Justin Martin: "Everything is crazy right now...the scene has really exploded"
See Also: Justin Martin at City Hall, 7/27/12
If you haven't heard of Justin Martin yet, consider yourself on alert: The scene veteran and Dirtybird artist has long been a favorite of those in the know for his impeccable selection and ability to transcend electronic-music genres, but he's about to explode onto the mainstream with his brand-new album (eight years in the making!), Ghettos and Gardens -- and it's absolutely phenomenal. We caught up with Martin to get his take on the record, ask about his big break and see what he had to say about the party scene in the U.S. these days.
Westword: Can you tell me a little bit about your career background -- how you first became interested in electronic music and how it progressed from there?
Justin Martin: I first started listening to electronic music around fourteen or fifteen years old; my brother [Christian Martin, also a DJ] had just gone off to college and started telling me about these full moon parties that he was going to in the desert out west in California, and he was sending me these mixtapes from this crew called moontribe. So I started listening to everything from old school breaks to trance to drum and bass, and as soon as I heard a little bit, I dove into it and started exploring the genres and immediately fell in love with stuff like Goldie, LTJ Bukem, Metalheadz and stuff.
I heard drum-and-bass and jungle for the first time and completely fell in love with it, so I started buying records. I wanted to learn how to DJ, and it just became a bedroom passion, mixing records with my headphones and stuff in my basement and buying every single record that I could afford to buy. And after I went off to school and everything, I ended up on the west coast after living in New York for a few years, and there wasn't as prominent a drum-and-bass scene in San Francisco, where I moved to, so I started channeling my DJ hobbies into other genres and really fell in love with house music in 2001.
How did your big break happen?
I got really lucky, really early on. My first big break was shortly after I bought myself a computer in 2002, right after I graduated from school. I just started making all kinds of crazy music that I've always wanted to make, and it was in 2003, when I made my first demo, and I was supposed to go to Winter Music Conference, and I was going to pass it out and go see all my hero DJs.
But I was dead broke and decided the week before there was no way I could afford to go. I gave it to my brother, who was going to WMC, and he passed it out to pretty much every DJ he saw, and it ended up in the hands of Ben Watt of Everything But the Girl. And a few months later, he listened to it, because he was starting this label, Buzzin Fly, and he sent me an e-mail saying he wanted one of my tracks. I thought it was a joke because I was a really big fan.
I thought one of my friends was playing a trick on me, that one of my favorite producers was trying to sign my track. So that's when I started traveling a little bit and got a booking agent, and it was a really, really cool, early, lucky break. And all that did was just make me hungry for more. I think probably when I really got super, super serious about everything was probably 2009, 2010 -- that's when I realized I didn't want to be working in a bar anymore, I want to do this full time.
Tell me about Ghettos and Gardens. What was the inspiration to put this album together at this point in time, after you've been touring and playing for so long?
When I first started off producing and got my first track signed in 2003, Ben Watt approached me about doing a full artist album, and I thought, "Oh my god, this is a great opportunity. I'm going to do it," and I signed the contract. And I started trying to write this album that, I just, I don't know, I couldn't focus for long enough to put ten or eleven tracks together. I didn't really quite know what my sound was yet; I was still experimenting and learning how to use my equipment in the studio, and, next thing you know, two or three years have gone by and I still haven't delivered this album to Ben.
It became like an unfunny joke among my friends. "Where's that album," you know? So as my career moved on, I accomplished more and more of my goals, but that was one thing I never succeeded in finishing. And after a really successful 2010, when I was productive and got myself to be more disciplined, I fed off the energy of all my successes and said, "Okay, now is the time," and I got real focused and decided to make it happen...eight or nine years later!