In 2005, Claude VonStroke founded a small independent San Francisco record label specializing in house music. While the genre had been around for years, the collective group of artists that would form Dirtybird Records turned heads with its carefree attitude and party first mentality.
A staple of the DB family is Justin Martin, the 39-year-old NorCal producer has become a must-see act among the electronic scene. Recently he was voted Best Producer in North America by DJ Mag.
Each summer his label hits the road for its now famous Dirtybird BBQ parties. In anticipation of their first SoCal visit to Los Angeles, The Weekly spoke to Martin from his Oakland residence. We learned about a new studio, being mentored by an all-time legend, and what makes Dirtybird fans so faithful for more than a decade.
OC Weekly (Michael Silver): What has Dirty Bird Records done over the years to stand out of the crowded genre that is electronic music?
Justin Martin: We tried to do something different and create a sound that was different from what was status quo fifteen years ago. Blending the lines between genres like techno and house, drum & bass, and hip-hop. There were no holds barred basically. We wanted to incorporate things that we loved and not be pegged into one genre.
Pushing the boundaries with our sounds but also as a crew, we strive to be a positive inspiration and role models to people. Our fan base has seen that and if you have a dream and want to accomplish it (like house music) you can do it. We started from nowhere.
Your most recent record, 2016’s Hello Clouds was a transition into new sounds and production. How long did you work on that, and what influenced the spacey theme?
I worked on that album for about two years straight and then when it was done I gave it another year to kind of simmer and test things out on the road. It was deeper then my first album (Ghettos & Gardens); I think what gave me the confidence to explore that new territory was that a lot of the (previous) songs were more melodic and heartfelt ideas that really stood out. I wanted to dig deeper and write music that hopefully spoke to people and had a longer shelf life.
Late night pajama jammy jammin'.🌜⭐🎶 – Built the rack on the left with my dad yesterday, and now there is finally a place in the studio to put all my fun little toys, extra rack gear, favorite records, and blippity bloop robot friends:) – #studiobuild #musicstudio #musicproducer #argosyconsole #studioporn #gearporn #studiosetup #studiolife #homerecording #homestudio #neumannkh80dsp #moog #moogerfooger #strymon #strymontimeline #strymonbigsky #spaceecho #lexiconprimetime #niio #rolandtb303 #sp1200 #vinyl #dolbyatmos #pajamas
Can you describe your relationship with Claude VonStroke? Do you consider him a mentor growing up in the music scene?
Yeah one hundred percent. From the beginning of our relationship when we first met probably 18 years ago, he was working on a movie called The Intellect; it was a how-to on being successful as a DJ. I just graduated college and met him through my brother. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I was passionate about DJ’ing and didn’t know how to break in.
Meeting Barclay was great because he just interviewed 20 of the top DJs at the time and got their stories on how they became known. I traded him a bunch of my music to use in his film and he took me under his wing, to see if teaching in this movie would actually work in real life. He became my manager and mentor and helped guide me. We’re really good friends and have gone through everything together. We’ve seen the highs and the lows of the industry and had the times of our lives together.
The Dirtybird BBQ tour has been traveling the states each summer for many years. What makes your crew so fun to party with?
We’ve been doing it since 2003 or 2004. It started off as renegade parties in the park. Strictly bringing a sound system, generator and barbeque grill with word-of-mouth, telling everyone we were doing this. It was a way for us to not have to stand in line to get gigs, to climb the social ladder. We just said ‘Fuck it’ and did it ourselves, playing music and having fun. It grew from there, and got to the point that the parties were so big we got proper permits to do them and now we’re selling out 5,000 capacity outdoor events.
A natural growth and the root of it is our friendship and love for playing music as a crew. It has a family vibe to it and we’ve maintained this idea that people from all walks of life, all ages are welcome. As long as you’ve got good vibes and having fun you’re welcome to come hang.
You’re very active on social media and engaging with fans. Has it always been a comfortable atmosphere? Especially the pizza parties and documenting your travels.
For me when I was going to college, besides music, my second love was doing film stuff. With technology now and the birth of things like Vine back in the day, it enables you to be creative and document your daily life on a really easy basis to get it out to your fans.
I like to have fun, period. If I can make people smile on a regular basis and connect with people through humor, or share some really cool shit I get to do and places I get to see…I try to capture that every chance I get for my audience and take them along on the journey with me.
Are there any DJs or artists you’ve always wanted to collaborate with for a dream project?
I’ve always wanted to collaborate with FKA Twigs; I love her voice. One artist as a vocalist has always been Bjork. I have a bootleg that I’ve been relentlessly trying to clear samples for of her. Other than that, I’ve been really fortunate to work with a lot of my peers that I look up to. I’m always down to hang with people who are fun, and get into the studio with friends.
Have you been in the studio working on new tracks? Anything to tease coming up?
I just finished a yearlong studio build, from the ground up. It’s about 85% done while in there everyday working on new stuff, new music. I basically built my dream studio and over the last year not having a place to work, I’ve built up and am ready to explode with new ideas.
Right now I’m in that creative zone and working every single day, getting back into the groove of things. We’re shooting for a release on Dirtybird before the end of year, and also a release on my brother’s label. There will be new music soon!
What can fans look forward to at the first DB BBQ in LA this weekend?
Amazing music, good vibes, being part of a community that’s really fun loving, and open-minded people. Bring your dancing shoes and creativity, it’s all about having fun.
Dirtybird BBQ 2018: Los Angeles, takes place this Sunday, July 8th at the LA Memorial Coliseum Plaza. Lineup includes: Claude VonStroke, Justin Martin, Wajatta (Reggie Watts & John Tejada), Justin Jay, Christian Martin, and Dateless B2B Lucati. The party is 18+ and tickets are available here.
Michael Silver is a journalist and photographer based in Southern California. He covers music, sports, technology, and streetwear. Tips & pitches: firstname.lastname@example.org