Claude VonStroke & Justin Jay are Revitalizing the Dirtybird Sound with their “Oh” EP

We talk to Claude VonStroke and Justin Jay about their new Oh EP — a surprise leftfield collaboration that points to a bold new direction for Dirtybird, and perhaps the US house scene in general.

14 min
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Jun 11, 2021
Cameron Holbrook

A family unit led by founder Barclay Crenshaw, better known as Claude VonStroke, the Dirtybird imprint has unceasingly delivered dance floor gold to ravers all over the world since launching in 2005.

While the blistering thud and thump of the label’s house and tech house output are what Dirtybird is best known for, it would be misguided to treat the dance music brand as “just” a house label. From Justin Martin’s pioneering Ghettos & Gardens to the varied DJs who regularly play Dirtybird Campout events, and the wholly diverse remixes from EPROM, DJ Krust, Photek, Plastician, Danny Daze, all genres are welcome.

Enter Justin Jay, an immensely talented California native that first signed to Dirtybird as a freshman in college back in 2011. Fast forward 10 years and Justin’s musical diversity knows no bounds, dipping into everything from electro to breaks to deep house and everything in between.

Following a late-night session with Claude VonStroke in the Dirtybird studio, Justin urged the label-head to join him in a mission to push his sound to the very edge. The end result of this is Oh — an intricate five-track EP of leftfield bass and dynamic drum patterns that comes with a staggering remix from Hessle Audio’s Pearson Sound.

We caught up with Claude and Justin to learn more about this killer EP — the first in a new series of alternative genre records that will feature artists like Nikki Nair, Danny Goliger, and Ivy Lab — as well as the process behind the joint EP, and what it means for Dirtybird’s musical future.

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How did you both decide on hitting the studio together for this collaborative EP?

Justin Jay: I was graciously given the opportunity to do some live-streams from Dirtybird studio, and there was this one evening, I had just finished performing, maybe it was 11 pm, it was kind of late, and Barclay went into the studio just to say hello, and we started talking, and the conversation went a couple of hours. It turned to a late-night chat, a proper late-night talk.

Claude VonStroke: The demo pile was in a slump. 800 million tracks that sound like this one style. I was like, I can’t take it anymore.

Justin Jay: I had this intuition that a lot of these new producers who are 19, 20 years old in the UK or Berlin, many of them, I feel, don’t even know about Dirtybird’s early catalogue, along with a lot of the current Dirtybird fans as well. There was so much inspiration that I was channeling that reminded me of the old Dirtybird sound. So I thought, ‘Barclay, dude, we should get in the studio and try to make some stuff.’ This idea of putting an EP out together with this new aesthetic was done with the hopes of ultimately revitalizing the demo folder and letting people see that Barclay has this open-mindedness to all sorts of different musical styles. We wanted to show them and really go for it, and so we began an EP.

Claude VonStroke: The folder was just getting really homogenous and annoying, like one style only. Justin basically came in on the right day because there’s a point usually where, if I’m complaining about something over and over and over again, I then come to a moment where, well, you need to stop complaining about this and do something about it and lead by example, so then that’s kind of what happened. I always try to lead by example on my b-side on every record. My b-side is always something where I’m like, “Hey guys; you can also do this. Maybe you could send me some of these.” My hidden b-side tactic is always to stick the secret sleeper at the end, and then it will end up selling better than everything over ten years. But this EP is even more past that, I think.

Justin had told me earlier that this EP felt like his “final exam” with “Professor VonStroke” because of the immense role that Dirtybird has played in his music career. So Professor, how would you grade Justin on his performance in the studio?

Claude VonStroke: He gets an A+. He is faster than me and willing to try things, a lot of different things, so he’s been super open-minded, and he’s very quick. I’m more meticulous and slow, so that’s how I would describe the difference.

Justin Jay: Claude has the craziest ear. For pitch, if something is slightly out of key, he immediately picks up on it. He’s very sensitive to that, as well as rhythm. A lot of these productions, they’re insanely layered. I just loved the experience of making this EP because Barclay was so open-minded in terms of the musical exploration but was very uncompromising with his artistic intuition and his need to feel really good about the grooves and the melodies. And really, that just meant from the production standpoint, there were no cutting corners. We had to do the thing and do it right, which is really cool.

