Dirtybird, the San Francsico techno crew, is more like a mafia than a record label. Founded a decade ago as a dance party by Claude von Stroke (the alias of Barclay Crenshaw), Justin Martin, his brother Christian Martin (sometimes known as Leroy Peppers), and their friend Worthy, Dirtybird has become a term synonymous with bass-heavy techno and a rollicking night. To be inducted into this clan, you must be a technical master (one who doesn’t DJ on a computer), and you also need your own sense of style – musical and otherwise.
J-Phlip, the alias of Jessica Phillipe, became a Dirtybird DJ after befriending label co-founder Justin Martin. “When I first met Justin it was at Smart Bar in Chicago,” she explains. “I was 21 and it was my first time going there. I was actually there to see Ben Watt. Justin was on tour with Ben because he had the ‘Sad Piano’ track on Buzzin’ Fly [Watt’s label]. I was just dancing to Ben Watt in front. I didn’t even know who Justin was. He was wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and a baseball cap and he was all goofy. He came over and started dancing with me and I was like ‘what the hell, this guy is crazy.’ We made friends.”
Soon after she met Martin, Phillipe won a contest sponsored by the now-defunct BPM Magazine for the best young female DJ in the country. (DJs Colette and Heather served as judges, lending it some real credibility.) Part of the contest’s prize was a trip to Miami for WMC in 2005, where Phillipe sought out Martin.
“I was like, ok, I want to party with this guy,” she says of her initial Dirtybird ambition. “I ended up hanging out with their whole crew and just partying with them the whole week. I stayed in touch with them and saw them at WMC again, and saw them at DEMF. They invited me to play at a Dirtybird party in San Francisco.”
Playing with Dirtybird is not like playing with other DJ cliques. The group takes their craft seriously, particularly when it comes to the often under-looked art of timeslot-appropriateness.
“We’ve all discussed many times bout how we want the flow of the party to go well,” Phillipe says. “If I’m going to be the opener, or closer, or in the middle – we play properly for our timeslot. We all really believe in that. No banging it as the opener. We all have a high expectation of each other when we play together to do our job right.”
That high level of expectation drives their track selection as well. Phillipe speaks of a friendly competition on the decks: “We want to impress each other. When I’m playing I want Justin or Barclay to come over and be like ‘what’s this track’ and I know that they want the same.”
Not that it always goes perfectly. “We’ve all kind of had our mistakes… then later we’ll get a little scolding. You know, like a family. It’s like your big brothers are always saying something.”
As the only woman in the crew, J-Phlip’s visual style – sleek, dark hues, funky boots, very Euro – has her standing out amongst those older brothers. “I think all the guys are really into hip-hop so they kinda follow a little bit of hip-hop fashion,” she says, summing up their look as “t-shirts, jeans, skater shoes, and baseball caps.”
According to Phillipe, someone recently described Christian’s style as “raver from 1995,” though Justin’s look is a little more current. “He’s into Pharell’s clothing line and Clipse’s clothing line, things like that,” Phillipe explains. “I think all the guys are really into hip-hop so they kinda follow a little bit of hip-hop fashion.”
Phillipe herself executes a certain level of fashion-restraint. “I always feel like I need to dress down,” she says. “They’re so boyish! Just California dudes. I don’t wanna be too sexy or anything. I just want to be laid back to fit in with the crew, you know?”
These days, when she’s not on the road, Phillipe splits her time between San Francisco (where her boyfriend lives) and Berlin (where she gets most of her duds).
J-Phlip plays tonight in Los Angeles for Control at Avalon with Justin Martin and Worthy.
The simply-titled dirtybird players: Various Artists Compilation, that features the J-Phlip track “Coefficient,” is out next month on Dirtybird.