Interview | Martyn

Dutchman-turned-DC Resident Martyn has turned himself into a local hero. In between a Panorama Bar residency, running his own label 3024, and a monthly slot at NTS Radio, Martyn has helped elevate DC’s burgeoning forward-thinking dance music scene to new heights with gigs at U Street Music Hall (U Hall), releases on labels like Brainfeeder and Ninja Tune, and collaborations that might take you by surprise.

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I had the opportunity to enjoy a conversation with Martyn about these topics and more. Check it out:

Max Rewak: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk with me today. The first place that I really wanted to start was the recent show that you had with Steffi at U Hall. I was there, thought it was amazing, and really had a wonderful time, and I was wondering if maybe you could comment on how that was playing a show with Steffi and playing at U Hall in general.

Martyn Deykers: It’s cool because this was the first time that me and Steffi played together in the US. We’ve played quite a lot together, sometimes back to back sets, and we’ve been making music together over the last two years. I know her quite well, musically and personally, and so it’s nice to finally be able to invite her to my night.

Basically, I do a kind-of regular night at U Hall. It’s supposed to be three to four times a year, usually it’s less because of scheduling and because I travel a lot abroad. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right dates that work, but so far we’ve been doing well. We had Honey Soundsystem on the first night of the year and the second one was with Steffi, then hopefully I can do another two this year.

MR: That sounds amazing.

MD: Yeah, well I enjoy playing at U Hall because I like the original rave spirit of the people who are behind it. Some of them are real old school troopers and it’s fun to work with them in a club environment. I think out of all the clubs in DC I prefer it also because it’s kinda dark and there’s a more underground vibe, but it still has all the facilities that you need, a good soundsystem and a nice booth, and the staff is always cool too, so it’s an ideal place for me to play. It reminds me a little bit of some European clubs.

MR: Is that so?

MD: Yeah, especially the layout, and the booth, the people. It doesn’t feel like you have to do a lot of things. It’s kind of free… : It’s just not so pretentious, you know?
It’s a really good vibe in there.

MR: Oh my God, you nailed it. It’s a place where people don’t necessarily look at the DJ the whole time and just stare at you, you know what I mean? Where they’re dancing and enjoying themselves.

MD: Exactly. Like I said it doesn’t have that pretentious vibe that clubs in the US sometimes have. I wish I could do more nights, but obviously they have a busy schedule, and there’s also a ton of good people in DC who work with them. So I’m just glad that I can do at least 3 of 4 a year. So far it’s been fun – I try to focus on mainly US artists, but when someone like Steffi comes along obviously…

MR: It’s a pretty good opportunity.

MD: Yeah! And we worked together in the studio this week. We did two records before, using the alias Doms & Deykers (both our last names). We did two EPs on my label, 3024, and we’re currently working on an album. We have about five weeks left to deliver it, and it’s supposed to come out around October. It’s crunch time now, which is why I’m trying to stay home and work in the studio as much as I can. It’s the biggest project that I’m doing at the moment.

MR: Sounds amazing, I’m definitely going to have to look out for that. Could you talk a little bit about how your styles connect with each other? I remember reading an older interview of yours, and I was struck by the word “float” being used to describe your music playing with several different musical genres, and I loved that description. Do you think you could comment on how your styles intersect with each other?

MD: Well, we’re both the same age, and we grew up in the same area in the Netherlands. We even speak the same dialect, so that’s already a huge connection that I don’t have with anyone else in the “scene”. Secondly, our musical roots are similar but our musical “journeys” are quite different. So my journey basically is from early Chicago house and Detroit techno, and Dutch techno and stuff like that, into breakbeats, and into jungle and drum and bass, and dubstep, bass music whatever you wanna call it and to a more straight style again, which is where my story intersects again with Steffi’s, whose history includes a lot of IDM and electro. So we have a lot of stuff to tell each other, musically speaking. The different influences make it kind of exciting. Even the way we work in the studio is radically different, and it’s just nice to learn from each other. We try and get the best of both worlds.

MR: Being exposed to a different workflow can be a pretty significant kind of stimulus.

MD: Exactly, and so this is why I think it works quite well together. I must say I was never really a collaborator, because I always liked to do my things on my own and keep my tricks to myself. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve really opened up to other people and started to see it as a learning experience, and begun to give some of my vibe off to other people. That doesn’t mean that I’m just collaborating with everyone – you’re still picky and you want to work with the people that you vibe with – but I think with Steffi it’s definitely the strongest connection and I think the results are the best at the moment.

MR: Very cool. That resonates with me because of something else that you said in an interview. You said “Maybe you’re actually more confident in your own music if you can let people in.” Do you think that starting to collaborate more represents an increased level of confidence in your own creative output?

MD: Yeah, totally. I think if you collaborate with people, you give off a lot of your own original ideas. You put them out there to possibly be “destroyed” by someone else. That requires a little more confidence, I think, and also you have to be confident that there will always be another, better idea. Obviously you put a lot of energy into a collaboration. If you’re worried that would be your only really great idea for this year, that would be heartbreaking. But I have the feeling that there’s still plenty of music in me, it makes it nice to collaborate and make your original idea even better. That’s why you try to work with people.

MR: That’s really interesting – that got me thinking about why a lot of people create electronic music in particular. I think there’s a culture of competition: that everyone has to have, you know, the lushest pads or the hardest synth or the biggest kick or something, the funkiest bass line or whatever it is, and so I think maybe that’s why a lot of people don’t like to collaborate. On the other hand maybe they see it as a come-up: you know, maybe I can collab with such-and-such big DJ and they’ll put me on. But I think that what I’ve heard in a lot of your music is that it’s very much a form of personal expression. I don’t really know where I’m going with that, it just seemed like a theme that came up when thinking about what you’ve done with your collaborations.

