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Music

California Sounds: Lust for the weird life in Claude VonStroke’s ‘Freaks and Beaks’

Barclay Crenshaw, a.k.a. Claude VonStroke
Barclay Crenshaw, whose music alter ego is Claude VonStroke.
(Shauna Regan)

Claude VonStroke, “Freaks and Beaks” (Dirtybird)

The house music producer born Barclay Crenshaw has built an army of followers as Claude VonStroke, trodding a twisted path through the thump-driven electronic music DJ scene by injecting regular doses of wit and levity into his intricately woven 125 b.p.m. bangers.

A lust for the weird life is evident across projects, including VonStroke’s three previous studio albums, an armful of 12-inch singles, his Get Real partnership with Chicago house minimalist Green Velvet and remixes for artists including Rihanna, the Chemical Bros., Kimbra and Disclosure.

VonStroke earned his reputation in Detroit before moving to L.A. in 2013, and along they way, he and his wife and business partner, Aundy Crenshaw, have built a mini-empire and devoted community through their Dirtybird brand, including annual campouts and barbecues, as well as the upcoming Dirtybird Festival in downtown Los Angeles. Musically, Dirtybird’s stylistic interests wander amid subgenres it describes in its literature as “an enigmatic combination of house, funk, dirty bass, and electronica.” They even employ their own grillmaster to make sure everyone’s well-fed. (The video below contains improper language.)

“Freaks and Beaks” comes out Feb. 21, and Dirtybird has been teasing its release with a series of mini-docs that invite viewers into the VonStroke community. That same day, the company will publish a 15-year anniversary volume called “Dirtybird Book,” which traces the label’s history.

This is the fourth Claude VonStroke album (he released 2017’s “Barclay Crenshaw” under his legal name), and within the initial moments of the minute-long “Warming Up the Bass Machines II” — a playful test-tone sound in which mechanical bass frequencies and the warbled voice of a sound technician seem to inhabit your system’s subwoofer frequencies — VonStroke makes it clear he’s expecting our undivided attention.

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System tested and tuned, tracks such as “Youngblood” (which features Los Angeles house vocalist and producer Wyatt Marshall), “Session A,” “Frankie Goes to Bollywood” and album opener “Freaks Don’t Fail Me Now” feel like calls to arms, invitations to both the peacocks and the wallflowers to loosen up and get down. Across the six- and seven-minute tracks, VonStroke soars through sounds drawn from the Detroit, Berlin and Cologne, Germany, techno scenes and seminal Chicago house imprints Dance Mania, Traxx and Green Velvet’s Relief Records.

The celebratory “Flubblebuddy” bounces as a manipulated voice ponders the question, “What do we say when we see our friends?” (The answer is in the title: You say “flubblebuddy,” of course.) The track climaxes during the first break, when VonStroke weaves in the stressed-out voice of a gentleman calling from the front office.

As congas pop and the bass thumps, the man speaks in a manner that suggests he’s on the line from the Victorian era: “Hello, sir? I have an urgent telegram. It’s from your friends. They say they need your help desperately,” he says. “Their names are not on the guest list, and they can’t get in to the party.”

If Mr. VonStroke’s on the decs, the friends’ urgency is warranted.


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