Birdhouse Festival Review & Claude VonStroke Interview [Audio]
On Saturday September 8, Claude VonStroke brought the Dirtybird crew to Chicago for the first Birdhouse Festival which took place on the near West Side. The outdoor festival, which I imagine will supplant the traditional Dirtybird BBQ that has graced the city in previous years, proved to be a loud, at times wild, and more than anything else: incredibly entertaining.
This was my first time at one of Claude VonStroke’s famed Dirtybird festivals, so here are some thoughts: upon arriving I immediately noticed the presence of the bass in the sound system. For a label that prominently features tracks with dirty bass lines and thick kick drums, a good sound system—particular in terms of bass—is imperative to a good show. At the Birdhouse festival the bass was inescapable, but in a very positive sense. I spent a lot of time in the front crowd, but when I left the mainstage to explore the festival’s various other attractions: the dunk tank, cornhole game area, funhouse mirrors, huge tic-tac-toe boards and numerous food trucks, the sound stayed with me. The festival took place in a large open parking lot, and I was very impressed by how the music remained consistent across the entire festival grounds. Certainly the concrete buildings surrounding the venue helped maintain the loudness, but it was still impressive to see people dancing at every corner of the festival: that kind of impact on a festival goer has to say something about both the sound system and the quality of music being played.
In terms of the lineup, I thoroughly enjoyed the music. I was most excited to see Gene Farris (the Chicago native whom I also saw at Mamby on the Beach earlier this summer), Will Clarke, and J.Phlip. Probably the highlight for me before Claude VonStroke’s set was Gene Farris’s back to back with Will Clarke. I thought they played an excellent set, especially as a precursor to Claude VonStroke. Their set was predominantly rhythmic, so it set a nice tone for Claude VonStroke when he took the stage at 8:30.
My favorite moment of the night came when Claude VonStroke brought out the legend, Derrick Carter. In my interview last week with Claude VonStroke we talked about some of the lessons he learned when he was first starting out as a professional DJ, and he cited Derrick Carter as a very influential figure for his career. Claude VonStroke explained that Carter was the man who really impressed upon him the idea that the music industry actually gets more challenging as you find success and your brand grows. In the interview it was clear to me that Claude VonStroke viewed Derrick Carter in high regard, but it was still a shock to me that he brought him out for a back to back hour long set during his own headlining performance. To me, the decision to bring out Carter said a lot about Claude VonStroke. First and foremost, it was unselfish; Claude VonStroke had a ninety minute headlining set at his own festival that he could have performed all by himself, but he chose to share the stage with a legend in the underground house scene and in the city of Chicago. It showed me that Claude VonStroke knows how to pay his dues, and he puts experience above ego (though this seems to go without saying if you are familiar with him). So it was amazing to see Claude VonStroke bring out a guy who knows the birthplace of house and its music culture better than almost any. Carter’s musical backbone often dips into the city’s deep history with soul, jazz and disco, so the back to back set was a treat for any Chicagoan. After sixty minutes playing together, Claude VonStroke took the helm for the final thirty minutes. I have to say, though I enjoyed nearly every part of the evening, the final thirty minutes of Claude VonStroke’s set definitely took the prize. I generally prefer music that has some more mid range and melodic content, and Claude Vonstroke worked in some tracks like that towards the end of his set. The last tracks weren’t necessarily melodic, but they had a fullness to them that departed from the rhythmic records (that were enjoyable but also dominated most of the evening). So I think his 30-minute solo set really brought the energy to a peak across the festival grounds at the end of the evening.
So, all in all, Chicago’s first Birdhouse Festival was a definitive success in my book. I enjoyed the crowd—everyone around me seemed genuinely engaged with the music, whether they were completely out of it or stone sober. I enjoyed the festivities as well, but most of all I had fun kicking it at a Dirtybird party: a place where you can enjoy a drink, a burger, and a dance: without taking yourself too seriously!
On a final note, here is the audio from the interview from last week with Claude VonStroke (Barclay Crenshaw):