"I've always collected all different styles of music, and I just love to play different styles of music out as well,” explains Martyn. "I always carry lots of dubstep, lots of house, even some hip-hop, some soundscapes, just anything really.”
That’s not to say that Martyn is one of those dreaded “eclectic” DJs who is all about mashing up the unexpected; it’s just that Martyn happens to make music at the nexus of different genres. For the past year or so, dubstep and techno have been eyeing each other from across the room, and Martyn’s bass-heavy, melancholy-tinged tunes such as 'Broken' and 'Twenty Four' have been among the first to consummate the relationship.
A DJ for a dozen years or more, Martyn’s first love was not dub and dubstep but rather drum n bass—his first records arrived on Marcus Intalex’s label Revolve:r in 2005. Lately he has started his own label, 3024, and released records on Appleblim’s new imprint Apple Pips. Future plans? Well, aside from getting married and moving to America, he’s intent on making a debut album, not to mention DJing every weekend. But since he carts round such a wide range of records to a wide range of gigs, surely he takes requests? "Well,” says Martyn. “My favorite gigs are the ones where they tell me, 'We just want Martyn. We don't care what you play, just do what you want to do.'"
How was Mutek?
It was actually very good although I didn't see that much of the music. We were supposed to play outside, at this big park in the middle of the city, but because it was raining so hard they moved it to a venue which was about 1,000 capacity. But it was nicely filled up, and it was a daytime thing so it was obviously not everyone on drugs going mental [laughs]. But yeah, everyone was into it, and there was dancing, and it was all right.
In Barcelona you’ll be playing a more house and techno-oriented party, but you play dubstep nights, too. So if a promoter asks you to play this or that, is that okay?
Yeah, I guess. You always play your own thing anyway. I use Serato so I have a laptop and shitloads of music with me at all times. So I just play it by ear really. I go in, look at what the vibe of the place is, what the sound is like, and just decide what I'm going to play. I do enjoy playing more four-to-the-floor sort of stuff, just because you can have longer sets, and go real deep, and play a variety of things. Most of the time you can prepare a little bit and just go across the board and play lots of good music.
Do you ever feel pressured to just choose one genre and stick with it the whole night?
There are always gigs where you can just play one style of music, and you know that if you switched it up it wouldn't work. But if I see a possibility to change it up, I will. So even if I play at pure dubstep, rave-y sort of places I try to bring in some old garage or some house, just to have people listen to something different than your average tune-of-the-week sort of thing. I have been playing for about 12 or 13 years now so it's also to keep it interesting for myself.
Last year Marcus Intalex said that sometimes the style of drum n bass he plays totally falls flat on the crowd, and no one's really feeling it. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever been playing "Martyn music" as you call it and it just didn't really work out?
Sure. It's difficult, you know, because DJing—it goes two ways. As a DJ, you play to people so you kind of have to cater for people, and play what they like and make sure they have a good time and all. And the other side of the coin is that you need to show your identity, show what you're made of, what you like, and what you think is forward-thinking music. So it's always trying to find a balance between the two.
But I can understand what Marcus says, because especially in the drum n bass world, there is a sound that is getting kind of generic and Marcus plays quite soulful. So some gigs work perfectly, people love it, and then there are also gigs where people are like, "Where are the wobbly, rave basslines?"
"Erosie and I do 3024 together. I’ve known him for over fifteen years - we're both from Eindhoven. He started his career as a designer, artist and graffiti artist when I started making music. We always stayed in touch, and when I used to throw nights, he would do all the flyer artwork for them. When we started the label, we decided to make the music and the artwork into one cohesive thing. The album will be like this as well - it’ll be as much his thing as it will be mine. Obviously, because it’s an album, people will focus on the music, but the artwork means just as much as the music does."
San Francisco was all right actually. I played at this thing organized by Surefire, which a couple of promoters in San Fran. It was me, Hatcha and Benga. That was a really good night. I always enjoy playing in Germany, too because there are a lot of really good nights there. Watergate is one of my favorite clubs in Berlin, and there's another place in Frankfurt called Robert Johnson, that's really good. Fabric in London is really good, Plastic People in London, where FWD is. Yeah, so many places.
