It might be a fresh sound, but Martin is not exactly a spring chicken. He's actually been releasing records since 2003 – his first single was 'The Sad Piano' issued on Ben Watt's London label Buzzin' Fly. Its simplicity and groove made it a favourite of DJs along the lines of Derrick Carter, Pete Tong and Mark Farina, while Charles Webster’s classic remix of the cut even found favour with the Germans, popping up on Steve Bug's 'Bugnology'. Since then Martin has racked up two more twelves on Buzzin' Fly and a couple of jacking house tracks and remixes on labels such as Classic and Freerange. He also promises an artist album in 2007.
While San Francisco might not thought be thought of as a dance hotbed, there's always been enough going on to turn the most curious heads onto the culture. The early drum n bass scene turned Martin away from jazz and hip hop and onto the rave culture of the nineties, a short sharp shock which inspired him to take up DJing and producing. But the truth is Martin had always been musical – as a child he studied the saxophone and classical piano, a musicality which shows in both his productions and DJ sets. "Justin started playing the pots and pans at the age of 2," his MySpace puts it. "Now he is a DJ."
Martin's rise has been prominent enough to even make an older tradition of West Coast house take notice. He's also a new face on Om Records, home to big West Coast househeads such as Miguel Migs, Andy Caldwell and Fred Everything. Martin’s remix of Iz & Diz's 'Magnificent' is pretty slamming, and the label has also chosen him to mix a volume in their latest compilation series 'Om: Winter Sessions', on which he spins tracks and remixes from Switch, Jesse Rose, and Phonique. Not exactly a typical Om sound, but it’s nice to see San Francisco moving forward.
RA sat down for a chat with Justin Martin to talk turkey.
So how did you get interested in electronic music?
I think I was always interested in electronic music from a very young age, but I just didn't really know it until I was like sixteen or seventeen. I used to play a lot of jazz and classical music growing up, but when I was really young I just loved making tracks on my Casio. I listened to Pink Floyd and the Art of Noise, which was the first "electronic" music I was exposed to. But it wasn't until I fell in love with drum and bass at age 16 that I knew about the club and rave scene. Thats when I started DJing.
Who or what inspired you to start DJing?
There were so many things, but the main thing was the music. Especially early drum and bass from people like LTJ Bukem and Goldie. I got my first drum and bass record on a trip to London. It was LTJ Bukem's Logical Progression' compilation. My brother had already taken me out to a couple of raves and given me some mix tapes and CDs and I was just fascinated with the whole thing!
What was your first gig?
We threw a "rave" at my town hall in West Hartford. My friend even made speakers for it but they blew out. It was terrible.
Do you remember the name of the first record you played out?
No, I have no idea. But I can assure you it was probably pretty bad. And not bad meaning good.
How long have you been producing electronic music?
I bought my first computer a few months after graduating college. That was the summer of 2001.
Do you play any other musical instruments?
I was trained in classical piano from the age of five, and I started playing the saxophone in third grade. I was really into jazz for the majority of my youth.
Were you ever in a band?
Yeah, a few! Aside from my highschool jazz band, I was in a jazz combo/funk band called the Funk Brothers United. I played with some really sick musicians. Our biggest gig was opening for the Average White Band, and there were more people there to see us! I was also in a
Brazilian hip hop group called Ripe. It was all live batucada percussion and I would scratch over the top of it. That was fun while it lasted.
Your first 12" made with your brother Christian recently came out on Dirtybird. Did you guys used to party together when you were younger? Did one of you get the other one into electronic music?
Oh yeah! He took me to all of my first parties. He was living in New York City over the summers when I was still in highschool. I would go visit him and use a fake ID to get into
clubs. And when I visited him in California, where he went to college, he would take me to the full moon desert parties that Moontribe did. He really is the main reason why I am doing this today, he got me into it all. I'll never forgive him. (laughs)
Who is most guilty of stealing the other's music?
Probably me. Chris didn't start DJing until way after me, so he was always giving me new music to play because he wanted to hear it out. It's rad having someone find you secret weapons. Now that he is playing and getting gigs he holds off on giving me stuff because he wants it to be a suprise when he drops something fresh I haven't heard before. I am the same way though. I keep my music locked away tight.
Did you have any major quibbles in the studio
No, we stopped fighting a long time ago. It's all fun in my studio. I won't work with you if I think there will be any drama, or butting of heads.
