Dirtybird Is Evolving Dance Music With Every New Event

For nearly two decades, Dirtybird, Claude VonStroke‘s globally beloved record label, party brand, and cultural force, has been a driving vehicle in the evolution of dance music.

Looking back through the history of Dirtybird, numerous niche-carving artists got their start under the tutelage of VonStroke, real name Barclay Crenshaw. Justin Jay, VNSSA, Wyatt Marshall, and Nala are just a few of the artists who have hatched in the Dirtybird nest and are now building their own unique pillars in the scene.

Beyond the artists themselves, Dirtybird as a label is also credited with major hit records in house and techno. In a past era, Shiba San‘s “OKAY” inspired a whole slew of bass-driven four-on-the-floor, and let us not forget the Australian bon vivant, FISHER. Two Dirtybird releases, “Ya Kidding” and “Stop It,” elevated him, his raucous dance moves, and foghorn-drop tech house into the precipitous position they reside today.

With a global pandemic putting a halt on the regular flow of trends within music, tech house has enjoyed its run at the top for an extended period of time. Normally, as artists release new music and subsequently play it live, listening trends change, and thus trends of creation change as well.

But with the near dissipation of live music over the last two years due to COVID-19, many ravers are still craving the bassline-heavy style, which means it is still dominating airwaves, festival speakers, and label submissions.

As label head for Dirtybird and a headlining DJ himself, Crenshaw is more aware of the tech-house ubiquity than most. He is also in one of the best positions to shift that needle towards new and exciting sounds, and that is a responsibility he takes seriously.

Other than the fact that basically every Dirtybird release since FISHER’s last has honed to a spirit of wacky exploration (in case you missed it the label released an entire album of modular constructed tracks from Lubelski called Happy Accidents), Dirtybird recently launched their white label vinyl series.

In this series, eclectic artists like Nikki Nair and Danny Goliger abandoned any preconceived notions of what a Dirtybird release should be and employed their most intuitive and esoteric interpretations of electronic music. Goliger’s track “Venality” on his EP, Sustain, is almost ambient in its erraticism, and “It Goes” by Nikki Nair is actually a dubstep cut…and yet it still came out on Dirtybird.

Because Dirtybird isn’t a tech house a label. It’s not even a house music label. It’s a label that shares Crenshaw’s favorite music.

So, when it comes to booking a festival like Dirtybird CampINN, it’s not a tech house festival. It’s not even a house music festival. It’s a festival that reflects Crenshaw’s favorite music, and the recent second edition demonstrated that his taste has only grown more impressive.

One thing that’s true of the tech house phenomenon is that it’s largely an American obsession. Other parts of the world like Europe, where rave music has been a cultural force for decades, have already seen the rise and fall of tech house and countless other subgenres to where they all have their existing niches despite what’s popular on any particular day.

Dirtybird CampINN 2022 included a very strong showing of European artists, and that inherently brought a sense of musical independence to the event.

Kicking things off on Thursday night for the preparty, the former BBC Radio 1 resident Heidi played hard techno two slots before the German-born hip-hop-turned-house DJ, Loco Dice. Later throughout the weekend other European artists like Skream, Maya Jane Coles, and Paul Woolford all provided their seasoned skills on the decks to a horde of happy vacationers.

On Friday night, Eats Everything was playing jungle on a popup DJ stand while dozens, if not hundreds of attendees skanked in glee.  UK drum and bass legend Aphrodite was inside playing his scheduled set around the same time, so it was hard for the dnb heads to choose (a rare and wonderful problem to have at an American event).

For American fans, beat-driven bass music is often a stepping stone into the heady world of drum and bass, and Crenshaw has consistently provided those stepping stones at his events and on the label.

Crenshaw’s alien-beat alias that exists under his given name made its debut at the first Dirtybird Campout in 2015 with a 5AM slot, playing to approximately 100 people. Maybe less.

At Dirtybird CampINN 2022, the Lava Lab was packed to the brim for the ripping basslines. The DJ booth was flanked by voracious speaker-climbers determined to create the space for their bodies to engage in the full range of human motion.

Following that untamed blowout were equally celebrated sets from Eprom, a frequent collaborator of Crenshaw, and Ivy Lab, who also recently made an entry into the white label series on Dirtybird with an EP entitled Press Play that is equal parts jungle, acid, and beat music.

But it takes more than the mere presence of diverse artists on a lineup to dictate whether the music will push boundaries or honor the legacy of the craft. The environment in which the artists play always influences their set, and the sets at Dirtybird CampINN went full underground.

Skream and Eats Everything booked dueling 90-minute slots, but they ended up playing back-to-back for most of the three hours. Hopping around between breaks, electro, techno, playing really anything they felt like, and the crowd was right there with them every step of the way.

Dirtybird CampINN is a boutique festival. There were just over 2,000 people there at the most. And so the people who were climbing speakers for Barclay Crenshaw are the same ones who shredded the dancefloor during Skream and Eats Everything.

Unlike many ravers who want nothing more than tech house these days, the Dirtybird crowd is craving new music at all times, in all parts of the world. The artists who perform can feel that, and that feeling leads to far more than top-notch DJ sets. It leads to talented young artists finding new inspiration. It moves the needle in exciting new directions. It puts gas in the vehicle that drives the evolution of house music, and Crenshaw stays behind the wheel.

Featured image by Don Idio

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