It's every entrepreneur's dream to find an investor early on in the venture. For Claude VonStroke, founder of house and techno label Dirtybird Records, that investor shared a house and a bed with him. "[My wife] paid all the rent and bills for that [first] year," he says. "So all the money I wanted to put into the label actually was then able to go into the label instead of to rent. That provided me the freedom, which is the most valuable asset to have at the starting days of a new venture."
Before founding the label in 2005, VonStroke — real name, Barclay Crenshaw — managed a DVD duplication shop and edited videos part-time. One particular project, a film he made about the art of DJing, enlightened him on how to start the label. If the Dirtybird venture had failed, VonStroke says, he'd probably have fallen into a profession "on the corporate side, writing for advertising agencies." But Dirtybird was a huge success. It's now widely recognized as one of the most innovative labels around. "I thank the universe every day that it worked out," he says.
The label's success didn't happen by accident. VonStroke put in the hours. Meanwhile, a unique mix of vision, work ethic, humor, and musical acumen seemed to magnetize other progressive acts toward the label. Justin Martin, Christian Martin, and Catz 'N Dogz have since found Dirtybird support and proudly place their names next to the label's iconic cracked-egg logo. "Having a support group that understood what I was doing pushed me and helped me get to where I was going," VonStroke says. "For example, if I didn't have Justin Martin, I don't think I would be here doing this now."
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Born and raised in Detroit, VonStroke's progression as a house and techno artist may seem predestined. But he says circumstances aren't so obvious. Besides his birthplace, he lists playing the cello, studying synthesizers, frequenting underground raves, and having an affinity for hip-hop as among his many influences. "I know for sure the musical path I am on is completely unique to me," he says.
From the beginning, Dirtybird made a habit of being different. From the mutant-like hybrid animals of its album-cover art to the label's injection of humor into house tracks, Dirtybird artists have proved to be anything but basic. VonStroke notices a lack of such individuality in popular electronic dance music and wants more artists to assume control of their craft. "Independent brands and artists need to take control and stop being owned by the corporations," VonStroke says. "If you have a fan base, then build that group into something beautiful and inspiring. You can't do anything really unless you know who you are. Originality is key."