On the final day of the inaugural Dirtybird Campout, Barclay Crenshaw–known to many as Claude VonStroke–was feeling some fatigue. “Honestly, I just hope I make it through the festival,” he quipped, only half-joking, when Beatport chased him down inside the artist tent.
This whirlwind weekender in Southern California was the definition of a hands-on job for Dirtybird’s main man. Juggling the roles of DJ talent, showrunner and master of ceremonies, Crenshaw was everywhere. When he wasn’t on-stage, you could find the boss locked in a game of tug-of-war or playing hype-man to his peers from deep in the crowd.
But come 5am Sunday, despite sporadic rainfall turning the idyllic Oak Canyon Park into a freezing marsh, fans huddled in the dark to see Crenshaw at his best: spinning with a smile on his face, looking the outdoorsman part with his massive beard and coonskin cap.
By now, Crenshaw is an expert at wearing different caps. Aside from his tenure as a veteran DJ, the Detroit native has amassed an impressive resume entailing various roles. His production work, for example, ranges from the drum and bass of his early years to funk-heavy booty-tech; in 2014, he also started a new side-project, Get Real, with Green Velvet.
On the business end, the Dirtybird founder also takes on A&R duties, his new weekly radio show, and finding new artists to design the cover art for label releases–all while helping to run the show at home as a husband and father. How does he do it?
“I’m leading a double life,” he told us. “I have a home life, and then I go out on the road and make music…It’s not the easiest combo, but I have a lot of help from other people.”
Many of those “other people” behind Dirtybird’s success could be seen roaming the grounds in their downtime: J.Phlip competed in the water balloon toss, Kill Frenzy hit the bulls-eye in a round of archery, and Justin Martin realized his life’s other calling as a pizza-maker over at the cleverly named ‘Dough Lab.’
This family sticks together, too: 2015 marks Dirtybird’s 10th anniversary as one of America’s most respected dance labels. “Barclay’s a tough guy when it comes down to business,” shared Martin backstage. “He’s always just showing by example what is possible to achieve.”
So far, such examples include releasing career-making hits like Breach’s “Jack” and Shiba San’s “Okay,” plus expanding the Dirtybird brand from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park–home to the crew’s intimate barbecues in earlier years–into bigger, nationally touring events and even holding court at major music festivals with their own side-stages.
At this point, then, the progression to a larger-scale event such as the Campout seemed only natural. “It’s all been a dream come true,” Martin said. “I never in a million years thought that we’d get to this point.”
But, as Barclay made clear, a lot of outside help was involved. “I know this is going to sound totally insane,” he began, “but planning this was easier than the barbecues because [Campout co-promoter] Do Lab is so on their shit. We got a lot of awesome people to put the Dirtybird vibe into the Do Lab and they worked it out.”
To call Dirtybird’s biggest party yet a music festival in the traditional sense, though, would be an injustice. Each day’s schedule offered only a single stage of music, in addition to classic camp activities such as a water balloon toss, sack races, and craft-making.
With its 21-plus crowd, the weekend was something out of an adult, booze-filled Bug Juice, albeit with an updated soundtrack. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said label mainstay Kill Frenzy in a break from dancing onstage.
“It’s not even really a festival,” Martin echoed. “It really is camp. There are so many other things that people can participate in besides dance music. It’s not just about going to the stage–that’s almost second to everything here. I feel like a kid again. I love it.”
In between running the weekend, Crenshaw also found time to embrace his inner-child. As Head Counselor, he judged the talent show (which, juggling, singing, and stand-up comedy aside, was more a display of how people held their alcohol) and engaged in games of tug-of-war, volleyball, and kick-ball; even taking a trip down the slip-n-slide.
Some of Barclay’s brightest moments, however, came well after the sun went down. One of the few acts to play multiple sets throughout the weekend, he switched between personalities with ease. As Claude VonStroke, he warmed up the midnight crowd with some of Dirtybird’s trademark bouncing, bass-filled funk before segueing into playful techno. In that 5am set under his given name, he delivered hip-hop and tasteful trap strung together by quick transitions–a vastly different style from the CVS we know.
The weekend also showed that Barclay is possibly Dirtybird’s biggest fan (and the Campout’s loudest cheerleader). When others slept, he soldiered through Christian Martin’s four-hour sunrise set; and while Danny Daze and Kill Frenzy tore through the crowd with warehouse-ready techno, he doubled as dancer and MC. In the most heartwarming display, he rallied a thin turn-out into a robust crowd during Zombie Disco Squad’s opening set on Sunday morning, even while gray skies and rain threatened to put a damper on the party.
Kill Frenzy summed up his label boss best: “He’s in the crowd with everyone else–he’s just the guy having a great time.”
The Campout proved that the Dirtybird ‘family’ reaches beyond its immediate circle of artists. “All of the people I see at my shows are here,” Kill Frenzy said. “It’s just a place for all the Dirtybird fans to come together. It’s amazing.”
If anyone’s in a position to reflect on how far the crew has come, it’s Justin Martin. “When we first started our parties over in Golden Gate Park, we were always dreaming of bigger and bigger things,” he recalled. “Sometimes we look back at those simpler times and wonder if things could ever be that simple again.”
Dirtybird may never be a simple operation again, but they can’t help but keep it real. So what comes after a successful Campout debut? “There is no limit–Barclay’s taught me this,” Martin affirmed. “Whatever we dream up, if we work hard at it, we can accomplish it and I really think the future’s bright. We’re always going to be having fun. That’s really what the goal is in the end: just to be happy with what we’re doing.”
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