Various Artists - Five Years of DirtybirdIn some senses it can be easy to confuse John Tejada and his Palette imprint with Claude VonStroke and the Dirtybird crew's releases. The two have helped define Californian tech-house over the past decade and recorded mixes for Fabric, with similar aims almost back-to-back last year. Aesthetically speaking, though, they're miles apart: Whereas Tejada's productions are sleek, cold and modern in grain, CVS seems more in synch with the festive and upbeat approach to house music epitomized by people like The Detroit Grand Pubahs or Green Velvet. As a way to showcase the Dirtybird peeps' contribution to contemporary house music over the past five years, CVS has just released Five Years of Dirtybird, a three CD compilation that stands as an impressive testament to his truly distinctive vision.
CD1 chronicles the label's key releases in unmixed format, while CD2 takes more or less the same ones and has Justin Martin segue them together next to newer or rarer tracks. In both cases, the striking thing is the congeniality of it all: Cuts like "Southern Draw" (the label's very first release from Justin Martin & Sammy D that has a kooky vocal inciting you to "smile at your partner while passing gas" with accompanying sonic exemplification) and CVS' own "Deep Throat," "The Whistler," "Chimps" (with, you guessed it, more accompanying sonic exemplification) and the complex and prismatic "Vocal Chords" all place an emphasis on quirky, organic samples.
It might have seemed stupid at first, but having someone whistle or recording someone else's borborygmic burp has been an innovative move. Then there is the ever amazing "Who's Afraid of Detroit" the CVS track that brought the label massive acclaim and is fully deserving of modern-day classic status; its soft-spoken pads and intricate dynamics have helped it age very, very well. Comparatively, Style of Eye's "The Big Kazoo" feels like electro-house-by-numbers at first, but it also redeems itself by the use of, well, a peculiar kazoo-sounding sample. Hats off, too, to "The Greasy Beat," appearing here in its Robag Wruhme vs. J. Philip guise, which is sweet, like Plaid at their most vulnerable, yet has plenty of funk, courtesy of the understated presence of Bootsy Collins.
CD3 is less heavy on the authoritative moments. Older friends such as The Martin Brothers show a bumpier, more crowd-pleasing approach to production, as the current single "Robot Romance" masterfully demonstrates. But it is the label's recent recruits like Worthy & Yankee Zulu ("Humble Mumble"), Talal & Zoi ("Silky King") and Hickup ("Hickup Theme") that bode well for the future of the imprint.
With an array of producers all dedicated to hunting for unusual and sometimes wacky sounds with which to pepper their tracks, Dirtybird has become the home of a truly distinctive voice. In fact, rarely has dance music been able to inscribe its main concern—the body and its inputs, its actions, its reactions—into the very core of its fabric so effectively and with such conviction. On the basis of Five Years of Dirtybird, Claude VonStroke really has something to be proud of, no matter how ridiculous he looks with a bird nest on his head.