Hatcha and Benga are making stuff on the heavier end of the dubstep spectrum. But some of your recent tracks like 'JW on a Good Night' and 'Storm Watch' are pretty laid-back tunes. Do you play that stuff out when you DJ, or is that more "Martyn for home listening"?
Well, those particular tunes I do play out, but it's not like the whole set can be like that because you need a little more energy when you have a dancefloor in front of you. It's kind of an achievement if you can play them, you know? But you can just make it work—sometimes you can play a really melodic, laid-back thing somewhere in the middle. It's just all about how you time it.
What and who do you think about when you're making music?
Umm…well, me [laughs]. Basically, when I'm making music, I'm not really considering the dancefloor, or if it's home listening, or anything like that. For me, my music is just for me and I just make whatever I think is good. And then it's up to DJs, either me as a DJ or other people as DJs, to make it work on the dancefloor or at home.
Music is very much a personal thing for me. For example, I use my own first name as an artist name. That was a conscious decision as well because when I started out I used an alias as a DJ. Every tune basically has some sort of emotion I was feeling at that time so I thought it was only fair to label it with my own real name. Besides that, it's also really good quality control, cos you never ever want to do a tune that you're not happy with and then have your own real name on there.
It's like writing. If you use an alias you can do more maybe, but it's also something that you can hide behind. If you write a shit review or whatever, and it doesn't have your real name you're not as bothered with it as when it says "Dave Rinehart."
But the process stops when the tune is done. I'm always happy when things come out on vinyl and people can listen to it and hopefully people enjoy the music obviously but it's never been part of making the music for me. So it's not focused on other people, it's just focused on me basically.
On your MySpace it says you're very influenced by your "life's ups but very much the downs". Tracks like 'Broken and 'Storm Watch' are pretty melancholy tunes, so what do you mean by that?
I think most artists, but especially me, are always more inspired to make music in down periods than when everything is going nice and quiet. I do like the ups, obviously, but it's especially when things are going down that you have the urge to make music. There always needs to be something bothering you to provide ideas of how to make things better. And sometimes you're in a certain situation where you cannot make things better literally, so you start making music to make yourself feel better, you know what I mean? It's like a therapy, sort of.
Melancholy is also what drew me into music. In a lot of music that inspires me, melancholy is a really big emotion. If you listen to, say, old Detroit techno, it has these rainy, dreamy sort of strings in it but it also has a toughness about it. The combination of toughness and mellowness makes it sound kind of melancholic. If you listen to older drum n bass, like mid-90s Metalheadz sort of things, that has the same energy. It's got the melodic side but there is also a toughness to it.
A lot of that music—it’s city music really—it has a bit of a bittersweet vibe about it. I guess that's just what I'm trying to do in my tunes as well. Like 'Broken' for instance, it has a pretty big bassline, and the beats are kind of upfront as well, but then there is a dreamy, washy sort of synth floating about as well, and obviously lots of extra noise that isn't really music. But it's those noises that give it sort of a lively vibe.
You get lumped into dubstep probably more often than you like, but of course the big lynchpin of dubstep is really, no matter what you call it, it's all about the bass. Your tracks have a really signature, heavy bass – what is it about bass that you're so attracted to?
Well, bass is – that's also sort of a physical thing for me.
Like music you can feel or something?
Yeah, yeah. And you know literally, low frequencies do something to your muscles when you listen to them. There have been studies where low frequencies seem to contract your muscles, and because they contract your muscles you have the urge to move, you know, to get rid of that itchy feeling in your muscles. So that would be a reason to dance. [Laughs] There is weird stuff like that. There's also a study saying that around 120 BPM is the perfect beat because you have this pulse of low frequencies 120 times a minute, which is so close to your actual heartbeat that that is the music you would feel more comfortable with.
