In addition to Green Velvet, Curtis has maintained a variety of musical aliases since his early 90s career beginnings in Chicago (like Cashmere, Gino Vittori and Curan Stone) while generating classic anthems such as "Flash," "Percolator" and the Harvard Bass-assisted "Lazer Beams." Meanwhile, Detroit's own Barclay jump-started his music career and beloved "booty bounce house" label Dirtybird about a decade ago, molding a unique and instantly identifiable sound that has helped his young artist roster grow their signature strengths and establish a common ground between swift popularity and grade-A artistry.
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With their solo accolades now in rear-view, VonStroke and Velvet are ready to focus on a new assignment as they embark on their recently announced five-city headlining tour. Billboard reached Curtis in his hometown of Chicago and Barclay in Venice, California where they detailed the inception of their collaborative project and the cultural progression of techno's ever-evolving history.
When did the idea to collaborate first spark?
VonStroke: We DJ'd together in Miami and we both kind of showed up at the club at the same time. And then we also got on this Corona contest thing in Europe where we were judging kids and Annie Mac was the other judge. We just kind of started talking and hanging out together.
Velvet: It was in the past year, year and a half.
Why is now the time for Get Real?
VonStroke: We were trying it out for a while and now it's just becoming more of an official thing. We were in the middle of making music and realized it's going to be a bigger project going down the road so we figured might as well just say it's happening.
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Coming from Chicago and Detroit respectively - birthplaces of house and techno - in what ways have you seen the culture evolve and be celebrated in those cities?
VonStroke: However you want to phrase it - it's "flipped over" or "turned over" to the next generation of fans. So, all the guys in the beginning are not running the show anymore. I don't know how to put it. It's certainly changed over a generation.
How have the demographics for underground music shifted?
Velvet: The audience is still predominantly white, but I think that's how it was in the '90s during the raving era. But a lot of the original DJs from Chicago and Detroit aren't touring a lot of major festivals anymore. So I think there's more white DJs compared to black DJs now. I think the audience has already shifted. Like in the 80s, it was a predominantly black audience and in the 90s more of a white audience with the raves and all that stuff. That's just my perspective on it.
VonStroke: I haven't even been going since the 90s. I went to parties but I didn't even get going until 2005. So it was already kind of how it is now.
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At what moment did each of you fall in love with house and techno?
Velvet: For me, it was in the '80s. Listening to the music over the radio and then also going to parties. Here in Chicago, we would listen to the stuff on the mix shows like BMX or WGCI, that's how we got exposed to the music. I was fortunate that was the scene and I've been in it since the beginning.
VonStroke: I think we were both lucky because those two cities in particular both had really good scenes. I also went to raves and parties in abandoned warehouses or wherever. I got into it the same way but the funny part is I was listening to Velvet' records when I got into it.
What artistic differences does the Get Real alias allow you to explore versus your individual projects?
VonStroke: I think it more so just combines the styles. We don't really plan for it to be a certain way. But to hear both influences come through just combines into something I can't explain.
Velvet: Mhm. From my perspective, I may be a little more techno-y and drive-y, and it's great when I have Claude who has a really funky bounce to what he does. So when we're doing it together we have this funky, driving, bouncy vibe. ?
Barclay, what have you learned about yourself personally and professionally running the Dirtybird label?
VonStroke: I'm not always the best manager but I know what I think sounds good and looks good, and I just kind of run with that. We sign a lot of young artists, and it helps me because I see them trying to come up the chain, and it gives you a good perspective on how hard it is to navigate the system. You can see the mistakes people make and the things they do right, and maybe a couple things here or there and they do something that makes you go 'Wow. That actually worked. I wouldn't have thought of that.' I'm always learning from the young guys.
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Do you have time to listen to the demos sent to the label?
VonStroke: I actually listen to all the demos or if somebody tells me of someone I should know or already know, and I just pick out the ones I think are best. That's it. There's no science to it.
Which artists do you guys see pioneering the new wave of house and techno?
VonStroke: Curtis, you sign a lot of young artists too. What do you think?
Velvet: Would you consider Justin Martin a young guy?
VonStroke: Eh, not really. He's been around as long as me.
Velvet: I mean, we can still say Justin Martin. Hot Since 82.
VonStroke: It's hard to say. That's one thing about now that's different- I feel now that people are turning over very quickly. So, they might only stay popular for a year unless they really stay on top of their game.
Velvet: For me, I would also add Patrick Topping.
Where do you foresee the evolution of house and techno heading?
VonStroke: I think this culture has a very strong history and a very strong backbone. It does go up and down but --
Velvet: It's stuff that's not being regularly played on the radio stations but it is still really popular amongst the kids. The stuff that's a little bit more underground is doing really well right now because of the Internet and all the different outlets there are for the music right now. So, that's a great thing.
Will there ever be major crossover potential for the underground into mainstream radio?
Velvet: Certain things do but at the same time certain things are meant to be underground, and that's just the place they're supposed to be. There's nothing wrong with that but it's a good place to be nowadays because you can still get the visibility with all the different streaming sites out there now - Spotify, Soundcloud, Beatport has a streaming thing now. At the same time, the way underground music is, a lot of it isn't formatted to be played on daytime radio.
VonStroke: Plus, the songs are six to seven minutes long.
Velvet: And some don't have vocals. You know, major labels really don't like instrumental tracks, so it's hard to promote an instrumental artist on a major label.
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Any upcoming original music coming from you guys soon?
Velvet: Oh, yeah! We're actually really working on it right now. There's something that's already almost finished and we're working on a couple other tracks. We've already hung out in each other's cities. Barclay came to Chicago and he hung out in the studio and we started working on some stuff and I've been to his studio out in Venice, California. So we're definitely working on stuff.
VonStroke: We're trying for right at the start of the year.
As a duo, what is your greatest artistic strength and biggest weakness you're still working on?
Velvet: I think our strength is that we're confident in what we're doing and we know what we're doing because the long history of the cities and the music.
VonStroke: We also both kind of know where we want to go. We don't have to discuss it that much, we just kind of know what's good and what's going to work. But maybe our weakness is that we both don't live in the same city because then we would have been done with these tracks. (laughs)
Velvet: Yeah! (laughs)