What releases or remixes do you have coming out in the next few months?
I have a single called 'The Fugitive' that came out on Buzzin Fly a few weeks ago. I also have a new EP coming out on Utensil records with three housier tracks, and I've been talking about doing an EP for Freerange since my Vesuvius remix of 'Square One' for them. And of course Dirtybird and Buzzin' Fly always keep me busy. I am currently still piecing together my artist
album for Buzzin' Fly.
Which producers or labels were mainstays in your record box in 2006 and what was the biggest record in your box last year?
I hate to toot our horn, but I play mostly mine and Claude VonStroke's music when I am DJing. I love his production. It's always so fun to play, but very unique at the same time, and it crosses over a lot of different genres. Dave Taylor aka Switch/Solid Groove is another guy whose tracks have been killing it for me. But my favorite record of 2006 was Darkmountaingroup's 'Lose Control' on Buzzin Fly. I probably played that track a million times and it is still in my box.
How did you meet Claude VonStroke aka Barclay Crenshaw?
I met him through my brother. He was working with Chris at the same time that he was making a "how to be a DJ" documentry called 'Intellect'. He interviewed over thirty successful DJs, ranging from Miguel Migs to Paul Van Dyk, on how they made it. I had just started producing at that time and really wanted to be a DJ. My brother was like, "Talk to Barclay. He knows
exactly what you need to do the be successful." So I did, and the rest is history. He has really been a mentor to me and I do owe a lot of my success to him. Thanks Barclay!
What's your involvement with Dirtybird Records? Do you work with the label strictly as an artist or do other more serious biz behind the scenes too?
Barclay does all the grunt work, and invests all the money, and I just sit back, get paid, look pretty, and enjoy the ride. No, just kidding. I do help by giving lots of bad advice, and just making as much good music as I can.
In a recent interview, Barclay said the electronic music scene in the States is crap. Yet the scene in the UK and Europe is on the upswing thanks to lots of new labels and producers. Do you have any plans to spend some extended time in Europe and play a bunch of gigs in the future?
Yes, this is the plan as of right now. Both Barclay and I have been travelling every weekend, and aside from the wonderful scene in San Francisco, the better gigs have always ended up being overseas. It's difficult for him to travel to Europe every weekend because he has a wife and newborn son. I love travelling, but I do recognize that it would be a lot better to be based in Europe right now. Our tentative plan is to move to Spain for a few months out of the summer, only coming back to SF for our Dirtybird party, but this is all up in the air. I couldn't leave San Francisco for longer than two months though because I would miss my friends here too much.
Om Records has been around for a long time forging the early West Coast house sound. Your mix on the 'Winter Sessions' CD updates the label's sound by tapping UK and Berlin-based producers such as Phonique, Jochen Trappe, Mike Monday and Switch. Tell us why we should snuggle up to your mix during the cold winter months.
It's amazing music by some of the best producers out there. The mix is tough and tender at the same time meaning you could snuggle up to it, or you could turn it up and rock out to it. I'm always trying to find music for my DJ sets that rattles sound systems, but still has enough melody and interesting texture to expand your mind even if you're sitting at home on a
snowy or rainy day.
What are three things that float your boat besides dance music.
Girls, girls, and girls. (laughs)
How is the club scene in San Francisco?
It's amazing if you ask me, and it's definitely the underground that prevails. There is something fun to do every weekend, and some weeks every night. I love my friends here, and they seem to party harder here than anywhere else I have been in the world!! It has also been a great home for Dirtybird. And oh yeah, the Sunset parties kill it! Shout out to local heroes Solar and Galen!
Have events like the Summer Music Conference and the San Francisco Love Parade had a long-term positive effect on the dance music in the city or have they just attracted more fly-by-nighters?
I don't know. Every weekend is crazy here in San Francisco. To me it was just another weekend, only with more parties to choose from.
What are the best underground nights and clubs in San Francisco?
Sunset and Green Gorilla Lounge have the underground on lock down. Also, our monthly Dirtybird party still feels kinda underground because all the heads come out and get crazy.
Finally, if you weren't a DJ or dance music producer, what do you think you would be doing instead?
Wishing I was a DJ or music producer.
'Om:Winter Sessions' mixed by Justin Martin and Johnny Fiasco is out now on Om Records.