“Don’t ever be an asshole.” That’s what Justin Martin tells me while interviewing him at Snowbombing’s base of operations AKA the Hotel Strass bar. I didn’t do anything. Promise. Rather, just minutes into our chat a couple of groups of salopette-clad fans have already politely interrupted to shake hands with Dirtybird’s second most famous DJ and producer. I wonder if he gets sick and tired of having to smile for selfies and be nice to strangers who know his name. Especially at a festival like this, where the boundaries between artists and punters are pretty much non-existent? “No, never,” says Martin. “I embrace that side of being an artist because it’s the ultimate thank you. I work my ass off in the studio and then spend countless hours on airplanes, so be able to see people being happy from what I do is amazing.”
A trait common in anyone who remembers being star-struck themselves, it’s true for Martin, who says: “I’m a music fan first. I was that kid going to parties and wanting to talk to the DJ. If he were an asshole I would remember that for the rest of my life. Who wants to be that guy?” Despite being American, Martin has what seems like a stereotypically Canadian desire to be liked. This also permeates his music. It’s hard to hate a Justin Martin album. Musical house that doesn’t beg to be taken too seriously, Martin isn’t afraid to chuck in a cheeky wobble or catchy hook to get people dancing.
New full-length offering ‘Hello Clouds’ (read our review here) sounds less dancefloor-focused than debut ‘Ghettos & Gardens’, with a few tracks graduating from ‘tune’ status to ‘songs’ and less urgency felt in both BPM and intros. The first word that came into my head after a few listens was, simply - nice. Thankfully, it’s a description Martin welcomes. “Thank you, I like it!” he says. “I spend the majority of my time on the road and DJing. I’m usually making tunes just to bang the club, so for me as a musician it’s vital to be able to write something different. With an album I have the opportunity to make a body of work that’s not necessarily going to get played in my sets. I just want to write music that’s nice to listen to. In this case, nice is a good adjective. Fuck it, let’s reclaim ‘nice’ – starting with ‘Hello Clouds’.”
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Don't ever be an asshole...
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The positive reaction to ‘Ghettos & Gardens’, and in particular the track ‘Don’t Go’, taught Martin that all that matters when writing music is doing what he wants, because he wants to. He claims trying to predict how other people will react is missing the point. “I never sit down with the intention of writing a banger, a catchy tune, or even a particularly deep one,” says Martin. “I just go with whatever feeling I have that spurred me to start writing it in the first place. ‘Don’t Go’, for example, was written for my girlfriend because she used to say it when I left to go on tour. I had no idea how massive it would become. Dusky remixed it and turned this song I wrote to catch a certain melancholic vibe into one with proper dancehall credibility. Yeah, Dusky made it harder, but I don’t think it would have had the success it did unless it also resonated with people on an emotional level.”
You might notice I cheekily referred to Martin as ‘Dirtybird’s second most famous DJ and producer’ at the start of this article. Does he ever feel stuck in the shadow of Claude VonStroke? “No, because I’ve learned the most important lesson from him about making music and will always be grateful to him for it,” says Martin. “Barclay [VonStroke] taught me there is no right and wrong when it comes to production. If you go all in on what you really believe, that music will always have merit no matter what anyone else thinks. I don’t have to try and create dance floor smashers every time. Dirtybird gives me the confidence to try new things and keeping pushing boundaries and not have to say, ‘Well, that track was a success, let’s do five more like that.’”
According to Martin, one of the best things about finishing an album is being able to listen to other music and properly enjoy it again. Not comparing it to the stuff he’s making, just listening for pure enjoyment. “I’m loving it. Right now I’m playing a lot of [Dirtybird accomplice] Will Clarke because it fucking bangs, and Walker and Royce because it’s intricate while still sounding clean as fuck,” says Martin. “I love anything fun and funky that I can listen to again and again without getting tired of it.”
What’s next for this friendly producer with the nice second album, a talent for accidental bangers, and healthy relationship with his mentor? “I just want to make even more music that people play over and over.” In fact, to be a little more specific he wants to make music like Burial. “When I first listened to him I didn’t get it, but his music is like a fine wine. The more I listen to it, the more my mind is fucking blown. It’s technically tight, but has real emotion on a par with a Miles Davis piece. Visceral emotion that gives you goose bumps is so rare in dance music, but all music has the potential to do that and it’s what producers should strive to achieve.” That and not being an arsehole, of course.
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Words: Max Anderton