Electric Zoo 2010 | Interviews Part 2 : SF Meister Claude VonStroke

Interview : Chinua Green and Henry Glucroft / Photography : Bennett Sell-Kline

We had the chance to speak and laugh with Claude VonStroke before his performance at Electric Zoo, which stood out amongst the other A-list performers of the Sunday School stage. Asking him some tough and intimate questions, we see his love and excitement of music before anything else and that a rap song can get you through algebra. Check out the interview after the drop.

H : So, who’s afraid of SF?

Nobody, you have to be pretty weak to be scared of San Francisco [Laughs]

H : Kind of like Boston right now. C: Do you feel kind of slighted, if you will, by your early time slot, considering that you’re an American DJ…

CVS : Whoa whoa whoa!  This is a loaded question!

C:  I know.  I’m trying to put you on the spot, sorry… or is it pretty much in line with your views on the U.S. being a following market, because you said in an RA interview, that America follows Europe.  So, do you take it in stride, or do you feel kind of frustrated?

CVS : I’ll just say that I own two record labels, I’ve done 50 remixes, two albums, four mix CDs, and… that’s all I’m going to say.  Maybe some of these other guys have done a couple of things, but… I can’t say anything about that!  I’ll never be invited back!

C:  [Laughs] You’re right.  Maybe it is a bit too heated.

CVS : All you got to do is make it hard for everyone else [Laughs].

C:  Exactly.  You’ve got the mentality.

H:  Respect to that… so obviously Mr. Spock is a little bit of a monster tune…

CVS : [Chimes in] But it’s totally illegal!  [Laughter]

H : Naturally.  Are there any other tune that we should play close attention to in this set?

CVS : I have this really crazy bootleg that J. Phlip put together, that I re-edited again yesterday.  It’s got Ice Cube, It’s got an old classic house track, that horn sample from “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” by Public Enemy, It’s got everything.

H : Sounds fresh, sounds fresh… kind of on that edit subject, I feel like that’s a really heated area right now, especially the way some of those tracks are just so hyped, and people on the one hand will underestimate the work it takes to do a good edit, but also how over-hyped it can be when some ‘original’ tracks, so to speak, are not that far from being an edit at times in itself.

CVS : Yeah.  I mean, if this was year one of Dirtybird we would have never released ‘Mr. Spock’.  I’ve kind of been bent… I don’t do any sampling like that, but, on the other hand, if someone brings me a track, and every time I play it the place goes fucking ape-bonkers, and they tell me “well if you don’t like it I’m going to send it over to Made to Play” [Laughs]  It’s like:  “Well… I don’t think so!” [Laughs]  That’s how you end up putting out a sample track.  That’s the thought process.  [Laughs]

H : In terms of new, exciting talent and finding these new gems out there— because so many new talents emerge really quickly nowadays— anybody that we should know you’ve got you’re eyes on to join your dirtybird/mothership family?

CVS : We have a really good record by Tom Flynn coming out next, and he’s on Worthy’s label already, on Anabatic.  I don’t know, he’s really talented, he sends me a new track every week, and some of them are really great.  I don’t know… yes, no, maybe so? [Laughs]

H : Tanner [Ross] and Sergio [Santos]… the Boston nutcases.  A few words about them.  What would you…

CVS : Well, I barely know Sergio, but I know Tanner is out of his mind.  And so is James (KiloWatts). I love these guys, though.  Tanner’s super-talented.  He could use a little bit of focus, but he’s a super-talented producer.

H : I feel like Boston and San Francisco, though completely different, share a lot in the way the artists kind of stick together, and can find a sound that can… your sound is so unique and at the same time Boston’s kind of undergoing something similar with these guys.

CVS : Yeah.  It’s good when you can have a crew and the thing just grows up from the crew.  We didn’t have anybody coming to our first parties, but we also wouldn’t let anyone else come in.  Like a lot of people would just say “Oh, we’re going to do our party and we’re going to get the most popular guy in San Francisco to be the headliner,” but we said “fuck that we’re just having our guys come through and eight years later…..”  It was way harder, but it’s more clean, because we didn’t do any gimmicks— we do gimmick music sometimes, but— we didn’t do any bullshit locally, like, we didn’t book Mark Farina to try to get our party to be big.

H : It wasn’t so much about putting you with the headliner just for the sake of your own rise, it was just about…

CVS : Right.  It’s not like the guy who writes a bio about himself, and says, “and I’ve played with this guy and this guy and this guy and this guy” and you’re like “Uhhh… What did you do?” [Laughter]

C : To switch up the topic, I was a little curious about that and how music is evolving as a business as well… What do you think of something like Richie Hawtin’s Twitter DJ app and how that can affect how you’re paid as a label and an artist?

CVS : You mean that it notifies you what tracks he’s playing?

C : Yeah because for example that information for an organization like ASCAP or other performance rights groups is— like imagine you have all of Richie’s DJ sets, your own DJ sets, and everybody else’s saying “Oh, this track just got played…”

CVS : … [Listening to an unidentified edit of Sister Nancy’s ‘Bam Bam’ in the background]  I gotta go get this edit, because I have an edit of this that’s not as good as this one.  Who is this… I want this one. Sorry, I got distracted.

