The rise of social media has led to many musicians pulling back the curtain on their lives and interacting with fans like never before -- but British DJ and producer Will Clarke goes above and beyond in this regard.
Ever since Clarke started touring in the United States several years ago, he’s met with a lucky fan picked by his management team for dinner before he takes them dancing. Actually, he plays rollicking, wonky house tunes, and they dance.
“A lot of the same people turn up at shows. You see them at festivals and you know they’re spending a lot of money seeing you,” Clarke told AOL. “It’s the least I could do by taking them out to dinner, or going to the cinema, or doing whatever they want to do, really. It’s my way of saying thanks.”
What used to be an informal process of finding willing takers on Facebook has turned into the first thing you see when you visit Clarke’s official website, an entry form titled “A Date with Will Clarke.” But this isn’t a romantic endeavor. In fact, Clarke claims most of the fans chosen are males or couples, so it doesn't come off as such. The "dates" are simply about connecting fans with some of their favorite performers.
That’s also one of the main goals of Dirtybird Campout, a summer camp-themed dance music festival where Clarke will be performing on October 5. At Campout, artists are referred to as “counselors” and preside over activities throughout the weekend such as tug-of-war, nature hikes and fireside storytelling. It’s a rare, organic opportunity for fans -- or “campers” -- to bond with musicians without going to an awkward meet-and-greet or winning a contest.
Clarke spoke to AOL about Campout, why he doesn’t drink alcohol or soda and the one thing he hates about his epic beard.
AOL: What do you like most about Dirtybird Campout, how does it differentiate itself from other music festivals?
Clarke: It’s not like most festivals, where every artist goes, plays and then leaves. This one, everyone wants to party and hang around. It gives everyone a very different experience. You can see your favorite DJs walking around the festival all weekend. It’s encouraged for the artists to go and do activities and socialize with everyone. It’s more about being a family and having fun with the homies.
What’s your favorite Campout activity?
I’m doing archery with everyone this year. I like the sack races -- all the races, really – and tug-of-war. I’m from England, where we didn’t really have summer camps. So, I didn’t get to experience that. This is literally like summer camp when you’re a kid, except it’s adults and there’s amazing music and alcohol.
You don’t drink yourself, though. Or do drugs, or even drink soda. What led you to that decision to be sober and lead a healthy lifestyle in a profession where it can be easy not to?
I always have been [healthy] since I was a kid. I was super into sports. And in England, everyone starts drinking young. People were drinking at age 14, 15, 16, and I never really enjoyed it. I tried a beer here or there and some spirits, but it didn’t really appeal to me at all. I wanted to be good at rugby and didn’t even like the taste. I drank occasionally, maybe twice a year, and every time I was like, “Why am I doing this? If I don’t like something to eat, then I’m not going to eat it, so why am I drinking for the sake of it?” So, I think I was 21 when I last drank. It helps with productivity. I don’t have hangovers, and I can get on with s--- the next day.
When was the last time you had a drink? Was the hangover from that last time just so bad that it drove you to sobriety?
[Laughs] One of my friends, Camden, a girl I went to school with, I’d always go and visit her up in Leeds. We’d always get drunk, us and some friends, and I just would hate it every day. Everyone else is having fun and I’m just not. [But] there wasn’t a specific reason. My parents also own a drug and alcohol rehab, and I used to work in their rehab. Subconsciously, I’ve probably had a different effect on me because you see what that stuff can do to you.
Do you ever get pressured to drink at shows?
You do get that one dickhead occasionally, like, “Oh, you’re so f------ boring.” And it’s like, dude, I’m going to have more fun than you and I won’t have a headache tomorrow. We all know that one dickhead in life. It is what it is.
You’ve had the beard for 4 years and counting now — do you ever get tired of people talking about it?
It is what it is. The whole thing in a weird way has helped my career. It makes me recognizable. If I didn’t have the beard, I wouldn’t be recognizable. It definitely helps me, and I enjoy it as well.
What’s the weirdest reaction anyone’s ever had to it, like an overzealous fan?
I don’t get weird reactions. What I find weird is when people just come up and touch it. It’s like, what the fuck are you doing? Get off my beard. It’s just like me coming to touch your face randomly. I have friends who have amazing hair, like afros, and they get that all the time. People just randomly touching their hair in the street, and it’s weird. But, I get it.
What would it take to get you to shave it?
I’m not shaving it. It’s here for good. I enjoy it, it doesn’t annoy me or anything, so it’s all good.
Dirtybird Campout will take place in Modesto, California from October 5-8 and features artists such as Claude VonStroke, Gorgon City, A-Trak, Mark Ronson, Fisher, Green Velvet, Will Clarke and more.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.