they had LTJ Bukem style basslines in them and so people like Roska and T Williams would play them in their sets, but faster. There was a whole thing going on.

Yes! Talk to us about DJ Tree!

DJ Tree was my first DJ name, playing jungle. I started off in Detroit, and at the time, no one listened to jungle in Detroit, so that was a struggle. I was playing in the back room of a bar or a warehouse party to maybe 3-4 people. Eventually, I moved to San Francisco. There was a drum & bass scene in San Fran, it was one of the only places in America that had one. There was a party called Eklektic, they’d bring over everyone! It was cool, but I couldn’t get into that clique. It was super tight. I started getting a few sets here and there but it was all guys in hoodies, in the corner. Then I’d go to a house night and there would be 300 girls, going crazy and I’m like, what if we can just bring this Detroit techno and jungle vibe, into house beats? It didn’t work for 2-3 years but then all of a sudden, it just worked. Saying that, my first record in 2005/2006 worked. It got picked up on by Richie Hawtin and some other people, so it kept being played and heard, then someone would license it in Belgium and do ten thousand vinyls, and then again in Italy. It was a whole different time. It wasn’t until 2015 that I did the America switch. It was then that I thought: I could keep killing myself for a DJ set with Seth Troxler at DC10 for a thousand euros or, I could own America! Which is the better decision?

Probably the second option. What a move to make. Fast forward to now, you’ve made another big move -The Barclay Crenshaw Project! What inspired this alias?

Well, because Dirtybird had worked so well, we’d got to the point where we had two festivals, tons of day parties, stages, a record label releasing a track every two weeks, a full clothing line, and so really, I was just turning into a company manager and as an artist myself, I was down to releasing two tracks a year. So I was looking at everything and thought, I’ve done everything that I wanted to do in this genre. Plus, I’m starting to really veer off in my interests and the direction that tech-house is going, isn’t really the direction that I want to be in. So I was like, let’s sell Dirtybird, let’s start over.

Amazing! How long were you sitting on the idea for?

It took a year to sell it because you need to find the right person to take it on, so that was a long process. After we found someone It took another 6 months to come to terms with the selling of it because it was my identity for 20 years. Then, after we’d sold it, I had to work there for a year as part of the deal. At the end of that year, I was like, the moment this is over, I’m out of here. I’m going to start over. So I started making an album. I’ve played enough house music to last 10 lifetimes, I’ve done every festival, I’ve talked to everyone, I know everything there is to know, I’m ready to do another project. I wanted to be a music producer this time and not be put in a box. That’s why the album is so varied.

This move is not just for you as a creative, but for you as a human being. Apart from obvious excitement, what other feelings come with this change of identity?

It’s funny because even on the financial end, it’s going from someone paying you a very large amount of money for an easy club night where you just take a USB stick and wear a branded t-shirt, to building a tour with lasers and dancers and going into big, hard ticket rooms. Basically, this year I’m not going to make any money. I’m reinvesting everything into this project. I’ve seen how everything works, building a career slowly over so many years. I know all the steps, so now, I know I want to put on a big show and blow people away with it. That’s my plan anyway. We’ll see if it works!

You’ve already got such a strong and devoted fanbase in house – is this project aimed at existing fans, or new fans?

I’m aiming it at both, I’m putting it out there to everyone. I’ve announced on my Claude socials, ‘Hey, this is over here’ and if they’re not into it, that’s fine. Because I know everybody is not going to be into it, and that’s ok. I’m building a new crowd, I’m doing things I haven’t been doing before. I’m writing a weekly newsletter to people, telling people what’s going on. I’m filming every day of the album process. I’m much more excited about it because I’m doing exactly what I want. With Dirtybird, somehow, along the way, I got into this tunnel vision. It was amazing, I wouldn’t change it for the world but I needed a change. I always said to my wife if I get to a point where I’m playing in a club that I don’t want to be playing in, I need to get out!

How excited you are about this will translate into the music and what you’re putting out there too.

It’s already happening, people will come up to me and be like ‘I heard what you’re doing and I’m with you man!’ and I’m like, wow! This is so cool. I think people can see it’s not a willy-nilly decision. People are telling me that they’ll miss the other stuff, but they wish me well. I really appreciate comments like that.

We read that you’re taking a hiatus, so do you plan to go back to Claude at some point? Or do both?

I learnt that I can’t do them together. I did that in 2017 with a side project, I ran two tours alongside each other and it was brutal. Also, unless you have 20 employees, it’s pretty impossible to manage. You can’t tell people what you’re doing because everything is confusing. So, I say I’m going on a hiatus, but I actually have no idea.

What’s the vibe of the album? Talk to us about some of these amazing features!

It’s a real mix. Some tracks sound very Fela Kuti, some other tracks sound like old school jungle with vocals. There is a lot of different stuff on it. I came to England on purpose to record. One of the things I wanted to do with this project was to push myself into uncomfortable situations. On my first album I went to Strongroom in Shoreditch for a day and did a track with Lady Chann so this time I was like, I’m going to book 10 days at Strongroom, fly over there and contact as many people as I can and figure it out. I made 150 loops so that I could get out of any situation. Then, I had a hard time setting up sessions. Once I’d realised that everyone in grime operates on DMs, everything was so much easier! Flowdan came by, he hooked me up with Manga, I’d already been talking to Snowy. We shot the music video with Flowdan and Stush for ‘Do My Ting’. I even got Skepta in the studio but he only wanted to make house music! So I made these house tracks with Skepta and went to play Jammer and Skepta’s Drumsheds show too, I used that as an opportunity to shoot a music video with Snowy and Manga in the same neighbourhood. It was amazing.

Open Channel tour – what can people expect?

One thing I noticed from being on tour for 20 years is that nobody does the analogue stuff anymore, so I’m bringing dancers! Since doing festivals, I became friends with all of these amazing performers. I had my own stage called Claude’s Cabin. We had lots of skits and comedy and performers. I know comedians and clowns, I have a network of very interesting people! So I thought, no kid dubstep DJ will ever think of bringing a dancer on tour, it’s just not going to happen. We did it one time and people were like ‘Woah’. It brings another dimension to it. I’m talking like street dancers, people that can kill it in a dance cypher. I also have my VJ and I’m incorporating lasers too. We’re doing all the stuff! That’s why everytime I see the bill I’m like, yeah we’re not making money, but we’re putting on a show and we’ll make a room go crazy. I can’t wait.

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