Tracing the global proliferation of dubstep‘s subsonic frequencies over the past few years, it makes some sense that Dutch DJ Martijn Deykers (aka Martyn) was lumped in with the genre as it spilled from South London’s FWD>> dancefloor. The chest-caving bass and shuffling riddims exhibited on Martyn’s string of 12″s and remixes in 2007 and 2008 did share common ground with the London crowd, and catapulted him to international acclaim.
But billing Martyn simply as a dubstep DJ doesn’t do justice to the depth and agility of his music, either. His debut album, Great Lengths, highlights the diversity and innovation of his sound, synthesizing a rich history of electronic music from house, techno, reggae, and drum and bass. The record has finally been given a proper release this week on his own 3024 records — a label that he runs with artist and graphic designer Erosie. Though the label’s name is a tribute to his home area code in Rotterdam, Martyn relocated to the D.C. area last August, living among the Virginia “suburbia” he alluded to on a 12″ single last year.
I caught up with the man himself last month to chat about moving to the U.S., the new record, and the inaccuracies of being caught up in the dubstep craze. Follow the jump for the interview, and be sure to check out Great Lengths, out now in CD, vinyl, and digital format, along with a brand new split 12″ with fellow Dutch producer 2562 on Tectonic records.
Washington City Paper: What’s been the biggest difference so far adjusting to life in the States versus life in Holland?
Martijn Deykers: Oh, wow. Everything’s different [laughs]. The size, I guess. That was what appealed to me a lot when I first came to the U.S. — everything is just so big here. It sounds a bit dull, but when you’re used to living in a far smaller country — I think Holland is about the same size as Maryland — you can imagine how things are far more stretched out here.
I guess also the people. There are a quite a lot of differences culturally, and the way that music is perceived here as well. It’s totally different from any European country I know. So far it’s been really interesting to see what the differences are, you know?
WCP: Given that musical discrepancy, what are some of the main differences you’ve noticed about how audiences in general receive electronic music here as opposed to Europe?
MD: Well electronic music here is just not as present as it is in Europe. Like, if you go to a clothing store in Europe — any clothing store — they will always play house or techno on the speakers. And over here, everything is more or less either hip-hop based, or rock-based. Electronic sounds are, I wouldn’t say “alien” to people here, but maybe they’re just less used to it? And when you look at certain club scenes or anything, it’s just a lot smaller than it is back in Europe.
Then again, I must say that the people here are very, very loyal. Once you play in a certain city and you’ve done a good job, then people will come back the next time, you know? They’re very faithful to you. That’s what I like. It’s the same for bands I guess. Back in Holland, they always say if you’re an aspiring rock band and you’re playing the US for the first time, you always have to go back three, four times and play all these little clubs to really make a name for yourself. And I guess it’s the same for electronic music — you really have to put in the hard work here.
WCP: Have you been to any electronic/dance nights in D.C. since you’ve moved to the area?
MD: I used to go Club Five back in the day when there was a drum and bass night there. And I went to Nation. Recently, I’ve been to Gallery in Silver Spring [for Loda], and really enjoyed that — it was a really nice vibe, a nice club and nice people. I’m just picking and choosing a little bit because I do try to stay away from clubs as much as I can, since I play so many gigs. Once I have a weekend off, I really want to have a weekend off and not be in a club, you know?
WCP: You often get cited for incorporating styles from dubstep, house, techno, drum and bass, and reggae, but you like to transcend that by saying that you make “Martyn music.” But what would you denote as the common elements that construct your sound?
MD: I guess it’s all about the history. I was always influenced by a lot of house and techno music from back in the day, when I first started out going to clubs and stuff. And then later I got involved in drum and bass and started DJing, doing events, and all that, and I guess the sounds that interested me from those eras, I try to bring them in to a new perspective — I try to make it sound new again. So I guess it’s a translation of all my influences over the years. I don’t know … it’s also physical. I’ve always been interested in bass and bass lines, probably from my drum and bass days. So a common factor in a lot of my tracks is that they have a lot of bass, and are carried by bass. And from Detroit techno, which is all about strings, atmosphere and futurism. I guess those two things combined with what’s actually of the moment, like dubstep, and instrumental hip hop — that’s what makes up the Martyn sound.
WCP: Well you often get categorized as a dubstep artist, even though you incorporate all these different styles. What does the word dubstep mean to you?
MD: Well that’s a tough one, because I don’t really consider myself dubstep at all [laughs]. I mean, I use a lot of influences out of dubstep, but to me, dubstep is more a sound from South London — a really dubby sort of approach to music that’s all around, that comes from bass science and just trying to get as much bass into your music as you can. And the rhythms are quite slow and reggae influenced. But it’s difficult, because if I would say “reggae-influenced,” and “bass-heavy,” that wouldn’t necessarily be a good definition of dubstep. There are a lot of other things that come into play, like old garage or two-step, so it’s just a weird combination of a lot of the music from 2000 to now.