C : No worries, happens all the time.  So how do you see yourself pushing… are you making any pushes there?  Because you have a lot of authority and can stand the way— I’m not trying to compare you to Richie…

CVS : Well I’m not going to be playing on a laptop, first of all, so… I just don’t want to do it.  So that’s going to be limiting right off the bat.  And then… I kind of don’t… I’m not going to say I don’t care.  I’m just going to say that the music is the music and in order to be a label these days you have to think of other ways to make money besides the music.

C : So you’d rather not sacrifice the autonomous tracks, the hidden tracks and share exactly what you play—

CVS : —If I had to fucking broadcast every track that I played, every fucking set in every city I would kill myself because then I would have to work 24 hrs a day just to be able to have new shit.  There’s something to be said for to having like 5 records that nobody else has for 3 weeks.  [Laughs]

C : But still… I mean, you’re in a good position because you can have all the unreleased music you want, and that kind of helps you stay on top because people want to hear—

CVS : —why would I want to ruin that for myself? [Laughs]

C : Because, if you, I mean— it’s just the way the business is kind of changing, but you know, and it’s a question I feel that’s being asked a lot—

CVS : —Well Richie Hawtin is like 10 years ahead of his time, so, maybe 10 years from now everyone will do that.  But I’m not doing it.  I’m still 10 years behind my time.

H : That’s good and your still pressing vinyl and we love it.

CVS : Richie Hawtin is futuristic and Dirtybird is caveman.

H : Anything coming up that’s exciting?  You did the Motherbird Agency— right when I saw that I was like, amazing, everything from the design to the idea of keeping the family together…

CVS : We try, but a lot of people just—

H : …it’s tough.  How’s that been working with the Blue Collar and those efforts and are you involved with that, or just, name?

CVS : Well, the Motherbird Agency is really kind of just a shell for Blue Collar has so many people that it’s just kind of cluttered as far as styles, so we want to just have somewhere where I could be like, ‘if you like these labels, then you just go here and it’s over with.’  You don’t have to go look through all these pages of people?

H : What’s the next label called?

CVS : Yeah, I don’t know.  I don’t know! [Laughs]  I don’t want to start another label!  Truthfully, it’s a losing proposition.  I’d rather just send somebody my music than get paid, actually. [Laughs]

H : That does sound like a little more fun than running a label, which is not easy.

CVS : [Listening to Booka Shade vs M.A.N.D.Y.’s ‘Body Language’ in the background] This is really a diverse set.

H : Who’s playing right now? C: Is it Tom Middleton?

CVS : I don’t know, but It’s kind of a cool set… it’s like, very stop and start but I like this song selection.

C: I read that you went to a boarding school in Connecticut?

CVS : Yeah.

C: Which one, might I ask?

CVS : Choate Rosemary Hall.

C : Oh, you went to Choate!  You know, somehow I just thought you were a Choate guy.  I went to Hotchkiss.

CVS : Oh, really?  I went to Hotchkiss summer school—

C : I went to Choate summer school, and I’m not even lying!

CVS : There you go.  Well, what happened was I thought that boarding school was the worst idea I ever heard in my entire life, and my parents forced me to go to Hotchkiss summer school, and I liked it so much that I was like, “I’m not coming home.”

C : Are you serious?

CVS : [Laughs]  Because my parents were super-strict, and boarding school was actually less strict than my house. [Laughs]

C : That’s pretty hardcore!  But you also were involved in a rap group back then.  Funny story— my big brother pretty much did the same thing.  I say that there should have been a league, of rap battles in the 90’s amongst boarding school.

CVS : Maybe, I don’t know, but that’s crazy! [Laughs] You know that I was a rapper at Choate, and I had dancers, and I had an album, and everything.

C : You, leading a rap group?

CVS : Barclay MC, yeah. Those are my actual initials.

H : Any re-issues?

CVS : No fucking way! [Laughter]  But I will tell you that I failed Algebra twice, and the third time, I made a song called ‘Algebra’ and [the teacher] gave me a D-, and I passed.  And it was a hit at the school.

C : So your first hit was—

CVS : …was a song called ‘Algebra’ it was a rap. [Laughs] You really got a good interview; I would never talk about that shit.

C : We’re still amateurs here, but we try, we try… well, we’ll let you get to the next [interviews], and I’ll send you new tunes, too. How long are you staying in New York for?

CVS : No, I have to go to a Chicago festival tomorrow.  I’m playing with Green Velvet, and also the after-party with Green Velvet.  And I’ve never met him, but I’ve met his label manager like 5 million times.

C : He’s a weird, weird, guy.

CVS : I’m excited to meet him.  Because I did the remix of ‘Percolator’ for him…

C : Yeah, that’s a great tune… but yeah, [Green Velvet] just went from total professing la-la-land, to now professing a totally different land.

CVS : He’s religious.

C: I mean, ‘sobriety,’ I guess.

CVS : I think it’s hard to be in this industry for a long time.  It can run you down… look at Tanner.

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