Claude Von Stroke doesn’t take himself too seriously. While helping to hone a post-minimal bass heavy sound with his San Francisco based Dirty Bird label, he found a way to effortlessly inject the fun of 90′s hip hop and booty into the notoriously serious techno genre. Now that his sound has taken the world by storm, few people are aware he got his start in Detroit as a Drum & Bass DJ. We recently had a chance to catch up with him and find out how we went from being virtually ignored in Detroit to being a homecoming hero.
What is your path from Detroit to San Francisco?
(laughs) It was actually a girl that I was dating from Canada, her dad was a Windsor diplomat, and she wanted to move to San Francisco and so I was like, “Okay, I’ll try it out.” Then she didn’t even get a visa, but I had already made all the plans and we were starting to be over anyway, so I just went through with it. I just ended up here by accident.
So you got there, and you used to DJ drum and bass, right?
Yeah, I was DJing drum and bass as DJ Tree. I was still super in to drum and bass when I got to SF, but when I got here, there was this cool drum and bass scene, but the only thing that was super popular was this Naked Music West Coast House sound. So, that’s kinda of how our label got started because I wasn’t really into that at all. And I just remembered parties in Detroit and then drum and bass, and I was like there’s nothing going on that has like a edge to it out here, so that’s kind of how it got going. I met some other guys and we were talking and they kinda got me more into house and…but I was like,”Well, I don’t really like any of this house, we need to make some different house. (Laughs.)
Unique in the history of Detroit DJ’s in that you’re got equal levels of Hawtin and DJ Godfather.
That’s something that’s really important to me, that I just kinda got my foot into everything that I like, and I’m not just gonna get put in the…it limits me also, but I like it. I’m not gonna be Ricardo Villalobos and I’m not gonna be Diplo, (laughs) you know what I mean. But there is a cool area where you can play a lot of different things and still be interesting.
How did the Claude Von Stroke character emerge?
Claude von Stroke was just like this joke. I lived in this area which was in Lower Haight, and there was these crazy girls that lived across the street from me, and we were just at their house one night and everyone just started making up fake minimal techno DJ names from Europe, and that was my name. And you know, everybody was just goofing around, but then a girl had her birthday the next week and she thought it would be funny–and I was just DJing, we were talking like a bar that holds forty people, where you would never do any kind of advertising, but she decided it would be funny to make a huge flier that said, “Nicole’s Birthday featuring Claude von Stroke” and then literally everyone started saying it and I was like, “Oh, this name’s really catchy.” So then I made that track “Deep Throat” like three weeks later and I would’ve just put Barclay Crenshaw on it, but I just put Claude von Stroke on it instead because of that little incident.
So you found success with Dirty Bird, so where does Mother Ship come in?
So, in the beginning of Dirty Bird, like we really got that reputation of being off-kilter bassy-house. And, I was getting a lot of really cool demo’s that were more techno and more deep house and more experimental, and I didn’t know what to do with any of the stuff, and I was playing it as well as the other stuff, and so, I just said, “We’re gonna start this other thing.” which was kind of, it was really good, but it was also maybe too ambitious. It’s really hard to run one label and to run two labels by yourself, is like suicide… And have kids and like, make tracks and tour, it’s almost impossible.
Don’t you donate a portion of the profits to Youthville?
We used to donate a portion and now we just donate all of it because Mother Ship doesn’t really make a ton of money. But uh, you know, we give them like somewhere around four thousand a year. We just give them all the money from Mother Ship.
So, what do you think of the work done at Youthville?
I think it’s a great place, it’s just like a great concept. I like that you don’t go there to learn geometry, you go there to learn like fashion design or video editing, like something that you could actually get a job doing that’s in creative world. I think it’s cool.
Are there specific Detroit parties that you can remember?
I lived in L.A. after college, and I tried to work on movies and a movie actually brought me back to Detroit, well the reason I got back to Detroit was because I got a job that was higher than the job that I was currently working on, which sucked which was like a P.A. So I got assistant location manager on this movie “Polish Wedding”. Remember that movie that was shot in Hamtramck? Clare Danes? So I got a job on that, so I came back to Detroit, and like pretended that I knew all the locations in Detroit, but whatever (laughs)…it worked, I convinced ‘em. And then I met Anthony Garth who was the location scout and we, like just became friends really quickly and he was friends with all the, like Dat and Gillespie and all these guys. And so that was actually the first time–I never went to any Detroit parties the whole first time I lived in Detroit. I didn’t go until I went and worked on that movie, and we would go out all night and then work on the movie all day and then go out again, we were crazy on that movie. And I went to raves at like Packard Plant and everywhere. And it would always be Mike Servito and people like that playing. That was kind of how I caught the bug, I guess. I was already twenty-five at least.
Was it the music, or was it the whole environment?
I just didn’t know, like…first I wasn’t really aware that you could have a job doing that. Second, I was like, what–has this been going on for like all of history? Because it’s crazy! I don’t’ know, it was just fascinating to me, I had really really strict parents, and I just was never the kid who was just out partying, like, at sixteen. So I just kind of got my revenge later on.
How do the crowds in Detroit differ from San Francisco?
You would think it would be very different, but it’s flipped over now, we’ve actually flipped into the next generation finally. And the new kids are really open. And it’s not that different. I mean I play a little more ghetto-juke in Detroit, but not tons more. I would say I play a little bit more bass in San Francisco and I play a little more booty in Detroit, but it’s not that different. And the crowds are similar, believe it or not.
You play a lot of stuff that has to do with bass, and I just was wondering if you could talk about some of the different bass scenes around the world?
The strongest bass scene is always coming out of the UK. Well, maybe Los Angeles has got one now too, but I feel like they started it in general, like the drum and bass scene and now the dub step and whatever you call the dub step that isn’t dub step, it’s really heady. All that stuff is kind of generated out of the UK and there’s amazing people that are not in the UK, but I feel like that’s where it’s from. And that’s where it works the best, and you can play more of it there. And some of it works in other places but I mean, there’s certain places where I wouldn’t drop a bunch of bass music, like in Germany.
So you’ve had direct interaction with the UK’s 21st century Bass Music scene by doing a remix for Girl Unit’s anthem “Wut”
I purposefully did that remix because I was like, “Man, this stuff is so cool and my crowd is not really paying attention to it. And I’m just gonna kind of like cross it over, somehow.”
So what genre would you call Girl Unit?
It’s really hard to come up with categories for this stuff cuz it’s really–I think it’s the most creative genre right now, people are crazy in this genre, like they’re doing everything. You can’t really pigeon hole ‘em at all. With House, they’re still just doing house that sounds like it was the house that came out twenty years ago. It sounds exactly the same, they’re just doing it with modern sounds. But bass music–and I also felt that about drum and bass, they were really pushing it, sound design-wise and just frequencies and just being way out there on a limb, not like later when it got really formulaic and like you had to have the (sings) dun-chih, dun-chih, but like when they were doing breaks and being like really odd, they were really pushing it.
I think now is a good time for everything. People are not as tight-ass as they used to be. I mean, some people are, but in general, kids are like, if it’s good, they’ll listen to it.
Having grown up in Detroit and moved and now you get to play around all the world, what does it mean now for you when you come to play in Detroit?
It’s actually one of my favorite things, because, I just remember when I was there and like discovering what that whole like party scene was all about and, it’s just, like, my parents are there, I see them and all my friends that I was hanging out with. I actually really prepare differently for coming to Detroit, I really really put a lot of effort in to it. I don’t know why, I just feel like there’s no way I’m gonna play a bad set in Detroit. It’s just not gonna happen. That’s like my mentality.