WCP: You mentioned how dubstep is rooted in South London, but especially in the last couple years, artists such as yourself that live outside of London and the UK are being heralded as dubstep. How do you feel about the whole dubstep movement, and do you think it’s become a positive dialogue between international artists?
MD: I think all these people have listened to whatever came from South London and have given their own interpretation to it. Even an American artist like Flying Lotus, who has really not much to do with dubstep at all, he listens to the music, and takes ideas from the music, and puts it in his own. I think that’s a pretty interesting dialogue, because you can see people giving their own take on that music.
Then on the other hand, you also have people try to copy whatever is going on in London, and they’re classified as dubstep artists as well. Which could be a good thing, but if they’re not bringing anything new to the table, then it’s not interesting anymore. So it’s a bit of both. There are a couple artists, especially in the US, that I know listen to dubstep and are influenced by dubstep, and you just know that they’ve gotten the hunch of it, so to say. And I think that’s really interesting, as long as people bring their own vibe to the table.
WCP: On your new record, you feature two different vocal guest spots — aside from the samples — with Spaceape and dBridge. Have you worked with vocalists before, or was it a new experience to add original vocals to your tracks?
MD: I have done remixes with full vocals, so I knew a little bit about how to work with them, the whole songwriting thing was a new experience for me. Obviously, they did a lot of that work for me, because I didn’t want to just write the lyrics and melody and just have them sing it, so they did give me a lot of input on what the music should sound like, and what the vocals would be like, what the themes were.
I also did a lot of songwriting myself that didn’t make it to the album, just because I wanted to see what the whole process was, so I had to teach myself in those couple months I had to write the whole album. So I had to experiment with how to write choruses and verses and how to arrange things like that. Because electronic music is not really based around a song structure, so I had to try and make that work for me. It was a good experience, and I’ll be using a lot more vocals in the future, just because it’s nice to have some songwriting ability as well. Apart from just making a really cool loop that goes for five minutes and heats up the dancefloor. That’s cool too, but it’s nice to be able to do both.
WCP: So you were experimenting with songwriting? Did you write any original lyrics for your tracks?
MD: Yes. I mean, I’m a terrible singer. But I did write full lyrics for a track, and recorded all the vocals and stuff. And it didn’t really make the album, not because it wasn’t very good, but more because it didn’t really fit into the story of the album. So it’s something that’s been shelved for now. But it’s also something that even if the original track doesn’t come out in one form or another, at least I still have that experience and learned a lot from it. And on the album there are a couple tracks without beats and basslines — just sound structures. And that was something that I had played with before, but never really took very seriously, because if you make singles, then there isn’t much space for soundscapes or anything like that, because people won’t buy it, because they can’t play it. So for this album, I thought now was a good opportunity to make some sort of composition, and it took me a long time to get that right, but at least it taught me a lot — it’s also something you can take as a “musical luggage,” because every time you make something new, it makes you a better musician.
WCP: Great Lengths does seem to follow a clear progression. Is there a message, story, or anything in particular that you’re trying to convey throughout the album?
MD: It’s no so much a message, but I think it touches on all sorts of themes and emotions that I’ve experienced over the last year: the whole process of moving from one continent to the other, traveling, a lot of the other stuff that has to do with musical ideas as well. The whole songwriting process: putting music that’s not necessarily dancefloor-oriented. All these things are coming back in the album. It’s not like the album is a real story, apart from the fact that the order from the tracks is kind of how I’d build up my DJ set. For instance I had a lot of tracks at the end, right before I finished the album, and I made a DJ set at my house with all the tracks, and tried to be really intuitive on which tracks should be where. So in that sense it does have a little bit of a story.
WCP: With the recent hype that you’ve been getting with your music lately, did that put any kind of pressure on you while making the new album?
MD: No, not really. I’ve always been doing my own thing anyway, regardless of how many people were taking notice. I’ve always been quite stubborn when it comes to that. Even making this album there wasn’t really any pressure from people saying “you really gotta make an album, it’s a good career move.” I just came and said, “OK, I’m ready to make this album,” and as soon as I was ready, I started making it.
And I could even say, now that the album’s done and it will be released, that it’s time for another turn around, you know? To see if I can take it in a new direction again, just to keep it interesting for myself, and keep it interesting for other people as well.
WCP: Any idea what that direction will be?
MD: No. [laughs] It’s just stuff that presents itself. As my DJ sets progress over time, incorporating other music, they go in different directions, and so does my own stuff. So I don’t know, we’ll see. I’ll just have to play it by ear and see what comes out.