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What were some of your primary sources of inspiration for this EP?

Justin Jay: Part of my homework, I feel, was really digging in on some of Barclay’s old inspiration. I ended up going on all these Discogs rabbit holes searching for old jungle and drum & bass records on Barclay’s recommendations. All this music that I hadn’t really dug into before really inspired me, and I feel like I’ve still only just scraped the surface. For me, it was the mission of seeing, “What is Barclay’s comfort zone outside of house music?” Aside from Barclay Crenshaw, what is Claude VonStroke’s musical identity outside of house music? And trying to rediscover that because I think, for me, I’m hugely inspired by all Dirtybird’s stuff.

Tell us about the choice to get Pearson Sound for the remix of “Oh.”

Claude VonStroke: I went to the UK back in 2009, and we played a couple of shows together. He was opening for me, and I was like, “This is wrong; why’s he opening for me?” The guy is unbelievable. I’m a huge fan. I was so into his sound that I knew it was his birthday the next day for a show that I was playing with him. I went record shopping in London and bought him a stack of obscure punk rock and weird electro records. After that, I just ran into him a bunch of times over the years. And then Justin Jay, when we were doing the EP, kept referencing the Hessle Audio crew, and in particular Pearson Sound, and I was like, “Well, we should just get him to do the remix.” And he’s like, “Yeah, right. Whatever.” But I already knew him, so we were good to go.

How have you’ve reoriented and reevaluated Dirtybird’s musical output moving into this next decade?

Claude VonStroke: I mean, I’ve already changed the sound. I don’t know if anybody’s noticed. It’s not changed 100%, but it’s morphing. It still has the bumpy, Dirtybird sounding stuff, but this EP did help me in some ways because the way that I’m listening to demos has changed. I was almost at a point where I’m like, “Oh, what’s the next release,” instead of “What is the next amazing track?” Do you know what I mean? I didn’t do this label to make money, and honestly, I still won’t do this label to make money. I just want to find songs that I want to play. Cool songs.

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Are there any final thoughts about the Oh EP and the new Dirtybird series that you’d like to discuss before we sign off?

Justin Jay: Barclay, just thank you again for humoring me with this experiment because there were definitely a few moments in the studio together where I was like, “I don’t know if he’s down!”

Claude VonStroke: It’s just my personality. I may look mean, but I’m not mean. The whole thing was cool, and I’m glad we didn’t just decide to put a bunch of stuff out. I’m glad it was good.

Justin Jay: Have you played any of the tracks out yet, and do you think this EP might change the way you DJ?

Claude Vonstroke: I don’t know yet. The sound is definitely disruptive. People get into a vibe, and then I’ll drop a jungle track to break the vibe, and I’ll probably drop one of these, but I won’t be like, “Oh, now it’s time for 25 minutes of weird breakbeat tracks.” I’m still a house DJ. You are the master of just doing everything and going all the way from Rage Against the Machine to Backstreet Boys to fucking Aux 88.

Justin Jay: I am curious to see how the landscape evolves in America with the club music stuff. It definitely feels like there is an increasing open-mindedness. I mean, that’s just been happening for the past ten years. Over ten years ago, EDM wasn’t even in the mainstream American musical culture at all, and then it went from that, from not being a thing to EDM mega rave festival culture and superstar EDM DJs, to now house music has an amazing presence.

Claude VonStroke: What’s happening in house music right now is terrifying and also great for us, probably. We don’t like it, but it’s still probably going to be great for us. Diplo is making a house album, Skrillex is doing house tracks with Four Tet. All these stadium guys are coming in and doing house records, to which you’re initial reaction is, uh-oh, but the reality is, it’s going to be helpful.

Justin Jay: I feel like it’s all part of the DJ mindset. Wherever the crowd is, pushing them one step outside of their comfort zone is the most fun thing. So hopefully, this EP and this new label series do that in a small way for some of the people who’ve been following Ditybird and tend to think of it as just house music. Hopefully, some people are a little uncomfortable, but then give it a chance. You always have to give it a chance.

Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s Assistant Editor. Find him on Twitter.

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