Yeah, it's deep [laughs]. But basically bass is just a very physical thing. There is nothing greater than just hearing super loud bass on a good system. I guess, especially coming from drum n bass as well, it's all about the deep sounds. If you have a good system, then you're gonna have a lot of fun with whatever music you're gonna play.
Do you spend a lot of time thinking up basslines?
Yeah, yeah. It's just all a matter of production, basically. If you know what effect a big bassline can have, you just try and make it sound as perfect as you can. I do a lot of tests. I make a track, do a mixdown of it, play it out a couple times at different places, see what the effect is, then go back to the studio and fix it up a little bit.
Do you ever take time off from playing in clubs and set aside time to just make music?
I've never done that. I always try and keep my gigs going. But now I’m moving to America for my marriage and all that stuff, and I plan to start writing an album. So there will be time off just to focus on the music and production.
So how are you approaching the album?
Right now I'm in the very, very early stages, so it's a little bit difficult to describe what the album's gonna sound like, because I don't know yet myself. But my favorite albums are all albums that you can listen to from beginning to end like the new D-Bridge album, Burial's albums or Kode 9's album. You know, stuff that is really a listening experience. So that will be my approach too I guess, to try and make something that has a lot of different flavours but still comes together into a single story. That's what my DJ sets are as well, I guess.
Are you going to be doing any more work for Apple Pips or anything like that?
Probably. But I haven't committed to anything, because if I'm making any decent tunes I want to keep them for the album, obviously. Since my remix of TRG 'Broken Hearts' came out, I've gotten so many remix offers it's ridiculous. It's like there's a new offer almost every day so I really have to be careful not to do too many remixes and neglect my solo work.
How do you approach remixing?
The way I do remixes is I just take a little bit out of the original and then build a whole new track around it. And sometimes there's decent ideas in those tracks as well, and you finish the remix and you're like, well, it's basically a Martyn track with a different sample in it. And sometimes it's a shame that it's not your solo thing, know what I mean?
I have a few remixes that I still have to do, though. I've done one for Flying Lotus, for his album on Warp, then I'm doing one for a guy called Efdemin. I'm also doing a remix for Beat Pharmacy from New York, because he's doing an album and there's going to be a spin-off 12-inch with remixes. But that's all.
You're getting a lot more attention and a lot more press than I've ever seen before. Your music is coming out at more of a rapid clip, and you're touring more around the world. Is there a grand plan to all of this? Are you hungry for the fame or are you just doing what you're doing?
Just doing what I'm doing, really. I don't particularly enjoy the fame of it. I just want to take my music further and further. I am quite confident that there are a lot of ideas still in me that need to be put into tracks. But I am really looking forward to the album thing. It's kind of a challenge for me just to see what I can do with 80 minutes instead of fifteen minutes of music.
Do you feel a bigger obligation to your fans, or to exposing new people to your style?
I do feel an obligation to my fans to show them a different side of my music every time. I wouldn't really say “fans” though. The people that spend money on my music—my obligation to them is that every time they hear something from me, it's something different. Or an idea executed in a totally different way.
To try to keep them guessing?
Yeah. Every time they see the name of a new track or a new 12-inch they'll be like, "Okay, I need to check this out." Because it's probably something really interesting, [and] whether they like it or not, it's definitely gonna be something that no one else is doing, or not many other people are doing. It just needs to have that little uniqueness to it, I guess. My music is already sort of a mixture of styles and genres…I don't really see my music as being strictly dubstep either. So even if I was to do something on a lower pace, or a house-y sort of thing, hopefully people would be just as interested as they are in what they call the dubstep sound.
How about drum n bass?
There's still a possibility that there will be more drum n bass as well. I just keep it open, really. I never publicly said that this was the end of drum n bass for me, like some other producers did. For me it's just like, you make music, and whatever pace it's always about the general vibe of the music or the atmosphere of the music. And for me there's really not much difference between my, say, 175 BPM stuff and my 140 BPM stuff. The only thing that different is the tempo.