It's a chilly January afternoon and Martin is sitting in his bedroom studio, anticipating the release of his double-pack for Hemlock Recordings. It's no surprise to hear that a dramatic entrance appeals to him; throughout the interview his boundless energy keeps him engaged in conversation, even while he simultaneously plays me works in progress. "I just wanted to be really visible for a bit," says Martin. "It's like there are set rules in music, like you can't release too much at once, but I'm not the kind of person who's reserved, so I'm not going to come across as someone who's reserved in my release schedule."
Martin is at an ideal point to take stock of his artistic development. He's established a distinctive style, with a common thread running through his recent releases that suggests he's found an artistic approach he feels comfortable with. "There were three tunes I almost consider to be a three-set package," he says. "'Resolve,' 'Renegades' and 'Blood Moon' are all very much exploring a certain sound." In their rugged rhythms, rasping textures and yowling melodies, these tracks sit neatly together, even if they span three different releases.
Martin grins as he pulls up his booking spreadsheet, which shows every weekend for the next three months filled with gigs across Europe. He's the kind of artist who embraces the symbiosis between producing music and playing in clubs, speaking effusively about the joys of a busy gig schedule. "Playing out is the most fun you can have with it," he says firmly. "Becuase you sit here writing and it's quite solitary, and I'm quite excitable. If you go to a gig you see an immediate reaction, and then you come back with that in your head and you write again, completely influenced from that."
Martin's biggest influence at the moment is the techno-hungry European crowd. But as much as the energy from a lively dance floor excites him, he's still wary of churning out club-friendly tracks for the sake of his DJ sets. "I do want to sit down and just write a banging techno tune now," he says, "and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as it comes from the right place. I would love it if I could be a straight-up techno producer, but I've come from a different world and I don't think my music would be that interesting if it went straight down that path." With roots in garage, drum & bass and dubstep, Hodge's sound is a product of the UK melting pot. There's a strong 4/4 thrust to most of his productions, but the bashy drums and bloated basslines set him apart from the wider techno community.
When he emerged with the The Fall on Immerse, Martin's sound was much housier, which ran parallel to his work as Outboxx, his feel-good house project with fellow Bristol producer Matt Lambert. From there he moved towards darker, sparser territory through releases on Deadplate and Well Rounded Housing Project. But it was the Bells 12-inch that marked the turning point in his sonic evolution. Having sent tracks to Tom Ford, AKA Peverelist, for some time, Martin's original version of "Bells" caught Ford's ear. Ford asked for the track's stems so he could remix it, and in a few months returned with the "Dream Sequence" remix. Feeling that his own version paled in comparison, Martin joined Ford in the studio, and the two of them created the "System Mix." They've worked together closely ever since.
"Working with Pev has had a massive influence on my sound," Martin says. "He takes so much time. I've seen him work on a kick pattern for three hours straight. I think that's been really good for me to be able to see, to come back here and put more thought behind what I'm doing."
Martin says Livity Sound's live show inspired the direction he was heading in. You can hear this in his music. Many artists would shy away from wearing their reference points on their sleeve, but Martin is honest about how he responds to the sounds around him. "I think everyone takes influence from other places," he says. "I feel like you have to listen to so much music to be able to release the music that I'm releasing. I had to get into it, I had to study it, and then once you understand the scene and you understand what you're doing, you understand how what you're doing relates to it."
Aside from the music of his peers in Bristol, Martin channels his long-standing love of cinema into his music, while a more recent infatuation with literature has had an even more pronounced impact. As with all aspects of his life, it was something he threw himself into with gusto—he recently burnt his way through the complete works of the American-Canadian author William Gibson.
"Books are a massive influence on any music I make," Martin says. "I'll go and read for half an hour, and then come back and write. It sounds so cheesy, but when you've just read a book, whatever's going on in the book is in the back of your head, and I think you soundscape the book as such. I got really into sci-fi, but it's almost becoming too much of a cliché to say, 'My music's influenced by sci-fi,' isn't it?"
The cyberpunk sub-genre that Gibson helped create had a profound influence on Martin's music. It's not hard to picture a grim dystopian future when listening to the clatter of Martin's recent track "You Better Lie Down." This influence has also loomed large in a project that Martin has started secretly. Away from Hodge and Outboxx, he's snuck out singles and albums under a new name. Although I must respect his wishes for anonymity, I found it surprising that he hasn't attached his name to work that would only add weight to his reputation.
"It's because I write too much!" Martin says. "I wrote an album's worth of music, it doesn't fit in with what I want to do for the Hodge stuff or the Outboxx stuff, so I'm going to do something with it."
Martin is committed to following his current creative path as Hodge, but he often experiments with different styles in the studio. He shows me an attempt at 8-bar grime beats, and while he's finding the file he whips up a classic Wiley bassline on his trusty Korg Triton. When he eventually finds the track, it sounds straight out of 2003.
"It's a really catchy riff but apart from that it doesn't mean anything," Martin says. "When Kahn and Neek do it, they really know what they're doing and it comes across like that. You don't want to be another guy just adding to that mess."
Kahn and Neek have cut some of Martin's beats to dubplate, but Martin firmly says he'd never release them. Outside of Hodge, he's focused on Outboxx. It's a project that happened almost by chance, and it's provided a valuable counterpoint for his work.
"If you find an avenue and you explore it, as that comes to an end there's this horrible period where you can get writers' block quite easily," Martin says. "So because of the amount of stress you can put on yourself, I go, 'Outboxx!' I write some house stuff and it takes away all the stress. Doing alternative projects is really good to be able to gain context on the last thing you did, to see it from an alternative point of view."
Martin met Lambert through a mutual friend. They wound up jamming in Martin's room one evening and wrote "Kate Libby," which went on to appear on the duo's first single. They since released on album on Idle Hands, and fellow West Country labels Futureboogie and BRSTL have put out their sunkissed, easy-going tracks, which often feature the vocals of Naomi Jeremy. Martin also worked with the emerging producer Facta, which led to a release on Tempa. "You always will learn if you collaborate with someone else," Martin says. "Even if the tunes never come out. I wrote with so many people, like Alex Coulton, Rhythmic Theory, and that was so fun.
"It was always quite direct with Outboxx," Martin says. "We knew what we wanted to do, and we're still doing it, whereas with Hodge I didn't know what I wanted to do and it's been a slow discovery, and now I know."
Martin is keen to stress how confident he currently feels in himself and his work. This enthusiasm boils over in every aspect of our conversation, whether it's discussing his gigs or the advice from those around him on managing his career. He's smart enough to take heed of such words, but not at the expense of his restless spirit. "I don't know why people have to release one type of sound the whole time," he says. "Fuck it. I'll release what I want. I don't want to over think it… If you look at a release run and it's so linear it's boring. Release other stuff. Be a bit more erratic. Don't be too safe!"
Hodge plays at Bloc. 2015 in Minehead, which runs March 13th to 15th