Claude VonStroke came to house music the long way. He grew up in Detroit, where his dream job was to be behind the desk at Juan Atkins’ studio. The closest he could come was to move to Los Angeles and make Intellect, an exhaustive documentary on contemporary dance music featuring interviews with many of the form’s most respected names. The success of that venture eventually led to VonStroke’s formation of the Dirtybird and Mothership record labels, which soon came to be among the hottest names in techno-funk and house music.
In the midst of this, VonStroke found time for his own debut album, 2006’s Beware of the Bird, which was released to critical acclaim. Now, to cap four years’ work and success, Von Stroke can add his name to the impressive list of DJs who have been selected for the prestigious Fabric series.
Fabric releases come so frequently, with Fabric and Fabriclive mixes each hitting the shelves about once a month, it’s easy to take them for granted. Yet, some stand out more than others. Fabric 46 is one of those standouts. VonStroke, whose real name, Barclay Crenshaw, might just be cooler than his DJ handle, has a good ear for a variety of styles. His focus, and that of Fabric 46 is techno-funk and tech house, though he covers a lot of ground within those parameters. Von Stroke wants to give you a taste of all the sounds he’s into. But, rather than throw everything together as a sort of sampler, he has carefully crafted a mix with an unmistakable arc, cutting, splicing, and layering tracks with an impressive touch.
Smartly, VonStroke kicks off the mix with a heavy dose of funk. If the thick grooves and slinky electronic percussion don’t get your attention, the vocals will. No lesser an ambassador of funk than Bootsy Collins appears on track two, VonStroke’s own “The Greasy Beat”. Its importance underscored by an ominous synth, Bootsy’s advice is, “If da’ funk gets too hot for your rump, turn the other cheek”. Preach it, Bootsy! The next few tracks contain exhortations both to “shake that big onion” and “shake that ass”. You get the message, and VonStroke leaves you with no other choice but to comply.
The potential pitfall at this point is that Fabric 46 becomes some sort of one-dimensional booty shakin’ party and skirts novelty status. VonStroke is much too deft for that, though. A third of the way in, the mix takes a marked turn toward house, in the form of the tense, two-note pulse of Voodeux’s “Just a Spoonful”. Here is where VonStroke introduces the variety of his tastes. The somber strings of Kiki’s “Immortal” and James Braun’s “Symphonia” betray the DJ’s fondness for soundtrack music, Crenshaw having tried his hand at it during his Hollywood sojourn. Wighnomy Brothers’ “Guppipepitsche” is heavy on the jazz, while the final third of the mix takes on the experimental/tropical feel of European techno innovators such as Yello. VonStroke never completely lays off the funk, either, filling in some more abstract electro sounds, such as the Vocoder-heavy “Maceo/Silently”.
VonStroke deserves kudos for resisting the temptation to make Fabric 46 into a self-promoting Dirtybird/Mothership label sampler. The handful of selections from those labels clearly go toward furthering the mood and feel of the mix. And perhaps the most outstanding of those is the obligatory “comedown track”. “Aundy”, a new one from VanStroke himself, is a beautiful, shimmering piece of deep house with strong hints of vintage, LTJ Bukem-inspired drum’n'bass. It’s a fitting conclusion to a mix that, while eclectic, never steers off course. The best mixes leave something for you to come back for after that first listen, a detail, a sound, or an underlying logic you may not have recognized at first. Fabric 46 is one of those.