MD: Well, the competition thing doesn’t really apply.

MR: Exactly, that’s what I mean.

MD: Also I think that collaborating for PR reasons rather than artistic reasons never really deliver a good result anyway. I mean, I think you see that a lot in remixes as well, people remix others basically as a PR move, to be associated with them. I think over my career, since I’ve been doing this for quite a while, when I look back at my remixes (and I’m not going to tell you which one) I also had missteps. Everyone makes mistakes, perhaps there’s remix work that I shouldn’t have done because it was more of a “this looks good for me” than a real inspired effort to make a really good song. That’s one of the reasons why I quit doing remixes altogether. Anyway, the PR and competitive motives don’t really apply to this particular collaboration, and we like to keep it that way.

MR: If that’s not necessarily the goal – and of course it shouldn’t be, since you’re playing great shows, running your own label, releasing whatever you want – what do you see as next for you? Is producing music a goal in and of itself, or is there something you’d still like to accomplish, something that you’d say “Boy, I wish I could do this by the end of my career?”

MD: Well, I think first and foremost I’m a music fan. I collect music and I’ve been doing that all my life, and I’ll always be buying music and trying to explore new stuff and just dig for music that I like. I originally started making music because there was a need for something that wasn’t there. I wanted to make something that I could play in my own DJ sets that didn’t exist yet, you know? Like “bridge tracks”. Quite ambitious perhaps, like “Oh, I’m going to change this sound, or change the world with my music haha.”
But, that felt like a good reason to do it. Why would you want to make the same tune that’s already been made by someone else? I think it’s the same with the collaboration with Steffi that I’m working on right now. We want to bring a vibe that we really love in music but that we don’t really hear that much anymore. I think that if you have that drive there’s always the time and space to make music. That’s one part of it, and the second part is that I consider music as more of a general expression. I think as long as I’m able to express myself in some way I’ll be fine. I never really thought of myself as a musician, but more as a person that makes music one day and does something else artistic the other. As long as that expressive element is there. I’m always really inspired by people that are good at multiple things. Maybe one day, I won’t be making music for a while but I’ll be writing a book, or doing something else that is satisfying on a similar level.

MR: Wow, okay. Any examples of artists along those lines that stand out in your mind?

MD: I’m a real fan of David Byrne, the singer from the Talking Heads, who’s done a lot of different things in his life, from writing plays to books and music and art projects, and I like that way of viewing your artistry. That’s one of the people who uses different media but keeps his signature everywhere.

MR: Looking back through old interviews of yours, you mentioned a few times that you were highly influenced by the Metalheadz crew, especially by Photek and Goldie, and I’m just wondering if you still feel inspired by their old music, or maybe by the stuff that they’re still releasing on that label, and as a corollary is there anything else that’s really inspiring you in other people’s music?

MD: I think that inspiration from the early 90s Metalheadz sound comes from being at their nights at that time – maybe much more so than the actual music. Obviously there are a lot of sounds and vibes that you could probably spot in my music that have some sort of relationship with their sound – not the tempo or the intensity or anything. But for example the sci-fi influence, or the uses of contrast between hard and mellow. There are a lot of elements that you hear in early drum n’ bass that I think you can hear in my music if you listen carefully, but besides that I think it’s much more my personal experience of those events, and how exciting music was at that time. So many people from other music genres looked at Headz and thought, “Wow, there’s really something interesting going on here.” At the early Metalheadz nights, there were jazz musicians, pop people, and everyone was there because that’s where the innovation was happening. So I think that’s what is really inspiring. As far as whether I still listen to a lot of it, I mean, a couple of people became my friends and I stay up to date with what they are doing. People like DBridge and Marcus Intalex, DJ Lee. I’m still really interested in that sound.

As far as other music that inspires me, I’d say the music from that mid-early 90’s era. It’s interesting because dance music wasn’t divided into genres as much as it is now, so you could hear a lot of cross-influence between different styles. For example, in the UK there was an early breakbeat movement, but at the same time everyone was trying to copy records from Detroit. Mix these two things together and you get cool hybrids. Then there was early ambient, hiphop and house mixed together etc. That’s definitely music that’s still worth digging into – there’s so much that went unnoticed too.

MR: Any nights in particular that have stirred some of those feelings for you in the recent past?

MD: Well, on a completely different tip, I saw DJ Harvey play last year, and obviously the vibe is completely different from an early Metalheadz night, but the idea that you’re caught off guard by all this music that you’ve never heard before, and that you’re completely entranced by it, that’s a feeling that I don’t often have anymore. When I heard him play, although I know very little about his sound and his music, about the records that he plays, for me it was very inspiring. For me that was really surprising, and I live for those moments. So I think people like that are always worth checking out – if you ever have the chance to go see someone who’s completely out of your own league, but still you know that you’re going to have quality served to you, then that’s something that’s definitely worth checking out.

MR: Right, definitely. Actually, I recently saw Mala at U Hall, and I had that exact feeling. I’m not normally a super big Deep Medi fan, I respect what they do but it’s not necessarily what resonates with me the most. But God, that guy is amazing.

MD: Yeah, I agree. That’s a similar sort of artist, completely on his own plane and definitely something worth checking out. You won’t hear anyone do that particular sound better than Mala. I wish I could’ve made it out to that show, actually!

Martyn doesn’t have any US dates scheduled at the moment, but check back for his recurring night at U Hall, and for the release of his album with Steffi under the moniker Doms & Deykers in October.