When Barclay Crenshaw first began mixing hip-hop sets, it was for an in-house radio show at his Detroit high school, and fans weren't exactly clogging the airwaves.
"We could never get anybody to listen," he laughs, "so we would buy a takeout pizza every week and give it to the 30th caller just so we could get 30 calls."
It would be more than a decade until Crenshaw found his place in the limelight, and it wasn't hip-hop but rather a funky, bootylicious take on tech house that made him a star. Fans all over the world clamor for a chance to see Crenshaw's alter ego, Claude VonStroke, the man who won hearts via bizarre grooves such as "Who's Afraid of Detroit?" and "Barrump."
Crenshaw and his friends gave birth to a sound, and that sound gave birth to one of the most loyal fan bases on the scene. His label, Dirtybird, has been the breeding ground for big names such as Justin Martin, Eats Everything, Worthy, and others. Dirtybird has its own camping music festival now, and Crenshaw still runs the independent label from his house, personally listening to every submission from around the world. He's played megaclubs like LIV and Story as Claude VonStroke and started a duo with the legendary Green Velvet called Get Real.
The success has been great, but none of it compares to his latest project. Using his real name as a moniker, Barclay Crenshaw finally returns to the hip-hop roots that lured him to the decks in the first place. His debut album, self-titled Barclay Crenshaw, is his most personal work to date.
"I was a jungle DJ, and I was a hip-hop DJ, and I've been a house DJ," he says. "I just want to be able to get to everywhere. It's my real name, and it's everything that I like, not just one thing. In house, there's a lane. When people go to see a techno or house show, that's what they wanna see, and that's awesome. It is really fun, but when you go to see an open-format DJ, it can be anything, and that's more about what this is."
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As much as Crenshaw loves house and techno, he's ready to break free of his Dirtybird cage. This is a career pivot, a moment to showcase his utmost potential. He's not just a four-on-the-floor guy. Crenshaw is a name you can drop in any musical conversation, inside and outside the club world. The ten-track LP showcases his universal capabilities through its diverse tempos and space-alien theme.
"The Gene Sequence" is built around a crazy, twinkling key melody that whirs by at light speed, all while the beat takes you further and deeper into Crenshaw's sonic headspace. "U Are in My System" features out-of-this-world bars from the Cool Kids and a very retro-future "Planet Rock"-style vocoder vibe twisted up inside a hyphy Bay Area beat. "Fatal Error" is playful with an off-kilter rhythm, sludgy bass lines, and cartoonish bleep-bloops. You can hear the mind of VonStroke at work, although it's decidedly different in its composition with regard to tempo, construction, and, above all, the presence of lyrics.
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"I am not a fan of house beats with hip-hop lyrics," he says. "I don't think it's the right tempo, and it always sounds like it's jammed in there. There's a couple of rare cases, like Jungle Brothers and Deee-Lite, but 99.5 percent of the time, I'm not into it at all. I didn't really like the g-house stuff, even though Dirtybird kind of sounded like that, but we never went down that road. We have hip-hop influence, but we never put lyrics on [the record]."
He launched the Crenshaw project at the Dirtybird Campout festival in March 2016 but gave it a soft debut at Los Angeles' Low End Theory party. It was a fitting moment, considering it was Low End resident the Gaslamp Killer who helped inspire Crenshaw to get back into the hip-hop game. For the proper tour, he has stepped up the production, animating the 1800s-Da Vinci sketches meets 21st-century extraterrestrial album artwork Daniel Martin Diaz created for the project. The Miami show at Bardot this Friday will feature a pared-down performance, but he won't skimp on the crazy costume: a space-age-frontiersman look that takes cues from Run-D.M.C. and all the hip-hop icons that influenced Crenshaw growing up.
"It's a whole thing," he says, "a really cool break to do something else. Actually, it's inspiring me to do more. I definitely think there will be a bunch more Barclay music, as well as a bunch of follow-up Claude music, but it's not just like I put out an album and a year later there's another [Barclay] track. I think there will be another track in like two to three months. It's a lot of fun. I like it."