Birthed by Detroit, Dirtybird is the electronic music label headed by native Barclay Crenshaw, a DJ better known by the name Claude VonStroke. Though its roots are here in metro Detroit, the collective is stationed in San Francisco, where a special tradition of hosting barbecues began a few years ago.
"Originally, we did it in the park," says Dirtybird DJ Christian Martin "We had a sound system that I bought with, like, my credit card 10 years ago and one of our friends offered to cook, so he would go get some carne asada and then meet us out there and we'd just play music and eat food. Gradually more and more people started coming out for it, and that's how the whole thing started blowing up. And then a year and a half into the whole thing, Barclay started the record label that had the same name."
Eventually the barbecue moved to Miami, where it would happen in accordance with the Winter Music Conference that takes place there.
"This is the first year that we've taken it outside of Miami during the music conference," Martin says. "The last few years we haven't been able to do it because we had too many people and we didn't have a suitable space for it."
He recently played the first in a handful of Dirtybird BBQs that will take place throughout the country this summer. The first stop was in Brooklyn, and he says they killed it, perhaps foretelling of an equally epic stop in Detroit.
"It was incredible," Martin says of the Brooklyn stop. "It went pretty much perfect. It was, like — everyone played great sets; it was a huge turnout. EPMD killed it. Keith Murray showed up out of nowhere with like five minutes left and killed it."
With ties to Detroit, Martin says he and the crew aren't just hopeful the party will have a great turnout, they're also just pumped to play here.
"We have such good rapport with fans in Detroit," he says. "I always love playing in there. I know that it's always going to be an insane time."
J Phlip, born Jessica Phillippe, is another Dirtybird artist that will spin at Detroit's BBQ. She wasn't able to make the first stop in Brooklyn because of a gig in Montreal, but she's highly anticipating the stop in Detroit.
"Detroit is one of my favorite places of all time to play," she says. "I've always had really good shows there, and every time they're getting better. I have so many friends there, and I'm from the Midwest too, so the people there just remind me of the people I knew growing up. It just kind of feels like home."
With huge EDM events like Mad Decent Block Party rolling through town regularly and venues that cater to that sort of crowd as well, fans who aren't familiar with the type of electronic music that Dirtybird artists create might see the barbecue as a way to get acclimated. Thanks to Detroit's rich techno history, many young people are already into the "deeper sounds" created by techno and house artists. Still, these electronic genres tend to draw a more musically mature crowd.
"EDM is more accessible to a younger crowd, and that's how they find electronic music," says Phlip, differentiating what Dirtybird does from Mad Decent's work. "If you're really in it for life, you know, if electronic music is your thing, then you're going to keep digging and digging and developing what your taste is and, you know, finding more sounds and delving down into the stuff you really love. I think since EDM has attracted so many more new young people recently that they will eventually come our way — some of them."
Martin notes that many young EDM fans just aren't ready for the Dirtybird sound, but they might be in a few years.
"I think that, unfortunately, they attract a really young crowd," he says. "Well, fortunately and unfortunately — fortunately because they're getting these fans at a really young age, and unfortunately because they're not the most responsible at that age and a lot of shit can go down between when you're 16 and 18, and I think we try to attract people that are ... well, we're definitely willing to introduce people to our sound, but I feel like our sound is something that might take a few years for electronic music fans to get a hold of because it's not as accessible as some of the in-your-face festival music."
Martin wonders how much longer the genre will even be around, and it sounds like others are wondering too.
"I read an article in Wall Street Journal today where they're talking about how the president of Ultra is saying that EDM might not have too much longer in the spotlight because people are getting more into deeper sounds," he says. "It's funny to hear Ultra say that because they're kind of the poster children for EDM. So they're definitely hedging their bets a little bit, and I think they're moving towards a deeper sound, probably out of necessity before we see some kind of EDM bubble pop. But as far as being quality, whatever gets people listening to electronic music is cool with me. We're going to be there waiting once they get sick of the super, overdriven, in-your-face, Beatport, Top 100 music."
While EDM is threatened with extinction, Martin and Phlip are both working away, getting new projects off the ground.
"I did this remix for a label in Seattle called Shameless that's coming out in September, and I've been working on a lot of my own stuff," Martin says. "I've just been gathering up original tracks to play whenever I go out and then fine-tune them. I have a bunch of those that are stacking up, and I'm kind of deciding what I want to do with them right now."
Martin also operates under the alter ego Leroy Peppers. In fact, he's played at Ferndale's Grasshopper Underground two nights in a row, one as himself and one as Peppers.
There isn't a plan for new Peppers material as of now, but that doesn't mean Martin won't resurrect the persona in the future.
"I haven't done any original Leroy stuff in a little bit just because I've been really busy as Christian Martin," he says. "But I always have Leroy on the back burner. I've had the urge to make something that's a little bit house, and that will always go under Leroy."
As for the Dirtybird BBQ, neither Martin nor Phlip had planned their set at the time of our interviews.
"I haven't thought that far ahead," Martin says. "I think I'm playing pretty early, so I'll try to set the stage for the later acts and just play stuff that will make people smile and laugh. I was asked for three words to describe the Dirtybird sound, and I said 'barbecue, bass, and laughter.' And I think that kind of sums us up."
Phlip hasn't even thought that far ahead.
"I have no idea right now what my set will be like at the BBQ," she says. "It's like two weeks away or so, right? I'll probably start freaking out next week and start digging for tracks like a maniac and not sleeping. Then I'll start re-editing the tracks because there are parts I don't like or I think it will be hard to mix or something, so I'll put them all on Ableton and I'll change them all around. I try to map out some of the set or some of the tracks I like and if they go together. I like to have stuff in pairs, like if I know two tracks sound really cool together and then I get on the decks and it's like, how do I use those pairs to make the party flow how I want to, depending on how the person played before me and depending on what the vibe is like when I go on."
Scheduled to be held in the Masonic Temple lot, the Dirtybird BBQ promises sets from Martin and Phlip, along with Justin Martin and VonStroke, and one wonders what special guests might show up. Martin gives nothing away at the question, noting that they plan to just "rock with the crew." Surprise appearance or no, the party will surely delight fans of the label.
"It's really about hanging with friends and listening to crazy music and just making a day of it," Martin says. "Just like a regular barbeque, just on steroids, especially the sound system and the amount of food." — mt
Dirtybird BBQ takes place in the Masonic Temple lot at 500 Temple St., Detroit on Sunday, August 31 from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.; dirtybirdrecords.com; tickets are $20.—